I've entered 2018 in the interesting new position of having to explain my job quite frequently. This happens every now and then in IT anyway. Friends and family often introduce me by telling people that I do something with computers "in the fancy building with the clock on it". This time, it's happening even within the Digital Service itself.
Colleagues I've worked with for a while are stopping and asking me what "local engagement" actually means. So I thought that writing a blog post might be a good way to help answer this question.
Supporting lots of our users
As an organisation, PDS supports over 9,000 users. Everybody from MPs and Lords and their staff to people who support the work of Parliament. These could be Hansard reporters, catering staff, and library researchers to name a few.
As well as keeping things running smoothly, we're also investing a lot in projects that are transforming the way Parliament works. We're using technology like Office 365 and Skype for Business to help our users work more effectively. This, along with cyber security improvements, is part of our mission to provide excellent digital services for a modern Parliament.
But there's a significant group of users that sometimes struggle to get access to these digital services: the 650 MP constituency offices spread out across the country. They're often on high streets or town centres, and deal with all sorts of questions and queries. For most people, this is the first point of contact they'll have with an MP.
It's worth noting that this kind of problem isn't unique to Parliament. Many companies have satellite offices based all over the world and have to support them across large geographical regions and even different time zones.
Staff in these offices rely on our systems being robust and on us fixing things quickly when they break. But it isn't as easy as it is when people are based in Westminster. We can't pop over for an hour to talk about cyber security or to help diagnose or repair an issue.
That's where our new local engagement team will come in. Based in various areas of the UK, they will work as partners with constituency offices, making sure they can make the most of the digital tools and services we're providing to support their constituents. They'll raise awareness of cyber security which has never been more relevant, and they'll report back to PDS to give us a better awareness of our user base outside of Westminster.
Parliament also has its own outreach and engagement team, who travel across the UK raising the profile of Parliament and telling people what it does. What makes constituency offices unique is that the majority of offices only have a handful of staff, who may feel distanced from the events in Westminster.
Constituency workers have a really important job helping MPs represent their constituents so the Digital Service needs to be more proactive in supporting them.
Finding the right people
My next few weeks and months will be spent putting together this team. Finding the most talented people is only part of the challenge. There's going to be a fair bit of travel - for both them and me. They’ll be working alone a lot of the time so will need the confidence and initiative to be the sole Digital Service representative in constituencies.
So we'll be looking for people who are confident walking into a different office every day and comfortable answering questions from MPs' staff. They'll have to be enthusiastic and encourage users to think about the way technology can improve their work, and to try new things. Finally, we want people who are passionate about the work of MPs and Parliament.
There are a lot of things to consider and it's the first time PDS has tried something like this. So I'm also entering 2018 feeling a bit of pressure! It's going to involve trying new things and experimenting, especially with recruitment approaches. I'll be blogging some more on what I’m learning as I go.
Interested? Find out more about the local engagement roles from our jobs website.
If you have any questions, please email the local engagement team.