The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is recruiting people to design digital public services.
“We’re looking pretty much across the board,” MoJ chief digital officer (CDO), Paul Shetler, told Computer Weekly.
Since Shetler took the role as CDO at the MoJ in January, he has already expanded the digital team from 60 to 145, making it one of the largest digital teams in Whitehall after the Government Digital Service (GDS).
Shetler said the department has expanded quickly by hiring contactors while it looked for permanent civil servants. The team has a high number of contractors but Shetler hopes to rebalance this with new permanent staff.
“In many cases we’re trying to rebalance,” he said. “Although the team may grow larger as well.”
GDS and digital
GDS has been in the middle of a project to move 25 of the most used government services online in 400 working days. The ambitious project kicked off in January 2013, aiming to transform 25 services from visa applications to benefit claims – which were identified as the first “exemplars” to be redeveloped.
By the end of the 400-day period, the 25 exemplars should be live or in the last stage of public testing.
Following in the GDS's footsteps, the MoJ has managed to get three of its exemplar projects live – prison visit bookings, lasting power of attorney and civil claims – with the fourth and final exemplar, apply to an employment tribunal, due to go live in December.
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“All of our exemplars will be live by the end of the year, but we’re working on a lot of other stuff too,” said Shetler. “Our work didn’t start and end with the exemplars, we continue digital transformation throughout the entire MoJ.”
Shetler said the department is delivering 16 different products, including a new civil legal advice system and internal projects.
The skills gap
While Computer Weekly has been writing about the ongoing IT skills gap affecting the UK, Shetler believes the shortage of technology workers will not affect government as badly.
“I keep on hearing about this skills gap and, to be honest with you, when I first came in, it was sometimes difficult to find people, but I don’t think there’s a big skills gap for people coming into government,” he said.
“The reason for that is we offer things you can’t get in the private sector, you can work in agile and multifunctional team. We don’t talk about projects, but products – and they’re really important products - we’re not talking about selling fizzy water or shaving 2p off a banking transaction cost.”
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Shetler said people are attracted to government because they want to do a job that means something, rather than receive a hefty pay cheque.
“Our services affect people in real serious ways, typically an interaction with the MoJ is a life-changing event that happens rarely, people aren’t constantly suing people, or applying for lasting power of attorney.”
Shetler said the MoJ digital team has a responsibility to make these one-off interactions easier for users.
“And that is a reason to get out of bed; that is a reason to work with your friends in changing those things,” he said. “We’ve built an environment and culture and people want to come, because of the nature of the work it is public service and, actually, it’s kind of cool to do that.
“I think government is the best digital startup in London,” said Shetler. “We really do have multi-functional teams and when we talk about agile we really mean it and we’re really serious about user research and understanding what the user needs are.”