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Meet the Digital Leader: Karen Jones – Assistant Chief Executive and Chief Digital Officer, Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council

Karen talks about her time at Neath Port Talbot Council, writing their first Digital Strategy and becoming the Chief Digital Officer. She discusses digital inclusion work on the local PSB and helping combat causes of digital exclusion, including; cost, skills and confidence.

How long have you been involved in digital health/inclusion and what positions have you held?

I have been involved in this work since 2015 when I wrote the Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council’s first digital strategy. I have recently refreshed the strategy and have been given chief digital officer status in the Council, alongside a wide range of other responsibilities attached to my Assistant Chief Executive role.  I am also a member of the NPT Public Service Board (PSB) and I lead the PSB’s work on digital inclusion.

What has been your proudest moment while in the sector?

Being able to raise the priority attached to digital inclusion across my organisation but also within the local third sector and in our Public Service Board. We are all actively talking about digital inclusion and putting practical things in place to help more people participate in the digital world.

What do hope to achieve during your tenure?

I would like to see every organisation locally make a commitment to upskilling their own workforces, including any volunteers and to actively consider who is at the end of the digital services they are creating. My aspiration is that every digital strategy has a clear objective to address digital exclusion.

In your view, what is the key to being a good Digital Leader?

I think [being a good Digital Leader] it is about taking responsibility to inform yourself of the opportunities and the challenges and to engage others in the art of the possible.

What do you think will be the biggest changes in digital health and/or inclusion in the coming years?

I suspect we will move beyond putting transactional services and information online and see a step change in the way we adopt artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics etc. As well as opening up access to services for people if we get the design right, we will also need to spend enough time debating the ethics and risks of moving in this direction. I don’t think we are having this debate at the moment.

In your view what are the key principals of effective digital health and/or inclusion?

From our perspective whilst online services are absolutely right for a whole range of things, on other things there is no substitute for face-to-face human contact. We need to make sure we use the right channels for the right people at the right time. Whilst opening people up to the opportunities we also need to educate people about the risks and give them the means to protect themselves whilst online. Services have to also be accessible for all – so good design, being user centred, continuously seeking feedback and improving the end user experience is vital. Arrangements also have to be device-agnostic – we now live in a mobile world and people want to access things on a variety of devices at any time.

In your experience, what are the biggest barriers to those in need getting access to digital health and/or inclusion provisions?

These days connectivity is a reducing barrier, current barriers are more about cost, skills and confidence.

What should digital transformation of healthcare look like?

This is a really tricky one as the main customers of health services are actually the cohort of people most likely to be digitally excluded. I can see already how clinicians and providers of health services may see digital transformation as very attractive, however, personal experience of the way some of this has been deployed in primary care makes me very concerned about access for some people. I think the health service really needs to do some very careful work involving patients in service design and change to make sure the most sick and vulnerable do not face great barriers to health care. If we get this right we could achieve so many benefits but we have to realise that for some people they will still need human contact.

To find out more about Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council’s Digital Strategy (2018-22), go to: