Leaders don’t want to hear about problems, say officials
Just 9% of civil servants believe that ministers and senior managers “openly encourage challenge, debate and reporting of operational problems”, according to a survey carried out by CSW with marketing communications agency Claremont.
The survey asked respondents if they feel able to openly discuss risks and challenge policies in their organisation. Nearly a third (32%) said that neither ministers or senior managers encourage challenge and debate. Among those who painted a mixed picture, far more saw managers as likely to welcome challenge than ministers.
Junior staff were less likely to feel able to challenge policy: 8% of them believed ministers and senior managers encourage challenge, compared to 14% of respondents at Grade 6/7 or above.
The survey also asked for civil servants’ views on social media. Two thirds said better use of social media could improve efficiency, but 74% said they and their teams don’t use social media at work.
There was concern about departments’ ability to evaluate their use of social media: 20% expressed confidence here, and 43% said they aren’t confident. Simon Booth-Lucking, a Claremont director, warned that “the direction of travel being laid out by [head of government communications] Alex Aiken and the Cabinet Office” will require departments to “get confident quickly” in assessing impact. Social media are “pretty measurable”, he continued, but departments must move beyond “very basic measures of awareness” to ask whether their social media work is achieving policy goals.
He added that although some parts of government are using social media well, “the challenge is doing it at the scale it needs” and ensuring that all civil servants – not just comms teams – are supported to make better us of social media.
The survey, which gathered 1,722 responses, also indicated problems with communications across government: 63% of respondents said the channels for sharing working practices are not good enough.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said that the Civil Service Reform Plan "responds to the change demanded by civil servants, and looks to build a flatter, faster, more capable, more digital, and more unified Civil Service.
“We are aware that civil servants themselves are frustrated by a culture that can be overly bureaucratic, risk averse, and focused on process rather than outcomes. Both ministers and senior civil servants want staff to innovate, challenge the status quo and look for better ways deliver public services and value for the taxpayer.
“We are pressing ahead with these reforms and the progress we have made to date is making a difference to civil servants.”