I thought the best way to introduce myself as the newly appointed Director of Impactful Government Careers was to write this blog - hopefully providing an informative explanation of who I am, my path to this role, and my immediate focus as the new Director of IGC.
On the 20th September I turned 30 and as a natural consequence I’ve been reflecting on my life so far - the achievements I’ve had, and the places I’ve failed. I was married at 21, have lived in South London for 5 years and grew up in the South East of England, and as of last year became a father to a lovely, quite cheeky, and very energetic baby boy. More recently, I remembered receiving advice that: “your 20’s are for learning, 30’s are for building, and 40’s are for reaping the rewards”. Though somewhat inspiring, I keep feeling that underplays the enjoyment of the journey and neglects the reality that we are constantly learning, building, and reaping the rewards through-out our lives.
You are more than you were yesterday, and less than you will be tomorrow.
Who was I yesterday?
In 2012, I had a place to study Philosophy and Religious Studies at University. However, whilst working during my gap year I was made frequently cognizant of the after-effects of the financial crisis and concluded that I should do a degree that provided a clear profession that I could walk into afterwards. This led me to switch to studying a BSc Building Surveying and I ended up working in a local authority building regulations department for 3 years. Looking back, this was one of the greatest career errors I have ever made. This was not because I disliked the degree (I actually really enjoyed it), or because it hasn’t helped me get to where I am today (I attribute a lot to where I am today to that experience and the people I worked with and learnt from, including the best manager I’ve ever had). It was an error because my choice was based on perceived pressures and concerns, and I was not holistically looking at who I was or what I wanted to do with my life.
As I became increasingly unhappy with my direction I looked for alternative paths. I had always been interested in international development and as I investigated the roles available I consistently felt the desire to be in the room where the policies were being discussed. My education didn’t provide a clean doorway to that room, but the HM Treasury (HMT) graduate scheme did provide a window. Having passed their assessment centre and offered a role as a Policy Advisor, I confidently put down “International Development” as my preferred policy area to work in and I was (through a stroke of luck) given a project role in the ‘Official Development Assistance (ODA) Strategy and Spending’ team.
I often consider the c.18 months, between April 2018 and September 2019, I spent in this role among the highest impact moments of my career. During this time I focused my work on how to build a sustainable UK ODA system so that in future the UK could meet its 0.7% ODA:GNI target without the constant increases and decreases to the budget that undermined good long-term programming. My work resulted in Ministerial advice and a decision by the Chancellor to provide £420m additional funding announced 2018(i) and £430m in 2019(ii) - a significant proportion of which was spent on supporting multilateral humanitarian aid programmes that were heavily funding constrained at the time. This action not only ensured the UK would meet its 0.7% target, but it sought to address historic issues that led to perverse incentives and large risks to the value for money.
We started seeing the green shoots of this decision in early 2020, just after I was promoted out of the graduate development programme to help lead the ODA team through the 2020 Spending Review. Unfortunately, any professional gambler would’ve told me to quit while I was ahead. As Covid-19 struck the UK economy and as a consequence Ministers chose to reduce the UK’s ODA spend to 0.5% of GNI. There would need to be a whole separate blog post on that time, but my one reflection is that these types of moments highlight the important distinction between the decisions that Ministers make and the fundamental role of the Civil Service to advise them on the best methods to deliver their aims. There were many negative impacts and harms that resulted from the decisions to reduce spending - there was no avoiding that. But in such times there is opportunity to have counterfactual impact by advising on the most effective policies and programmes to protect and prioritise.
2020 was arguably the most personally and professionally challenging year and I needed a change. So in 2021 I went on loan to be the Head of Strategy at the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. I joined the organisation as it faced a transition away from a quasi-think tank to an organisation focused on supporting responsible public-sector implementation of data and AI innovation. I experienced how a relatively small team could move nimbly in a large institutional system and shift itself into previously neglected or undiscovered areas. I also realised how individual interests and incentives can direct activities, and the challenges that exist when there are limited levers (such as financial or political) to deliver tangible results.
Following this I returned to HMT to help with the economic, humanitarian, and reconstruction support the UK was providing to Ukraine, before taking over maternity cover as Head of Development Policy. In this role my team and I were focused on driving value for money in FCDO’s international development programming and working with them to set the UK’s policies which related to the multilateral development banks and development finance more broadly.
My experiences have really emphasised the importance, influence, and impact that civil servants’ judgements have on some of the most important issues facing the country and world. This realisation led me to studying an MSc in Cognitive and Decision Sciences at UCL for the last couple of years - a course which focused on how individuals and groups form their judgements. My personal interest steered my research onto ways to improve reasoning in complex decision making under uncertainty, with a particular emphasis on how to improve predictions in policy and strategy - both causal (e.g. ‘how likely will x policy achieve y outcome’) and forecasting (e.g. ‘how likely is x event to occur’).
My immediate plan for IGC
It was the collection of my experiences above that led me to apply for the role of Director of Impactful Government Careers (IGC). I believe this role will utilise the skills I have obtained, challenge me in new ways, and enable me to help build something in an area that I believe has the potential to deliver enormous impact. As we know, policy is not predetermined to be good or impactful. It requires concerted effort from individuals interested in and incentivised to investigate, challenge assumptions, and provide well-reasoned advice. I am excited about the opportunity to lead IGC as we work with you and others who believe in the power of the civil service to do good, and to help you find, secure, and excel in your careers.
As I look forward to the next few weeks and months, my first priority is to continue the great work that Toby has already done and ensure that IGC is able to help you find impactful roles in the civil service, continuing the coaching service to help you build your skills, and to grow the community so that you can meet, network, and learn from other inspiring and motivated individuals. If you are looking for support or want to help in delivering any of these then please do email me at email@example.com.
Additionally, I also see this as a great opportunity to reflect on how IGC can itself deliver the highest impact and where it should be focusing its efforts over the next 12-18 months to realise this. I will therefore be working to develop a public strategy for IGC, with the purpose of clearly outlining the organisation’s priorities and the activities it will (and won’t) be undertaking to achieve these. I believe this document, but more importantly the process to develop it, will ensure IGC is providing a unique offer, meeting the needs of the community, and is delivering impact.
I am acutely aware of the knowledge and experience that already exists within the community, and I am keen to listen and learn from you all as I lead IGC into this next stage. I therefore really welcome any and all feedback, views, and thoughts you may have on the future direction of IGC. I will be circulating a survey soon and I’d be grateful for any time you can spare to complete that. Equally, I’m always happy to take a call to have a more specific/in depth chat, or to discuss opportunities for getting involved in IGC’s work.
Thank you for reading this introductory post. I’m really excited to take IGC forward and you’ll hopefully be hearing more from myself and IGC over the coming months.