DfE Digital and Technology podcast

Think digital, act human: the Get help with technology service

December 7, 2021

Here is our fifth episode of the 'Think digital, act human' podcast series, which shines a light on the stories of the people behind our digital and technology projects.

In this episode our host, Adaobi Ifeachor, gets to know Rachel Hope. Rachel led the team that sourced, bought and distributed over 1.35 million laptops and tablets to disadvantaged children and young people during covid.

 

Our podcast host Adaobi also speaks to Shafiqa Gunton, Programme Delivery Manager, about her role and what’s next for the GHwT service.

 

Transcription 

 

[music plays]

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

Hello, welcome to Think Digital Act Human, a podcast from the Department for Education where we tell the everyday stories of digital specialists working on extraordinary projects. And today's project, when I use that label extraordinary, you know, I'm not using that lightly. This is, this is a pretty juicy one today. We're going to be talking about the Get help with technology programme that helped ensure that remote learning during the COVID lockdowns was something that could continue as best as we we could under the circumstances. We're going to be talking all about it with today's guest, Rachel Hope, who is the deputy director of teacher services here at DfE. Hey Rachel, how are you doing? 

 

Rachel Hope 

I'm good. Thank you for having me along today. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

So dear listeners, cast your mind back to the before times when we were kind of entering our first COVID lockdown and parents were kind of panicking. Perhaps you had a career that you could work from home. Perhaps you had a child, maybe more than one child of different ages who both needed access to the family laptop, and that wasn't possible. What on earth are you going to do? It was Rachel's job to come up with a way to make that possible. Rachel, can you tell us a bit more about Get help with tech? Like what was it designed to do and what was the kind of brief that you were given? 

 

Rachel Hope 

Let me start at the beginning, so I think it's fair to say that in any time in recent history, many of us haven't been in this place where our own destiny wasn't really of our own choosing, and we didn't really expect any of these changes to come upon us at speed and that was definitely the case for us here in the Department for Education. So it was a week before schools were closing and there was a team that were working on looking at how the curriculum could be delivered remotely if the final decision was made to, in fact, send children home. And I went across to help the team look at that, and it was a really, really, really knotty, big challenge. And so what we did was we set up a number of teams who went out and really rapidly spoke to schools and spoke to headteachers and teachers in the classroom and parents and some children about what they saw would be the challenges if we had to teach people remotely. What they do already for children who may be often, for example, long term sickness, absence and things like that, and we started to quickly formulate a set of priorities that we'd need to address, including things like safeguarding and policies on how much the curriculum should apply if we were in this world. But for my part, I was looking very much at those who wouldn't be able to interact remotely online. So there's a huge swathes of the population who wouldn't have enough or any access via a computer or laptop or tablet or the internet. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

Sorry to interrupt Rachel to hold on a second, just to be completely clear here. This wasn't called Get help with tech at that point, you were just told what happens if you know, sometime in the future, schools close. What are kind of immediate problems to look at? And so I'm hearing like a massive list that like safeguarding. We we kind of had in the news how, you know, people in domestic violence situations, for example, were kind of in their worst nightmare being kind of on lockdown with potentially their abusers. And maybe there were similar safeguarding issues with kids. Or maybe, you know, going to school and knowing that you're going to have lunch that day, it was like a really big thing for them at that time. Getting back to the Get help with tech programme, how did you kind of prioritise like this is the low hanging fruit that we can immediately do something about. I mean, my mind is kind of blown at the moment. 

 

Rachel Hope

Yeah, I mean, and you're completely right actually, that's one thing I should say. While I went across to help the curriculum team, it soon became something much bigger because here at the Department for Education, we're not just about the education that are happening in our schools and colleges. We also look after social workers and we think about vulnerable children and what on earth do we do to make sure these children are protected in a world where social worker visits may stop? So it soon became a much bigger question about how do we connect people to our services that were previously face to face? And it was one of those areas where I mean, there was a lot of new initiatives spin up so I wasn't the only one who was working on all the different things that needed to happen, but it was quite clear there was a gap that the department would need to step into at speed to try and connect these people. And so that's where the Get help with technology programme was born was born out of that that week of looking at where we had our gaps and we went in and basically made the case. And I've got there's so much we could talk about because this is not just the case that we need to be doing something within the Department for Education to close that gap but making that case across government because all of a sudden everyone across government was thinking about how do they offer their services that were previously face to face? 

