Can digital tools change the way civil servants work? My digital life in DFID

At the Department for International Development we are increasingly using digital tools so we can have a bigger, faster and more cost-effective impact on poverty reduction. These means both ensuring the impact of digital technologies in our programmes and making the most of digital tools to transform the way we work.

World Development Report, 2016

This year’s World Bank’s World Development Report assembles the evidence on the impact of digital technologies on development and highlights the benefits, or dividends. At the end of the WDR 2016, there is a brief section on how digital tools can affect the operations of development agencies:

With new technologies, development agencies can be more inclusive by tapping the wisdom of beneficiaries in designing interventions. They can crank up their efficiency by using rapid feedback to refine and improve their actions through trial and error, and use open-source evaluation to align performance management with learning

Back in DFID we have a growing portfolio of digital programmes. As we develop this further there are some important considerations for how we continue to build capability and create an organisational environment that can embrace new ways of working.

One element of our capability strategy is the creation of a network of ‘digital ninjas’ to challenge us to think differently and stay at the forefront of digital development delivery. It is also a fun way of recognizing a new set of skills, whether that be identifying new ways of monitoring programmes or using digital tools to strengthen how we work as an organisation.

In my job I currently don't get to work directly on digital international development programmes, but I have found digital tools really helpful in improving how I work. I find they strengthen partnerships, enable cross-organisational engagement and help facilitate external ‘crowd-sourcing’ of new ideas and different perspectives.

So, here is a run-down of 5 digital tools I use everyday

I engage in an ongoing Twitter discussion about how to improve the way international development and the Department for International Development works. I follow some fascinating people around the world and get loads of ideas, links and connections from Twitter. This network challenges me to think differently, to listen to different views and perspectives, to be open to scrutiny and to being influenced by a community that is grade-less and non-hierarchical. I think this is a key civil service leadership capability.

I find that using Twitter in this way changes the way I work and informs the change process I lead. I hope — in return — I succeed in making a broader contribution to international development.

Yammer is our internal social media site that we have used as part of an organisation-wide engagement exercise. Over the past 3 years we have built a following of 750 staff (about 25% of the organisation) on the ‘better delivery’ site. This is the place for people to share articles, ideas and questions. Increasingly, we see staff making connections and answering each others’ questions rather than feeling they have to go to ‘headquarters' asking for help; all part of our shift away from rules to principles, context and judgement and building a learning organisation.

A number of teams across DFID have started using Trello to communicate and organise work and this has gradually percolated beyond the IT teams to more ‘mainstream’ departments. My team has just started a trial to manage all the key external events, key meetings, consultations, pilots and external engagement we are leading. This is a great way of sharing information and enhancing our collective impact by all being better connected on emerging priorities and feedback.

We have started using Slack as a way for teams to communicate across sites. The IT project team I am responsible for has started to use Slack as a away of discussing everyday issues. We have stopped emailing each other and communicate updates and choices through Slack. It is a great way to collaborate across geographic sites.

I have started an external blog on Medium (i.e. this site). It is a fantastic blogging site; clean and fresh, great content and it links to my networks through Twitter and Facebook. Somewhere between traditional blogs and Twitter, this is a really engaging tool.

What else is worth trying out?

I have found these tools really useful. I hope that, the more we use them, the more will we be able to improve internal efficiency and communication. And more than that, we will be able to apply the same principles to how we work with partner organisations — and communities themselves — kick-starting more open and transparent dialogue and increasing our flexibility to respond to changing needs and contexts.

What do you use that you have found useful?

What would you recommend to help organisations like DFID to be at the cutting edge of digital technologies?

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