"Are the UnAwards a proper awards event if it only costs £20 to attend them?"

by Darren Caveney

I was asked this question last year. Well, actually, it was an attendee who said her boss had asked the question.

It’s fair to ask. We’re all busy and our time needs to be spent on things which add value, help us develop, make us better at our jobs.

Yes, the UnAwards are proper awards because the people who take part, enter, nominate and attend are what make an award. Not the ticket price or the venue.

Now we could run the UnAwards in a large London hotel, make it black tie and exclusive and charge £300 a ticket. But that isn’t our style. And I don’t believe it’s what colleagues across the industry that we meet every week want either.

350 entries and 5k public votes in the 2014 and 2015 UnAwards back up our thinking.

So come along and enjoy what’s my favourite industry gathering of the year.

The UnAwards16 will take place at the cool Everyman Cinema in Birmingham’s Mailbox. It will feature a winners ceremony, a film – which remains a closely guarded secret until the big day (last year we watched the brilliant Planes Trains and Automobiles) – and then you’ll have a rather lovely meal in the Everyman’s Diner which we also hire for the event.

But best of all it’s the number one meeting and networking opportunity I know. It’s a chance to meet a really wide range of people at the cutting edge of our industry and from all across the UK.

And many of you used last year’s event as the springboard to your office Christmas celebrations afterwards. Go you.

How much is it to attend?

We have held the ticket price for a third year running because we want as many of you to have the chance to be there as possible. Tickets are just £20 + VAT.

Will the event sell out?

Yes, almost certainly. The UnAwards15 was a complete sell out and we have a strict limit on numbers. So if you want to be at the coolest and most unique event in the industry calendar you should book sharpish.

You can book tickets to the glittering UnAwards16 ceremony taking place on 1 December right here. Don’t miss it, it’s going to be a cracker.

Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and the organiser of the UnAwards16

post image via The Library of Congress 

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

We have had some success with Facebook events at Bradford Council recently. I’d like to share with you what we’ve been doing and some of the things that we’ve learnt.

For several years I had mostly disregarded Facebook events. The number of people ‘going to’ a Facebook event rarely translated into people turning up to the actual event, and a lot of people ignored all invites anyway.

But Facebook events have quietly become more relevant again. Events have become so useful for our City Park Facebook Page that we have refocused our content priorities in favour of events. Facebook events now account for three quarters of all our posts on the City Park Facebook Page.

While you can create events as an individual, or in a Facebook Group, all our recent events have started life on Facebook Pages. Here are a few things we’ve done that you might like to try.

Encourage people to subscribe to event alerts

As the admin of a Facebook Page, you can’t invite people who like your Page to an event. But you can encourage people to subscribe to your Page’s events. If someone subscribes to your Facebook events, they will get a notification every time you add a new one near them.

The Facebook Page for Bradford’s City Park has 10,000 likes, but just as importantly it has 1,000 event subscribers. That’s 1,000 people who will get a notification whenever a new event is added.

Considering how hard it can be to get organic Facebook content into people’s newsfeeds, it is a real advantage to be able to notify people every time an event is created.

We have also stopped automatically publishing new events to our timeline and to our followers’ newsfeeds. Our event subscribers will get an immediate alert for new events, but we have control over the scheduling of how new events are shared publicly to people who like the Page. This helps us spread out our Page posts, but also adds an extra incentive for people to subscribe to our events alerts. Subscribers will find out about new events a day or two earlier than people who simply like our Facebook Page.

How to change whether new Events will be published to your Page timeline
How to change whether new events will be published to your Page timeline

You can also use other channels to encourage people to subscribe to your Facebook events. You could include a subscription link in newsletters, blog posts or on Twitter. Our City Park Twitter account has this Tweet pinned to the top of our profile:

As well as promoting events subscriptions through other channels, we have also promoted specific Facebook events in other channels too. For example, our blog post about events remembering the Battle of the Somme included links to several Facebook events.

Add one event to multiple Facebook Pages

You can add any public Facebook event to your Facebook Page. This is useful if you have multiple Facebook Pages and an event is relevant to more than one, or if you are working on an event in partnership with another organisation. This feature avoids the problem of event duplication.

Subscribers to each Page’s events will get a notification regardless of whether that Page created the event or imported it.

You can only add an existing event to your Page on the Facebook website, not through any of Facebook’s apps. If you click on the three dots at the top right of an event, you will see the option to ‘Add to Page…’.

Add Facebook event to page
Add an existing Facebook event to your Facebook Page

Adding events to different Facebook Pages has been useful for us. Several Bradford Council owned Pages regularly create events, for example City Park, Bradford Museums and Galleries and Bradford Libraries. I will regularly add events from those Pages to the main Bradford Council Page. Similarly, if a local organisation creates an event for something they are doing in City Park, this gets added to the City Park Facebook Page.

