How can we create effective digital leaders within the NHS?

Ian Pettigrew, Programme Adviser, reflects on what it takes to create successful leaders in digital transformation in the NHS, based on his experiences advising DigitalHealth.London’s NHS Digital Pioneer Fellowship. Addressing a real need within the system, finding the right participants, appropriate design, and a clear evaluation framework are key ingredients, he says.

In February 2019, we held the showcase for the first cohort of the Digital Pioneer Fellowship, where the Fellows were interviewed on stage about the impact of the Fellowship on both them and their projects. I’m the Programme Adviser for the NHS Digital Pioneer Fellowship, working with Yinka, and I must admit that I sat listening to the Fellows with a huge sense of pride in their achievements. The first cohort of the Digital Pioneer Fellowship has made a significant, positive, sustainable impact and I want to reflect on how that happened.

Firstly, there is a real need for the Fellowship, as highlighted in both the Wachter and Topol reviews. We’ve been expecting people to drive digitally-enabled transformation without  equipping them with the skillset to achieve this, and the Fellowship is designed to help close that gap.

We also had a cohort of amazing Fellows with an abundance of knowledge and enthusiasm, and I’m delighted that is continuing with the second cohort! Having run leadership programmes where some people readily admit they are only there “because I’ve been sent,” I can’t overstate the importance of having the right people on the programme.

The design of the Fellowship is no accident; in advance of the Fellowship, I’ve interviewed many of the Fellows to explore what they’re hoping to achieve through the Fellowship. This deep dive has helped us to fine-tune our approach, and make sure we really meet the needs of the Fellows. This also informed the creation of an evaluation framework so that we’re really clear what we’re seeking to achieve through the Fellowship, and how everything fits together to achieve that. In short, we’re aiming to have impactful Digital Pioneers and we’re doing all we can to enable that by working to help Fellows be:

  • Skilled (i.e. equipped with the skills required to be a Digital Pioneer)
  • Connected (with each other, and with other key influencers across the system)
  • Inspired (by seeing what amazing things are possible)

We’ve also been very intentional in our pedagogy, our approach to how we help Fellows to learn. Alongside lectures, Fellows work on a project throughout the duration of the Fellowship, work with each other in smaller action learning sets, and have access to a range of mentors through our micro-mentoring scheme.

I’m completing this blog post in a gap between interviewing Fellows in preparation for cohort two of the NHS Digital Pioneer Fellowship and I’ll happily admit that I’m hugely excited about working with them all and seeing what they achieve.