Digital policymakers must look beyond tech firms for ‘broader range of opinions’

DCMS chief says that companies, while useful, provide a ‘single and partial view’

Credit: MaxPixel

Government’s digital policymakers must engage with not only technology companies, but with “a broader range” of experts, according to the head of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Sarah Healey, permanent secretary of DCMS, said that colleagues designing policy in the field of digital had developed a tendency to rely on commercial companies to understand the impact of technological change.

“That is important, and close links with industry must remain. But it is a single and partial view,” she said. “To fully understand the potential impacts, the benefits and risks of new technologies, we need access to a broader range of opinions, of thinkers, of experts and critics.”

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The departmental head – who was delivering the second in a pair of lectures given to mark the start of a partnership between DCMS and the Strand Group, part of King’s College London –   cited the example of DCMS’s chief scientific adviser Tom Rodden in building a College of Experts to provide “deep, independent, external expertise to DCMS at all stages of the policymaking process”.

Alongside this expansion in science and technology skills, Healey argued for a wider spread of digital policy capability beyond the team in DCMS. The department will continue to have an important role, she said, particularly to “improve collaboration and coordination across government” but government must invest in capability across departments and consider how best to bring these teams together.

“Going forward, digital change is only going to burrow itself more deeply into the fabric of our society as new digital services emerge and more and more industries adopt a tech-led approach,” Healey said. “To provide a coherent policy response we must continue to invest in digital policy expertise across the whole of government and learn how to pull it together. Creating cross-departmental, multi-disciplinary teams to solve complex and long-term digital policy questions should, as the Declaration on Government Reform set out, become routine.”


Visit PublicTechnology’s sister publication Civil Service World to read a detailed report of Healey’s presentation.


Sam Trendall

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