You might remember when ‘selfie’ was declared the word of the year by the Oxford dictionaries. Shortly after, the term ‘shelfie’ (a photo of your bookshelf) became an instagram hit. Looking at other people’s bookshelves, it turns out, is more interesting than we might first imagine.

Andrea’s Shelfie (bookshelf)

Over the last year, since I started on the London School of Economics Executive Masters in Public Policy (EMPP), my bookshelf has changed beyond recognition. Despite good intentions I must confess I don’t have vast amounts of time to read for pleasure. I was therefore delighted to find the EMPP reading list to be both interesting and incredibly useful.

The course was created by the government’s Policy Profession to enable senior policy-makers to build cutting edge policy analysis skills. They have carefully curated the latest thinking into modules spanning many subjects as an intensive whistle-stop tour of different aspects of policy in practice. So far we’ve delved into policies on Brexit, health and social care, schools, cities and regional development, as well as the theories of political science, economics and empirical methods (such as regression analysis). Over the year I have learnt a huge amount about the way policy is made, the complexities, contradictions and dynamics of developing and delivering change.

My time at LSE has been much more rewarding than I expected, and more relevant. In some cases it has forced me to read books I’ve bought and never got around to reading. But in most cases it has put things on my bookshelf I would never dreamt of buying. If I had to pick a few favourites this year they’d include: The ‘The Patient will See You Now’, ‘Election Attitude’ and ‘The Checklist Manifesto’. As well as the core textbooks, ‘Why Nations Fail‘ and the highly amusing ‘Naked Statistics’.

It made me wonder what books other policy makers are reading, and for that matter, what the academics who are experts in this area are finding at the cutting edge of practice. Choosing the books that will best inform and frame thinking is important. And keeping abreast of the latest thinking a necessity in our rapidly changing workplace. Take for example Paul Maltby’s recent compendium of digital, data and design books for policy-makers or Leisa Reichelt’s excellent reading list. The challenge is often finding both the time and the motivation to read all the interesting things that are out there. The Masters course provides both, and an amazing cohort of fellow students to share ideas and think about how to put them into practice.

So despite the lost weekends and lengthy reading I would wholeheartedly recommend this course (which is open to civil servants) or its ‘sister’ course the Executive Masters in Public Administration to those intrigued by how the world of policy works.

Original source – Policy Lab

In the 1999 book “Reinventing Government”, information is placed at the centre of the government reform model:

Information systems and information age reform model [1]

The rings identify multiple aspects that need to be addressed when attempting reform. Yet many efforts focus almost obsessively on the “Technology” ring, implementing new ideas and approaches to hardware and software in particular in the hope that they will somehow magically ripple across all the other rings without any ability to explain how such a change will ever happen.

This technology-centric approach ignores the core of the model – information – and the many other rings (issues) that need to considered too. This is similar to the way that far too many Chief Information Officers (CIOs) blatantly ignore the ‘I’ in their title, and revert to focusing on technology, playing around in the weeds of tactical work such as PC upgrades and indiscriminate outsourcing rather than taking a leadership role in delivering fundamental service and organisational improvements.

Build it and they will come” has become the tired mantra of various generations of central technology teams in Whitehall, despite the evidence that this approach doesn’t work.

common components.png
The repeated creation of common components by central teams, 2001 to present day

The simplistic assumption has been that technology will help drive “… service organisations, including those in the public sector, towards profound transformations in the design of their production processes and structures.” [2] Yet as Margetts and Willcocks noted as long ago as 1993 [3], the public sector is particularly vulnerable to risks introduced by technology and at risk of “disaster faster”.

The role of technology in the best examples in the private sector has moved well beyond the automation or optimisation of existing processes, information management and services. The most significant changes have arisen from technology-enabled improvements to processes, organisational structures, functions, roles and services at all levels. Meanwhile, the public sector falls further and further behind, continuing to use technology largely to automate the past and to run in circles “rediscovering” the same things as the teams that went before.

In her 2013 book “The Entrepreneurial State”, Mariana Mazzucato describes how it is the state that has often acted as the seed-corn innovator and investor of research and development – a role that has in turn enabled private sector companies to reap significant benefits in their own innovation and growth. Yet so far this flow of invention and innovation seems to have been largely one-sided, from state to private sector: the public sector is taking little benefit from the significant changes technology has brought to business models and the way organisations are now able to operate (much of it in turn enabled by better use of data). The public sector is still overly focused on that “Technology” ring in the first diagram above, and neglecting to work across all the other areas – as truly digital organisations do.

from Mazzucato.png
The impact of public sector R&D and innovation on the private sector [simplified and adapted from Mazzucato]

By ignoring these more important levers of reform, the result has been repeated attempts to build common technical infrastructure and shared technical structures at the centre of government with the assumption that somehow widespread improvements across our public sector will follow. There has been little focus on how to drive the wider, required changes indicated in that 1999 model above.

The wholesale opening up of government, promoted by both of the influential reports that lay behind recent reform efforts – “Better for Less” and “Revolution not Evolution” – has not happened. Outside of some of the main recommendations and influences that flowed from “Better for Less” – spend controls, open standards, disaggregation of monolithic contracts, adoption of public cloud, open markets and the encouragement of SMEs, etc. – the focus instead degraded to another generation of bespoke central infrastructure and in particular another repolished website. The opening up, through open APIs, was forgotten, as the recent National Audit report observed, yet arguably this would have been a far more effective way of genuinely beginning to help re-engineer our public services and organisations.

Far too often there has been a lazy and self-serving retreat into revamping and re-launching the central government website. This may make for comforting headlines, media visibility and good international PR, but does little to fundamentally improve the operations and services of the public sector.

website timeline.png
“One website to rule them all” – the UK central government citizen website since 1994

The focus on so-called “service design” is often constrained, able to focus only on a subset of the design that’s necessary, and all too often dominated by a website-centric mindset. The result is endless existing forms and processes being placed online over the past 20 or so years, with the keyboard and screen simply a replacement for pen and paper and the central components designed to reinforce the current ways of working.

