1. Management summary

The purpose of the review is to assess how the digital aspects of Government communication and engagement are planned and executed, and how can they be improved.

The review was undertaken by three independent reviewers. They brought complementary skills and experience to the review, and a deep knowledge of digital communication.

1.1 Findings

The reviewers saw some inspiring examples of digital content, tools, assets and engagement. They met with some senior leaders who were passionate about helping the civil service keep up with the way technology is used outside of government. Pockets of good practice notwithstanding, the headline finding is that digital communication in government is developing well in specialist teams but less so in the mainstream. The consequence is that it is being outpaced by the best of the commercial and NGO worlds. Too much is ‘broadcast’ – i.e. one-way – and does not seek to engage. And, crucially, it is still treated by many in departmental leadership positions as an area where the risks outweigh the benefits. In some departments the case for getting more from digital communication and engagement has not been made sufficiently well.

The reviewers found a mix of frustration with, and admiration for, the award-winning, GOV.UK platform, and with GDS, the organisation which runs it. Some of the frustrations revolve around the perception of a mismatch between departments’ expectations regarding campaigning needs and GDS’ role and resources. GDS and Directors of Communication need to work much more closely and collaboratively.

There was also widespread condemnation of current government IT, both on the desk top but also importantly for mobile. Some of this is due to economic constraints, much is also due to access constraints of questionable necessity.

The reviewers found evaluation to be patchy and inconsistent. In many cases this is because clear-headed planning, objective-setting and targeting is lacking.

1.2 Recommendations

Improving objective-setting and evaluation, making digital communication mainstream and closer collaboration with GDS, would all bring significant benefits. The reviewers’ recommendations are founded on a simple set of principles and a ‘manifesto’, to bring about a pace of change at scale.

The biggest barriers to this are to do with IT, skills and with attitudes to risk. The reviewers believe that these are largely perception-based and can be tackled pragmatically and effectively.