You will also see in the above screenshot the option to copy an event. This is a useful time saver when you’re adding a series of similar events on different dates.

Potential for huge organic reach from events

If your event hits the spot with people, your organic reach can snowball, and this can result in more people ultimately attending your event.

Every time someone engages with an event to say they are ‘interested’ or ‘going’, their response, and a link to your event, will appear in their friends’ newsfeeds.

In October 2016, Bradford City Park hosted a spectacular light show called Forest of Light. We created a Forest of Light Facebook event approximately six weeks before the event. Within the first 24 hours, this event had reached 130,000 people. That was virtually all down to event subscribers responding and inviting their friends.

By the weekend of the event itself, the figures for the Forest of Light Facebook event were quite staggering:

  • 589,000 people reached
  • 13,000 people interested
  • 5,700 people going
  • 3,300 people invited

Those numbers were all reached organically. We didn’t spend a penny on Facebook advertising for this. It all started with those 1,000 events subscribers.

Think of Facebook events as temporary Facebook Groups

Facebook events share some of the discussion features of Facebook Groups. In fact, a Facebook event does sometimes feel just like a temporary Facebook Group.

Anybody who is attending, or “interested” in, an event can post text, a photo or video to the discussion tab of an event. But unlike a Facebook Group, in which only individual people can contribute using their profiles, your Facebook Page can post content to the event discussion as well.

In the days building up to Forest of Light in Bradford, there were so many questions in the event discussion about what time the event started and finished that we edited the event title to include the hours. This is despite the details clearly saying what time it was on. This does seem one flaw of events. Depending on how somebody ends up in your event, particularly on the mobile app, the event details are often not easy for people to spot.

Another problem you might come across with discussions in a Facebook event is that you may not always get notifications when people post something in the event discussion. So the discussion tab can be a hotbed for spam and unanswered questions unless you keep a regular eye on it. Facebook does seem to have started providing discussion notifications for Page admins recently though, so this should become less of a problem.

Post new content directly into your events to stimulate engagement

Posting directly into an event (posting as your Facebook Page) can help raise awareness of the event and stimulate engagement. Anything you post into the event will appear in the newsfeed of people who like your Page, just as any other post from your Page will.  They don’t need to have already expressed interest in the event. The screenshot below shows a photo shared by by Bradford Council in the Sneaky Peeks event.

Photo shared directly into Facebook event
If a Page shares content directly into an event, this content will be shown in the newsfeed of people who like the Page

Also, anybody who is ‘attending’ or ‘interested’ in the event will get a notification about content you post directly into your event, regardless of whether they like your Page.  This can give you a larger organic reach than for a normal Page post, as you are not simply relying on Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm.

Your Page’s posts into an event don’t actually appear on your Page’s timeline, even though they do appear in people’s newsfeeds. And a photo or a video posted directly into an event will not appear in your Page’s photo or video library. This is worth bearing in mind. It can be useful to post lots of content relating to an event without it dominating your Page’s timeline. But at the same time, if you want to use this content again in the future, you won’t find it in your Page’s photo library or video library.

After the Forest of Light event in City Park, I published a video on the Bradford Council Page that would be permanently visible on our Page. We then shared the video (posting as the City Park Page) in the Forest of Light event. Both posts had high levels of engagement and reached thousands of people.

As well as posting existing photos and videos into an event, you can now also use Facebook Live to broadcast to all Event attendees.

Monitoring and measuring your activity in events is not easy. If you use a third party social media dashboard to monitor comments and questions, you may miss activity in an event. And although event metrics do appear in your Page Insights, the metrics are fairly basic, and don’t show activity on your individual posts in events.

Making decisions based on Facebook event responses

We use the level of engagement in Facebook events to judge how popular an event is likely to be, and plan accordingly. In the Forest of Light Facebook event we posted a poll asking which day people were planning to be there. We got over 500 responses to that poll, clearly showing that Saturday was likely to be the day with most people attending. So, our events team could then plan for that being the busiest day.

In June 2016, we held a vigil in a Bradford for the victims of the Orlando shooting. Within hours of us creating a Facebook event for the vigil, the number of people who were ‘interested’ or ‘going’ prompted us to move the planned site of the vigil to accommodate more people.  That Facebook event ended up reaching nearly 60,000 people. Most Facebook posts on our Page don’t even get one tenth of that figure. Sure enough, the vigil ended up being well attended.

Add formatting to text in event posts

You might also be able to use markdown add formatting to your text when you post in an event. The above screenshot of the Law Court photo shows that I was able to make text bold and add a hyperlink in the text. I’m not sure this feature has been rolled out to all users yet. But if you do see that option, it’s worth experimenting with.