The result is an over-promised, over-hyped and often purely self-promotional myth of government “digital transformation“. It is a weak and unconvincing shadow of the digital services and organisational models elsewhere. Our public sector deserves far better than this endless cycle.

The focus needs to move well beyond the “Technology” layer (and its current superficial rebrand as “Digital”). It’s time the public sector ingested and adopted in-house many of the significant private sector innovations in terms of new organisational models and services that have grown from those seeds of investment and innovation originally planted by the public sector.

Screen Shot 2017-08-14 at 13.00.48.png
Enabling the public sector to re-ingest the innovation it has helped sow

If we want technology-enabled reform and redesign of our public services and organisations to succeed, we need to stop chasing around in circles. We need an approach that spans at least the scope of the diagram at the start of this blog. Until that happens, technology in our public sector will continue to be a side-player tinkering on the margins, and propagating broken services, organisations and processes – when it should instead be guiding and leading it to fundamentally better ways of working.

[1] “Understanding success and failure in information age reform”, pp.49-74, Heeks, R., and Bhatnagar, S. In “Reinventing government for the information age.” 1999, Routledge. Heeks, R. (Editor)
[2] “Introduction: Exploiting IT” in “Public Administration – Towards the Information Polity?” Bellamy, C., and Taylor, J.A., Public Administration Vol. 72 March 1994. pp.1-13.
[3] “Information technology in public services: Disaster faster?” Margetts, H., Willcocks, L. Public Money & Management 13(2), 49-56 April 1993.

Original source – new tech observations from a UK perspective (ntouk)

Much of our work focuses on how policymakers can use a more sophisticated understanding of behaviour to make better policy, and this includes thinking about the cognitive biases that affect all of us. However these same psychological quirks also affect policymakers in their own work – so how can we improve these organisational decisions?

We undertook a project with the Department for Transport (DfT) to explore how biases affect judgment and decision-making in project planning and delivery. DfT are responsible for some of the biggest infrastructure projects in the UK, and so optimising these human aspects of their work can have enormous benefits.

Explored in detail in our accompanying literature review, we focused on three biases in particular:

Planning Fallacy – our tendency to make overly optimistic predictions about the time, cost and likelihood of success when planning a future task or project.

There are several causes of overoptimistic planning, including

  • overconfidence and illusory superiority (in a hubristic quirk of mathematical impossibility, most of us think we’re better drivers than average, and the same seems to be true of performance at work);
  • overestimation of personal control (financial traders have been shown to believe they are manipulating stock values, even when it’s random, with those demonstrating greater delusion in their control being worse performers on financial measures);
  • motivated reasoning by project teams (contractors tend to want to win bids, and project planners like to see projects they are passionate about materialise, and so project planning can develop a degree of wishful thinking, often subconsciously); and
  • Simply, the causes of overspend, overrun or failure often don’t get adequately accounted for in a project plan, because, well, they’re not part of the plan.

Groupthink – our tendency to be influenced by the opinions and actions of others when operating within a group. This can easily lead to false consensus as dominant voices drown out quieter team members, similar views are reinforced, and the desire to reach agreement risks overriding the need to reach the best outcome.

President Kennedy famously sought to avoid groupthink during the Cuban Missile Crisis, inviting outside experts to share their viewpoints, and encouraging group members to question and challenge them carefully. He also encouraged group members to discuss possible solutions outside of the group to broaden their perspectives, and he even divided the group up into various sub-groups, to partially break the cohesion. Kennedy was also deliberately absent from some meetings, to diminish his own influence over the decision.

Sunk Cost Fallacy – our tendency to make decisions based on past costs (including time, effort and money) that have already been incurred, cannot be recovered and have no impact on future outcomes.

The sunk cost fallacy often leads to an escalation of commitment, making it increasingly difficult, psychologically, to change our course. In lay-speak, we make effort to finish something we have started, to save face, or because we feel that cutting our losses is wasteful or defeatist. The problem is, aborting or changing our current trajectory is sometimes the best thing to do, with any further resource better spent elsewhere.

After exploring the academic literature, reviewing DfT planning documents, interviewing project delivery teams, and understanding the issues the department faces, we came up with several solutions that we proposed testing. Here’s just a few of them:

Pre-mortem. Intended to partially address the planning fallacy, a pre-mortem requires decision makers and project teams to imagine that their project has failed, overrun or overspent, and to work backwards to conceive of all the possible reasons why this happened. Explicitly including contingencies for these risks in project plans helps set more realistic goals, and an important part of this is creating a work environment in which recognising the likelihood of setbacks is not seen as defeatist or incompetent (this is no easy task – none of us wants to start a project admitting that it will probably go wrong at some point).

Red Teaming. Many of the biases underlying to the planning fallacy and sunk cost fallacy are introspective in nature – in other words we have distorted views of our own abilities, we are motivated to get our own projects over the line, our decisions are swayed by the amount of effort and emotional investment we have put into our own projects.  By comparison outsiders are relatively unclouded by these personal attachments to the project, and so tend to have a more pessimistic (and realistic) perspective. ‘Red Teams’, who are otherwise completely detached from the project, act solely as devil’s advocates, systematically challenging a project team’s assumptions and plans, and providing independent critical thought to improve decision-making.

Decision trees. Decision trees are decision aids which use tree-like flow-charts identifying key decision points and consequences. They are useful because they help decision-makers focus more clearly on pertinent aspects of the situation, and remove extraneous ‘noise’ – such as sunk costs – from the process. They can also help identify where and when key decisions need to be made, prompting delivery teams to pause for thought and question the status quo. Such a process could be used in project delivery, and well as to set the course of a project.

The next step is to implement and evaluate some of these ideas (and others explored in the full report), to find out what really works in the context of DfT’s project delivery.