 

So how does the NHS get all the technology to their workforces who may need to now deliver services online, for example? And there was a vast array of different departments who were thinking about the technology they needed to buy and deploy. I know laptops are delivered in prisons, for example. So there was actually a huge conversation that needed to happen across government around OK, well, the supply is finite. There is a finite supply that will grow over time. How do we make the case that some of this supply really does need to go and support our disadvantaged and vulnerable children here at the Department for Education? 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

So your wow. OK, so there's all these kinds of people at your level of deputy director, and they're all kind of, was it a case. The problems were being identified and then particular deputy director is saying, well, that fits really well with the portfolio that I've got, so I'll take that problem on. And then you were thinking, well, Get help with tech, whether it was named at that point or not, that's something that I know I can kind of quickly address. Is that how it happened, but everyone stepping forward and taking ownership of a particular meaty problem? 

 

Rachel Hope 

Yeah, that was exactly it. So. So what happened in that first week was we gathered that insight. We carved up what we thought the biggest challenges would be into four or five different areas and I took leadership of the area, which at the time was actually called digital infrastructure I think we were calling it before it became a much more common sense name and I then took that forward. And then that's when actually the governance systems really kicked in and provided a really effective support. So there was a ministerial group chaired across the whole of government, which came together that week that looked at the needs, these type of needs, the digital infrastructure needs for the different departments and agreed a set of priorities of which departments were going to be initially given a chunk of money from the Treasury to help do this, and we were one of the top three departments. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

Did you have to kind of like use your elbows to like push people out the way? Use those sharp elbows? 

 

Rachel Hope 

There was a lot of gathering the evidence really quickly of what we thought the gap was and being really clear what we thought the impacts would be without addressing it and making that case really clearly to our peers and really allowing our ministers to merely make that case clear. And I think it was within two weeks we'd gone through that process of identifying the biggest problems. Identifying this was one, getting it agreed across government that we were going to run with this and start in the process of trying to make it happen, which is a whole another big story. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

Oh, well, we're going to dive into that deep story, Rachel, don't you worry. My observation before we do is that, okay I know I say this every single podcast episode, but it's relevant people. I haven't been at the DfE for very long, I haven't been in the civil service very long. What I'm noticing is whilst there are some projects that outside circumstances mean that you have like this immovable deadline, you just have to kind of like find new ways to do stuff. Mostly, I've found that, you know, there's a lot of red tape, and rightly so because, you know, we're spending the public's money on stuff that should, you know, ultimately aid the public. But this wasn't really one of those situations in a way, because, yes, money had to be spent responsibly but the crisis was here now like the fire was already burning, you know? So did that mean that you had to completely change the way that you would normally go about a project this massive? 

 

Rachel Hope 

I think in in a way actually having all of the having agreed methodologies or approaches to getting something done was helpful, and we didn't necessarily go about it in whole new ways, but we did go into about a whole new speed and the ability to convene people. So, for example, we did produce a business case and we did put that business case, which went into all the aspects in front of our investment committee. But that business case was draughted within that first week, bringing in lots of experts who were willing to give up their time immediately to help us. And we had a extraordinary committee convened where we pulled in experts from across government who could offer us real good challenge and quick challenge. So it wasn't necessarily about not going through those processes, but really making those processes work. It was almost that the stakes were even higher to get it right at speed. And because of the crisis, everyone was willing to make the priority call that this is the thing they needed to go and do and support. And that was just brilliant. We saw a real meeting of expertise on this. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

So from that business case, if you can cast your mind back, what was some of the top objectives here then? I've talked a little bit about the laptops. That's kind of like the big thing that people might remember from the news is that there were lots of kids who weren't able to kind of be educated remotely in the way that the rest of the class were because for whatever reason, that family couldn't afford it, they couldn't get access to a computer. So I know that that was part of it, like making sure they had access to it. But like, what are the other headline things here? Did any kids have to? Did any families have to put in money to reserve one of these things, like how did the system work and what were the other things beyond laptops that you were trying to do? 

