Communicating in the open

By Victoria Ford, Communication Lead, Centre for Digital Public Services Wales (CDPS) 

‘This post was originally published as a guest blog post on 9 February 2021 on comms2point0, a shared learning space for communications professionals.’ 

The Centre for Digital Public Services (CDPS) was launched in June 2020 to work with colleagues across the public sector in Wales to deliver inclusive and accessible public services and ensure the people that design and deliver the services have the right skills, capability, ambition and support. 

Open communication was a focus for us from day one. We wanted to share ideas, progress, learning and conversations. One of the first activities for the Centre was to create a set of Digital Service Standards Services. These are a common set of standards for anyone building public services in Wales. They include a focus on the Wellbeing and Future Generations Act, the Welsh language and the need to ensure that no-one is left behind.  

These standards also influence our communications approach, in particular the standard that says we will work in the open. It says 

We should aim to make the services we build, and the techniques we use to build them, as open as possible.  

As they develop a service, teams should communicate in the open about the decisions they’re making and what they are learning. They should also share code, patterns and insights as freely as possible to help others seeking to build excellent public services in Wales.’ 

This has been our starting point for how we communicate as CDPS. We want to share as much as we can, provide transparency and give people the opportunity to get involved with our work to improve public services across Wales. This isn’t just about sharing good news stories, it’s about sharing all stories. We know that learning comes from trying new things and sharing that learning is a great way to encourage others to try new things and get involved. So, what have we been doing and how has it been going? 

Our blog 

Blogging makes it easier for us to talk about our work and share information. We’ve been using our blog to share progress, highlight successes, share things we’ve been learning and provide a voice for the people and organisations we’ve been working with.  

Blogging lets us test ideas and thinking and hopefully makes it easier for people to engage with us and our work. One of our next steps is to let people subscribe to our blog and get email updates. That way we can make sure that people get the information they need without duplicating content in a newsletter or separate mailshot. 

So far our posts have been a mix of curated content and posts that I’ve drafted in my role as comms lead for the Centre. One of the next things we’d like to do is make all our posts a bit more personal by naming authors and also use our blog for some more specialist and detailed posts, a bit like this one on prototyping linked to the work of our digital squad. Some of my favourite posts have been from teams working with the Centre for the first time and sharing their experiences openly and honestly like this post from the local authorities working with our first digital squad. 

We want our blog to start conversations, so we’ll be adding a comments feature soon as well as continuing to share content on our social media channels.  

Social media 

We’re on Twitter and LinkedIn where, like our blog and website, we post bilingually and are happy to engage in both Welsh and English. This is important to us as we work towards another of our digital service standards, ‘Promote the Welsh Language’ which states that services in Wales should 

meet the needs of people who use the Welsh language in their everyday lives. Teams should design and build services that promote and facilitate the Welsh language and treat users who speak it equally with those who prefer English.’ 

We’re currently looking at other digital channels to see where we can add value.  Our starting point is to go where our audiences are already having conversations, so we’re going to be doing some work to understand more about our audiences and how best we can reach them. 

Our website 

We want our website to be a place where anyone interested in delivering better public services in Wales can find information, updates and guidance and join communities. We’ve created the site with space for new content from the outset. We didn’t want to wait until we had all the information available before launching our site, we wanted to get information out as early as we could and keep building on it as we progressed and got feedback and input.   

After some initial challenges getting the site up and running (meeting GEL standards was important to us but threw up some unexpected delays!) we’re continually adding content and will continue to do so. Whilst our site has only been live for 3 months we’re already into the second iteration, we know we need to make it easier for readers to get updates and build a search capability that works amongst other things. We hope to have a number of new features live soon and these will include a subscribe function, a collaborative space for communities of practice, ability to book learning and development opportunities and development of our blog. 

Knowledge sharing webinars 

Back in November we launched a series of knowledge sharing webinars.  We want to bring people together with an interest in areas of our work and provide a catalyst for communities to build and conversations to happen. Because of COVID-19 face to face engagement hasn’t been an option, but these webinars have given an opportunity for two-way engagement and conversation.  It’s also given us the opportunity to try new ways of working. In our latest webinar on the Welsh Language, we used a simultaneous translator to allow people to participate in either Welsh or English. It was a first for me, but the technology and the simultaneous translator made it look easy! Our next webinar on the Digital Strategy for Wales is in conjunction with Welsh Government as we talk about the new Digital Strategy for Wales and how the Centre will be supporting delivery of the strategy.  Bringing people together to share is a big part of what our communication approach is about. 

What’s next? 

This is an exciting time to be involved in with the work of the Centre. There’s lots going on, at pace. For me personally one of the most exciting things is the opportunity to work with people across the public sector in Wales. Every day I’m learning from people at the front end of designing and delivering services, people developing policies to improve the lives of people in Wales and people looking for new ways to deliver better services. It’s a real privilege to share their stories.