Original source – Behavioural Insights Team


A ramble through the hollowing out of employer-backed social institutions in Cambridge, and the rise of local online-based networks in their place

For those of you following my research project Lost Cambridge, you’ll know that I’m currently going through about half a century’s worth of newspaper archives. Accordingly, I’m picking up on a host of things that I hadn’t really expected to find out about or even intended to find out about. Having just watched a programme on BBC4 about Paisley’s huge mills in Scotland, (with No.1 Spinning Mill being demolished in a crime against industrial architecture) it reminded me of something I was thinking about in relation to the collapse of the Co-operative movement in Cambridge.

“Collapse of the co-op in Cambridge? But they have stores everywhere!”

I’ve still not figured out what went wrong with the Co-op Society in general, but something very very bad happened over an extended period of time. And that was before they tried their hand at banking. I wrote about my brief work experience stint there in the mid-1990s and even then I could see all was not well. Not well at all. Compared to what the Cambridge & District Co-operative Society was in the early 1930s, today all that effectively exists is a brand. (They are rebuilding – which is a point I’ll end on).


The old Co-operative buildings on Burleigh Street – demolished by Grosvenor in the mod-2000s as part of a re-location of John Lewis while the Grand Arcade project was redeveloped. The site was then taken over by Primark.

SaleOfCo-op Burleigh Street_ArchivesRecord1980

Only now have I found out how the Co-op ended up relinquishing such fine buildings. Turns out in 1980 they sold the property to Grosvenor Estates – the firm in the headlines recently over family trusts and inheritance taxes.

The only reason I can think why the Co-op would have sold that site was because they moved to a new supermarket at the Beehive Centre. According to Ian Kitching the Co-op finally moved out of Burleigh Street in 1996.

More than just a shop and offices, but a social centre too

The photo-mosaic below (click for detailed images) from the Cambridge Chronicle on various dates throughout the 1920s show the sorts of events the Cambridge & District Co-operative Society Ltd organised. Images from the Cambridgeshire Collection’s newspaper microfiche archive.

Fashion shows, civic parades, children’s fetes, formal dinners – and note the numbers of people taking part: hundreds. And the Co-op wasn’t the only organisation to do this. Heffers, the bookshop below in 1939.

390123 HeffersSportsSocialClub

Staff associations also had their big events.


Cambridge University staff used to have huge ballroom dances – this at the old Dorothy Cafe that is now Waterstones Bookshop.

Furthermore, there were significant tributes from employers for employees who had volunteered for or were conscripted into the armed forces during the First World War.

Given the sheer numbers you get the sense of the scale of the disruption that firms across the country will have faced. Note one of the templates used by Eaden Lilley and Chivers and co – two of the biggest employers in the area. Before the rise of the totalitarian dictators the symbol had much more peaceful connotations.

Public sector social clubs

The biggest and possibly most well known one in Cambridge is the Frank Lee Centre, which serves Addenbrooke’s Hospital and is open to staff and their families. I had my 18th birthday party there in the late 1990s. Also well known is the Cambridge University Sports and Social Club. It’s very well known in dancing circles as a venue for dance classes on its upstairs hall. In the private sector, Marshall’s has its own social club. Finally, Cambridge University Press had The Cass Centre – which was sometimes used by local civil service employers – certainly when I was there just over a decade ago. It remains to be seen what will happen once Cambridge Assessment move into their new site that was the old Press Factory. But these are the exceptions.

In the grand scheme of things, the large traditional working class social clubs that were subsidised by (or at least branded by) employers seems to have gone. Even the old trade union networks and political social clubs are a shadow of themselves. The only one that still functions is the Cambridge Working Men’s Club. The Romsey Labour Club closed – how and why I will never know but it should never have been allowed to. The Salisbury Club and Cherry Hinton Road Conservative Clubs are now more known as venues that can be hired out rather than as political hubs – reflecting the decline of Conservative politics in Cambridge over the past 30 years. While Cambridge Labour Party are able to host large private gatherings in Alex Wood Hall, the Liberal social presence buildings-wise, and that was once huge, has disappeared completely.

060126 Cambridge Liberal Club Etching.jpeg

This building was leased to the Cambridge Liberal Club for 21 years – a grand venue on Downing Street opposite Pembroke College.

“Perhaps people don’t want to socialise with those that they work with”

I worked for one of the large banks in a small office in Cambridge (long since closed) during my “year out”. I didn’t really know what a ‘Gap Year’ was until I actually got to University – when I met people who must have been the inspiration behind this chap. I remember once I had settled down thinking whether I could imagine myself spending the next 40 years of my life in that organisation or even industry. To which the answer was ‘no’. At the same time I remember the attitude generally was that the people there didn’t socialise with each other. I promised myself I’d never work in a small office as a career choice.

The crushing of workers (for want of another term) by firms in pursuit of profit has meant the cutting back on ‘non-essential’ expenditure

Look at the rise of the zero-hour contract and short-term contracts. Nothing shows more contempt for staff more than being ‘on demand’ for a firm who makes no consideration for an outside life you might have. Or being on one 3-month contract after contract knowing that at any point, your employer can simply let you go with no redundancy payment. I saw this shortly before I joined the civil service. What saddens me today is that these are the practices of firms that used to have much better terms and conditions for their frontline staff.

A growing number of single workers, micro-businesses and start-ups

Some have gone into this because it’s what works for them. Others have found themselves ‘coerced’ into this route following the large-scale redundancies in the public sector with austerity. Either way, this change in working patterns means you don’t get to form the networks or friendship groups that you might do working in a large organisation in a large workplace. Note that one of the responses to this in a number of places is the creation of open space ‘hubs’. Individuals and groups can hire flexible work space with the professional office services they need. Although they may be working for different organisations in different fields, they are all in the same workspace and even the same large room/office space.

Lower population density plus a poor transport network

It’s also worth remembering that Cambridge was much more compact compared with today – although some of the high-rise developments is beginning to reverse some of this. It’s one of the reasons why grand churches like All Saints, Cambridge was decommissioned, or worse, like the Wesleyan Methodist Church on Hills Road, sold off and demolished.

