Head of Innovation

I was reading this interview with John Pullinger this afternoon. John is the National Statistician and as such the boss of my bosses, bosses, boss. I thought it did a good job at getting across how seriously the organisation is taking our ‘digital transformation’ but also how much there is to do and the scale of the challenge.

Anyway I’ve been thinking (and writing) a bit lately about the need to build a culture of continuous innovation into organisations to avoid the need for such significant programmes of digital transformation (that the ONS is hardly alone in — either in the UK across the Civil Service or further afield.)

In light of this I had a bit of fun this afternoon trying to hack the brilliant job description for the DfID Head of Innovation role in their EPIC team (is there a better team name in Gov?) in to something more statistically relevant 😉 Now it is just for my own amusement but it is the sort of remit I’d like to see more people given (assuming they were sufficiently empowered) as important as it is to fix the (many) issues in front of us we do need to be ready to deal with what comes next.

What do you think? Would your organisation benefit from this sort of role — or would it become too much of a bottleneck to stall wider innovation?

I gave it a hipster job title — because why the heck not!

Innovation instigator & investigator

  • Leading thinking on emerging issues such as how to harness the power of digital technologies for the collection, analysis and communication of statistics
  • Promoting innovation inside and outside ONS, prototyping and testing new approaches and partnerships, and building evidence in order to make the greatest possible impact on poverty reduction
  • Strengthening the quality of the production and communication of statistics — including through embedding innovation in ONS business areas.


ONS is seeking a dynamic, inspirational and experienced leader to design and implement an innovation and digital agenda that will transform our work.

Your role is to ensure that the ONS is at the cutting edge of digital innovation. You’ll be a big thinker who considers how innovation and digital advances can improve the collection and impact of statistics; as well as someone who translates ideas into practical action, building the evidence and sharing learning. You will generate and implement creative ideas for how we could fund, invest and run programmes differently.

You will have an international network and be willing to travel to learn and share knowledge. You will have extensive experience in leading innovation projects; and strong networks with data, digital, design and creative industries. We want you to bring in new and unexpected partners to challenge the conventional way of doing things. Ultimately, you will contribute to making us faster and more effective.

You will build and develop a crack team, who between them have responsibility and knowledge in policy and programme delivery, behavioural insights, human centred design and digital development. You’ll harness the creative potential of this team, while leaning on your own experience, to drive new thinking, partnerships, and ways of working. You will also play a key role in ensuring the effective management of the department.

You will work closely with members of the UKSA Board, the private offices of the National Statistician and their Deputies and senior management, engage with teams across ONS, and contribute to high profile policy and advocacy work.

The innovation and digital agenda is evolving rapidly, and we are looking for someone with a finger on the pulse, and the strategic vision, determination, and ‘can do’ attitude to deliver.


Policy and strategy

  • Provide advice and input to internal strategy, to shape the priorities of our innovation and digital work.
  • Oversee the delivery of our digital strategy to set out how we use digital technologies in our programmes, and build digital infrastructure and access.
  • Oversee development of forward work plans.
  • Contribute to wider policy development related to innovation and digital technology.


  • High level representation of ONS at international fora and influence leaders and the Executive Group to do the same within ONS.
  • Engage with other Government departments and the Government Statistical Service to spread learning and collaboration across the civil service.

Culture change

  • Create a working environment in the ONS which supports creativity, and the prototyping and testing of new ideas.
  • Provide strategic oversight of a programme of work to support a thriving culture of innovation more widely across ONS. This will include bringing inspiring speakers into ONS, practical seminars and workshops.
  • Oversee development and delivery of a programme of work to build digital capability in ONS.

Team leadership

  • Lead the ongoing recruitment, development and management of the innovation and digital team.
  • Support the Deputy Director to plan, utilise and manage resources (both human and financial) effectively.

It’s essential that you have these skills and experiences:

  • Knowing about, and keeping updated on, the latest working practices, technology and trends — such as agile methodologies, behavioural insights and design thinking. You’ll have experience of using some of these and can adopt them in DFID.
  • Being dynamic and determined in driving through change: you should have experience of influencing an organisation to incubate innovative thinking, working practices or programmes.
  • Experience of managing complex projects with a focus on impact and value for money, as well as demonstrated financial acumen and literacy.
  • A good leader, who has managed diverse and dispersed teams and knows how to bring out the best in people you work with. Able to set a clear vision, communicate this, and inspire confidence for others to follow.
  • Able to work well and have a flexible approach to working under pressure, in a highly political environment.
  • Confident in dealing with a range of HM Government and external partners from the international open data community, civil society and private sectors.
  • Great people skills; friendly and easily approachable.
  • Excellent communication skills (verbal and written).

It is desirable that you are also:

  • Knowledgeable about the use of digital technologies in statistical operations and the barriers which prevent widespread take up.
  • At home being proactive in prototyping new projects, and ready to take the risks of being an “early adopter”.

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