 

Rachel Hope 

And there's quite a lot in here. So there were four key parts to what we were doing under our part to Get help with technology. So the 1.3 million laptops and that number is growing now. But the 1.3 million laptops we delivered. We also tried to make sure people were connected to the internet. So we did that through a few different ways. So we gave out 4G wireless routers with associated data on it. But we also worked with the mobile phone companies to get them to offer free mobile data to people that we identified who needed it. Then we worked with schools to get schools who didn't have things like Microsoft Teams or Google for education, those sort of digital education platforms. We got those installed in the schools who didn't already have those, and then we provided training for schools. So we set up what we call the Edtech demonstrators. But that was essentially schools who were almost best in class ar using digital products to educate children, and they went round and supported. We paid for them to go around and support the other schools who were further behind in their digital journey. So they were the sort of the four big things laptops, internet, schools platforms and then the training that we rolled out together. And then you said at the start, what are the objectives? So we were sort of focussed on a few things, but crucially, we were trying to make sure that disadvantage gap between children wasn't going to grow over this period. We wanted to make sure people still had an equal ability to access education. But we also wanted to support those who are vulnerable. So we gave out support to children who had social workers as well as care leavers, for example, where remaining connected is so important to that person's well-being and health. So this was quite a wide ranging programme. That was trying to meet multiple objectives that we would otherwise be meeting through or face to face services. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

Okay, so you've had your kind of crisis triaging the problems, everyone's carved out an area of responsibility. You now know you got Get help with tech. I'm assuming at some point the name change so it was Get help with tech instead of Digital infrastructure. Now, now what do you do? And by the way, I just want to know what your mindset was. Did you feel an incredible amount of pressure and you just had to be like the cool, calm, collected lady at the top? Or were you just too busy to even worry about that stuff? So, you know, how are you feeling? And what did you do next? 

 

Rachel Hope 

How am I feeling? Back then it was a wonderful world where I still look after my existing work, which was supporting teacher recruitment and retention, so it's making sure I was able to I had a deep feeling of trying to support my existing team through this because what we have to remember was this wasn't just having to deliver all new work in a crisis, it was also all of us individually and the people in all teams were going through that personally as well. So everyone was thinking about what did it mean for me? How am I going to educate my own children? How am I going to make this work? So there was a high degree of looking at the problem and trying to get that done, as well as just that deep sense of trying to make sure all of the people I care about deeply and my teams are supported and able to do what they need to do. So there was a real degree of spinning lots of plates. I just so thankful looking back to having some fantastic people to work with and being able to tap people on the shoulder and say, Hi, I'm doing this. Can you come and help? And everyone sort of putting down what they're doing and coming alongside each other to make this happen was really, like heartening. And that's what kept me going. But it's also what made the programme deliver as well. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

So what did delivering the programme actually entail? Like, I'm coming from a very digital had space as a product manager, and I kind of know if I'm having a conversation with my deputy director that you know, Oh, this is kind of one of my stakeholders, and I'm going to try and work out what the other needs might be. But how did this work in this case? Because it wasn't just purely digital like you, you spoke about physical hardware needing to get to students and stuff like that. And I assume perhaps you also had to think about things like fraud. People taking this is like an opportunity to perhaps get a laptop they wouldn't necessarily have gotten to that school. Maybe, I don't know. Or maybe that wasn't a concern. Maybe it was just. We've just got to trust everybody at this moment, it's too fast to think about. You know what, what were the first steps of getting this programme realised? 

 

Rachel Hope 

probably at its core was making sure that we had an integrated policy and delivery team and delivery in the broadest sense. So I'll describe what we delivered in a second, but it meant that we had digital teams building digital services. We had commercial teams who are putting in place these really big contracts at speed, and we had policy people thinking through probably your question of, who does get a laptop? There's not an infinite supply, who does get a laptop, how's that prioritised and where does it go? So all of those people were working and they had to work completely together at all times to make sure that the feedback loops were happening in minutes rather than days. And so what we actually created, let's bring it to life. Let's take the laptops to begin with. We built a digital platform on which we interacted with eventually all schools or those who are responsible for schools, so multi-academy trusts or local authorities. And we basically invited people in to order their laptops through that. The schools and local authorities for vulnerable children were allocated a certain number of laptops based on the number of children who were eligible for free school meals. So that's how we divvy it up. But it is a whole other layer of complication in all of this, in that not every school uses the same technology. So some people might operate with Google and Chromebooks or Microsoft or Apple, and you wouldn't want to start introducing a different type of technology and overheads of that into the school sector because we want these laptops to be used for years and years to come and not just in the crisis. So we needed to make sure we could service the different needs and that those laptops also had the appropriate safeguarding software on them so they could be given out, but also with the ability for schools to add  their own. So there was all of this nuance. So that all had to be mediated through our digital service. And then that went through once they were ordered to a company who we contracted with, who would pick and then courier the laptops out to schools and then schools would give those to the children who were in need. And because we couldn't service everyone immediately, and I'll come to this, there was a set of priorities of which year groups first off and then and then onwards as we gradually got more laptops in. 

