Defra has held its first ever Policy Profession Week which kicked off on 10 November. The week, which was held in partnership with Department for Work and Pensions, brought together policy-makers from all levels, with multiple seminars, events and skill shares happening in both departments each day.
Let us eat cake
Defra’s Permanent Secretary Bronwyn Hill and Head of Policy Profession, Nick Joicey launched the week in Defra’s Atrium on Monday 10 November. Nick reflected on his own experience grappling with policy making as a new recruit to HMT. Bronwyn went on to announce the winners of the policy-themed bake-off. The joint winners were a bee-themed (Pollinators Strategy) loaf cake and Thames Tideway Tunnel cake, complete with waste pipes made of drinking straws. Stalls covered a wide range of policy challenges such as Digital Skills and Open Policy Making and colleagues from the Civil Service Policy Profession Support Unit were also on hand to talk to attendees and gauge interest in a professional qualification for policy-makers which is being trialled next year in DWP, HMT and DECC.
The week continues
On Tuesday we were linked up with staff in our Bristol office for a Budget seminar hosted by HMT’s Environmental Spending Team. They gave us some practical advice on how best to engage with Treasury on potential Budget or Autumn Statement measures. For some light-hearted relief there was also a quiz to match the Chancellor to their despatch box drink of choice - the Budget Speech being the only occasion when alcohol is permitted in the chamber of the House of Commons. I also went to hear colleagues from the Bovine TB Team discuss their approach to creating a well-designed consultation, which was a huge challenge for them given the passionate views of the stakeholders involved.
On Wednesday I went to a seminar on digital skills which showed me how to increase engagement with stakeholders through Twitter and to use YouTube in a consultation document to explain aspects of a policy in a lively and accessible way. This seminar explained how the water abstraction reform team is using digital and social media innovatively in its work. Theo Hawkins explained why the team had adopted different digital approaches in its engagement with stakeholders and as part of its consultation and followed up through other digital tools, such as use of Defra’s Digital Dialogue tool. Not only had these approaches proved popular with stakeholders but Theo had also learned a lot himself about these mediums. The team found they were able to access a much broader range of stakeholders than they had through previous methods, had higher engagement and digital data collections were much more immediate and easy to manage in the analysis.
My choice for Thursday was a seminar on policy evaluation, which is a segment of the policy cycle which can be neglected. The speakers, from the Better Regulation Team reminded us of the importance of building in monitoring into the policy’s project plan, ensuring that it’s delivering on its objectives as well as value for money.
Taking learning back to work
Overall, it was great to see the Department alive with Policy Profession activity, and to see colleagues from different teams gathered together to learn and share their ideas and skills. I found it really valuable having the opportunity to hear from external teams such as Open Policy Making and Government Digital Service, and to be able to ask questions that relate to my policy portfolio. I will be taking ideas back to my team and plan to use more digital engagement with stakeholders on my work on the EU Animal Health Regulation. The Policy Profession definitely has a higher profile in the Department now and the week has revived a sense of common identity and purpose.