Having spent three months on secondment with the Cabinet Office’s Open Innovation Team (OIT) during 2017, tasked with helping to establish the team and develop the Digital Government Partnership (as announced in the UK Digital Strategy), I can safely say that it was a fantastic learning experience.
My eyes were opened to the complexities of the Civil Service and the processes of getting quality advice to senior civil servants and ministers. During my time in Whitehall, I experienced:
- how the Civil Service works (or doesn’t so much during purdah, elections and ministerial changes!);
- some of the challenges facing innovative teams within a highly structured environment;
- how to position my research much more effectively within a policy context;
- how to communicate effectively with time-poor, information-hungry policymakers;
- much more about the wider digital landscape than I had explored during my PhD research;
- and how many police officers and vehicles it takes to move a Prime Minister three hundred metres down the road!
Better still, I met a lot of good people, including a wide range of civil servants from the Treasury, HMRC, Home Office, GDS, DEFRA and DCMS, as well as other academics and PhDs from different departments and universities across the UK. I had many interesting conversations and was able to attend a number of fascinating events, from Damian Green’s first speech to the Cabinet Office after being appointed (and before being removed!), through a workshop on the Future of Work in the face of automation and artificial intelligence, to a lovely trip to Swindon to visit the UK Research Councils.
I should also say that I enjoyed the heady feeling of being near the centre of power, and the sense of being somewhere which mattered and being involved at the start of something exciting. As a result of all these experiences and learning, I found myself genuinely missing Chris and his great Open Innovation Team on leaving and would strongly advise anyone who is interested in politics, digital matters and/or power to take maximum advantage of future placement opportunities there.