In 2008, frustrated by an antiquated workplace and that civil service reform always overlooked the basics of how people work I wrote a rough think piece on how civil service working practices could change for the better. ‘From Whitehall to Blackhall’ was informed by a tech perspective and like Lara’s Oxford (see Phillip Pullman) was ‘a universe like ours but different in many ways’.
Unusually I got permission to publish the full paper from a then Permanent Secretary, Alex Allen, who I think shared my frustrations. I am looking forward to today’s civil service reform paper – Francis Maude is a radical and his governance of the Government Digital Service has given him a deep insight into modern ways of working.
You can still read the original paper, complete with typos and mistakes and there’s an old blog post and some slides that capture bits of the argument. But here are some of the points. Remember my perspective was as a particular type of civil servant, the Whitehall policy maker.
- Managerial focus on the tools civil servants use to work – how they do their job at their desks. Something the Civil Service College had dreadfully neglected.
- Modern knowledge tools – to speed up and make more accurate policy working from the ‘hand crafted morgan’ to the ‘BMW mini’
- Publishing by default within Whitehall – moving from email to internal publication on blogs or intranets, instead of condemning information to obscurity in Outlook PST folders. Thus opening information up to internal search. Why couldn’t I search through another Departments files?
- Simple pervasive electronic working environment using simple tools you can find for free or cheaply on the web.
- Universal mobile working over public wifi and 3g
- Better scheduling – Whitehall spends astonishing amounts of time setting up meetings – move to Doodle away from Outlook
- Opening up elderly buildings to all – large welcome zones where civil servants can work with external partners with wifi and coffee and very light touch security. Tiny red zones with standard security. Get rid of the worst old buildings, maybe turn them into museums or open public buildings, Ataturk-style.
- Finding people – it can be absurdly hard to find people who are responsible for stuff in other Departments (or even in your own) – get everyone on a social network like LinkedIn and move to a ‘if you aren’t on the network, you can’t play’ mentality
- Move to modern energy efficient buildings away from Whitehall, preferably close to the main train stations in the North of London to encourage easy working with civil servants scattered all over the North and West
- And obviously this only applies to 99.9% of Whitehall’s business not the 0.1% of highly classified stuff in the security tail that often wags the dog
- Etc etc you can read the short paper
You get the drift. I moved out of the civil service in 2009, maybe this ‘Blackhall’ piece is now a historic artefact and all has been transformed.
In the Government Digital Service for instance you can see a radical new approach (I am on their advisory board, but can’t claim credit), but how far has that spead I wonder.
Look forward to the Maude reforms when they are published later today.
Disclaimer – these are my personal views and have nothing to do with any of my clients. The original paper was written when I was a civil servant but was an internal think piece not the view of the government.