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The apprenticeship service and one team government

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Agile, Apprenticeship service
Policy and digital specialists working together in Coventry
Policy and digital specialists working together at the ESFA in Coventry

This is a two-parter: it follows Don’t bring policy and delivery closer together- make them the same thing, a great post by DfE policy advisor James Reeve.

James is right to argue that policy (the plans and rules made by government) and delivery (the building of government services) should be the same thing. It’s important we keep up the momentum to meld these, and this post is about my experience as a delivery manager on the apprenticeship service, working with policy in the same team.


This hashtag has been used to name a team which includes representation from policy, delivery and operations. It’s great to see this is finally becoming a thing in government. It’s worth saying here that this way of collaborating is not brand new. We stand on the shoulders of giants like Kit Collingwood- Richardson, and Alice Ainsworth, who in 2015 blogged about a service delivery that brought these two disciplines together.

Close collaboration with policy, operations and delivery not only supports rapid, more ‘accurate’ delivery; it breaks down the (awful) paradigm of policy teams commissioning portals and the like from beleaguered technicians and poor operations folk for whom such ‘services’ are all too frequently unserviceable.

What worked so well in the apprenticeship service was a regular meeting between the three directors representing policy, delivery and operations. A ‘heartbeat’ meeting to smooth delivery, align with each other and give the teams below them the air cover to proceed at pace.

How did it work for the teams?

Delivery managers on the apprenticeship service reported that their teams were more positive when working alongside policy and operations. A typical observation - “when policy are here and talking with us we feel coding is de-risked and we are confident about delivery”.

When policy and operations were absent we heard “when we don’t get enough time with them, we’re a bit in the dark and are not sure if we’re building exactly the right thing”. This is not to imply that policymakers dictate the delivery of the product but teams appreciated the clarity around complicated policy by having quick access to those best placed to answer their questions.

There are many examples of when this worked well on the apprenticeship service - our service designer Emma Gasson blogged about how we were able to build a levy calculator quickly because policy and delivery were working closely together.

Mindset not structure (again)

In his post, James says #oneteam is a mindset not a structure. Again I couldn’t agree more. One team government should be a thing we do as a matter of course - the benefits way outweigh the disbenefits - but turning policy into delivery needs to be a conscious thing and policy leaders need to champion the approach.

As Mike Bracken, former chief of the Government Digital Service, said a few years ago: “we can do this (digital transformation) if we work together, but we have to crash through the false binary of policy and delivery”.

Better together

Working together is certainly a better way of delivering services. And in the Department for Education the Chief Digital and Technology Officer now insists on #oneteam working. No work will proceed, absent a very good reason, without these constituent skill areas being not only present but assigned to and engaged in teams.

This was my first experience of working in a co-located way alongside policy and operations colleagues - and I loved it. Delivery teams did too, and the apprenticeship service is better for it.

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