We recently got to chat with Adam Bevington who heads up the web team at Reading Borough Council (UK). Since taking on the role, he’s overseen a dramatic shift in the team’s balance of skills, competencies and workload.
Gone is much of the old emphasis on purely technical/code/ICT work. Instead, Adam has focused on bringing in more and more content expertise: when recruiting for the web team, Reading have been hiring writers, communicators and people who can produce engaging and accessible material (which just so happens to be delivered digitally).
As a result, the team is now (rightly, one might say) understood within the organisation as more of a communications function than an internal support/infrastructure one. These days, people are more likely to come and ask them for help with wording or tone than they are about a malfunctioning mouse or the intricacies of rebooting an iPad.
Where has this approach come from?
Perhaps this shift isn’t so surprising given that Adam’s own background is in marketing. But this wasn’t a move made out of personal preference – it’s a strategic decision, designed to reflect the essential integration of digital into everything the Council does.
And it’s another indication of the continuing, encouraging trend towards what I guess you might call ‘digital by default’. Every week there’ll be another (un)conference extolling the need to realise the full/holistic potential of digital transformation: centred around people, not systems, emphasising ease of interaction over monolithic back-office infrastructure. And that’s good: these need to be such oft-repeated refrains that working this way just becomes business as usual.
What’s the upshot?
For Reading, the change has already made a big difference to the way the organisation works. A prime example is around consultation – a function that now primarily sits with the web team (not the comms team, as one might expect).
Reading use Citizen Space as their online consultation platform and Adam explained that, alongside bringing in more content expertise, adopting this tool has helped change the way they work.
This is because Citizen Space is, by design, easy for anyone to use, with no specialist technical expertise required. One staff member at Reading now boasts of having the training down to a fine art and is disappointed in herself if she can’t teach someone everything they need to know in order to use the system within 19 minutes.
This has created a different feel to consulting online. It’s not seen as a complicated thing that requires extensive technical setup. Rather, it’s an exercise in public engagement – one that staff from across the Council can initiate themselves. And when they go to the web team for help, it’s not because they need ‘someone who’s good with computers’ to do their job for them. Instead, people are asking about how best to present materials, how to maximise reach and how to engage participants as effectively as possible. Questions of good communication, not technological operation.
We’re big fans of Reading’s approach and, in our training, events and advice to customers, you’ll frequently hear us arguing for exactly this stance. It’s so easy to get distracted by the fact that ‘digital’ involves technology and mistakenly focus on the technical aspects themselves – as if just connecting up enough cables, screens and devices would, in and of itself, suddenly change the way people interact with government.
Instead, as it has been for Reading, new technology should be a prompt and an opportunity to find new, better ways of working. That’s not just an optimistic platitude – we consistently find with Citizen Space customers, for example, that when they adopt the platform, it helps them bring in a new approach to consultation and public engagement, not just an increase in the efficiency of their old methods.
If you’re interested in finding out more, get in touch to see Citizen Space in action.