Whitehall chief: ‘From AOs to perm secs – we all need to be data confident’

Written by PublicTechnology staff on 20 June 2022 in News

Government operations leader wants departments to make better use of the ‘huge amounts of data’ at their disposal

Credit: Jernej Furman/CC BY 2.0     Image has been cropped

All civil servants – from entry-level posts up to departmental leaders – need to be skilled in using data to design policy and deliver services, according to government’s chief operating officer.

Alex Chisholm, who also serves as permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office, claimed that the successful delivery of government’s reform ambitions requires a civil service that is “data-confident”. This applies to officials of all stripes: from those in entry-level administrative officer (AO) roles, right up to those in Whitehall’s most senior positions, he told PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World.

“We’ve got huge amounts of data across the system and [we need to be] increasing [our] ability to share that data both through interoperability and legal gateways,” Chisholm said. “Are people confident in the use of that data? Do they understand how they can use that to drive policy, to drive better outcomes for delivery, to shorten the timeframe to be able to fix issues that need fixing? Whether you’re an AO or permanent secretary: all of us need to be data confident and we all need to be skilled up further to do that.”

Such additional expertise will help support the ongoing rollout of the plans detailed in the Declaration on Government Reform, a strategy document published a year ago which set out 15 commitments in the areas of people, performance, and partnerships.

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Ensuring the success of this latest transformation agenda will require constant attention, according to Chisholm. 

“Long-term watchers of government would say that, with government reform, you need to keep putting more air into the balloon,” he said. “It needs to continue to travel up, and that’s what we absolutely plan to do in the second year.”

A key strand of the reform plan is the One Login system which is intended to provide a single unified means through which citizens can access all government services – which will also, for the first time, be made available via a dedicated GOV.UK app.  

It was recently announced that the first five services will go live with the new system in a September. While this pilot programme is running, all departments will be expected to conclude by 2023 the process of drawing up a plan for adopting the platform, and then begin to on-board their services by 2025.

Chisholm described the new digital tool – which is replacing about 190 existing accounts and 44 different sign-in methods – as “a big, incredibly important and very strategic programme” which will save money, improve citizen experience and also open the door for improvements in the way services are delivered.

Civil Service World’s full interview with Chisholm – including lots more insights on relocation plans, pay structures, and skills – can be read here.


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