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4 March 2024

Hippo welcomes UK Government Digital Academy alumni to celebrate and discuss the future of digital skills and capability


Hippo was delighted to welcome alumni from the UK Government’s Digital Academy for a reunion at our Hippo Campus event space in Leeds, marking ten years since the initiative’s inception in February 2014.

Digital Academy founder Kevin Cunnington (Former Director General, Government Digital Service and Digital Envoy for the UK), and Jim Downie (Former Head of Capability DWP/HMRC, Director – JFD Consulting Ltd) hosted the event along with Liz Whitefield (Hippo Co-Founder and Director).

The DWP Academy, followed by the Government Digital Service Academy played a key role in growing digital capability across the public sector and was influential in Hippo’s formative years. Indeed graduates of the Academy and subsequent digital programmes went on to join Hippo including Mike Tattersall (Chief Delivery Officer) and Adam Tostevin (Delivery Partner).

The Hippo team is excited to support the legacy of the scheme, whilst contributing to the future of digital skills and capability.

What is the Digital Academy?

In February 2014 the first Digital Academy in the UK government was established. Drawing upon knowledge gained in the private sector, it started small (on a borrowed floor in a government building) in Fulham, London. The initial pilot lasted for six weeks and focused on developing the digital skills of a wide range of people working across DWP (Department for Work & Pensions) at the time.

Delivery of the Academy course developed iteratively and it was clear from the outset that the approach was tackling a real gap in digital capability. The Academy quickly attracted significant attention from a wide range of senior executive and Ministerial leve civil servantsl. Evaluation of the outcomes showed that the experiment was successful and that further investment would be likely to add significant value. Over time additional Academies were established in Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle. GDS (the Government Digital Service) took on the ownership of the Digital Academy and that subsequently led to over 10,000 civil servants being trained in the various packages (from a single day to several weeks) over a period of years. The Academy received the Civil Service Award for Building Skills and Capability in 2015.

The Digital Academy Reunion

With the 10 year anniversary of the first Digital Academy upon us, the reunion event was a great chance to celebrate what was achieved during its tenure, and promote discussion on the current state of play on digital skills and capability.

Digital leaders from the public and private sector who were actively involved in the establishment of the Digital Academy and those who attended as a delegate or offered training delivery services joined the discussion at Hippo for the evening event.

Jim Downie acted as moderator for a free flowing conversation that explored the experiences of our guests, discussion on the impact and legacy of the scheme, and thoughts on the future needs for digital skills.

Many alumni agreed that the initiative had a transformational impact in promoting digital skills in the public sector and a foundational impact on their own careers.

“It was really, really valuable for me and something that I look back on as something I was really privileged and lucky to have gone through.”
– Mike Tattersall, Chief Delivery Officer at Hippo

“I thought the event was superbly organised and it was great to hear first hand how graduates had enjoyed their time in the academy and how they had all put their new skills to use both for the benefit of society but also to open new avenues for their careers.” – Kevin Cunnington, (Former Director General, Government Digital Service and Digital Envoy for the UK)

And, as the scheme supported over 10,000 civil servants, it would be no exaggeration that the Academy has improved the lives of tens of millions of UK citizens, given the whole population digital projects that past participants now lead.

Attendees also agreed that the existence of such schemes, the approach to learning, and the outcomes it sought remain as relevant today as they were a decade ago. Indeed, with the growth of artificial intelligence, the need is greater than ever.

”A huge gap was left when the Academy closed its doors…the unique blend of learning methods, activities and interactions, in a safe environment, was key to achieving real culture & behaviour change, and the confidence to try new methods.”
– Angela Conway, Senior Delivery Manager, Government Digital Service

Thank you to the guests that joined us at the Hippo Campus and we look forward to continuing to make a positive impact in digital projects of national significance.