Steven Bagley on evangelising digital transformations

Steven Bagley on evangelising digital transformations
Steven Bagley, senior website manager at NHS England - Transformation Directorate, joins us to chat about the challenge of spreading the good news of digital transformation in public communications.

Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?

My career started out very differently as a graphic artist working for Bargain Pages/Loot (for those old enough to remember the free classified ads newspapers!). For over 15 years I developed a career in the creative industries, often working closely with many communication and marketing teams. Many of the skills I picked up along the way have been highly transferable and useful across related sectors. A few years ago I made a conscious decision to refocus my career on my interest in digital, slowly moving from web design/development, to the present day where I am now leading a national digital comms function both strategically and tactically. I don't consider myself as coming from a pure comms background, but I feel all the more stronger for having a diverse range of overlapping experiences.

What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the communications sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular?

Above all, what has set me in good stead in my career is adaptability, developing both a specialist and a generalist mindset. In other words, strive to become an expert at what you do, but don't just confine yourself to one area. It's important to recognise that many things will differ greatly throughout a career lifespan in communications, such as attitudes, technology and trends, so the ability to spot these early and react to them is a huge advantage.

What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out?

There's been many. One thing that stands out for me is the seemingly endless quest to progress and evangelise the benefits of digital transformation in the public sector communications arena. It's particularly challenging to drive change in this way often against a backdrop that has included budget cuts, the pandemic, skills shortages, stakeholder apathy and political interference to name just a few. But ultimately the key is passion and a belief in what you are doing. Particularly in my role within healthcare, effective digital communication can make a real difference to support our front line colleagues and the wider public health.

What one thing would make your working life easier?

It's really good to see many forward thinking organisations now embracing remote working as a long term and highly viable solution. Especially within the technology and communication sectors, it has become an essential way to attract talent and promote a healthy work-life balance. This was a strong factor in my recent career change and it has truly made a lasting and positive difference to my life, and I still get the opportunity to attend face to face team building sessions on a regular basis.

How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

My current organisation values communication disciplines very highly and provides extremely good levels of support and resourcing. I know this is not always the case everywhere and there are many good people achieving a great deal under huge constraints. I feel levels of investment is a great indicator of how seriously an organisation views communications, both in personnel numbers, equipment, and professional development opportunities.

What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications?

In digital communications, it's two things for me. Understanding user or audience needs and measuring success. Content creation is an art form that is under-valued and driven by a true empathy of the needs of the end user. And success can only really be claimed through the informed use of both qualitative and quantitative reporting, and by adopting a continuous improvement approach.

At React & Share, we’re obsessed with helping our clients measure and report their efforts - what measurements do you think comms teams should be presenting to internal stakeholders?

The key things that come to mind are demonstrating return on investment or value for money and conversions across multi-channel campaigns. The presentation of metrics is also key, understanding the nuances of specific stakeholder groups and their requirements. For example, knowing whether to present a detailed spreadsheet or high level infographics dashboards.

Looking into your crystal ball, what do you think will be the next big thing in communications?

Certainly within the NHS, it's a continued push away from traditional channels such as printed collateral, and growth and investment in technology to support highly diverse and geographically dispersed groups. In terms of internal communications, this may include device agnostic engagement platforms that replace traditional corporate intranets, and which can be consumed in app or web browser form for example, in ways that are flexible around the habits of the user. This is exactly the kind of solution I project managed for a local NHS Trust and this has now gone on to be nominated as a finalist in the internationally-renowned Ragan Employee Communication Awards.

Externally, I feel we will continue to see a rationalisation of public sector websites, with an emphasis on shared resource, and an enforcement of digital service and accessibility standards. The Government Digital Service leading the way and providing a modern blueprint for this type of approach.