The old Wesleyan Methodist Church – where Strutt & Parker now are. This would have made a wonderful community building had the landlords preserved it.

Essentially in a compact town it was much easier to walk or cycle to where you needed to get to. It’s strange to think so today, but until fairly recently many of Cambridge’s central districts had large working class communities. Castle Hill, The Kite with The Grafton Centre, Petersfield, Newtown, West Chesterton and Newnham Croft are all examples. Today, many people on mid-to-low incomes have to commute in from outside the centre or outside of the city. Without the transport network that the city has needed for decades, it means that fewer people are able to take part in post-work activities.

Finally…advertising. Local newspapers used to be widely read. No longer. 

I kind of feel sorry for the historians of the future in that they won’t have this wealth of local journalism to work with. I certainly get the sense that the larger work-based social clubs had a much higher profile than they do today. It wasn’t just the photographs of their big events, but the smaller things such as games and sports teams competing in local leagues. Imagine your local political party having an amateur football team. That. A pub vs a political party vs a local church vs a large private sector employer in the sport or pastime of your choice. This was normal.

“Has someone come up with alternatives? Especially in this social media age?” 

Certainly at the ‘young professionals’ end with both JCI Cambridge and Cambridge Young Professionals. Furthermore, Meetup has a number of self-organising groups – the most vibrant of these being the CamCreatives network. The groups can be very specific to a city and/or local economy. In Cambridge, some of the most popular are based around specialist industries – some even based around specific computer programming languages!

Given the more transient nature of our city, social media has become all the more important in organising work or profession-based events. Also, given the now huge land costs in Cambridge, the idea of any organisation owning their own premises is a non-starter unless they have a major institutional backer or have inherited property down the decades.

It was also why I came up with the idea of a ‘Cambridge Societies Fair’ in 2014 – which evolved into the Cambridge Volunteers Fair run on behalf of Cambridge City Council by the wonderful Cambridge Hub. The next one is on 21 October – have a look at all of the organisations taking part.

Some of the supermarkets – the Co-op included, have appointed community representatives and organisers.  At the moment, these are predominantly store-based. It will be interesting to see if Cambridge City Council is able to harness their collective influence for city-wide campaigns and actions. Stores/groups of stores in an area supporting local charities and causes is now a regular feature at many. Here’s an example from the Co-op (who I’m a member of). Note a number of workplaces also do ‘charity action days’ where their staff collectively volunteer for a day of work (eg a nature reserve that needs lots of spare hands for a blitz) to taking part in big charity races.

“Does this mean that ‘the good old days’ were better?”


One of the other things that bound people together was the risk of destitution. In the days before the welfare state, you and your family were one bad accident or injury away from disaster. Going through the newspaper archives has revealed to me a number of ‘shocks to society’ that ultimately central government had to deal with. One of those was all of those families across the classes that no longer had a father and main wage earner.

The other thing that I keep on reminding myself of is that the people who I’m researching were living in a time where there was no TV and no internet. Radio was still in its infancy too. Given that the quality of housing wasn’t great, you can imagine the incentive to get out and about – and stay out if you could. I’m always struck by the news reports of court cases of how members of the public were able to run round the corner to alert the nearest police constable to arrest a local ruffian and haul him before the judges.

With the growth of the inter-war and post-war estates, and the improving quality of housing, the incentive to go out and about (and travel greater distances) perhaps diminished. Why go out in the cold and dark when you’ve got a warm house and a TV to keep you occupied? This is one of the explanations given to be by a church historian recently.

The rise and fall of friendly societies

Before the welfare state and before the system of national insurance, there was a growth of ‘friendly societies’ through the 19th Century as a means for people to insure themselves against the bad things in life. One of the few that is still visible in Cambridge at a street level is the Cambridge Oddfellows Branch. I’ve always wondered what they were about until I read about an election hustings they hosted a few years ago. The unofficial FB page here. shows the interior of the hall that they host events in and that locals can hire out – essential in a town that has a shortage of hall space for evening classes and rehearsals. From Lloyd George’s reforms in 1910 until the forming of the welfare state after the Second World War, the friendly societies played a big part in the administration of national insurance.

“Does any of this have a bearing on future public policy?”

In terms of how to deal with loneliness and mental health issues, plus in terms of the stabilisation of communities, I think it does. Hence my personal interest in it. The economic policies of the neo-liberal years (i.e. post-1979) saw the decline of the traditional churches (seen as Tory strongholds) and trade unions in inner city communities (traditionally Labour strongholds). Policy-makers in social policy have been struggling to come up with ideas on how to deal with some of the negative fallout of the decline of these institutions such as bringing people together on a regular basis. Difficult to argue for state support for organisations in a world where if something does not make money/profit it is seen as bad or a drain on society.


Original source – A dragon’s best friend

Comms planning. It’s never been more important to get this right. So, an all-new downloadable comms planning guide has been launched to help you.

by Darren Caveney

I was pondering the other day just how many comms plans and strategies I might have written in my career. It’s hard to say but it runs into the hundreds for sure.

I have said many times that communications has got easier and harder all at the same time. Easier because we can self publish and create our own channels and platforms like never before. Harder because that extra choice makes it easier to get it wrong, to jump to a tactical solution in the absence of a great plan.

Add to the mix the fact that many comms teams have seen their teams and budgets reduce and the result is that it’s never been more important to create strong and effective comms plans.

A sound comms plan provides the all-important strategic approach and intelligence to guide our activities and, importantly, deflect from the often knee jerk internal requests – we need a poster, we need a Twitter account, we need a microsite, we need a video…

Without a good comms plan we are simply guessing with our choice of tools and tactics.

So with this in mind, and fresh from the consultancy work I have been delivering this year, I have created a new essential comms planning guide and I thought it might be useful to share it with you. After all, this was the whole point of creating six years ago – to share, collaborate and learn.

This free downloadable guide can be printed out as a poster for your office or meeting room wall to help guide your internal meetings and planning sessions.

