Government’s digital leader on making the case for ‘significant sums’ in the spending review

Joanna Davinson, executive director of the Central Digital and Data Office, discusses the new organisation’s remit

Credit: Howard Lake/CC BY-SA 2.0

As government moved into its second year of leading the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis – while also managing the UK’s ultimate exit from the European Union, delivering a potentially planet-saving global climate conference, and progressing major reform ambitions – civil servants were likely busier in 2021 than in any other year on record.

In its annual perm secs round-up, PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World heard form scores of Whitehall leaders about their experiences of the past 12 months and their plans for 2022.

This year marked the creation of government’s Central Digital and Data Office, led by executive director Joanna Davinson.


What was your highlight of 2021?
Working with Paul Willmott, Tom Read and digital leaders across government to set up the Central Digital and Data Office and to reframe the relationship between CDDO, the Government Digital Service and departments. Our aim is to be more expert, engaged and collaborative in the way we work. 

During the recent spending review we worked with departments to build the case for the need to improve how we engage with citizens, how we use and share our data and how we manage the operational and cyber risks in our complex estate. 

The case was clear and compelling – with significant sums earmarked for investment in digital, data and technology.

How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2021?
By working with ministers, the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, other functions and, most importantly, departments to develop a shared understanding of the challenges we face and by building a ‘coalition of the willing’ to tackle them. 

We have set up a permanent secretary-level Digital and Data Board reporting into the Civil Service Board. 

We have reinvigorated our cross-government chief digital and information officer network and we have established chief technology officer and chief data officer councils to champion best practice, value for money and design interoperability across government. 

What is your number one priority for 2022?
Getting cross-government strategy, plans and commitments in place that enable us to invest available resources wisely to deliver a more personalised and joined up experience for users, with government services that are quick, accurate and easy to use. This includes making sure we have the right tools in place to measure progress and enough of the digital, data and technology skills and capabilities we need within the civil service.

Which historical, mythical or contemporary figure would you most like to join you for a New Year’s Eve celebration?
I have always been fascinated by Aphra Behn – the first woman to make a living out of being a professional writer.  The records of her life are very patchy, probably because being a woman she was excluded from the types of institutions that would typically hold the records. 

The glimpses we do have indicate she led an extraordinary life – from humble beginnings, she travelled all over, was a spy for King Charles II, imprisoned for debt (King Charles having neglected to pay her), managed to write her way out of it and built a literary reputation within her own (rather short) lifetime. 

I bet she has some amazing stories to tell.

Visit Civil Service World to read more entries in this year’s perm secs round-up



Sam Trendall

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