The future of Facebook events – a standalone app

Facebook recently announced a standalone events app. It is unlikely Facebook will force all users into the new app like they did with Messenger. It is more likely that the dedicated events app will be optional, as with the groups app.

The ability to sync existing calendars into the Facebook events app could draw people in.  And if the new app can give people push notifications when their Facebook events are due to take place, this could help increase conversions from simply being interested in a Facebook event to actually turning up.

Over to you

Have you found Facebook events useful? Have you anything else to add you think I should have included? I’ve not talked about using events in Facebook Groups, although that’s probably what we will try next, for instance events for neighbourhood forums.  If you have had success with Group events or anything else I’ve not mentioned, leave a comment below or find me on Twitter.

Original source – Albert Freeman


…Which makes a nice change given the problems us community camerapeople have had trying to ensure not just that we can film, but that we can get decent audio that people can hear as well.

This from the full council meeting at Cambridge Guildhall (Cambridge City Council) on 20 October 2016.

Note at 9mins 15 seconds Cllr Lewis Herbert (Leader of the city council and Labour ward councillor for Coleridge) challenges Cllr Markus Gehring (Lib Dems – Newnham) to find video footage of where he gave a commitment to bring major city deal decisions to full council. Note at 11 mins 45 seconds Cllr Rod Cantrill (Lib Dems – Newnham) tells Cllr Herbert that although he did not stay to the end of the city deal board meeting that previous week, he did watch the video footage of the time he was out of the meeting.

A couple of things to note:

It wasn’t a straight forward process to persuade councillors generally that members of the public could turn up and film council meetings. Here’s Richard Taylor up the road in Huntingdon in 2013.

This was despite this piece of guidance from central government some two years before – see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/citizen-journalists-and-bloggers-should-be-let-in-to-public-council-meetings.

It was as a result of experiences like this that The Government tabled new regulations in Parliament – subsequently approved – giving the right of members of the public to rock up to council meetings and start filming. (See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/open-and-accountable-local-government-plain-english-guide).

“Splendid! So everyone’s happy now?”

Well…not really.

“Why not?”

Audio. Have a listen.

This was at Shire Hall, Cambridge.

This was at The Guildhall, Cambridge.

Cllr Richard Robertson (featured) is naturally softly spoken. But because he didn’t speak directly into the desk microphone (which seem designed to be used by speakers sitting down), I had to ramp up the volume in editing by 500%. Hence the ‘hissing’ sound when he speaks when compared to Eleanor Leeke who asked the public question on behalf of riverboar residents on the River Cam.

“If you don’t get the audio, what’s the point on filming?”

One of the earliest lessons I learnt making digital videos was that audio makes up more than 50% of the content of a video. A viewer is more likely to tolerate poor visuals so long as the audio is solid compared to the other way around. And let’s face it, with most of my footage being from local democracy meetings it is the audio that really counts.

Councillors: Think accessibility

If no one watched my videos, it wouldn’t be an issue. But have a look at the data below:


The above is before the recent peak from the full council meeting of 20 October – which in the past 18 hours has tracked over 300 hits/views…which for a small local council meeting is unreal. Local residents are interested. Funnily enough, the wider (if I can call it) Cambridge diaspora also seem interested – with the data showing one person in Monaco and one in Jersey watching through a good half an hour of footage.

Many of the people who watch the videos – the ones that feed back to me – are people who for one reason or another cannot get to council meetings. For some this will be due to caring responsibilities, for others it’ll be mobility impairments. But either way, audio and acoustics matter. Council chambers done seem to be designed well for good audio – which seems strange given the space is for public speeches. The speakers that most councils use feel like they are from a bygone era, or are so small that the voices of speakers lose their natural warmth and thus sound squeaky or if the speaker has a deep voice, inaudible.

“Better microphones & audio speakers, better microphone training?”

Or public speaking training and practice? Cambridge Toastmasters run regular sessions for people interested in improving their public speaking. The safe practice space for current and potential councillors is there on our city’s doorstep.

On microphones, expenditure may sound like a luxury, but the more meetings that community camerapeople and citizen journalists turn up to, and the more views we get on our video pages, the more important having a better sound system becomes. Less of a luxury and more of an essential.

“Does anyone control the audio in the Guildhall?”

Here’s Puffles from a past UKGovCamp at London’s City Hall.


Rather than having councillors and speakers fiddling with whether microphones work, there is one specialist sound engineer controlling whose microphone is on, under the direction of the chairperson.

The arrangement above for me would save a huge amount of time for everyone. Speakers could concentrate on the message they want to get across while the sound engineer controls volume, community reporters and camera crew can pick up a separate and much more clear audio feed with much less background noise on a USB stick from which to splice with the video footage in editing, and everyone watching the video back has a more pleasant experience listening in at their leisure.

