Interning at Public Digital

Sechi Kailasa and Divya Goel are Masters students at the Harvard Kennedy School. In their first year of the programme, they both focused on digital government and have spent their summers interning at Public Digital. In this post they explain what they’ve each been working on, and reflect on what they’ve learnt.

Sechi and Divya at the Public Digital office in London

Sechi

Before I started my studies in public administration, I worked in the UK Civil Service. I knew that a good number of people at Public Digital had public sector experience and had – in many cases – fundamentally changed the way the UK Government functions. With that in mind, I was both excited and kind of nervous to join. I was based in the International Development team and worked on a range of projects.

Exploring digital sustainability

I worked with Claire, Amy and Emily to kick-off the fifth edition of Signals – a physical (and later, online) collection of essays around a certain topic. This time, the topic is sustainability in digital transformation. To help put together the foreword, I spent time researching what exactly sustainability means within this area. It’s a knotty but super interesting problem since the term encompasses so many things. I also suggested and contacted potential contributors from places including Sierra Leone, Togo, Mongolia and Tunisia. (Signals 5 will be published at the end of the year).

Working on a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project

I was tasked with one of the deliverables for this client project which I worked on with Claire, Emily and network member Emily Webber. I put together the recommendation through interviews with Public Digital’s network and research. I really appreciated the autonomy I had so I could just get on and have a go at this. I particularly enjoyed how we worked together; working in the open, bouncing ideas off each other as well as giving and getting feedback. It was also really awesome that the project involved advising a national government.

I was also able to get involved with other pieces of work including thinking through the digitisation of public finance management; blogging about the Digital Services Convening, and presenting digital trends in government at the Department for Education’s virtual awayday.

The welcome, the people, the culture

I felt like I was part of the team from day one – partly because both Divya and I were invited to join everything. I enjoyed learning about what each team was working on, as well as asking for people’s thoughts on particular pieces of work. Also, on a social level, everyone has always been really approachable.

The breadth and importance of the work

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the breadth of work that Public Digital is involved in. I liked hearing the ideas the team is thinking through, as well as learning about the challenges that organisations are trying to grapple with. All of Public Digital’s projects are aimed at creating meaningful change. I like that.

Divya

I had the opportunity to work with James and split my time between client work and a research project.

A 'digital maturity' assessment

Alongside Claire and Stef, I assessed the digital maturity of Sellafield Ltd., Europe’s largest nuclear site. We did this by carrying out around 25 interviews with the senior leadership of the organisation. We had client calls and internal brainstorming sessions to draft a final report that will be shared with the CEO that we hope will help guide their digital strategy. The feedback was that our recommendations were unique but practical – that felt rewarding.

My research project

My research project was on improving funding for digital projects. The limited past research in this area meant there was a definite need for, and novelty in, my project. I carried out interviews with government digital teams in Argentina, Estonia, Rwanda, Bangladesh, California and British Columbia to learn about the unique challenges they face and the way they've worked towards a solution. I was able to find time with senior leaders within and outside the organisation, lead the interviews and have a first cut at what the outputs would look like. My report – which will be published soon – is intended to be shared with government digital teams around the world, and serve as a starting point for bringing reform.

Interns are part of the team

During our time interning, me and Sechi were encouraged to get involved in everything we wanted to be involved in. Open invites meant we were welcome to join big, significant meetings like the quarterly review, as well as weekly stand-ups. We could also drop in to fun things like the ‘Lunch and Show’ and evening drinks too.

The Public Digital team includes people who have been involved in very impressive work which, on paper, could be a bit intimidating. But the culture fosters collaboration and humility and people are always ready to help you. (Note: I found reading Digital Transformation at Scale quite helpful preparation before the internship began).

An end note from us: the Public Digital team works with organisations that matter, on problems where they can add value. Thank you for the opportunity to be part of that. We've both learnt an awful lot this summer. Bye for now.

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