Download your free comms planning guide poster

You can also download the accompanying worksheets to help you think through and create each stage of the plan, either on your own, with your teams and even with your internal customers.

Download your free comms planning guide worksheets

PLUS as an extra special treat, I have had 25 x A2 copies of the poster printed – if you would like one for your office or meeting room wall email me at and I will put one in the post. First come first served and all that.

Happy planning.

Let me know how you get on.

And if your subsequent plans fly you can enter your work into the unAwards17

Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd

image by ByeByeBirdie

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

To improve our focus on delivery and the flexibility to sensibly reprioritise our work throughout the year, we’ve moved to a new way of working in the GOV.Uteam.

GOV.UK team members in front of a Trello board

We blogged about our old roadmap and explained how – despite the fact that we thoroughly reviewed progress and adjusted our roadmap every quarter – missions felt protracted and delivery was hard to show. We needed to improve that.

Our new approach is a better way to focus our energy. It also allows enough flexibility to change direction if needed.

As we’ve done since the beginning of GOV.UK, teams will continue to work in an agile way. However, work is now organised into quarter-long missions, each with a specific goal.

The scope of the mission is flexible but the length of the mission is fixed. No mission is longer than 11 weeks. It might be the case that a theme extends over the course of the year, but we want iterative and complete delivery every 11 weeks, in case we need to change direction or stop. This will also help us to continually deliver value.

We believe this length of time is sufficient to deliver the most value. We feel this structure allows us to build and develop products to a stable state, in a responsible way.

Product managers share what it’s like to manage and change scope to deliver in a fixed timeframe.

Luke Malcher, Product Manager, GOV.UK Benchmarking

Luke Malcher portrait

When the mission started, I was quite new to the organisation. However, this new approach meant it felt like everyone was starting afresh.

It took some time to familiarise ourselves with the benchmarking mission, which is all about addressing challenges that users face with common user journeys on GOV.UK.

We were perhaps a little too cautious at the start when it came to agreeing what was valuable and achievable, but this will improve with experience.

We know that we’ll get better at assessing this with every mission.

For example, we agreed to ship something small – an A/B test. We started to test our assumptions with real users. In benchmarking we realised we could get A/B tests shipped and completed quickly. This shaped the mission and made it easier to work out what we could do in time left.

I’m looking forward to taking our experiences and lessons learned into the next quarter.

Humin Miah, Associate Product Manager, GOV.UK Publishing Frontend

Humin Miah portrait

This was a completely new way of working for the team. We adapted by focusing on delivering the minimum viable product or improvement. We did this to maximise our learning opportunities throughout the mission.

We knew that the quickened pace might put pressure on the team. As a result, we implemented two methods to reduce this.

The first method is to use the 80/20 rule in our sprint backlog. 80% is mission-related work and 20% is non-mission work. The 20% includes upgrades or design changes we’ve been wanting to make for a while. This reduces scope and boosts team morale.

The second thing we do is we talk every month about our attitude to the mission. Discussions focus on specific categories, visualised with the team. These focused on the mission and the work we were doing.

It’s a great method to address concerns and adjust scope to keep the team strong, happy and committed to the work.

Mark McLeod, Product Manager, GOV.UK Search, Custom Formats

We spent the first 2 weeks of the mission trying to understand the challenges of measuring search performance. We then discussed and agreed what our goals should be for the mission.

By the third week, we developed a team roadmap of how we would achieve our goals in the remaining 8 weeks.

Our roadmap comprised a series of 2-week sprints. We accepted that this was only a best guess. We accepted the roadmap could change in size as we learnt more about the size and complexity of the work.

We learned at pace. For example, we wrote up stories with acceptance criteria for the first sprint. These were only high-level ideas of what we planned to work on in the final sprint.

We reviewed our roadmap, and adjusted our scope at the start of each sprint to better manage it throughout the mission.

Generally, this meant reducing the scope of what we had planned.

For example, we planned to measure both internal and external search. We soon realised that this was too ambitious and reduced the scope to focus on internal search.

We’ve learned that the scope must be flexible. We know we won’t get it right at the start of a mission and the scope will change. We will get better at refining this with every mission. Working in this agile way makes it easier to manage changing scope and deliver value to users early and often.

Does your organisation deliver in a fixed time frame? What have the challenges been for you? What’s worked well? Comment below.

Original source – Government Digital Service

Do you remember when LinkedIn was that dry, dusty platform you only went to when you needed to update your digital CV ahead of applying for a new job? Well the platform has evolved and matured over the past year or so and 23 million* UK users are now registered on LinkedIn. But how and where could you and your organisation get more from it?

by Darren Caveney

Off the back of 16 organisational social media reviews I have studied LinkedIn as a platform in some detail to evaluate and better understand how and where it might offer helpful returns.

The picture to emerge is one of untapped potential for both organisations and individuals. I build this learning into digital strategies I create for organisations now and I thought it might be useful to share some of this insight.

1. LinkedIn – a place to engage

Have you checked your LinkedIn analytics lately to see how your post or blog has performed? The analytics currently offered through the free version are fairly basic but have improved a lot over the past 12 months, and I would expect this trend to continue.

And you might be in for a surprise on the percentage engagement rates you are able to achieve when compared against Facebook and other social platforms. For comms2point0 our @commspoint0 Twitter account remains our key platform with almost 13k followers and high levels of engagement every day. But the percentage engagement for a post on my own personal LinkedIn account sometimes outstrips what we achieve on an average individual tweet. 

Food for thought.

2. Engage with Groups and Companies on your patch

Do you need to engage with local business as a part of your role? If so delve into a search on LinkedIn to see how many local companies and groups are registered in your area. It’s simple to do and you might be surprised by the results.

I searched today for Birmingham (which reminds me – make sure that you add ‘UK’ to your search enquiry)

Here’s what I found:

– 165k registered users

– 1.8k registered companies

– 130 registered groups

One of the registered groups is a business network with 12k members. Now that’s definitely worth a look if, for example, you wanted to engage with Birmingham based businesses.

