Build trust by dropping ‘agile’ jargon, says DfE technologist 

Pete Ward, head of the department’s teaching services digital portfolio, on working with digital and technology teams

Civil service technologists can help win over cynics by replacing jargon such as ‘agile’ and ‘user research’ with plain English terms, according to an outgoing digital leader at the Department for Education. 

Pete Ward, who has served as head of the teacher services digital portfolio for the last 18 months, said that developing trust between technology staff and the rest of the department has not always been easy. In a blog post written as he leaves the department, he said that a colleague challenged him to build bridges with a “senior stakeholder [who] had a reputation for not ‘getting’ digital” and had called user researchers “charlatans”. 

“I took the challenge and talked of the importance of ‘being able to learn from our mistakes and correct them in weeks, not years’ instead of ‘being agile’,” reads the blog. “I talked about ‘the risk of not knowing how people might react’ instead of ‘user research being important’.” According to Ward, this helped them work together with increased trust, helping to deliver work successfully. 

Ward wanted to encourage technologists to break out of silos based on individual services, so he introduced a ‘transfer window’ through which staff could ask to move teams for new challenges. “When people moved, they brought a new perspective to their new team. They often suggested how their new and old teams might work together whilst minimising dependencies,” Ward explained. 

He said the unit, which supports teachers’ recruitment and career issues, has benefitted from focusing on specific aims, including tracking users more consistently. It has built a service that will integrate with the multipurpose GOV.UK One Login, allowing better tracking and more personalisation. 

Ward added that he underestimated the time and energy required to maintain delivery and that success in developing services for teacher training candidates, career development and professional qualifications has been at the expense of other potential changes. “I didn’t always find the role glamourous or fun, but I’m proud to have done it,” he concluded. 

PublicTechnology staff

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