 

So that was a huge part of it, the number of laptops, which I probably should touch on. So there just simply wasn't the volume of laptops in the country to service all of our needs at once. So we were in bidding wars because at this time, you might remember at the time, like New York were put in in massive bids for laptops. Whole countries like we were were putting in massive demands for laptops so that the demand went off the scale. So we really needed to leverage, you know, the UK's buying power. So we went into the market and secured these laptops, but a lot of them had to be built to order, so they had to get built. They had to get transported to us and then they had to get out to schools. And again, this was in a pandemic. So for example, I learnt a lot about the supply chain, but a lot of these companies won’tjust use commercial flights, they will use passenger flights to transport things like laptops, and obviously they all stopped. So the huge demand just for space on planes that we needed to negotiate. So our Secretary of State wrote to leaders of different airlines to try and get our shipments prioritised. We worked with the border borders and Customs to make sure as our laptops arrive, we were fast tracked through that and we were able to get it through as fast as we possibly could. 

 

But it was a constant need to make sure that as things were being built and shipped into the country, we were able to ship them straight out to schools and then schools onwards to pupils. So it wasn't a matter of, for example, going down to PC World and grabbing the latest laptop because there just wasn't that many. And I used to know the stats off the top of my head. But it was we worked out at one point when we were trying to do this of how many Wembley stadiums full of people we'd given laptops out to. And it was it was eye watering when you actually think about what 1.3 million laptops means. And when they started getting delivered, we were getting great photos back of lorry loads, turning up at local authorities and multi-academy trusts with these laptops because they were just simply so many. And I have to say there's a huge thanks to teachers and school staff and social workers, people in local authorities who came up with all sorts of fantastic ways of then getting these laptops onto children. So we again had photos come back of fire engines being used to drive them round. And we we had videos of local authorities packaging up all of the laptops to go to the different areas. And it was really a national effort to get these out and across the country. And you know, the sad thing is that we just wanted to do more and more quickly at every point, but we were working within this sort of global supply chain. I think it was sort of  for me, hit home when I got an email sent to us from a social worker where a child had written up a thank you letter to us on their laptop and had drawn a picture on there using their computer to say how much it had made a difference to them. And it was those moments when you're you're tired and you're doing everything you can to to make this work that it really hits home the sort of impact you were having for these individuals. But yes, it was all the way from thinking of planes, customs, warehouses, fleets of couriers out to schools, one local authority I think even hired a night club because they were close to hold all the laptops so they could up to act as a mini distribution centre and then teachers on their bikes and in cars and fire engines going out and dropping the laptops off to the children. 

 

And I think the BBC did some great coverage of a mum getting handed the laptop for the first time and the floods of tears she was in and I have to admit at that point I was also in floods of tears as well watching it. It really was that sort of coming together of everything. And you know, you always can do things better. But I think the crucial thing was having coming back to your world as a product manager and some of the things that you'll do all the time. It was having teams that were, you know, we had user researchers in the teams at all times. We had like real time data coming through. Every time we saw a problem, we were fixing it, we were fixing it, we were fixing it. We couldn't do absolutely everything perfectly upfront, but we were learning every step of the way which just made more and more of it possible. And that was just brilliant. 

Adaobi Ifeatchor

That's amazing. You know, I've got so many questions I could talk to you for like another couple of hours without even a break but I'm conscious of time and I do want to just kind of ask about how your teams were made up. Because obviously you're working with it's not just you doing all this like you talked about the Secretary of State Gavin Williamson at the time, negotiating with airlines and beneath you I'm assuming you have product managers or were you also working with supply chain experts? Like what was the makeup of your team? What did it look like? 

 

Rachel Hope 

So we had two core multi-disciplinary teams who each own in a different part of the digital services we were providing. Initially, we were focussed around one building the work we needed to do for laptops and one working around what we need to do with all the mobile phone data companies and the work we're doing on the internet and then sub teams off that.

