Making OneTeamGov go mainstream in policy

There have been some fantastic comments and blogs about the OneTeamGov unconference which took place at the end of June. As a policy official who has also worked in digital teams, this is the change I’ve been hoping for and working towards for some years and it’s brilliant to see how much progress we’ve made in a short time by uniting around Kit and James’s vision to make policy and service design the same thing.

The OneTeamGov idea seems to be well established and supported by people working in service design, but most of my policy colleagues are still not even familiar with the concept of service design despite the buzz around the event. Much of the conversation before and since has happened on channels that policy officials don’t tend to use for work (Twitter, Medium, Slack etc.) so most of it hasn’t reached the average policy person.

If reform is going to happen any time soon, we need to make OneTeamGov go mainstream in policy.

Based on my experience of working in policy teams, the following are some practical suggestions on how those of us already involved can communicate with people currently working in policy and include them in discussions around OneTeamGov. Most of these ideas might seem obvious, but I hope that by spelling them out in one place it will be easier to make things happen.

1. Go to policy events and talk about OneTeamGov

Good practice for reaching people of any kind — go to where your users are, don’t expect them to come to you. Policy teams all across government organise their own events, from annual departmental policy conferences to quarterly-ish directorate away days and smaller team meetings at least monthly.

Organising a OneTeamGov slot on the agenda, or even pitching it as a theme for a whole event, means you will reach policy people at places they are most likely to show up.

I’ve found policy people (me included) are notoriously bad at attending things that don’t look essential, despite the best of intentions; it’s hard to prioritise something that looks interesting but not urgent when you’ve just been asked to brief your Minister first thing the following morning. Events organised by policy people themselves tend to be better attended — the expectation is set by senior leaders that people should go to these.

By talking at these types of meetings and events, you stand a good chance of convincing the most reform-minded people in the room to join the OneTeamGov community, which is the first step.

2. Find out the usual channels a policy group uses to communicate and add OneTeamGov features / information

This will vary between departments (as will the amount of attention people pay to each channel), but the most common I’ve seen are:

  • Weekly emails from senior leaders summarising things they’ve seen and done that week
  • Newsletters, usually associated with learning and development but sometimes more of a corporate update
  • Stand ups by senior staff
  • Departmental ‘champions’ of various things (digital, innovation, transformation etc) who cascade information on their area of responsibility
  • Policy profession groups
  • Lunch and learn sessions

These things will each be curated by someone. Find out who and offer to provide some OneTeamGov content. Expect them to bite your hand off, you would be amazed how often they are looking for new stuff to feature.

3. Invite interested policy people to OneTeamGov events

The first two things on this list should generate interest from the more curious and progressive policy folks. Now they know more about OneTeamGov and have started to buy into the concept, they are more likely to prioritise attending an event about it.

You could invite them to a breakfast at the Treasury, or to join the weekly hangouts (though be aware their work technology may not work well with Hangout), or ask them along to a specific event when they’re happening.

Once they come along, I hope they will be inspired by the energy and ideas of the community, and will consider themselves a part of it. Give them some stickers, encourage them to sign up to the community and…

4. Ask policy people who are involved in OneTeamGov to invite their colleagues

It’s important to make the first steps of introducing the likely suspects in policy to OneTeamGov, but it will be quicker and more effective if they can talk to their peers about it and encourage them to join the community. If we look too much like a group of “digital” people telling policy folks how things are, people will switch off.

5. Get OneTeamGov into any new principles or strategies being launched in policy

I’ve lost count of the number of principles, behaviours and ways of working I’ve signed up to over the years. All the policy groups I’ve worked in have placed at least some emphasis on setting overarching values that are designed to define how people should approach their work.

These never stays static for long, so see if there are discussions already underway to update the existing ones or create something new. If so, volunteer to provide input and suggest that OneTeamGov is specified as part of the formal framework. This is a great way to start to interweave the values of service design into policy teams.

6. Use the hierarchy to your advantage

(I know that many people are not fans of hierarchies, but this is the advice I often give to people trying to make anything happen in hierarchical organisation which, with sign off processes usually based on rank, policy groups tend to be.)

Get a senior person on board with OneTeamGov. Directors and Directors General (DGs) are ideal, and Permanent Secretaries if you can.

In my experience, this level of civil servant is often looking for something innovative and different. Even better if the idea comes from within their own hierarchy — so support policy colleagues to approach their own senior leaders to pitch OneTeamGov. Perhaps they could mention that other departments are already making a start? Nobody likes to be left behind…

Once you have a senior person on board, they can make it a priority for their teams to move towards making policy and service design the same thing.

Given the hierarchical structures currently in place, this is a good way of getting OneTeamGov ideas to permeate all levels of policy teams. It should also make the first 4 steps easier, as people who have progressive ideas can often be held back until they feel they have permission to suggest reforms.

As a final thought, I’ve found that with both digital and policy teams there can be some misconceptions about colleagues from The Other Side. For the benefit of more digitally minded colleagues, let me just say this: the policy people I work with are welcoming, highly intelligent, experienced, funny, amazingly skilled and eager to see things change if they can see the benefits for their work. It would be easy to look at the above list and suggest how they might modify their ways of working to do things more similarly to you, but as we strive to work as one team I’d ask you to show empathy for a working culture that might look quite different from yours.

I’m confident change will come for both groups in time as we work together more, and will be of benefit to everyone. Let’s show, not tell.