Cabinet Office Policy School, Day 1

A busy and intense classroom day

Today was Day 1 at Cabinet Office Policy School, or COPS as it has been abbreviated (in true civil service style).

I applied for this scheme a few weeks ago. I felt, and still feel, that bringing policy and digital closer together is really important, and this has been reinforced by the work of One Team Gov so I’m really pleased that I can take part.

As a digital person supporting policy teams I wanted to be able to understand how policy works so that I can work more efficiently with my colleagues.

I’ll be honest though, I’ve been a bit intimidated by the word “policy” and was slightly worried about getting out of my depth. As a relative newcomer to the Civil Service (2.5 years, to some I’m a veteran, to others a total baby), coming from a completely different environment of advertising and web design, I wondered if I would really be able to get this.

After a day I already feel much more confident about that.

A lot of the presentations today were things I already have some experience of, especially about human centred design, and service design.

So my suspicions about policy and service design having many crossovers were confirmed.


Andrew, our coach, started by setting the scene and talking about the fundamentals of policy making. He talked us through what will be expected of us over the next four days. We will be working with the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham to try and create some policy around a specific subject, we’ve been allocated peer teams, and will have to present our policy idea on day four to a set of senior stakeholders.

Our policy question is:

How can LB Barking and Dagenham improve community cohesion through inclusion of the disaffected white British community?

So much to unpick here, but it is early days for that. Come back to me on this tomorrow.


We had loads of great speakers come in to talk to us:

Super Being Labs told us about human-centred design, something which really closely aligns with the user-centred design I know about through working in digital. They talked about HCD having three main focusses: empathy, reframing the question, and running experiments.

We did some simple persona development which was useful and was very similar to some work that I ran for a team in a workshop last week, and which you can read about here.

Incidentally I ran that session for my colleague Ed, and he is now on my peer team for Policy School, so it was really good to demonstrate that we are using the same approaches!

Naomi, who is an allumni of Policy School, came to talk to us about her experience of attending the programme in May, and gave us some tips.

John Fitzpatrick talked about Social Mobility and embracing difference, learning to be confident his background, and also about internal barriers to social mobility which he called “self-limiting beliefs”. It was a very interesting presentation.

Zhi Soon, from the Behavioural Insights Team spoke to us about what his team does,and gave some great examples of where work they have done has brought about real change.

He also talked about some of the frameworks their team have created, including EAST; a set of principles for designing interventions which you can find here. He also spoke about Daniel Kahneman and some of his work, I’ve read Thinking Fast and Slow, so I felt like I was well prepared!

Huw Leslie from HMT came to speak with us about productivity and the importance of costing policy.

Tim Adey and Martin Jordan from GDS spoke to us about service design, which was good, and again, I felt well prepared and understood. We saw some great user research videos and also did some good short exercises. Tim also made sure that accessibility was included which I’m really glad about.

Finally, Paul Gregg from the Social Mobility Commission came and spoke with us about the work they are doing around this and the differences between absolute, and relative social mobility. It was a really interesting and provocative presentation and caused a lot of discussions in the group which I really enjoyed.


Tomorrow we are heading out for a full day, visiting Barking and Dagenham to learn more about it and meet lots more people. I’m really looking forward to it, but for now, I need to sleep!