 

But essentially, we were made up of policy advisers who could think and respond to the huge amount of demand for what we were doing in progress reporting and also all the policy questions that were emerging as we were learning as we went through. We had fantastic digital teams, which sort of what you'd picture if you're running a beta service that we we went I think we went to Discovery to beta in about four weeks. 

 

So you had your product managers, your delivery managers, your user researchers your BAs (Business analysts) and all of your technical development teams. 

 

And then we had sitting alongside them, your commercial experts. But I have to say one of the key things I probably should say in all of this actually was the wonderful working with the people who were delivering the laptops themselves. So we created a contract where we could have a partnership between them and that meant that we created one, for example, user  support helpdesk and we shared who was picking up tickets on that between us and our suppliers. They were completely integrated in the team. We met three times a day at a senior level to check how things were going between us and the people doing the supplying.

 

And so the big message in all of this was, rather than all the different component parts is we operated as a single unit at all times rather than trying to do - this is the point where my responsibility ends and your responsibility starts. We all collectively looked at the data and collectively tried to grapple with the same problems, and I think that was the key to making this happen at such speed. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

OK, that is an extremely important point. I'm going to come back to in just a second. Firstly, I'm curious, though, when you talked about having product managers, did they only have sort of like digital responsibilities or did you have like a product manager whose job it was just to do like supply chain stuff? So like getting the built laptop into the hands of the Multi Academy Trust or something along those lines? Were they involved in like the off-line stuff as well as the kind of stuff that was happening digitally? 

 

Rachel Hope

Yeah, it's like the end to end journey almost. Yes, I mean, the different parts of the process. So obviously, when we're working with a contracted organisation, you had all of the laptops in the careers they would they do the ins and outs of assigning it to each carrier. But we had to be in a world especially when we had allocations of how much people could order and they might not order all of their laptops at once because I physically couldn't store them all at once. They had to order them in parts. You'd have to make sure that was flowing. So you'd have a product manager who'd be able to see everything from the point of try and raise an awareness of what a school (let’s take a school) may need to do all the way through to. When has that school actually received their laptop and how are they flowing through? So yes, they'd have that whole end to end oversight, even if they weren't necessarily responsible for the team picking up the laptop and putting it on the van that night.

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

Perfect. So going back to your point about how it wasn't about just doing your bit, them throwing it over the wall to the next person. This is part of basically like service ownership or service ownership model in a way like it's not about, you’re not an island basically. And I'm told that you were one of the trailblazers of the DfE service ownership model. Is that fair to say? 

 

Rachel Hope

So I'm a huge, huge. I mean, yes, I'm a huge champion of this. I could talk for hours. It's probably a whole other conversation and coffee about service ownership, but I fully believe that the best way to focus on the problem, experiment to make change is integrating policy and delivery and integrating all parts into single teams. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

So service ownership model on one side, Get help with tech owner on the other side, you've just been nominated as one of the world's 50 most influential people navigating disruption. Can you tell us about that? Because this work that we've just been talking about today is what has presumably led up to that nomination. How does it feel? Do you feel like you are one of the world's top 50 most influential people in the disruption space? Yeah. Let us know how you feel. 

 

Rachel Hope

Yeah, what a question. I mean, I think it's recognition of lots of things that are happening and recognition of the teams themselves in what they're doing in terms of bringing a lot to bear what a lot of what you can learn from software development to policy making. So it’s injecting that agility into policymaking, which allows us therefore to navigate things like disruption or sometimes be disruptors in and of all selves in terms of making change. And I think I'm just really excited, really excited that people are recognising it and recognising what the benefits can be because it's not just about the outcomes that we're seeing and what we're delivering, either through the Get help with technology programme or the work we're doing on teacher recruitment. What it means for me is there is probably a change that's happening and this is recognition of the change that's happening within government and outside of government, which is a desire to be able to make change happen much more quickly in response to much more real time and better data of of of how things are panning out. And I what I'm really excited about in terms of this recognition is our ability to to sort of show how it works, showcase it and then allow people to work in these ways elsewhere because I'm nearly certain everyone, when they get into these types of teams, absolutely love and thrive in them. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

And so this nomination comes from apolitical doc and it's their agile 50 list. Have you taken a sneak peek at that agile 50 letter to see who else you're up against and what other projects might be interesting because we can all learn from each other, right? 

