Digital Government Digital Policy United Kingdom

Mike Bracken Leaves GDS: Passing the Baton

The Head of the Government Digital Service, Mike Bracken, has announced he is leaving the civil service. We asked Emer Coleman, former Deputy Director for Digital Engagement at GDS, to give her personal reaction to his departure.

Over the past two years – since leaving Government Digital Service – I’ve spent a lot of time working with senior people on digital leadership. Well, on leadership really, digital is just the trojan horse.

One of the things I try to get them to understand is that successful leadership is now a distributed function. It doesn’t come from the top down – rather it exists all over successful organisations and is determined by the hierarchy of contribution not the hierarchy itself. My interest in this stems from a quote from Nietzsche: “he serves a teacher badly always to remain only a pupil.”

I thought of that quote quite a lot with the announcement, last week, that Mike Bracken will be leaving Whitehall at the end of September. Apart from the digital legacy for government and citizens that Mike will leave, more striking for me is the fact that he created a template for change in one of the most risk averse environments one can work in – government.

Real change only happens in the civil service or public service when individuals care enough to lift their heads above the parapet and really care about better outcomes.

Before Mike there was no template for what that looked like so he created that template using a combination of street smarts and keen strategic skills. He wouldn’t give up and he wouldn’t give in he just kept pushing forward with a laser like focus on what needed to change to better meet the needs of citizens in a digital age. So now there is no room left for excuses. We know what change looks like. It looks like someone who understood what Billy Bragg meant when he penned Talking with the Taxman about Poetry:

Outside the patient millions
Who put them into power
Expect a little more back for their taxes

It behoves those that Mike leaves behind, therefore, not to remain pupils but to come together across Whitehall and step into his shoes. Not just one or two. But all of them. A baton has been passed but in the digital race the baton is no longer exclusive. I’m looking forward, therefore, to seeing those new digital leaders whizzing past with the same zeal and courage that Mike has demonstrated so ably in government. That is, of course, if rumored cuts are not to derail the whole digital transformation of government with truly unfortunate consequences for the most important people of all – users of government services.

I’ll finish by exhorting: The strategy is delivery folks. Onwards.

Emer Coleman is the former Deputy Director for Digital Engagement with Government Digital Services. She is now Director of Development and Engagement with TransportAPI  and CEO of Disruption Ltd a consultancy specializing in Digital Leadership Training for Senior Executives.

By Jeffrey Peel

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