3. Your next job offer may come via LinkedIn

How does your personal LinkedIn profile look these days? Have you updated it recently? Does it tell a great story about your current work and achievements? Have you added your award wins, the projects you’re most proud of? If not update it now and regularly – no one is going to be interested in what you did 20 or even 10 years ago so it’s important to sell your current work, skills and experiences.

LinkedIn forms a big part of your digital CV whether you choose to manage it or not. Future recruiters will check you out here so make sure you sell yourself and your achievements. Add images, links and interesting content – apply some of your Twitter and Facebook knowledge and skills for what makes engaging content and make your LinkedIn posts fly.

LinkedIn scores very high in Google searches too – Google yourself and your LinkedIn profile will come high, or indeed top, of the results – so make the most of this.

4. Use LinkedIn for better recruitment. Obvs.

On the ‘stating the obvious’ scale this one is right up there. But not all organisations do this and fewer do it in a really creative way. Organisations must grab attention with online recruitment advertising just as we used to back in the day of recruitment ads in printed titles – being more creative here definitely offers a chance to stand out right now.

Look at this example from Cornwall Council for what, on the face of it, isn’t the most exciting job in the world. But the creative draws you in to take a look.

5. Your organisational profile

Which brings me to my final recommendation…


Historically, in many organisations, LinkedIn was set up as an account by HR. On more than a couple of occasions I have seen organisation not knowing their own password so the account is dormant.

Lost your password? LinkedIn can help you – read here – and if you have further access problems try the LinkedIn Help Forum.

So that’s a starter for 10 on having a smarter LinkedIn strategy. Build your follower numbers by connecting with people you would like to talk with and collaborate with.

Shout if you have any questions or good practice examples of your own to share.

And if you want to connect with me on LinkedIn give me a shout

*The recently released Ofwat Communications Market Report 2017 states that there are now 16 million registered UK users, but their own Bitesize version of the report quotes a figure of 23 million. A 7 million difference? That’s equivalent to more than 10% of the UK population.

I was confused so I checked with LinkedIn direct and they confirm that 23million users are registered in the UK.

Digital numbers caveat – any number quoted for online and social should be treated with a level of caution and as a ‘potential opportunity to see’ rather than anything more. Just because someone is a registered user doesn’t mean they are active, saw your post, responded to your call to action. It’s true for our own personal stats and analytics and it’s equally true for the big platforms.

These are always numbers for the savvy communicator to qualify, question, dissect and cross-reference.

Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd.

image via the Library of Congress

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

Credit:  Roger Hooper

Efforts to transform government have been underway for more than 20 years.  Despite that, government has remained firmly as the catalyst – the part of the reaction that remains unchanged – throughout each iteration.    We need to understand that Government isn’t the subject of the transformation, it’s the object.   The citizen is the subject.  It’s their experience, their life, that we want to improve.

Whilst I have a strong disliking for the word "transformation" – because it implies a sudden, dramatic shift from what we used to call "as is" to "to be" and because it means different things to different people (one person’s transformation is another person’s incremental change) – it’s the word that is used to describe current change efforts in UK Government.

To get a sense of the level of ambition and vision for today’s programme,  I looked at the Beyond 2020 Strategy. It contains a couple of extraordinary statements.

Here’s the first:

"Nobody can predict what the world of 2020 will look like. Technology moves quickly and changes constantly. However we do expect what we call ‘digital’ currently to be largely mainstream by then"

This is both true and false.  More importantly, it’s entirely irrelevant in this context.

It’s true because we all know that there is a new iPhone coming out in a month or so and yet no one outside of Apple HQ knows how it’s all going to come together.    We don’t know what products will be released next year, let alone in 2019 and 2020.  So far so dull.

It’s false because we know how technology is moving and what there will be more of and less of.  In 2001, one of our first demos of the Gateway to the then Minister of the Cabinet Office, Ian McCartney (the original sponsor of the Gateway), showed a VAT form being completed on a Compaq iPaq, sent over GPRS and acknowledged by HM Customs as being complete and valid.  We didn’t know it would be 6 years before the iPhone would come along and that it would be longer still before mobile access to the Internet was common, but we could see it coming. We don’t need to know which products are coming along to set a direction for how we want our online government experience to look for the citizen.  Technology in government, once deployed, can stick around for decades – ask HMRC how long the CHIEF system has been around, or the Home Office about the Police National Computer, or Cabinet Office, for that matter, about the Gateway.  We don’t need to harness the latest and greatest product capability to make a difference.

And it’s irrelevant because:

In these days of driverless cars, missions to Mars, rocket stages that no longer fall uselessly into the sea, artificial intelligence engines that get the maximum score on Ms Pacman, augmented reality and more … 

… we are still talking about digital government as paving the cowpath, that is, putting forms online.

And here, in that context, is the second extraordinary statement:

"We want to make the best possible preparations for the post-2020 period. We will use current and emerging sources of data so that we can understand what is working well for the current transformation programmes and combine this learning with emerging macro-trends to make the best possible plans for the period after 2020."

I challenge you to tell me, in simple words, what that means.  I suspect you can’t, so let me translate as best I can:


Instead, the so-called Transformation Plan for the period from 2017 to 2020 simply repeats the mistakes of the past, focusing on linear transactions, ticking them off one by one, without dates, ambition or any sense of rationale.  For instance, here are some of the "deliverables" picked at random from the document (I’d like to call it a "plan" but there are no dates or details):

  • continue to deliver world-class digital services and transform the way government operates, from front end to back office, in a modern and efficient way
  • make better use of data – not just for transparency, but to enable transformation across government and the private sector
  • broaden the definition of users, for example to reflect that some users will interact with government through third-party services that use government APIs (application programming interfaces
  • design and deliver joined-up, end-to-end services
  • we will build a framework for the best way to deliver transformation across government
  • building a national data infrastructure of registers (authoritative lists that are held once across government) and ensuring they are secured appropriately
  • building shared components and platforms, extending the use of the ones that we have and onboarding more services

Are you any the wiser?  Do you see the vision?  Do you see the ambition? Do you know what’s coming and when and are you palpably excited for how it might change your life for the better?