 

Rachel Hope 

Oh yeah, absolutely. And I'm quite excited, hopefully going to be talking to each other. But I think the one thing that stands out to me, which I'm really interested in for the future, is those who are really making this now data rich world work for them. So there's I think there's a huge change we have on our hands with all this real time data that's flowing around that we start to become a lot more intelligent in terms of how we target policy and interventions. And I think we're still just at the thin end of the wedge at the moment of what can be done. So I was looking across at some of the people on the agile 50 list thinking, Wow, look at the change your leading, that’s absolutely fascinating and brilliant. So there's definitely a lot we can learn from them 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

Now before we kind of close this off I think of this, of Get help with tech as like the purest example of why so many of us get into public service, why we join the civil service, and that's to make a difference to members of the public. It sounds so cheesy when I say this, I'm not going to burst into song or anything, but I just wanted to get like a really brief snapshot of like, how did you get to where you are now, Rachel? I'm assuming you went through secondary school, maybe university. What did your career trajectory look like after you finished your formal education? 

 

Rachel Hope

Yeah. Well, I grew up on a sheep farm in South Wales so ending up working in Whitehall does feel quite a jump, but that was a long journey in between the sheep farming and working in Whitehall. But in terms of my career, it has been, you probably won't be surprised here based on what I've said, a blend. So I've worked across policy teams, including working in some central departments like the Cabinet Office and H.M. Treasury, which has given me a real insight into how some really quite big decisions are made. But I've also spent some of my career working in big delivery programmes, for example in H.M. Revenue and Customs, which is a huge and quite impressive operational organisation. And it's been just brilliant, being able to come to the Department for Education and work in a space where I can bring all of that together, when I could bring the skills and experiences I've harvested through my policy roles, together with the experiences I've had leading digital teams and big delivery programmes and just not have to be one side or the other. And I can start to say, Hey, it's the same coin and we're all, we can now lead all these two teams together. So that's been my career in an absolute snapshot. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

So for people who might be outside in the private sector, I'm thinking, Well, you know, I think, you know, my skills and experience could have been really useful at a time like, you know, the the beginning of the COVID lockdown. Perhaps I could have brought something to the table and they’re thinking about government. What can they kind of do like? Why do you even start like so many people reach out to me and say, like, well, basically they have questions about which department do you even go into because they're not. The cultures are very different in each of the different government departments. If you're on the outside looking in, where do you even start to kind of like work out whether the civil service might be right for you? 

 

Rachel Hope 

It's definitely worth having a look around if you spot jobs you like, even if you might not think of applying them yet. Go and email that vacancy holder, as we call it, and ask for a coffee. The one thing I can say that's universal about the civil service is people are so open and friendly and willing to share what it's like. The second thing to say is a lot of what we do, you're able to shape a lot of the roles you go into yourself. So what I often say to people is, take the first step, come see what it's like and once you're in and you understand it's grown, you can start to carve out a role which really allows you to use your skills to make change, like you said, for the public good. And I think the only final thing to say is there is nothing quite like it knowing that you're getting up every day and no matter how hard it is, you are trying to make things better. And I think that ability to do that in your job is just brilliant. The one other thing I'd also say is the civil service is great at supporting people to grow and train and learn new things so you can come and you can can sort off in your area where you've got the real deep expertise, but then you can also pick up new skills as you go along and you can really become developed in a way where you can run some of these really big areas, which cut across so many different ranges of skills. Civil service just supports and supports you to do that. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

 So Rachel, where can people find you on the social website? You're on Twitter. 

 

Rachel Hope 

Yes, Rachel hope 3 other people go in there first on Twitter and you'll find me on LinkedIn as well. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

Well three is the magic number. 

 

Rachel Hope

Yeah, exactly. Exactly. More than happy for anyone to reach out and ask for a coffee and or come and see what we do in the teams. It's sometimes brilliant just to come and watch what the teams are doing  and talk to them about how they work. 

 

Rachel Hope 

So what you've heard dear listener, is not the end of the story.  We have a little bit of an insight for you about what's coming up next for Get help with tech and to help us tell that story is our next guest Shafika Gunton or Shaf as I call her. Hello Shaf. 

 

Shaf Gunton 

Hello, thank you. Thank you for having me. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

Tell us what your job title is and what your kind of area of responsibility is at the DfE. 