“Anything on councillors holding each other accountable?”

It was interesting to hear councillors referring to video footage in their exchanges. A bit of me was like: “Yeah? Care to name the people that did the filming, editing and the publishing online only it didn’t happen by itself?!?!!?” But then the rest of me was quite pleased that councillors were referring to the video footage in the normal course of debate to the extent that being filmed was now normal for them. ie not only is there nothing really to be afraid of (unless they want to portray themselves as something other than who they really are, or give conflicting & inconsistent messages to different audiences), but the video footage can be useful for everyone.


Original source – A dragon’s best friend

We’re the international content discovery team, our 6-week mission, to boldly go where some people have gone before, finding international users’ needs.

Vaguely international bunting

Vaguely international-themed bunting

Camped out on the seventh floor at Aviation House, with vaguely international-themed bunting, we have spent the last few weeks digging into existing research on GOV.UK’s international users and auditing all international content.

There’s been a lot of great work done to understand specific international user needs but not much has been done to join it all together. We’re trying to build a picture of who the international users on GOV.UK are and:

  • what their needs are
  • what the priority areas are
  • how well we are meeting their needs

While on our travels, we’ve discovered there are a few gaps in our understanding around these things. So we’re going to attempt to fill those gaps with some of own user research involving British people living abroad and non-British people living in the UK.

Having a fuller picture will be particularly useful once our research starts to focus, in part, on how needs of international citizens might have changed as a result of the EU referendum.

We’ll also be working closely with international facing departments to see how or if their priorities have shifted. We’ll set up potential ways for us to work together to meet international user needs as Brexit unfolds.

At the end of the 6 weeks we’ll pull our findings together into a strategy report that will be used to inform next year’s GOV.UK roadmap as well as, hopefully, being a resource for GOV.UK teams and departments working with international users.

Watch this space, we’ll have more blog posts to follow.

Original source – Inside GOV.UK


Recently, Andy Williamson talked about adopting the Common Technology Services (CTS) secure email guidance in his post ‘Securing email for the Scottish public sector’. Here, I’m going to share more detail about how we implemented the secure email guidance from a local authority perspective. I hope the lessons we learned will benefit any organisation adopting this standard.

A bit about us

Fife Council is the third largest authority in Scotland with 18,000 employees over 500 sites. In common with other local authorities, we currently use email via the Public Services Network (PSN) in order to communicate securely with the NHS, police, local authorities and central government.

GDS has published communications regarding the expiry of the Government Secure Intranet Convergence Framework (GCF), which explained that there would be alternative methods of securing government email. The intention is to give organisations more choice to deliver secure email, either by enhancing existing infrastructure or to allow the adoption of cloud email. As a security and compliance lead, I was curious to see how this would be achieved.

I read the secure email guidance document with great interest, noting the familiar technologies and some that were new to me. After discussion with my colleagues within the Scottish Local Authority Security Group (SLAISG), it was clear that we needed to explore what this guidance meant for local authorities and the wider public sector.

Sometimes, the best way to explore something is to do your own tests, so with the support of CTS, we implemented the guidance in Fife.

Implementing the guidance

We found the secure email guidance to be clear, logically structured and easy to follow. However, if you are like us there will be some technologies that are relatively unfamiliar. The good news is that this piece of work can be implemented one step at a time, rather than as a “big bang” complex change. Happily, there were clear security benefits as we completed each step.

The guidance supports the adoption of cloud-based email services in line with the government’s renewed commitment to ‘cloud first’. Local authorities are not mandated to use cloud services and many organisations, including Fife, currently host their email service on premise. This wasn’t a barrier, as the guidance is equally applicable to on-premise email services, enabling organisations to migrate to the cloud when they are ready.

It’s all in the preparation

Before we started rolling up our sleeves, raising change requests for the configuration changes and implementing the guidance, there were some up-front tasks to perform.

First, we requested access to the Domain information tool. This tool walked us through the tasks to complete and let us test as we went along. You can request access to the tool by emailing contact.cts@digital.cabinet-office.gov.uk

Next was to identify and procure a Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC) reporting service. From the guidance, it was clear that enabling DMARC would generate a lot of XML reports.

While organisations may be fluent in XML and wish to analyse these reports manually, we decided to use dmarcian-eu (a cloud-based service) to turn these reports into a meaningful dashboard. There are a number of DMARC reporting services available on the Digital Marketplace, ranging in cost, so be sure to engage with your procurement team if you think you’ll need one.

