From TJ Magazine: Gateway to Government

Tom Brown introduces our new column where the focus is firmly on government.

Reading time: 2m 30s.

Running a business where the main focus is helping people who work in government to build skills and improve performance provides valuable insight into some of the big learning challenges that governments face, and the innovations those have driven. Some are common (read: familiar) and some are highly nuanced.

The aim of this new column is to reveal the learning innovations that are driven by challenges in government. But what is government? If you’re not sure, you’re not alone.

Is it the current circus in parliament? Is it the people who have to ensure ‘Brexit means Brexit’? Is it the tax man? Well, yes, yes and yes. 

As you know, in the UK the political party with the most MPs following an election is invited to form a ‘government’. The prime minister picks ministers, who form a cabinet, and to whom departments, or ministries, are responsible.

They make the big decisions. But the work is then carried out by a 350,000-strong civil service. And this is the beating heart of government – the doers; the people who make it happen.

How on earth do you deal with such vast changes of organisational structure and priorities, frequent turnover in leadership and a constant demand for fast learning?

A civil service operates at the will of ministers, they want to make their mark and set the direction. Organisational changes can be fast and extreme. As can a change in leader as ministers are routinely ‘shuffled’ between posts, or out of cabinet altogether. Structure and priorities can change at any time.

In Britain, for example, the Department for Communities and Local Government recently became a ministry overnight. Manageable because a department and a ministry are, essentially, the same thing. But then all responsibility for housing was also thrown in – big change – and it is now known as the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

In 2016 the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills were merged, overnight, to become the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. A stressful time to work in HR – but great if you’re a signwriter!


How on earth do you deal with such vast changes of organisational structure and priorities, frequent turnover in leadership and a constant demand for fast learning alongside human needs for personal development? 

Brexit, not sure whether you’ve heard about it or not, currently dominates much of the UK civil service and so learning strategies have been constantly trying to support ever-changing needs. But not every government is completely dominated by Brexit. And different governments worldwide are innovating within learning in different ways, in response to different challenges. 

In this column we will bring in expertise from those at the coalface of government learning – L&D professionals, trainers, decision-makers – to see how the UK and governments worldwide are innovating in learning, how they are navigating challenges while nurturing their people, and how they synthesise demands for fast change with slow-moving institutional cogs.


About the author

Tom Brown is director of Dods Training, the L&D division of Dods Group plc, which delivers training on all aspects of parliament and government, including policy, leadership and communications. 


This is a feature from January’s TJ Magazine. Get three months’ free trial of TJ’s premium content here.


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