 

Shaf Gunton 

Sure. And so I'm a programme delivery manager, so that's a bit of a fancy title for somebody who manages programmes of digital delivery. So at the minute, I have a couple of clusters of policy areas. The Early years user group and then we've got Schools and we also have FE, which is further education. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

So when it comes to Get help with tech as I understand it, and frankly my understanding may be wrong, that's absolutely fine. Let me know. But as I understand it with Get help with tech, that kind of programme rolling out like laptops and other kind of digital infrastructure to help kids with remote education, that was the need for that was kind of tailing off a bit. And then you spotted an opportunity for the brand to live again. Is that right? 

 

 

Shaf Gunton 

I did. I did. And that's kind of like what programme delivery manager does. I've been working on something called the digital standards for technology. So these are core standards that schools will need to look to when buying and procuring technology. So very much thinking about how we can create a family of services that help users when they're trying to buy or procure technology. How can we make sure that we're, because it's such a broad problem space, there's lots of problems within this problem. And, you know, by utilising a brand that's successful and is trusted, we could look at bringing all of these initiatives and new ones under one umbrella. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor 

 

So this is about. And correct me, if I'm wrong, this is about literally doing what it says on the tin, in the school or FE college, which is further education, wants to get help with tech. Then you're creating something that will help them with that. Is that right?

 

Shaf Gunton 

Exactly. You’ve hit the nail on the head. We just want to make sure that it does what it says on the tin and that’s gets help with technology. That's such a broad space. You could get help with laptops, you could get help with broadband, you could get help with moving to the cloud. You could get help with buying cable in. The list is endless. And our challenge is actually, you know, where do we start and where is the most valuable thing that we can do first? And what is the minimum we could learn before moving on to the next thing building the next thing? But essentially, what we want to do first is bring it all together. So kind of create a bit more of a streamlined, seamless user journey rather than having just pockets of services here, there and everywhere. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

So if I'm a school leader hearing this, that sounds very exciting. A brave new world. When is this all going to happen? When can I get my hands on whatever the service is going to be?  

 

Shaf Gunton 

Oh, you're going to tie me now to deadlines. I think we're aiming to have something from the next financial year. We're working in an agile and agile way, so it will be the minimum viable thing that we can launch. And in my mind, it looks very much like a homepage that brings all this together on GOV.UK and we're working with some amazing content designers and service designers to help us solve that design challenge - is how do we present all of this? Because the risk is if you try and put everything together without understanding the user journeys and user needs and mapping the app correctly, you're at risk of advertising everything but reaching no one. So there's a few things that we’re working through some knotty knotty design challenges that will that will help us unlock some of that over the next few months. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

OK, so that's really interesting to me is that you have this idea of a problem in your head as the kind of like programme lead. And then you have also an idea of what this could look like, some sort of site, some sort of thing that brings together lots of different kind of like services that help schools and educators get help with technology. But you must know, as I programme lead, if you will put in a product manager on that, they may turn around and say, Well, you know Shaf, I like that idea of a website that's that's not what people want. They want an all singing, all dancing mobile app thing. Are you prepared to have that kind of recommendation, come back and be something completely different from what you had asked for? 

 

Shaf Gunton 

I'm not only prepared Adaobi, I welcome it. I love it when people come back and say, you know, we've done, we've done the research, we've gathered some data and this is what the data is telling us. This is what our users are telling us. 

I think certainly when you start, kind of like early strategic thinking you have to have some idea of what this thing could be. But ultimately, we need to start with the problem statements and actually start with what are the problems we’re trying to solve. And I love giving thoes problems to people like yourself who are, you know, incredible at going away and trying to solve them. So, yeah, I welcome that feedback, absolutely. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

So I just want to say thanks to everyone who has been listening. We hope that you've had a good time. Big thanks to our guests today, Rachel Hope and Shafiqa Gunton. If you're interested in getting in touch with either of our guests, Rachel is on Twitter at Rachel, it's h-e-l, Rachel Hope 3 and Shaf is on Twitter at ShaffyDG. So that's s-h-a-f-f-y-DG. 

 

And if you, dear listener, have something that you'd like us to cover in a future pod. You can always let us know on Twitter as well, @DfE_DigitalTech. Or you can reach us by just Googling for our blog, which is DfE digital and technology Blog. 

We're also, we're also moving on to like Spotify and other different platforms, so hopefully you'll be able to find us just on your mobile device or however you usually like to listen to these things. This pod was brought to you by the Department for Education. The producers are Rosie Roff, Louise Mullan and Nattie Williams, and I'm your host, Adaobi Ifeachor. Join us next time. Goodbye. 

 

 

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