Social Value & the Public Sector: Q&A with AND’s Chief of Public Sector, Chris Gray

  • 15.09.2021

We caught up with AND Digital’s Chief for...

We caught up with AND Digital’s Chief for Public Sector, Chris Gray, ahead of him hosting “Technology and the Public Sector: delivering compassion and social impact” at Leeds Digital Festival (ft. NHS Digital and GDS), to chat social value, the public sector, and the importance of delivering profit with purpose.

Technology and the Public Sector: delivering compassion and social impact takes place on 29th September, 16:00 – 17:30. Register here.

Please tell us who you are and a little bit about yourself;

I am AND’s Chief of Public Sector – that means I’m responsible for AND’s growing Public Sector practice, ensuring our clients get to experience the best of AND’s capabilities, whether that is from delivery, consulting or our cloud practices wherever they are in the UK.

Over the course of your career, are there any stand out projects or work in the public sector you have been involved in that you are really proud of?

For me the standout moments are the ones that happen behind the scenes, whether it is putting a new system live for millions of people or seeing directly the impact of our work – this includes getting letters from pensioners who, thanks to some work we did, got long overdue tax repayments.  It was in November and they were writing to say how they planned to use the money to help their families and grandchildren at Christmas – that is when projects become meaningful, when you see the real impact.

What is it about the public sector that motivates you/excites you?

My motivation comes from making a difference, my excitement comes in part from the never ending set of challenges posed as well as the way in which new technologies can help and improve service delivery.

What are your plans for AND and the public sector?

In line with AND’s wider vision, we have ambitious plans to grow the public sector arm of the business. This sustainable growth will enable us to not only impact the lives of more people with our digital products, but to focus on our mission of improving the digital skills of 200,000 people by 2025. My role will be positioning AND Digital as key partners in tackling the most challenging problems in the public sector, whilst equipping the clients we work with with digital skills for the future. 

Now the event you are hosting is about social value, can you tell us what social value means to you and why it is important?

Social Value is the government’s term for addressing some of the biggest challenges of our time, whether that is inequality in all its forms, lack of opportunities to some in society, recovery from Covid-19 as well as addressing the very real consequences of climate change.  For me though Social Value could be seen as doing the right thing – as a business we are part of the society and communities in which we operate so we need to look around us and understand our impact and what we can do to help.  Social Value if anything is the framework to check we’ve not missed an opportunity to make a difference.

Why is keeping social value at the heart of activities particularly important to the public sector do you think?

Almost everyone working in the public sector will have “making a difference” as one of their core drivers, and hence why it is important to link social value to their work.  In addition as a significant purchaser of services it is a very direct way in which government can drive change in business, by ensuring that its suppliers are really helping improve the society in which we live and through that driving change out across all sectors of the economy.

Isn’t social value diametrically opposed to the way a business operates?

If I’m honest I would say this is a very old fashioned view of business and today’s business leaders.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with Business In The Community for many years and I know that the majority of business leaders I interact with, and have worked with want to deliver profit with purpose.  They understand the need for inclusive societies, for having skilled jobs and roles for people, the threat climate change could place on their businesses and I think you’ll find Social Value is absolutely aligned to the way most enlightened businesses operate today.

What is the biggest challenge to keeping social value at the forefront of organisations and how can they do more?

My sense is that you need to recognise from Day 1 you’re never going to be “done” – that whilst you may hit a goal or a target, if you’re delivering social value in the right way, you, your people and your board will want to continue and most likely do more.  Those organisations that get it right have Board level commitment to these goals and put in place the tools to track impact.  In some ways that helps with the biggest challenge which I think is around focus, and pushing as hard as you can in the areas where you can have most impact.

Has COVID had an impact on social value do you think?

Covid has undoubtedly highlighted some of the inequalities that exist in society as well as perhaps impacting opportunities for some due to the economic impact.  At the depths of the pandemic many people started saying we need to “build back better” and delivering social value is key to that.  The challenge for all of us is to hold each other to account and ensure we are actually addressing some of the challenges Covid highlighted and not ignoring them as we start to pick ourselves back up.

What does it mean to you to have GDS and NHS on the panel together?

It is a real privilege to have them join us, GDS has been a pioneer in digital services for the Public Sector since it was launched and has recently refreshed its strategy to once more lead across government on using digital to transform the way citizens interact with government.  As for the NHS, the last twelve months have shown what a department when it focuses on using digital can achieve.  The scale of some of the programmes that they have delivered and the way that health in 2021 is so much more digital than health in 2019 means I know they’ll have a lot of experience to share.

What can people expect to hear about or take away from the session?

I’d like people to come away with 3 things:

  • An appreciation of the importance of social value and compassion and embedding that into day to day work
  • Some clear ideas of what they can do to make a difference straight away
  • A drive and commitment to work with their own organisations to do more and put in place structures and approaches that deliver wider social impact.

Why is Leeds Digital Festival the right place to have this discussion?

Leeds is such a fantastic city and one that is incredibly important to AND which is why we are always delighted to be involved with the digital festival. The event is very inclusive with partners across the digital sphere having the opportunity to come together and I hope this means we are able to get a wide perspective and inputs to the discussion.  But also my sense is, much like the city, the festival wants to get on and do things, not just be a talking shop and therefore I think this discussion is the right place as we focus on the practical implications and actions we can take as we come away.

Join Chris Gray as he explores how technology and social impact are inextricably linked in the context of the public sector and how the technology community’s work can – and should – make a meaningful social impact.

Featuring insights from NHS Digital on the immense value of technology in managing the Covid 19 pandemic, and representatives from GDS that have used technology to improve the way services are delivered to citizens this is an opportunity to spotlight the way technology can make a real difference to the lives of citizens.

This is a small and intimate event for those in leadership positions across the public and private sector with an interest in using technology to do good. It’s a chance to have a frank conversation about the challenges that pose a risk to success, but also to look optimistically to a future where people’s needs are better met.

Technology and the Public Sector: delivering compassion and social impact takes place on 29th September, 16:00 – 17:30. To register, simply click here.

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