Who is Paul James? 5 things you should know about NZ’s Chief Digital Officer

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Cat Mules

NZ's GCDO has a pivotal role in the nation's online presence. Let's get to know him a little better.

1. He believes the big changes being made in the public service will benefit all New Zealanders.

Last year, James released the Strategy for a Digital Public Service – an approach to bring the public sector in line with a modern world. James says, “It is about moving from an agency-centric model to one that puts people first. Government Services should be tailored to the public’s needs, not ours. Our role is to think about how the whole of the public service works and keep the public at the centre of everything. We’re deliberately choosing to work collaboratively with agencies to build understanding, rather than taking an interventionist approach.”

2. He’s also Chief Executive at the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA). 

“The Department has incredibly varied responsibilities and functions,” James says of his parallel role. “All New Zealanders are touched in some way by the Department’s activities.”

The Department of Internal Affairs is often recognised for its passport service, but whether people are going boating on Lake Taupō, applying for community grants online or visiting the National Library, they’re using DIA’s services.

3. Digital identity is something he’s super focused on right now. 

It has just been confirmed by the Government that the country’s Digital Identity Trust framework will be formalised. Since this framework is all about the ways that people can exchange and use their personal information online – while keeping that information secure and private – it’s a top priority for James. Once the framework is complete, New Zealanders will be able to operate more easily and safely online – with huge benefits to the economy too.

4. He used to be the Chief Executive at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 

That’s right, James’ expertise is by no means limited to digital. Before becoming GCDO and Chief Executive at DIA, he spent three years as the Chief Executive at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. He’s also previously worked as Director at the Office of Treaty Settlements, where he oversaw a significant increase in the rate of settlements achieved. James has a strong policy background and has been a proud public servant for over 20 years.

5. He sees digital inclusion as important for everyone. 

COVID-19 saw an unprecedented shift to online services, but it also highlighted the growing need for digital inclusion. “During COVID-19 lockdowns some of us could easily and confidently use the internet, but others were left behind – including many people in lower socio-economic groups, people with disabilities and the elderly.”

In addition to making services more accessible for those who aren’t online, James says it’s important to join up the many government initiatives that address aspects of digital inclusion. “We are collaborating with communities across New Zealand and the many iwi, hapū, non-governmental organisations, businesses, and charities,” he says.

“Digital inclusion doesn’t exist in a void, so we also must link closely with others working on the digital economy, digital rights, data sovereignty, and the future of work. It’s important we learn from each other, so all New Zealanders thrive in the digital era.”

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Cat Mules

Umbrellar's Digital Journalist, coming from a background in tech reporting and research. Cat's inspired by the epic potential of tech and helping kiwi innovators share their success stories.

Data, AI, BI & ML

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