Year note, 2021

It’s been another unusual year but it’s been a good one too.

Public Digital’s mission is to help global institutions that matter to thrive in the internet era. This year we’ve continued to do that. We’ve grown our core Public Digital team significantly, and we’ve also expanded our network of experts so we have reliable, experienced friends in more corners of the world.

Public digital core team and network members
Some of the core team and network members at an away day in September. (Photo by Paul Clarke)

It’s been another year of limited travel which feels odd for the team who travelled so frequently in 2019. We’ve worked from our Farringdon office when it's felt sensible to, but remote working has continued to be our default. But the lack of in-person appearances hasn’t limited our reach. We’ve worked with governments and organisations in 18 countries in 2021, that’s 5 more than in 2020.

James Stacey and Divya office
James, Stacey and Divya in our office in Farringdon

A catalyst for change

This year, we’ve seen how the pandemic has become a catalyst for change, and many governments and older traditional organisations are now pursuing digital strategies more aggressively. This was an overarching theme at the fourth Harvard Digital Services Convening we co-hosted in June. The event brought together over 100 digital government practitioners from 47 countries to share successes and challenges. Work by governments’ digital services teams deserve to be celebrated, however the convening also showed that covid-19 has made many divides starker and has highlighted inequalities in accessing digital public services between citizens.

Meaningful work at institutions that matter

We’ve said before that we only work with global institutions who matter and our positions and our Ethics Committee make sure we only work or partner with those who are also striving to create a better, fairer world for everyone. This year was no different.

We’ve worked with practitioners, leaders and executive boards, from 5 continents, in areas as diverse as mental health, international development, sport, financial services, identity, justice, and insurance.

We’ve worked with national and city governments in Africa and Asia, helping one of them to review their digital leadership roles and structures. Our long-standing involvement in Canada’s federal and provincial government continued this year too. We worked on a strategy for a digital identity project (and wrote a blog post on major considerations); helped a province prioritise their pandemic response, and helped shape a vision for digital reform of Canadian courts. We also applied some of that thinking in Jamaica, working with the IADB on digital transformation in Justice.

Our partnership with NHS Providers has also continued this year and we’ve now delivered coaching sessions for more than 50 NHS Boards across England. Their CEO Chris Hopson praised the Digital Boards programme in this Twitter thread.

We’ve also worked with a number of other clients representing national and local parts of the UK’s health and care system. We’ve supported the transformation of ophthalmology (eye care); helped teams design better mental health services for children and young people; and supported NHS Trusts to assess their digital capability.

It’s been an honour to contribute to global thought leadership for an international organisation, as well as to work with UN agencies, philanthropic foundations and development banks.

Closer to the office, we’ve supported organisations including the funding agency UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) who are going through complex transformation programmes. Internet-era ways of working are essential, but often the technology only makes up a small part of the operational service.

This has been the case with 2 large traditional financial services organisations we’ve supported too. We helped each of them to adopt new ways of working that will accelerate the delivery of accessible, easy-to-use, easy-to-understand digital services for millions of people across the world. Our work with commercial banking will have a global impact on SMEs in many different markets. We helped leaders at a pensions provider develop a shared vision for transformation to support their 13 million customers.

It has been brilliant to catch up with teams who are continuing to build on the foundations that we’ve helped put in place over the last few years. The Safe check-in service in Nova Scotia and the impressive work by team are strong examples of this.

Collaboration and knowledge sharing

We’ve created and co-created several reports, guides and books this year. We’ve made them available so knowledge and thinking can be shared, discussed and built on in future iterations.

Publications we’ve worked on include:

The paperback fourth edition of Signals – a collection of essays on how the pandemic accelerated trends that were already unstoppable. Order a copy here.

Fourth edition of Signals
An essay by Rochelle Gold in the fourth edition of Signals

We’ve also shared our thinking on digital identity projects and our research on digital public service delivery in Africa. We’ve contributed to the Digital Public Goods community, and Amy has filled 9 editions of the Public Digital newsletter with stories on technology, transformation, design, data and ethics from around the world, (subscribe here).

Although we’ve been cautious when it comes to travel, James and Emily attended Open UK’s Open Tech for Sustainability in Glasgow. Their 5 takeaways are here.

We’ve also (sometimes remotely) spoken at events including a workshop in Botswana organised by ODI; at the Global Digital Development Forum with our partners at the Harvard Kennedy School; Numérique en commun[s] hosted in France, and at several sessions at FWD50.

Our core and our network

We welcomed 13 new members to our core team this year. They are: Alex Crisan, Annabel Lamb, Bashiru Lawal-Shardow, Connie van Zanten, Deepali Manek, Holly Roscoe, Heidi Uchiyama, Joanne Esmyot, Lara Sampson, Laura Nelson-Hamilton, Matt Harrington and Nick Stewart. Plus Dave Rogers moved over from our network to become a partner making us a core team of 28.

PD Matt Connie and Deepali
Matt, Connie (👋🏽 hi) and Deepali joined Public Digital this year

Last month, Philippa Elworthy, joined us on a one year secondment from the Department for Work and Pensions. We were also very lucky to have Sechi Kailasa and Divya Goel from Harvard University join us for the summer, and Adam Muhtar from the University of Cambridge earlier in the year.

We also welcomed 26 new members into our network. We now work with 69 talented experts in 12 countries across 5 continents.

We’ve managed a few in-person meet-ups and socials so most new people have managed to meet some of the team in real life. It’s been harder to meet Joanne who is based in Mauritius and we haven’t seen Dan in Buenos Aires in person this year either. Fingers crossed for next year.

Show the Thing meet ups
4 images from 4 weeks of our internal ‘Show the Thing’ meet-ups

Because the team has grown exponentially again this year, staying connected has been more difficult. We introduced a weekly ‘Show the Thing’, for people to talk through things they’re proud of, things they’ve learnt, and things they think would be useful for the rest of the team. It’s been so valuable. Plus it’s important to practise what we preach. We did some internal training with Sarah Winters founder of Content Design London, we’ve sent several people on Lauren Currie’s UPFRONT course, and we’re also experimenting with communities of practice.

Last year, Public Digital joined the kyu Collective. This year we were pleased to visit Sid Lee and Haigo in Paris and welcome Godfrey Dadich to our office in London. While we’ve enjoyed collaborating with members of the network virtually, one firm goal is to see more of them in person next year.

Thank you to so many

A huge thank you to everyone we've worked alongside and collaborated with this year. Thanks to all our clients, partners and friends across the world.

From Friday 17 December we’ll be taking some well-deserved time out but we'll be back on Tuesday 4 January 2022. See you then.

Previously: Year note, 2020, Year note, 2019, Year note, 2018.

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