5 minutes with...Janet Hughes

By Hilary Stephenson | 13/05/2019

Head shot of Janet Hughes, smiling at the camera

Meet Janet - an influential major projects director at the Department for Education. Janet will be speaking about her work at Camp Digital 2019. We grabbed some time to get her thoughts ahead of the event.

At Camp Digital, your talk is entitled "Applying digital ways of thinking and working to things that aren't obviously digital". Why is this important and what can the audience expect?

I think it's really important that now that we've had a very welcome influx of digital talent into government, we extend our influence and impact well beyond things that are obviously digital like websites and online transactions. Those things are only the foothills of the sort of transformation we need to bring about in the way government organisations operate.

We can't change government if we position ourselves as outsiders or interlopers; we need to bring digital ways of thinking and working to the whole of government. We need to get involved in the weird world of policy, and in services and projects that aren't primarily 'digital'. 

I'm going to be sharing my experience of trying to do this in the Department for Education - what's been hard, what we've learned and what's on the cards next.

Your career has been heavily focused on public sector digital design. What are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed over the years?

In the last few years it's become completely normal for government departments to employ designers, user researchers, content designers, product owners and developers - jobs that hardly existed at all in government 10 years ago are everywhere now. It's an amazing shift to have been part of, but I still think we're only just getting started -  we still cordon off people with digital skills in 'digital' teams, with separate cultures and ways of working. We really need to move into another phase where infiltrate the entire organisation and influence a much wider range of government activities.

How did you start out on your career path? And do you have advice for anyone thinking about getting into the field now?

I made a switch into my first properly digital role in 2012, having worked in the public sector for about 15 years in a roles mainly to do with making things work better for people. I'd been fascinated by tech and data for a good while, and had been going along to meetups and events like UK GovCamp and getting to know the community of reformers in and around government. In 2012, GDS was just getting started and it was clear that was the place to be if you wanted to make things better, so I was over the moon to get the opportunity to get involved through someone I knew who was working there and looking for a me-shaped person to help on a project.

My advice to anyone who wants to get involved in digital roles is to get involved in the community, get to know people, pitch up at events, learn as much as you can and then get involved and start to understand where you can add value - what's the thing you can bring to the table from all your experience? You don't have to have a computer science degree or have spent your entire life working in digital roles; in fact I think bringing a different perspective from experience in other disciplines can be really valuable. The most important things are a passion for learning and making things work better: if you start with those, the rest can quickly follow.

Can you share any exciting projects you’re working on at the moment?

I am perpetually over-excited, and particularly so right now. I'm loving working at the Department for Education - our work touches everyone's life at some point, we do a huge range of very different types of work (building schools, recruiting teachers, looking after children's social care, creating new qualifications...), and it's a very vocational department - everyone has a story about what led them to work in education, and how important it is personally to them. And most importantly DfE is really serious about becoming a more diverse and inclusive organisation and working in more user-centred ways. So it's a really exciting time to be working here.

What are you most looking forward to at Camp Digital?

I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone's talks, learning loads of new things and spending time with lovely digital friends and colleagues.

Janet's Camp Digital talk, "Applying digital ways of thinking and working to things that aren't obviously digital" will be at 14:40 on Wednesday 12th June in the Main Theatre. For more information or to book tickets, head on over to the Camp Digital website.