Michael Wilkening is leaving the Office of California Governor Gavin Newsom. We wanted to say thank you from all of us at Public Digital.
Over more than 25 years of public service, Michael has led numerous efforts to improve service delivery for users, reimagine long-standing government programmes and build the foundations for digital transformation.
As Governor Newsom’s Special Advisor on Innovation and Digital Services, Michael led the creation of the state’s Office of Digital Innovation and built multidisciplinary digital services teams, bringing skills like user research, content design and product management into government. These teams have delivered an alpha of CA.gov, the state’s single government website, and more recently delivered a world-leading digital response to coronavirus, covid19.ca.gov in just 4 days.
This same approach proved critical when Michael led a team of public and private data and health experts to design innovative approaches to help shape the state’s response to the pandemic.
Michael leaves his role having laid solid foundations for others to continue to build on, just as he did in his prior role as Secretary of the California Health and Human Services (CHHS) Agency where he was at the helm of some of the nation’s largest state government programmes.
As a member of the Governor’s Cabinet, Michael has led 12 state departments of 30,000 employees with an annual budget of approximately $160 billion, providing critical healthcare and social services to nearly one-third of all California residents.
He championed the shift to a new agile procurement process of the child welfare system, created the CHHS Governance Council and Office of Innovation to accelerate the adoption of alternative ways of solving problems, and under Michael’s leadership CHHS was the first to establish an open data portal. This work has inspired similar programmes and become a model for other state departments.
As governments build back better, there is a desperate need for experienced public servants who can create and develop world-class digital teams to tackle vital public policy challenges. There are a very small number of public administrators who have repeatedly met policy needs at scale using digital teams, and Michael is pre-eminent among this group.
At Public Digital, we’ve found that those who have been successful at digital transformation at scale often have deep experience in 3 areas of government: finance departments; human service or customer operations; and the creation of new digital units. That is the combination most likely to appeal to the bigger, more complicated governments to face challenges at scale. We have seen this pattern in Australia, Denmark, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, the UK and in many other governments.
Michael has empowered teams, shown up to see delivery as it happens and he has been committed to fighting hard and doing things differently.
Thanks for everything, Michael, and good luck with whatever you decide to do next. Wherever you end up, they’ll be very lucky to have you.