Brighter together: What to expect at Civil Service Live 2022

Government's annual cross-department learning event is happening in person for the first time since 2019 - with events all around the country. CSW meets the people who are working hard to make sure attendees come away informed and inspired
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By Suzannah Brecknell

31 May 2022

“No matter how skilled you are, you have to keep learning and developing because the world keeps changing so fast.” It’s for this reason that Jaee Samant, director general for public safety at the Home Office, is so passionate about Civil Service Live.

Samant is senior responsible officer for the ‘Skilled’ strand of this year’s event, which takes place in five cities in June and July. 

Asked which skills she thinks civil servants need to focus on, Samant mentions digital but adds that “overall, we need to be consistently better in leading, managing and developing our people; we need to improve our project and programme delivery; we also need to have greater knowledge about the environment in which we operate – such as understanding business and markets if you work in an economic department.”

Although Samant is working on the sessions badged as “skilled”, the whole of CSL is geared towards helping officials build and deepen the broad range of skills they need to do their jobs well. The two other themes of the event – Ambitious and Innovative – encompass this overall drive.

Jonathan Mills, director general for Labour Market Policy and Implementation is SRO for CSL’s ‘Ambitious’ theme. He’s keen to stress that he doesn’t think the civil service currently lacks ambition, but rather needs more support to match high aspirations. “When I speak to people in any department, they have really high hopes for what they want to achieve – they are there because they care,” he says. “What we can do is give some examples of success, give them confidence about how you can make it happen.”

So in his strand, he says there will be case studies of both well-known successful programmes – such as the vaccines roll-out – but also stories which attendees may not have heard, told by officials in “different jobs across the UK”. 

Mills has challenged his team to be ambitious themselves as they plan for Live, and in response they have a number of unusual sessions, including what civil servants can learn from stand-up comedians. 
The invitation to learn from a comedian certainly proves an assertion made by Mills’ fellow SRO Joanna Davinson – leading the ‘Innovative’ theme and also the head of government’s Central Digital and Data Office. Davinson believes the civil service is “open to new ideas and actually quite radical transformation of how we deliver our core services”. Like Mills, she sees her role in developing sessions as supporting civil servants to realise the innovative ideas which already exist across government.  

Her team is working on sessions which will help to support innovation from the bottom up and the top down. For senior leaders there will be discussions about how to “foster a culture of innovation within the organisation, trying to convey that it’s everybody’s accountability to do this, it’s not about waiting for someone to come and innovate”. 

Meanwhile for officials in any grade there will be practical sessions showcasing people who have developed and delivered their ideas. These will share the mechanisms which can help support new ideas, such as the Civil Service Data Challenge, an annual initiative to unearth new ways of using data to improve outcomes which will launch at Live this year. The sessions will also have practical tips on how to build a business case for a new idea when good evidence is not available. 

Speaking to this trio of SROs, it’s clear that there is a lot of excitement about this year’s CSL, and the opportunity it brings for colleagues to meet and learn in-person after two years online. And there will be much for attendees to talk about. As Alex Chisholm, civil service chief operating officer and the overall SRO for the event, points out, the civil service has achieved some remarkable things since the last in-person Live was held – from the rapid set-up of digital services during lockdowns to the hosting of Cop26 and the G7 during a pandemic. “The things we do really matter,” he says, adding that this drives civil servants to keep improving.

Mills echoes this sentiment, saying that “one of the great privileges of the work that we do in the civil service is that we work on things that really matter to a lot of people”. This means, he adds, that service users and industry partners are usually keen to work with government and when officials can harness that it leads to much better outcomes. He points to the vaccine roll-out as an example of this but also to the work that goes on every day in his department, the DWP, where work coaches “work as part of their community” to deliver change. 

“The question is, how do take the magic from those examples and use that more widely,” he says. 
This makes a neat summary of the approach which shines through for this year’s Civil Service Live – taking the skills, ambition and innovation which already exist in teams across government, deepening them, and spreading them more widely.

To find out more and register to attend visit civilservicelive.com 

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