I wasn’t quite being honest when I declared that there is no vision.  The document does state one.  It says:

We will transform the relationship between citizens and the state – putting more power in the hands of citizens and being more responsive to their needs.

Which to me is a lot like saying "Our washing powder will wash even whiter than the last one that washed whiter."

We have forgotten about the citizen – the ones who we truly want to see changed for the better.  We have instead labelled them "users" and decided that if we work closely with them we will design better services.  That’s backwards.

The citizen’s interaction with government needs to be about them, not about government.  We need to think about what we want them to become, what power we truly want to put in their hands and how we will make that happen.  Going through the list, form by form, is not how that will come alive.

Here is an excerpt of the Transformation Programmes underway as of November 2016:

Those programmes, inevitably, translate into some online forms:

Transformation?  No.   Not even close.

All the way back when this began in the late 90s and early 00s, we declared that we wanted to harness the potential of the web, initially, to layer a veneer on top of government – to mask it’s complexity from the citizen by presenting a joined up and citizen focused front end; we knew that the transactions underneath that would start off point to point.  We thought that would buy us time to engineer some truly joined up capability and we designed the Gateway to allow that – it could take in a single schema, split it up and send to different parts of government, get the responses, join it all up and send it out again.  That capability remains unused.

A slide from a 2003 conference

It’s time to move away from the point to point nature of efforts so far and to imagine, instead, what we want our citizens to be able to do when we have delivered a successful digital capability.  For instance:

– We want to encourage new startups and make it easy to create a company with, say, 10 lines of information and 3 clicks?  Company registration, payroll, VAT, R&D credits etc. What will it take to achieve that?  How will we know we are doing it right? What will the impact be on accountants and other professionals as well as on potential startup founders?

– We want to make it so that there is no need for anyone to ever phone HMRC to resolve a problem?  How many people who could use the Internet make a phone call now?  How many problems could be moved to an Internet channel meaning a call wasn’t necessary?  How many result from mistakes made by HMRC that we could correct before the citizen knew and how many can we prevent from occurring at all?    How would we make all of those changes?  How can we move the entire relationship a company has with HMRC to online interactions?  How can we do the same for a company employee?  For a retiree?  Not everyone wants to be online all the time, but if they want to be, we should give them a way.

– We want to make the administration post loss of a loved one simple and effect, cutting by 80% the amount of paperwork and the time it takes to handle all of the different pieces – inheritance tax, pensions, council tax and so on.  Can Tell Us Once help?  Why is Tell Us Once not available everywhere?  What else would we need to do?

We need to flip the thinking away from what do our departments do and how do we put that online to the problems that our citizens have and how we can solve them through smart use of technology.

This isn’t about user needs. It’s about a vision of how we want our citizens to lead their lives in relation to government services.  This is Henry Ford territory, that is, it’s not about faster horses.

As Paul Shetler says, "we can’t kumbaya our way through this."  We need to get concrete.  Assumptions, plans, deadlines, delivery focus.

To make this happen, we’ll want to lay out some assumptions

1) The shape of government isn’t going to change materially in any way that would help our efforts.  Departments are still going to be departments.  We aren’t going to split them into horizontal layers focused on citizens.  We aren’t going to join up the machinery itself, we’re going to have to do that through our own capabilities – we are going to have to pretend that it’s joined up through use of technology.

2) We have all the technology that we need.  We don’t need to wait for flying, driverless cars.  We don’t need to see what’s around the corner, or what’s going to launch in 2020.  The technology that we launched in 2001 and that we have today is all that we need to pull this off.

3) We have all of the capability and capacity today.  If it’s not already in the public sector, it’s in the private sector.  We shouldn’t bolster one at the expense of the other, in either direction.  It’s all there today and we need only to focus it.

So what we have is what we need and vice versa.  It’s time to lay out a true, specific vision and to back that up with plans.

We then need to be transparent – about those plans, about the financials and about our progress.  Delays will be forgiven if they are telegraphed early along with the true reason.  Whilst we have what we need, it won’t be easy to create this level of change and so we need to bring people along for the ride, explaining what is and isn’t happening and why. 

Rule #1 – No surprises

Rule #2 – See rule 1

Original source – In The Eye Of The Storm


To be involved in comms in Higher Education now demands being under the political spotlight. Here is why.

by Julie Waddicor

Anyone with even a passing interest in either the media or Higher Education will have noticed its profile in the news recently. It’s an area of interest to students, to those with children in education and, of course, it was an issue during the general election. But why is the sector still gaining so many headlines – currently around two or three a week – this far past the events of June? This focus is causing a great deal of consternation to many working in the sector who aren’t as used to media scrutiny as those in local authorities or the NHS have become.

As a relative newcomer to the world of Higher Education – or HE – having spent many years under the public gaze in local authorities I have some thoughts on why we currently have such a high profile. To my mind there are three main drivers:


The university sector nailed its colours very firmly to the Remain side, and understandably so. Higher Education is traditionally more liberal and has a strong reliance on both staff and students from abroad to provide the best academic quality and keep the wheels on financially (international students contribute significantly to many university’s books).

At a time of such instability over Brexit, a respected sector that is making a lot of noise could give a galvanising focus to those who voted Remain and sway those who weren’t (or aren’t now) staunchly in the Leave camp. The risk of that during protracted and difficult negotiations is obvious and for those pursuing Brexit, that risk is too great.

Questioning universities about easy targets like Vice-Chancellors’ pay (which could easily turn into the new ‘fat cats’ argument) and sensitive areas like the value for money that students receive dampens some of the fire, turns attention inwards and spawns a fair bit of naval gazing. People who are soul searching under a spotlight rarely have the energy to shout as loudly, making the path smoother for others.

