10 Things I Learnt in Government ...

not without pain

  • People in government care about their 'mission'. The best behaviours of government are shown when passion for the mission can be collectively harnessed.

  • Small things can be difficult. Big things are possible. Consequently, do not waste time on small things, focus on big goals.

  • Political (small p) capital is a scarce commodity. You possess a limited stock and limited capacity to acquire more. Spend it wisely.

  • There is always another stakeholder. There are many more people who can stop something happening, principally through inaction, than are willing to help make it happen. Be sensitive to status and 'ownership'. Finding the willing few is the key task - they are there.

  • Play into your own policy narrative. Establish the narrative and get others to own it. You can then orient your initiatives to your own narrative coming back at you.

  • Unsurprisingly, (big P) politics matter. A Government, for example, elected on a platform of sovereignty, global enterprise, prosperity, levelling-up, and so on, will expect to see its choices expressed in those terms.

  • Know the policy history. Most things have been tried before. People move about and lessons are quickly forgotten or, on occasion, buried. Repeating a prior error is wasteful but equally those errors may have arisen for reasons no longer current or relevant.

  • Don’t assume there is a reason for everything. Don't assume that nothing has a reason. Remain intolerant of blocks and delays but be strategic about how you display that intolerance.

  • Strongly hierarchical, vertically integrated organisations can turn policy into action quickly but perform very poorly when required to address 'system' challenges. Frame your work accordingly.

  • Government is not really a 'thing'. It is a patchwork composed of diverse organisations with differing cultures, priorities and processes. There are more differences than commonalities: an adaptive and flexible approach is required.