We identified and briefed staff in each of the important areas to make sure they were ready to complete a series of controlled changes. They included:

  • the owner and administrator of the email service
  • the administrator of the email gateway (if different from the email service) – in some organisations they could sit alongside other DMZ/Firewall components, or in a cloud-based email filtering service
  • the Domain Name System (DNS) owner (we host our own DNS, but some organisations may have hosted DNS)
  • the team responsible for buying and managing security certificates

By this point, we were ready to go.

One change at a time

So what was our experience of each of the technologies and our experience of their implementation? I won’t replicate the detailed information from the secure email guidance, but will describe the high-level tasks and provide some hints and tips.

At each step in the process, you can validate changes using the domain information tool, which also shows you the work that still needs to be done.


Enabling Transport Layer Security (TLS) was the easiest change to make and yet the most beneficial to the organisation. We:

  1. requested certificates for the email servers.
  2. loaded the certificates on the email gateways and enabled TLS
  3. enabled opportunistic TLS

The result of this simple change was that 93% of all our organisation’s email became transport layer encrypted overnight. A surprising demonstration of how prevalent TLS is across email platforms.

With confidence that TLS was working correctly, we could switch to using mandatory TLS for organisations that support it. These can readily be identified from the whitelists published via the domain monitoring tool.


To stop phishing and spoofing on our domain we first enabled Sender Policy Framework (SPF): a list of valid sources for your domain’s email published via a DNS record. This should contain all of the systems sending email on your organisation’s behalf.

Clearly, your main email gateways will be in there, but you should also consider systems such as:

  • a hosted web server that sends emails to customers
  • cloud-based service providers , such as payroll, pensions or other systems
  • cloud-based mailing list providers sending mailshots to customers for events

Making sure your SPF record is as accurate as possible will pay dividends when it comes to analysing DMARC reports in the next step.

DMARC lets you set a policy and get reports back on where your email comes from.

Being relatively unfamiliar with DMARC prior to reading the guidance, I was fascinated to find that it would give us visibility of emails claiming to come from our domain that had in fact been spoofed by potentially malicious senders. This reporting happens despite the fact that the email does not touch our infrastructure at any point.

With our reporting service in place we were ready to enable DMARC. This required a DNS change to add a DMARC record to track email in a monitoring mode (p=none):


Starting in monitoring mode gave us visibility of email claiming to come from our domain, without the risk of blocking legitimate email. After a few days, we started to receive reports from larger email providers like Gmail and Outlook.com highlighting emails that failed the check. Having a DMARC reporting service was invaluable in presenting the information clearly in a dashboard view.

The vast majority of non-compliant emails identified in the report were relatively benign spam, however, we did find some instances of legitimate email from a hosted mailing list provider used by our organisation. This gave us the choice to either change the way we use this provider or to add them to the SPF list to allow them to continue to send email on behalf of our organisation.

Looking at the DMARC DNS record in detail there are two types of reports that you should be aware off. The guidance gives the following template:


Aggregate reports ( rua ) provide summary reports. These do not include the contents of the email or the sender email address. Useful for statistics and high-level reporting, not so good if you want to track back the email to its purpose.

Forensic Reports ( ruf ) provide detailed forensics for non-compliant messages. These contain the entire content of the email, including attachments, only the recipient email is redacted. If your SPF record is accurate you should not have a valid email within forensics report, however, you should consider the privacy risk if you expect to capture some legitimate email. The content of these emails are shared with any email recipient stated in your DMARC record with a ruf entry, this could include GDS, your DMARC reporting tool, or your own organisation’s reporting email recipient.

Once you are happy that your SPF record correctly reflects valid senders for your domain the DNS DMARC record can be updated to start instructing recipients to quarantine non-compliant email. This can be phased in on a percentage basis (for example pct=5 for 5%) to reduce risk as detailed in the guidance:


Domain Keys Identified Message (DKIM) is digital signing to verify the email source and protect from tampering in transit and needs three steps to implement:

  1. generate a public and private key pair with a length of at least 1024 bit but under 2048 bit. We used the openssl command line tool to do this, but some services may generate the key for you
  2. publish a DKIM DNS record with your public key
  3. configure your email gateway to add signatures to your outbound email

We apply the DKIM signatures on our email filtering service – Clearswift – as the last step before the email goes out. Any footers or re-writes after this point will break the DKIM signing.


After completing this work you’ll be in a position to have your service assessed by CTS to provide assurance that it is correctly configured and secure. This is carried out by completing an online assessment form, which is similar to the PSN Code of Connection (PSN CoCo) with a specific focus on email configuration.

Like a PSN CoCo there is an obligation that your SIRO or Chief Executive will authorise this submission by means of a validation email. You will need to make sure that they are briefed around the security controls in place and are ready to respond.

In the end…

We implemented the guidance by configuring existing platforms, with no capital expenditure. This was done through a series of small changes without any disruption to the organisation. The end results are that the majority of emails to partners, third sector and citizens are encrypted in transit, with anti-spoofing protection, and assurance that email from our domain has not been tampered with in transit.

