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The Role of Digital Ninjas at DFID

By Guest Writer on May 2, 2018

Digital Ninja DFID

DFID operates an elite group of 180-plus Digital Ninjas who are our conduits and advocates for everything digital within the organisation. Yet it wasn’t always so popular. This is the story of how the Ninjas slowly infiltrated through our entire organisation and are helping to change and improve it every single day.

My name is Joe Pakenham and I launched our Ninja network at the Department for International Development in late 2015. With the 2016 World Bank World Development Report on Digital Dividends around the corner, and DFID’s own Review of Digital in Development Programmes already published by Pippa Ranger, Bea Arscott and Julia Chandler, it was clear that Digital was going to be an essential area to increase our capability within DFID.

As you can see from the other Innovate DFID posts, Digital has taken off in a big way.

With my colleague Frances Sibbet, we had a dream that instead of the usual top-down approach to transforming DFID (we simply didn’t have the resources to do this), a bottom-up advocacy model would be more effective. This also better reflects the ways in which digital technologies continue to change the way we work and our economies grow.

What a Digital Ninja does

Below is a list of the main duties of our Ninjas. Whilst not every Ninja is as active or engaged as every other one (that’s why we have different badges and levels), they all volunteer to be part of the network.

  • Be their team’s go-to person for help with digital tools
  • Be enthusiastic and willing to try new digital stuff
  • Deliver digital updates to their teams and cascade digital skills sessions
  • Share tips and support fellow Ninjas on our active Ninja Yammer network
  • Commit to keeping their digital skills up to date and helping colleagues master new digital skills

Becoming a Ninja

We have a range of ‘corporate’ roles within DFID, as I guess any big organisation does. I didn’t want the Ninja network to become something that was mandated or could be seen as a box-ticking exercise, this is why it is operated on a voluntary basis. I also knew that there’s usually at least one person in each team who was the go-to for digital already, and that being a Ninja would likely give them some recognition for their current work.

Prospective Ninjas sign up via a brief Google Form (obviously) and in return for their commitment, receive the following benefits.

  • Regular training opportunities to learn about new digital tools and techniques
  • A network of peers to support them on Yammer, and in real life
  • Structured feedback for our performance management process
  • Rewards for helping out their colleagues through a system of bronze, silver and gold shiny badges
  • A monthly newsletter of tips, tricks and links in our Ninja News

Rewarding our Ninjas with support not readily available to the rest of DFID, and awarding them shiny badges, has been essential to the network’s success.

The future of the Ninjas

Since the network’s launch in October 2015, it has reached some important milestones. We celebrated our 100th Ninja in May 2016, just over six months after launch. This was marked with cake, obviously.

The network’s first birthday was a double celebration, as we welcomed Alana Cuthbertson to DFID from HMRC to take over the day-to-day running of the network. We celebrated with cake, again. Our next target is to get a Ninja in each of DFID’s 80+ teams and offices across the globe, something which we are so close to achieving we can almost touch it.

Feedback from our Digital Ninjas has been almost entirely positive, and we’ve not had one leave yet. This doesn’t mean we’ve rested on our laurels though, and we carry on trying to improve the way the network works.

If you are interested in setting up your own network of Digital Ninjas in your organisation, drop either Alana or myself a tweet and we’ll try and help you out.

This was originally published as Digital Ninjas — a force for good

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