The push for transformation

Legally universities are still within the public sector, despite their model of funding being completely different. Higher Education is the only area of that wider sector that hasn’t had transformation forced upon it as yet through political or financial means. Consider for a moment the upheaval over the last ten years in public authorities, the NHS and further education.

There is absolutely a need for change in the sector and for students to receive a really good education for the money they pay. While political change is coming – through the Teaching Excellence Framework and the Office for Students – it will take time and it can’t be exacerbated by radical changes in central funding as universities receive a high proportion of their income directly from students. Turning the media spotlight on Higher Education is a good way to increase the pressure for quicker transformation.  

Traditional politics

Labour aligned itself particularly closely with students during the election, and the commitments given by the Labour party during campaigning are now proving to be fertile ground for traditional political manoeuvres. The sector as a whole is a pawn here and just has to ride the storm. Combined with the above however, it makes for a particularly rough ride.

It’s unlikely that the focus on universities will die away in the foreseeable future given what is at stake. We can expect more focus on pay, pension contributions, what students receive for their money and the quality of the service provided. It’s not a comfortable place for many in Higher Education, but it’s something that others in the public sector have faced for many years.

The challenge is to stay focused, motivated and transform ourselves and what we do to not only bear the gaze of the spotlight, but to positively revel in it. With the will to change, a focus on our customers and confidence in our sector, we could shine.

Julie Waddicor is head of student experience and engagement at the University of Salford.

Picture credit: National Library of Ireland.



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


If there is one golden thread that runs through a comms job it is the ability to deal with stupid requests. Often this is not often. But when stupid strikes…

By Dan Slee

Being a comms person in the Public Sector is difficult… there is austerity to cope with, the risk of serious incidents and a belief that clipart is fine.

It is hard and often thankless.

What can separate the good public sector comms officer is the ability to react calmly.

Just recently, I crowd-sourced examples of the stupidest thing you’d ever been asked on the Public Sector Headspace Facebook group. There were more than 80 comments on the Facebook thread. From this, I’ve picked 20 corkers. All were great and we only have space to post a cross-section.


Category one: That’s impossible

“Can you change what someone has just said in that video interview, please?” – Anonymous.

Can we get William and Kate to come? (Next month) – Alison Jones.

“Maybe we could get the message incorporated into the script of River City (popular Scottish soap), that would get the message out to everyone.” – Anonymous.

"Please turn Facebook off on weekends as we don’t want any questions out of hours." – Matt Murray.

Them: Can you get Michelle Obama to open <insert something insignificant>?

Me: What budget do you have?

Them: Nothing, it will be good exposure!

Me: No.

– Jo Morris.

"We want A Twitter and Facebook page, but can you switch off the comments feature please? We just want to put messages out, we don’t have time to respond to people" ? – Heledd Evans

“You know that major document that took weeks to co-produce, with content and images drawn from active engagement with our communities. Well I’m writing a document today and need it to look exactly like that one. By tomorrow.” – Adrian Osborne

Category two: That’s just stupid

"Our email systems are going to be down for the rest of the week – can you send round an all staff email so everyone knows?" Anonymous.

“We really don’t want anyone there – can you do a press release?” – Anonymous.

“Can you delete Facebook? The entire channel?”  – Anonymous.

“Asked to send a survey to staff on why they don’t complete surveys.”  – Anonymous.

Senior type: "Do you know journalist X?"

Me: "Yes."

Senior Type: "I’d like to be on TV, can you arrange that?"

Me: "To do / talk about what?"

Senior type: "About me."

Me: Thinks…."Can you mail me some key points to forward to X journalist?" Smiles. (February 2016).

To date no email….

– Anonymous

Them: Can you prepare a press statement about what we’re doing about the bird poo just in case we get media attention.

Me: why is there a bird poo problem?

Them: we had to cut down the trees round the area as preparatory works for development and it brought all the [add bird name, I can’t remember it]

Me: Isn’t that the bird species we wrote a press release about the other week, celebrating them coming to the town?  

– Anonymous.

‘How am I supposed to answer all the emails in my Twitter inbox – every time I get to the end more come up?’ This was not even talking about DM’s just the main twitter feed.” – Morvern Rennie.

"Can you put this in the paper tomorrow please" (usually something completely unnewsworthy, from someone in every organisation I’ve ever worked for.) – Alice Insley Oliver.

Category three: That’s just wrong-headed

"Can you let me know how much this hashtag will cost?"  – Anonymous.

"Can we brighten up the front cover of our slavery policy please. Maybe put a picture of a happy smiley customer on it?"  – Anonymous.

“We have just given £1500 to a sectarian group – can you ensure that someone else is discussed?”  – Anonymous.

"Can you photoshop out that member of staff’s tattoo – it’s not the image we want to portray and they won’t mind."   – Anonymous.

"Can you find a photo for the campaign hero image? It needs to be of an ethnically diverse family that doesn’t look like it’s been chosen for that reason?"  – Anonymous.

“Request: We wanna create a Facebook page about ‘chlamydia’ where young people can then like it and share with their friends.” – Alan Ferguson.

“Was once sent a pic for the staff mag from a colleague who had ‘met’ a celebrity. On closer inspection he’d clearly (and badly) photoshopped his head on to the body of a person who actually had met the sleb. Then used Microsoft paint to scribble out the original chap’s forearm tattoos…”  – Anonymous.

“Several times this and only this: "I’ve been told there’s a comment on Facebook." Ummm…” – Sara Hamilton.

“I got asked to "create a strap line" for an internal project so that someone could put it on a cake…”  – Anonymous.

HR type: "Our job descriptions look really boring."

Me: "That’s ok, they need to be pretty simple, people need to know about the job they are applying for."

HR type: "Can you design them and put pictures on them and all our staff benefits?"

Me: ?

– Anonymous.

"It’s really important that this a social movement rather than a campaign, so it’s not seen as coming from the state. Can <government minister> be at the launch event? And No 10 want to have some of their friends there too."  – Anonymous.

Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.

Picture credit: SDASM Archives

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