The guidance provides organisations the opportunity to adopt cloud-based services and the ability to securely deliver email outside the GSi network. However, I don’t want to sell it short. It’s not just about GCSX/GSi domain names but about current security best practice to secure information and protect the reputation of your organisation when sending emails.

Andy Williamson’s post highlighted that technical security is only part of the solution. The majority of emails to partner organisations will have governance arrangements in place, with handling guidance and assurance around the security of the receiving infrastructure. For recipients of sensitive information where there is less assurance in their technical security such as citizens, foster carers and volunteers there may still be a requirement for additional security controls or handling guidance.

I hope this reassures you that the guidance can be implemented with minimal effort while using existing skills and technologies. In signing off I’d like to give my thanks to Nick Woodcraft from the CTS team for the reassurance and guidance during the planning and implementation, and of course all of the staff at Fife Council involved in implementing the changes.

Next steps

If you are using the secure email guidance, or planning to soon, we’d love to hear from you. Contact CTS and we’ll get in touch.

Martin Kotlewski is Lead Officer for Security & Compliance from Fife Council

Original source – Government technology

Looking at a graph of benefit sanctions statistics since 2010, it has more in common with a nerve-racking rollercoaster ride than a DWP dataset. For many benefit claimants, that’s exactly what it has been. 

Between 2010 and 2013 the number of sanctions against people claiming Job Seekers Allowance more than doubled, from a rate of 533,000 a year to an eye-watering peak of over one million. Since then they have almost halved, raising the question: why the great rise and fall in sanctions in the space of just a few years and where will they go from here?

Benefit sanctions (where a claimants benefits are reduced or stopped for a period of time) are a pertinent issue for Community Links. Through our delivery of the Work Programme we are obliged to ‘raise doubts’, often leading to claimants being sanctioned, while through our advice services we regularly support clients who have been sanctioned. For many years, Community Links – alongside others in the third sector and academia – has campaigned against the punitive use of sanctions as they have driven many of our service users into destitution and away from the Government’s stated aim of encouraging people into work.

Why the great rise?

In 2010, the Coalition Government’s new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, signalled the starting gun in a statement to the House of Commons: “we expect co?operation from those who are seeking work. That is why we are developing a regime of sanctions for those who refuse to play by the rules.”

The impact was immediate, resulting in more Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants being sanctioned and more people likely to receive multiple sanctions. At the same time sanctions also increased in severity, in terms of length for JSA claimants, and in terms of length and income reduction for ESA.

Adding to this, the numbers of people unfairly sanctioned also increased dramatically. One of our service users, who was strongly work-orientated, explained how powerless and destitute not being able to attend a job interview due to an incorrect decision made her feel.

“I had times when I literally had no food and no gas. I just lay in my bed looking at the walls. I couldn’t travel or make any calls. I couldn’t even afford to get the bus to sign-on, but I knew that if I didn’t go I’d be suspended again. It’s like a vicious cycle. I turned up to the Jobcentre actually hungry. I hadn’t eaten for two days and I was scared that if I was five minutes late they might suspend me again – it really wasn’t easy.”

The increased numbers of claimants being sanctioned for failing to participate in training and employment support – largely via the Work Programme – had a significant impact on the overall rise in sanctions, and in 2014 this accounted for 31% of all sanction decisions. Another factor attributed to the rise was the DWP raising its off-flow targets (the removal of claimants from the unemployment register) for Jobcentres. Although the Government has repeatedly stated that sanctions targets do not exist and that they are only imposed as a “last resort”, there have been numerous reported incidences of Jobcentre staff being put under pressure to impose financial penalties on benefit claimants in order to meet staff performance standards.

And then the fall?

As with the unprecedented rise, Government have never provided a clear explanation for the precipitous fall in JSA sanctions since their peak in 2013. The fall in JSA claimants (dropping 49% between 2013 and 2015 due to the labour market recovery) obviously had a large part to play.  However, the monthly rate of sanctions as a proportion of JSA claimants has also halved during this period, suggesting a significant change in policy.

Other key factors influencing the downward trend have been a reduction in referrals of claimants to the Work Programme and the growing number of claimants being transferred from JSA to Universal Credit (UC), for which sanctions statistics are not yet available.

Whilst the continued demise of sanctions is welcome, and the work of charities and others who influenced this change should be commended, they still cause untold hardship and misery, even if it is for a smaller number of claimants. For many of our clients, a sanction means going hungry, being unable to heat their home, and in some cases not being able to afford the bus fare to meet a Jobcentre advisor in order to find work.

