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“No one wants to hear they are the problem. But we are. How prepared are we to have uncomfortable conversations?”

Part of a series of posts written by the Directors’ Network, supported by One Team Gov and the Cabinet Office’s Civil Service Group.

We’re writing this blog post to continue our series on growing the community of Directors committed to collective leadership, co-creation and building cultures that support collaboration.

Leading public services has always been tough — we have to tackle complex societal issues which no single organisation can face alone, especially during these times. As public sector leaders, Directors are at the forefront of this, wrestling with the systemic and interrelated nature of many issues.

We had our seventh breakfast call, where we responded to the question:

What does the Civil Service look like in 2025–2030, and how would your role feel different?

Below is a summary of our discussions.

What does the Civil Service look like in 2025–2030, and how would your role feel different?

This was our opportunity to think about future(s) and possibilities(s). It was the space we held for each other to reimagine public service.

Our discussions focused on three areas:


We are struck by the events of the past few weeks with the Black Lives Matter movement. We know we need a combination of people that is more representative of the people we serve; there is a lack of cognitive diversity which contributes to underrepresented groups. How do we weave inclusivity into a Civil Service that is ‘institutionalised’? How do we open the doors to people?

The conversations we need to have — honest, holding the mirror up to ourselves type of conversations — are difficult for people. The sentiment that we are not as good as we thought we were is something we need to confront. We kept coming back to two questions:

  • How do we create the space to talk about things that aren’t going well?
  • How do we have the humility to recognise as we can never be perfect?
  • How do we harness the energy to move in this direction?

The outcomes from these conversations may mean people lose their ‘territories’ and ‘patches’, and that the person themselves may be ones perpetuating the ‘problem’. How prepared are we to have these uncomfortable conversations?


We do not understand the communities we serve — their voices are ones we do not often hear from as they are not in the room where the power is. There is a view of the ‘problem’ as being ‘over there’, which means it then becomes binary.

We need to think radically about ‘place’ — and make it more common for people to unite around ‘missions’. How do we avoid the potential that the Civil Service becomes a last resort as a career for people?


We discussed how we need to create cultures that allow people to be themselves, to show up as they are and to feel rewarded for doing so. Our progression and reward systems do not recognise the values that we want to spend more time thinking about.

We reflected how we feel often constrained by our delivery model. We discussed the need to break out of Whitehall talking to itself better. We have a national Civil Service — but do we only need a public administration or more fluid boundaries in the delivery system? There is a ‘state’ in 10 years’ time, but what else is there?

The more artificial, real, or perceived structures we introduce — like Departments, grades, etc. — the more the problem is perpetuated by people’s behaviours within it. We have to organise over 400,000 people in some way, perhaps a different model or framework that delivers public services…or is that our “fixed thinking” speaking?


No one wants to hear they are the problem. But we are. Some of us accepted it eventually but it wasn’t an easy conclusion to reach. How much have we assimilated the culture we ‘grew up’ with in the Civil Service? How do we recognise ourselves as being part of the problem?

We need to celebrate what is good about public service — and that the future we build keeps those things. The next five years could be enough to shift the makeup of the Civil Service, and wider. However, we need to be honest about where things fall in the white spaces between vertical silos first. It is hard to define the culture we are expecting to see. How do we define how we should be and move towards it?

At the heart of our inquiry was the question, ‘Do we understand the problem we’re trying to unblock?’

The kind of change we need starts from within. Whatever your role or discipline , we believe everyone has a topic in them. All Directors from across the Civil Service are welcome to join the ‘Your Agenda, Your Discussions’ breakfast call.

The next call will be held on Thursday 9 July from 8.30–9.30am. We want to have the uncomfortable conversations. We will start with our breakfast call on 9 July, where we will discuss: ‘How can we be more diverse and inclusive through the Directors’ Network community?’

You can sign up using the link below:

We look forward to seeing you there!



We’re a global community, working together to radically reform the public sector through practical action. We’re driven by optimism and the desire to make things better, and united by a set of core principles.

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Nour Sidawi

Mastering the art of disruption in procurement, leadership, and change @MoJGoVUK. Reimagining the future of multifarious possibilities with @OneTeamGov 🌍