Sharing experiences of digital working between the Northern Ireland Civil Service and Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Colin Cluney from Digital Shared Services, Department of Finance, Northern Ireland describes his experience participating in the UK Government Interchange Scheme.
In 2019 I was delighted to take part in the UK Government interchange week, which is run by the Devolution Capability Team in the Cabinet Office.
Interchange is a cross government programme, offering an opportunity for civil servants to spend time work shadowing their counterparts in a different administration. It is designed to provide participants with an immersive learning experience, providing networking opportunities and the chance to build effective working relationships with their counterparts.
The programme has been running since 2015, with more than 500 participants. The Scottish and Welsh Governments typically host 40 participants per year, and the UK Government hosts 80-90 participants.
Firstly, I was pleased to find out that my placement was at the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). This had been my first choice as it closely aligns with my day to day role in our digital shared services directorate.
I applied for this programme because I wanted to gain direct experience of working with my counterparts, but also because it provided a unique opportunity to learn more about how Whitehall works. I was keen to widen my personal network within the UK Government, and to apply any lessons learnt during the placement to my own role, upon my return. I also wanted to gain insight into current Whitehall thinking on my specific subject matter of digital and cyber.
The Interchange experience
Day One – Monday 10 June
Here at last. We spend the first day at Central Hall, Westminster which proves to be a magnificent meeting space right opposite Westminster Abbey. Fortunately, the organisers have been rather kind to us. Our first day programme gives us all time to settle in, network and have a bite of lunch before we get down to the formal business of the programme and a short series of presentations, highlighting how Whitehall works.
The day passes pretty quickly and invitations are issued for us ‘interchangers’ to meet for an informal post work networking session in a local pub.
Day Two – Tuesday 11 June
It’s with an equal measure of excitement and trepidation that I head to Parliament Street and the rather imposing entrance to DCMS. It’s my first experience of the Department; it’s 9.15am and there’s a constant stream of people heading through the doors, and a lot of vibrancy and buzz.
My DCMS coordinator introduces herself and with an updated agenda in hand I was passed over to my first contact who was to look after me for the morning. A series of meetings later – and after a quick lunch (ie just time for a coffee) it was off to the final meetings of the day which focused on transparency and data ethics and Governance and Performance.
Day Three – Wednesday 12 June
Day three looked like a quieter day, on paper at least – hosted by Cabinet Office this included a visit to the Palace of Westminster in the morning, followed by lunch and presentations at a local hotel later in the afternoon.
The Parliament tour initially under-promised (we were told there would be no access to the Commons Chamber that day) but actually over-delivered as somehow, the tour guide managed to squeeze a few minutes into that most iconic of rooms.
The afternoon focused on a series of topical presentations of subjects as diverse as gender, policy and artificial intelligence
Day Four – Thursday 13 June
Back to DCMS today and it’s the busiest day of the week covering face to face meetings as well as cross Government Digital Inclusion sessions. I had the pleasure of being included in a variety of meetings (covering Artificial Intelligence, Digital Markets, Heritage, Digital Charter and 5G). The final session was a short useful and honest wrap up with the team – and I was both surprised and disappointed as the end of the day approached.
Day Five – Friday 14 June
Our final sessions of the week took place at BEIS Conference Centre in Victoria Street. This time, the presentations focused on Behavioural Science and as usual were delivered professionally and with just the right touch of humour and audience participation. All too soon, it was time to break up and head home for a well-earned weekend.
Without question, this was a unique opportunity for those of us working in the Regions to get a short but worthwhile glimpse of the Whitehall way of working.
It was a highly organised and well-paced five days with an excellent mix of work aligned with a great opportunity to network across a range of colleagues from across the UK Whitehall and Devolved Administrations. I personally felt the DCMS visits provided me with a focused and useful experience – and big thanks must go to my coordinator and her team for arranging such a diverse personal programme!
I think it’s fair to say that both Departments and interchangers both got something from the experience: we were able to share a number of useful positives from each of our unique ways of working. And we also established really valuable contacts that will endure and hopefully develop further in the years to come.
Overall, a great experience and one which I’d highly recommend.