The future of sanctions

The noises from the new Government indicate a potentially more constructive approach to social security. The new Work and Pensions Secretary, Damian Green, has said that there will be ‘no new search for cuts in individual welfare benefits’, and has scrapped reassessments for chronically-ill disabled people seeking to claim ESA. His predecessor had already introduced a “warning period” for those facing a sanction. However, this does not mean that the rollercoaster that many of our most vulnerable service users have been on will not rise again.

A commitment to no new cuts in welfare benefits could in itself be an incentive for Government to seek cost savings through increasing benefit ‘off-flows’ and hence increasing sanction rates. The introduction of in-work conditionality in Universal Credit (UC) and the new Work and Health Programme will introduce new sources of sanctions in the coming years, though it’s still unclear the balance it will adopt between support and punishment.

Community Links will continue to make the case for sanctions to only be used as a last option. In submissions to the Work and Pensions Committee and National Audit Office we have continued our call for a full evidence-based review of the sanctions regime, as well as asking the DWP to provide a clear rationale for applying conditionality to UC claimants in work. We believe that the focus of any regime should be about supporting people into sustainable and fulfilling employment, rather than ensuring compliance, which too often results in destitution on the one hand, or forcing people into unsuitable, low paid insecure work on the other.

Dr David Webster, October 2016, Explaining the rise and fall of JSA and ESA sanctions 2010-16

Original source – linksUK

Theresa May was not anticipating moving from the Home Office to Number 10 in 2016 – and even after a leadership contest was triggered, she succeeded months earlier than expected. Since then, 16 of the 20 major departments have new secretaries of state, including three completely new departments. In this context, it is unsurprising that policy progress is taking time. But 100 days in, details about the plans of May’s government remain disconcertingly thin.

The biggest item on Theresa May’s agenda has been Brexit. 100 days into her premiership there are many things we still don’t know about how the process will work or what the Prime Minister’s priorities are (with the exception of immigration). Likewise, there has been plenty of activity setting up new departments and committees, but we are no closer to finding out what our negotiating position will be, or how the Prime Minister will reach a decision on this.

The same can be said for domestic policy. The rhetoric has been ‘a change is coming’ but mostly we’ve seen cancellations and delays.

After trailing a big decision on airports, another delay was announced. The status of the National Infrastructure Commission was delayed then downgraded. Key social reform policies in justice (problem-solving courts) and education (the national funding formula) have been put on hold. The process of English devolution took a hit when Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, said the deal in the North East was ‘off the table’ – and the fate of other deals is still unclear.

There have been attempts to present these delays as strength – a Prime Minister taking nothing for granted and checking the solidity of predecessors’ analysis. But even Hinkley Point C – one of the most striking examples of delay and review – was eventually waved through with no changes, despite its numerous problems.

May also set out new policy priorities during her first day in Downing Street, putting social reform and an industrial strategy at the heart of the domestic agenda. This has been confirmed with the publication of the new list of cabinet committees, which include ones on Economy and Industrial Strategy and Social Reform. But 100 days in, we’re still waiting for detail. On industrial strategy, there has been close to none. On social reform, the resurrection of grammar schools has been floated (to disquiet in many quarters) although again, much of the detail is yet to come. No green or white papers have yet been signalled.

Even on the machinery of government itself, there have been signs of delay and indecision. Lists of cabinet committees held back until subject to a Freedom of Information request, the Prime Minister chairing half of the committees (a much higher percentage than her predecessor) and collective Cabinet responsibility suspended on the Heathrow decision.

May has rejected suggestions that she leads an incumbent government or that Brexit has to dominate her premiership. Instead, she promised change: social reform, a return to industrial strategy and investment infrastructure. So far, the reality has been pauses and a conspicuous absence of detail on both Brexit and other major policy policies.

The Prime Minister has been firm that she wants to break with the past – now she needs to be equally firm on how she intends to deliver the future.

Original source – Institute for Government

One of the best things about working for dxw is that the perks of the job are actually really useful. No ping pong tables at dxw!

One perk in particular that makes dxw such a great place to work is the conference perk. It does what it says on the tin (or the website, as the case may be): Go to one conference of your choice per year, within reach of a budget flight. And that conference doesn’t even to be related to your role (although most of us do choose conferences related to our roles because we love what we do that much). As a part time user researcher and a full time PhD student, this perk is definitely more useful to me than the Cycle to Work scheme.

4s easst conferenceI chose to use mine to go to the 4S/EASST conference in Barcelona in September. Aside from being a collection of letters and a number, 4S/EASST is one of the big events of the Science and Technology Studies world – it’s a once-every-four-years conference that combines the European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST) with its American counterpart, the Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S).

A brief note for those wondering what Science and Technology Studies (STS) is in 25 words or less: it’s a part of the social sciences that looks at how scientific knowledge and technology is negotiated and made (amongst many, many other ideas), and the societal impacts of science and technology.

