DTA boosts COVID digital comms team


Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

The Digital Transformation Agency is expanding its COVID-19 response team as part of a wave of new hirings for the government’s digital office, which has battled high levels of staff turnover and a reliance on outside contractors.

The DTA’s COVID-19 digital response team focuses on the agency’s pandemic response efforts in relation to managing external stakeholder, including the COVIDSafe contact tracing app, and works with other departments on policies and briefings.

But the agency would not say whether the new hirings aimed to reduce its reliance on outside contracts with large consulting firms, or whether the digital team would build and develop its own products and services – or if this work would continue to be outsourced.

Parliament House
Managing stakeholders: Public relations response team for COVID

The response team is made up of internal DTA staff and has been operating since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia.

“The digital response team is an internal arrangement that has been part of that effort since the initiation of the government response to coronavirus,” a DTA spokesperson told InnovationAus.

The DTA has listed three new roles at the team on its Digital Marketplace, with contracts running for the rest of the year, with an option to extend them until July 2021.

Roles the DTA is looking to recruit for are a policy officer, engagement lead and content designer.

The DTA has looked to private contractors previously to assist with its COVID-19-focused digital projects. Canberra-based tech company Delv built the Coronavirus Australia information app, while a range of private companies worked on the COVIDSafe contact tracing app, including Boston Consulting Group and AWS.

In total, contractors have been paid nearly $2.75 million for work on COVIDSafe, which will continue for at least the rest of the year. It also recently listed two new opportunities for work on the app on the Digital Marketplace.

The value of contracts handed to large consultancies by the DTA has increased by nearly five times in the last financial year, with several large contracts handed to the likes of Deloitte and McKinsey.

The agency has also experienced high levels of staff turnover, with near-100 percent turnover in the last 18 months. From July 2018 to February 2020, 251 staff members ceased employment, out of a total workforce of 256 people.

The DTA has said this is due to its “agile” way of working, with a focus on short-term contractors and secondees from other departments.

The agency declined to comment on whether the new hirings are as part of an effort to reduce its reliance on outside contractors and large consultants.

“The DTA is supporting the Australian government’s digital response to COVID-19. The digital response team is part of that effort. The DTA assesses and adapts the composition of the team on an ongoing basis as required,” the DTA told InnovationAus in statement.

The digital team aimed to “make Australian government services simple, quick and personalised” although a key part of the role would be to develop policy for the federal government to consider in relation to its COVID-19 digital response.

The role include work on briefings, Senate estimates briefings, talking points and media releases, and the officer will work with the government and senior public sector executives, rather than building internal product or service.

The engagement lead would “help to drive engagement with key stakeholders including state and territory health officials, media and other government agencies”.

“You will take a lead role in developing and delivering our communications strategy including social media content. You will contribute to the development of briefs, media responses, media releases, reports and correspondence,” the job listing said.

“Directly interface with health officials and other government agencies to ensure the effective use of our COVID-19 digital products. You will build productive relationships and networks with stakeholders. You will ensure that our products are meeting the needs of our stakeholders through your engagement activities.”

The content designer will be tasked with “radically improving government information and services”.

“You will work in a fast-paced, agile environment, producing user-centred content quickly and efficiently. The successful candidate will help the DTA adjust and maintain its content strategy for the suite of COVID-19 related products and services.”

The successful candidate will also deliver app content that “meets user needs, perform content and information architecture reviews and update help topics to respond quickly to the rapidly changing COVID landscape”.

All of the roles are slated to begin in early September on six-month contracts, with one optional six month extension on offer.

Several contracts were recently posted publicly covering various roles at the DTA stretching across the rest of the year. At least 12 new people will be working with the DTA from July this year, with the contracts worth more than $1.7 million in total.

Some of the new positions include a user researcher, technical tender specialist, policy and strategy expert and sourcing capability lead.

Law firm King and Wood Mallesons has landed a one-year contract extension for its work on the digital identity and GovDXP projects worth $900,000.

The company had originally been paid $900,000 for a six-month contract coming to an end in June, but will now continue offering advice on the schemes until the end of June 2021.

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