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Civil Service Quarterly: opening up the work of the Civil Service

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The global move toward open and more transparent government has many benefits. It is certainly good for democracy, it enables citizens to understand better how their governments work, and it allows the electorate to hold officials to account in ways that would not have been possible a short time ago.

But the practical benefits that this brings to the public sector are just as fundamental. At its best, the UK Civil Service is world class: intellectually rigorous, creative and fair; and dedicated to serving the public. But if we are to be truly worldleading we need to collaborate more, learn from experts outside the Civil Service, listen more to the public and frontline staff and respond to new challenges with innovation and boldness. Civil Service Quarterly, the publication we are piloting today, is one way of opening up the Civil Service to greater collaboration and challenge.

Rt Hon Francis Maude MP
Rt Hon Francis Maude MP

This pilot edition can only provide a few small snapshots of the work done by civil servants, but it gives a sense of the breadth of expertise. You can read about design techniques used in GOV.UK, world-leading diplomacy at the UN, innovation in policy making in the Department for Education and a customer service culture at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customsdata sharing between the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice to improve offenders’ lives, reflections from the Behavioural Insights Team in Cabinet Office on how 'nudges' can be used to promote charitable giving, work on reducing the risks of disasters from the Government Office for Science, and economic insight from the Treasury. There is much more to say, but let us know what you think by email ( or on twitter #CSQuarterly.

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  1. Comment by David Fisk posted on

    I'd be very wary of any institution that starts to mark its own homework, Government departments included. What about at least one article that was a piece of 'constructive self-criticism'? How fair would it be to say that the Civil Service is 'world class' at finding out what were the lessons to be learnt from a failure but sometimes hopeless at actually learning them?

    • Replies to David Fisk>

      Comment by Alan posted on

      Wouldn't 'constructive self-criticism' count as marking your own homework?

  2. Comment by Andy posted on

    "learn fron the experts outside the civil service" - how many hundreds, if not thousands of examples are there where using so called best practice from other sectors has ended in disaster? A recent example - guided distribution of performance ratings - google 10 70 20 and you'll see many examples of how this didn't work in companies such as Microsoft and how its been discredited and ditched. Typical that the CS then adopts such a process!

    • Replies to Andy>

      Comment by philippabenfield posted on

      Response provided by Civil Service Employee Policy
      There appears to be some confusion between the new model performance management system that uses 'guided distribution' and the 'forced ranking system' used by companies such as Microsoft and GEC.

      'Guided distribution' differs from 'Forced ranking' in that ratings are decided by an individual’s performance during the whole year. Individual ratings will not be changed simply to fit the distribution ranges. Therefore, two people, with the same performance throughout the year, will not be placed in different boxes just to meet the distribution.

      Driven by the need to build a stronger performance management culture throughout the civil service, research looked across various organisations in both the private and public sector when developing the model system. Early indications show that departments are making good progress'

      • Replies to philippabenfield>

        Comment by Lindsay posted on

        A forced ranking system does exist; that is the truth of matter. However we want to disguise it. Managers are chastised if their report markings deviate from the 'curve'. There was lots of evidence last year to suggest that managers changed markings to meet the curve when 'influenced' by Countersigning officers. There followed a significant amount of challenge by job holders. Why can't people just be honest and say its a quota and a political necessity, then at least we know and are not being patronised.

  3. Comment by Dr R.K.Smith posted on

    The vision expressed in this article are excellent. It is very easy to agree with. By contrast, to make it happen will be extremely demanding, require many 'levers' and take time. I believe there is one 'lever' that will be especially effective in promoting change. Think of it as a nudge if you like. This would be to create an intelligent arrangement to promote and facilitate challenge to specific policies and/or practical initiatives that are already running. Shining a light on these will make 'Open Policy Making' immediate and relevant rather than conceptual and futuristic. These are properties that are key for driving behavioural change. The operative word is 'intelligent'. It requires much more than creating a web 'bulletin board'/ discussion forum (as has become so common as the solution for everything, selected by default without adequate thought). It would be devalued if it became an forum dominated by 'emotive views' from individuals and organisations with pre-determined predictable opinions rather than by well reasoned analysis supported by evidence. Linked to this idea and as a way to kick start it, one could throw out an invitation to nominate initiatives or government policies that might be good candidates for piloting the approach I'm suggesting.