The 4S/EASST conference is massive – there were around 2000 academics discussing ideas and presenting research about science and technology from a social sciences perspective. There were so many tracks on a wide range of topics but I chose to attend those related to infrastructure. This decision was twofold: 1) my PhD looks at infrastructure and how people discuss it on social media and, 2) the public sector works with and creates infrastructure all the time with varying degrees of success and controversy.

Suffice it to say, the presentations were relevant from both perspectives. I heard about the energy impacts of domestic IT use, how infrastructure (or lack of introduction of driving infrastructure) helped Copenhagen become a cycling city and, one of my favourite panel discussions was about whether infrastructure could be evil. These research presentations were all helpful and relevant to our work here at dxw because they spoke to how it’s important to take the impact (intended or otherwise) of infrastructure into account when designing public sector services.

In addition to being helpful to my PhD studies and my academic networking, I found it helpful to consider public sector digital work on an academic level and the impact it has on the public and politics.

For me, it helped to reinforce an idea and passion of mine that my academic interests and professional interests can co-exist and cross-pollinate, for the benefit of all involved.

Original source – dxw

In an Institute for Government first, Julia Gillard – the first woman to serve as Australia’s Prime Minister – spoke to a riveted audience about the challenges of being a woman in power and the trials and tribulations of running a modern democracy.

Julia Gillard

The gender of governing

In a note of caution to Theresa May, Gillard said that over time, the gender issue became the ‘go-to’ political weapon of choice for her adversaries, with the attacks centring on her lack of children and apparent ‘ruthlessness’.

She said the tone of the attacks reflected the prevailing negative stereotypes of female leaders—that women leaders are seen as having abandoned the soft, nurturing traits of femaleness—and felt strongly that these ‘unconscious biases’ were playing into the current U.S. presidential election.

Echoing her misogyny speech that brought her worldwide attention in 2012, Gillard said that the focus should not be on how individual women in power can act differently to men in power, but on the collective response of society. She added that influential male leaders in particular have a role in ‘calling-out’ sexism, noting that this would have made a huge difference during her time as Prime Minister.

The media cycle versus the rhythm of governing

Technology, Gillard believes, has changed the way the media engages in political debate, altering the ‘rhythm of governing’.

She pointed to the inability of leaders ‘to get the facts through, highlighting the examples of Brexit and the shocking number of people who still believe President Obama was born in Kenya. In an exceedingly fragmented media landscape, Gillard underlined how easy it is for people to end up in ‘self-reinforcing bubbles’ that ‘never get anywhere’. This is despite the fact that, as IfG research shows, people want politicians to make decisions based on objective evidence.

Reform, she said, however, requires sustained attention over a long period of time, allowing people to accept the need for change. But the insatiability of the media and the pace of the 24-hour news cycle mean it is difficult for leaders to sustain such attention. The former PM gave an example of making a major policy statement over breakfast, but then facing press calls for new stories by lunch.

Julia Gillard

Identity politics and the left behind

Donald Trump, Brexit, and the rise of the far left and far right in Europe, reflect the growing backlash against globalisation. While globalisation may be driving growth globally, many people have been left out, left behind and wondering what’s in it for them. This makes for a complex and challenging backdrop for modern leaders.

Reflecting on the increasing malaise, Gillard gave the example of an ageing manufacturing worker who, over the course of the past 50 years, would have witnessed first-hand the disruptive change of globalisation. Asked whether there were any specific policy interventions to address these issues, Gillard said that if she knew that she would have already written the ‘global bestseller’.

But she added that modern leaders needed to speak to identity politics, diversity and fears about change. This means going beyond the standard mind-set of ‘programmes and interventions’.

Echoing the current post-Brexit sentiment in the UK, Gillard said that in a globalised world these conversations would need to translate into an inclusive narrative about a nation and people within that nation, but also encourage its people to look outwards.

The former Prime Minister painted a picture of unprecedented challenges to governing in the 21st century, fuelled by a voracious and fragmented media and widespread backlash against globalisation and migration.

While the ghosts of Prime Minister’s past may quietly disagree, the ‘quarrelsome, noisy, quick, democracies of today’ present challenges that have not been seen by any previous generation of democratic leader.

If the present upheaval and pace of change are anything to go by, the rhythm and backdrop of governing is likely to continue to hasten and fracture. Political leaders of all genders should listen and learn from the experience of Julia Gillard who—we suspect—will never be far from the political arena.

Original source – Institute for Government

Last week we launched Demsoc Manchester, our new hub that compliments the work we’re already doing in Brighton, Edinburgh and Brussels. Thanks to everyone who came along and contributed to an interesting and lively discussion. In case you couldn’t make

Original source – Open Policymaking