A good digital strategy is clear, concise and catchy. If you do this well, you’ll build a shared understanding across your trust (and beyond) about what you're doing and why.
You'll need to develop different versions of the strategy:
- At a minimum your strategy should be published in the open on the web, as Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust has done
- Government Digital Service helped explain their approach by creating posters for corridors
- Holding presentations and discussion sessions for staff like "town halls"
- Create podcasts and audio like the Future of Farming programme in Defra
Don't expect everyone to engage with a 30 page PDF. You’ll need to find ways to reach out to people where they are. Done right, your strategy can inspire action and create alignment - but only if it is communicated well across the trust. Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust has distilled their digital strategy into a set of design principles. Tools like this can help build a shared understanding of the strategy, making sure that local decisions are aligned to wider goals.
You can spend a lot of time coming up with tactics and strategies for your communication, but the most valuable tool you can use is also the simplest: clarity. Here are some thoughts on communicating with clarity. This guide to agile comms can also help support your teams in communicating what they are up to to stakeholders.
Talk about what you've already done
When making the case for digital transformation, it is better to start with what's already been delivered rather than promises of what's to come.
- Show the actual products, not just words and diagrams. How does it work from a patient or clinician perspective?
- Demonstrate the impact. What metrics have changed?
- Tell real stories from patients and clinicians, in their own words.
- If you can, talk about failures (and the learnings from them) as well as successes.
All this will help build credibility and win the support you need for your digital strategy.
Digital strategy is not something you have, it's what you do. It is also about having bold goals but starting small and iterating as you learn about delivery. Trusts should approach digital strategy as an ongoing process, not a document to be produced every few years.
Once you've set your strategy, it is good practice to establish a regular delivery rhythm. For example:
- Weekly or biweekly show and tells: where staff and board leaders can see demos, celebrate successes and ask questions
- Monthly progress reviews: to monitor progress on KPIs, identify and unblock issues. Ensure lessons learnt are incorporated going forwards
- Quarterly planning and re-prioritisation: to make sure you're still working on the most valuable things
- Regular strategy reviews: to ensure your strategy still reflects what you're doing
If you set up these forums in a way that works for your trust they can help maintain momentum and deliver on your trust's digital strategy. They can also be an effective form of governance, giving the board confidence without slowing down delivery.
Data gathering should be a constant and doing small incremental developments and showing your users is a great way to understand what patients, staff and partners think about what you’ve developed and what they like and don’t like. By doing this in small increments it allows you to deliver faster, better and very often cheaper.Non Executive Director, York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Bring people with you
Building a digital strategy is an opportunity to engage beyond the IT department and build strong relationships between IT, clinical and operations teams.
Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust call this "inclusive workforce planning", where staff who use digital services will be expected to own elements of development. The strategy will only succeed as a whole trust initiative.
As we develop our digital strategy, we are “crowdsourcing” our staff, patients and service users to find out their needs, challenges and ideas. We’re calling this a campaign because this is an ongoing conversation we want to have that will set the agenda for our future.Chief Information Officer, Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust
Clinical engagement will be central to this work. At Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, clinical and service engagement has been placed at the heart of their digital strategy. The trust's strategy has made it a key requirement that all digital projects will need sign off by a senior clinician prior to implementation.
I made sure I was involved in the development of our digital strategy from the very beginning because nursing is by far the largest workforce within the trust. We wanted everyone to own the strategy and so we needed to ensure the clinical community was heard while at the same time showing them the future way of working.Director of Nursing and Governance, Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust