'Culture matters a lot – especially when dealing with lots of change': Sarah Munby reflects on DSIT's first year

Taking on a new portfolio has made 2023 an energising but hectic year for the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology perm sec
DSIT organised the Bletchley Park AI Safety Summit. Photo: Xinhua/Alamy

By CSW staff

08 Dec 2023


Tell us three words that sum up your 2023...  

Exciting, inspiring and hectic.

...and why you chose those words   

Exciting – for me, 2023 meant a brand new job and a brand new department. It’s been absolutely brilliant getting to know a whole load of new colleagues, and building a new department that covers some of the most important and interesting areas of policy in government. I’ll miss the lovely BEIS very much but getting to know new and vital policy areas like artificial intelligence, online safety and geospatial data has been fascinating and energising.  

Inspiring – I’ve seen people do really amazing things this year. Whether it’s been the immense complexity of standing up an entirely new organisation overnight and dealing with the myriad complex people, technology and logistical issues that come with it; or organising a world-first summit on AI safety and recruiting the world’s leading constellation of AI safety experts; or setting the direction for international science collaboration for the next generation by associating with the Horizon Europe programme. The levels of ambition, collaboration and expertise have been unrivalled.  

Hectic – I don’t think I would be being honest if I didn’t say it has been a tiring year. Change can be brilliant and energising; but new topics, new people and new challenges also absorb time and energy. We’ve had an amazing first “nearly-a-year" in DSIT, and I think I speak for the whole organisation when I say I am looking forward to a breather over the festive season. 

"I want us to be a place where people can learn and be curious, because we work in the most rapidly changing policy areas out there"

 What are your organisational and personal priorities for 2024?  

There’s loads on our plate for 2024, but a big focus for me is going to be on embedding our values in how we work across DSIT. I want us to be a place where people can think big, take risk, and move fast. I want us to be a place where people can learn and be curious, because we work in the most rapidly changing policy areas out there (GPT-5, anyone?). And I want us to get all that done while really valuing people, empowering and including those around us (inside and outside the department). Culture matters a lot – especially when you are dealing with lots of change and last year’s strategy looks out of date by March! I think my personal priorities probably mirror those for the organisation: finding time to focus on the big things that can make DSIT a special place; looking out for opportunities to learn more about our incredible portfolio; and of course, continuing to support my brilliant all-star team as they navigate what will undoubtedly be another lively year. 

What’s your favourite festive treat, and what makes you say: ‘Bah, humbug’?   

Christmas is all about the food in my family, whether it’s a trifle, a family-tradition chocolate roulade, mince pies, a panettone or assorted chocs. We’re “taking over” Christmas lunch from my parents for the first time this year, so I am feeling duly intimidated about meeting the usual standard of catering! Humbug tendencies are pretty few and far between, but I am on the side of my children about yucky Brussels sprouts.  

This is part of CSW's annual perm secs roundup. Read all the entries to the 2023 roundup here

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