Formidable but what a challenge!

civilservicejob This has got to be one of the most challenging, interesting, influential and professionally-fulfilling senior communication jobs around, arguably anywhere in world right now.

The British government is advertising for a Director of Digital Engagement, a new role in the Cabinet Office at the very heart of central government.

Whoever secures this role will, in the words of the ad, be expected to “develop a strategy and implementation plan for extending digital engagement across Government.”

That simplistic phrase belies the scope and scale of this role as detailed in the recruitment ad. This is no ordinary senior communication role: this is a role that is about disruptive change and bringing a complex organization face-to-face with such change that could entirely re-shape how government communicates.

[…] Judgement will be crucial in this role. It leads on the future of Government engagement with citizens through digital means. This means that the post will be breaking new ground on a daily basis, across Government. The agenda is politically very high profile and full of complex issues between and within departments that you will have to exercise very sensitive judgement on how to manage and resolve. You will have a level of professional expertise that is likely to mean that you will be unique in your ability to exercise judgement and provide advice to Ministers and Permanent Secretaries/ senior officials on matters within your remit.

Influence is a key aspect of this role. You will be required to exercise influence across departments with Ministers and senior officials to drive forward the future of digital engagement. This will require Government and individual departments to change the way they do business – from consulting citizens to collaborating with them on the development of policy and how public services are delivered to them. It will involve supporting Ministers and senior officials in entering conversations in which Government does not control the message or the dialogue. Giving Ministers and senior officials the confidence to do this will require influencing skills of the highest order. This role has few direct reports and little direct resource at its command. The ability to make change and delivery of challenging objectives happen by negotiation, persuasion and influence will be critical.

While the job itself looks fascinating, what impresses me in particular is how the job has been scoped out.

Whoever wrote this job description is someone who understands the changes happening in society – how people consume news and information, how they engage with others to share opinion, recognition of their own influence potential through the effective use of online tools and channels including social media… just to grab the tip of the iceberg – and the importance of government (collectively as an entity and individually) engaging with individuals and groups via whatever means are appropriate and effective.

What kind of person would fit the bill? There isn’t really a traditional pigeon hole.

[…] This is not a role for a generalist. The professional skills required are formidable. Engagement in the digital space is a young ‘profession’ and the job requires someone who would be acknowledged by their peer group to be a leader in this field. The successful candidate will have a CV that creates instant credibility and confidence with Ministers, senior officials and digital communicators in Whitehall.

I wonder if one single individual exists who would meet all the criteria described in this recruitment ad. I can think of a handful of people I know who could fit some parts of the bill (I’d even include me in that handful). Indeed, this may well be the type of groundbreaking role where a group of people with complementary skills is really what’s needed.

There is scope for the team idea as the ad says the “working arrangement” can be full time, job share or part time.

bunchoftwitters As you can imagine, there is a significant political element in this job as the ad itself makes clear.

What the incumbent(s) can expect is probably well summed up in this report in today’s Daily Mail and its sensationalist and ill-focused headline.

Whatever you might think of the Daily Mail’s reporting – and they do have a history of whipping up popular opinion in ways that give discomfort – it’s a good indicator of what the mainstream media climate might look like from the very start.

Not just the media climate, actually – the Mail’s story includes negative quotes from a number of MPs, like this one from Conservative MP Philip Davies:

It defies belief that ministers are faffing around on Facebook and Twitter. It is a grotesque amount of public money to waste on a pointless job. It is absolutely obscene at a time when Britain is going through one of the most serious financial crises in its history.

My immediate reaction would be to say that all that does is illustrate Mr Davies’ total ignorance of social media. Yet it’s more illustrative of political opportunism and a certain cunning – precisely what the holder of this new job will be dealing with.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this aspect is one of the most significant and demanding elements of the job, requiring someone with superb diplomatic, political and influencer abilities. And I mean that in the true sense of understanding organizations and organizational communication especially in times of rapid change and what the drivers of that change are. It’s not just about technology. And this is not simply a senior PR role, that’s for sure.

The stakes are high:

[…] You will be accountable for leading Government’s new focus on digital engagement, which is central to Government priorities and with significant risk of reputational damage if this does not happen or Government gets it wrong.

Ultimately, this is what the Director of Digital Engagement will be expected to have achieved:

Within two years the use of world class digital engagement techniques should be embedded in the normal work of Government.

“Within two years” would straddle the time of a general election which must happen by mid 2010.

What a challenge!

If you’re interested in being the Director of Digital Engagement, get your application in soon as the closing date is March 4.

(Incidentally, a note on how I found out about this job. One of the key phrases I have set up as a Google Alert is ‘digital+engagement’, the results of which come to me via RSS. The Daily Mail’s story includes that phrase and it showed up this morning.)