What does digital mean to us?

Giulia Merlo
Cancer Research UK Tech Team Blog
3 min readMay 22, 2019

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Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

About three years ago, Cancer Research UK launched a big and bold strategy for digital transformation. We wanted to take the tools, ways of working and experimental mindset that are usually associated with ‘digital’ teams out into every part of the organisation: we wanted to empower every team to get closer to their users; to test and learn their ideas in a self-sufficient way that didn’t require them to ask for help from the technology team; to fail fast and safely, and to use all these advantages to become more responsive to the changing needs of our audiences.

To do this, we used a hub and spoke model: a central hub of digital experts, who would act not as an internal agency but as a partner. And a set of ‘spokes’: cross-functional teams that would be formed of both tech and non-tech team members, and work together for a fixed period of time, during which they would co-design digital solutions but most importantly share knowledge and expertise so that the next time around, that team would need less help from the tech ‘experts’.

We’re very proud of how our award-winning hub and spoke model has worked for us so far, and of its impact. But we’re also becoming aware that it’s no longer enough.

As our teams have grown in digital maturity, and as we’ve evolved our technology products and the expertise of our core disciplines such as UX, Agile, content and service design, outside of CRUK the understanding of what digital means has also kept shifting: it’s not just about technology anymore. It’s about how we want to work, and what it means to be relevant and effective in the world today.

So we know we need to evolve our transformation strategy. And we know that we can’t think about this in isolation. Our need to change and adapt is as much driven by changes in our stakeholders, partners and supporters as it is by the changing nature of the people who work here.

We believe there’s a unique opportunity to open up our thinking about ‘digital’ to encompass some of the debates that cross the range of sectors we’re a part of, such as charity, health and research.

This is why we’ve decided to organise two events, which we will run as unconferences, with agendas shaped on the day. The first will bring together people from across Cancer Research UK. The second will be open beyond our charity to people from across the sectors we feel part of.

Through these events, we want to connect and maintain our community; we want to open the agenda for this work beyond technology; and we want to work in the open — so this is the first in a series of posts that will tell the story of how our thinking evolves through collaboration.

We’ve made a great start to our digital transformation — where do we want to go next?

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Giulia Merlo
Cancer Research UK Tech Team Blog

Head of User Research & Design @citizensadvice | Formerly of CRUK | Co-Chair of BIMA Charities Council | Feminist, European, passionate about pizza & Beyonce