Posted on December 6, 2016 by Amyas Morse
I was delighted once again to be a judge for the Civil Service Awards. The awards aim to showcase best practice across the civil service, including inspirational leaders, excellent use of evidence, effective transformation, great skills development, committed customer focus, straightforward communication, and clear, practical and collaborative approaches to driving growth. In this blog-post I want to highlight some of winners and their successes.
With a huge weight of business taking place across the civil service, it is important to pause from time to time to recognise civil servants’ achievements. The civil service has many talented people within its ranks and it is important to celebrate its accomplishments. Crucially, such awards also help to shine a light on best practice and showcase the diverse work that the civil service does.
Each of the winners, across 17 categories, was very well deserved. Here are some winning projects that we consider particularly excellent and illustrative of some issues we often stress in our recommendations and good practice guides. Further details of the winners are on the Civil Service Awards website.
The Analysis and Use of Evidence Award
Winner: Public Health England’s National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service, which won this award for its five-year transformation of the collection of cancer data into one of the most sophisticated services in the world. This service provides a single source of information, enabling multiple organisations, including NHS England, the Royal Colleges and NICE to make better decisions about preventing and treating cancer.
Why we liked it: Just about every NAO report mentions the importance of analysing and using evidence to inform decision-making, so we particularly applaud this example of creating one, country-wide ‘version of the truth’, which is used by multiple users. It provides information that can directly support service improvement – such as NICE’s use of the data to evaluate new cancer medications. We also particularly liked the fact that data is fed back to clinical teams to show comparative performance and outcomes, helping to spread good practice and understanding.Some useful NAO resources:
This page links to our key performance measurement reports
Performance measurement: Good practice criteria and maturity model
Measuring performance delivered through others – a blog-post linking to several other reports
Welfare reform – lessons learned, including ‘Briefing: Lessons for major service transformation’
The Customer Service Award
Winner: The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s Fatal Incidents Investigations Team, which undertakes independent investigations of deaths in custody. It’s transformed its performance through radical changes in its structure and processes, focusing on performance and customer outcomes. In 2011 it was delivering only 14% of investigation reports on time, now it’s 100%, despite a 58% increase in the number of investigations and a decrease in resources.
Why we liked it: The transformation of this service was based on a thorough and structured approach to understanding where and how customers were being failed. It is a hugely challenging environment, with great customer sensitivities to take into account. We found this to be an impressive example of working to meet customers’ needs better and sharing learning with other stakeholders within the system.
The Supporting Growth Award
Winner: Department of Health’s Research Infrastructure and Growth Branch, Science Research and Evidence Directorate. Growing life science industry is a government priority and the team’s challenge was to drive culture change in the NHS research environment to support collaboration with the life sciences sector. The team created a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) infrastructure in the NHS, which is widely recognised as having transformed the attractiveness to industry of research in the NHS and is attracting international investment.
Why we liked it: This example highlights a number of the principles we believe sit behind successful projects. In creating the NIHR the team had a broad, but clear, objective to change culture in NHS research and drive collaboration. Their plan was very clear in scope and broken down into four practical actions to achieve change. And the impacts achieved were strong and impressive, including reducing the timing for research projects to start-up.Some useful NAO resources:
With economic growth so important to much government work, we are increasingly focusing on this issue to help share lessons across government. This page links to our key reports on economic growth.
Local Enterprise Partnerships
BIS’s capital investment in science projects
Forthcoming: Research and development: funding and oversight across government
The Skills Award
Winner: Legal Aid Agency (LAA)’s Digital Capability Team, which has developed and implemented a digital capability plan that’s been instrumental in transforming the LAA to deliver a better service to legal aid providers and clients, and help LAA staff develop their career. More than 90% of legal aid applications are now received online and digital tools are used throughout the organisation.
Why we liked it: In our report on The digital skills gap in government: Survey findings (summarised in our blog-post Skills for digital transformation) we stressed the need for fundamental change, involving radical and flexible operating models, designed around users and data. It also stressed that this ‘digital transformation’ requires business change, as well as IT, technology and data skills. Our survey found a limited supply of digital skills in the private, as well as public and third sectors. We were therefore pleased to see this project’s focus on building skills. Their work has had a significant impact on the LAA’s operation and culture and produced tangible cost savings and reduced reliance on contractors.Some useful NAO resources:
This page links to our key reports on digital service delivery, including:
Protecting information across government
Managing the risks of legacy ICT to public service delivery
Digital Britain 2: Putting users at the heart of government’s digital services
The impact of government’s ICT savings initiatives
Capability in the Civil Service
In addition to these projects, I particularly commend Austin Treacy, an outstanding prison governor in the Northern Ireland Prison Service, who won the Inspirational Leadership Award. Austin’s leadership demonstrates an approach to innovative, collaboration, user-focus and staff encouragement that is an excellent example to all leaders.
Once again, I congratulate all the winners and those short-listed for these Awards and encourage everyone to take inspiration from them. So often we find that the secret to brilliant ideas and award-winning actions is the strong application of simple, but essential, approaches, such as those set out in our report: Managing business operations – what government needs to get right.
The NAO supports such Awards because we believe passionately in the value of sharing innovative ideas and good practice. We will continue to identify and share lessons ourselves, through our publications, blog-posts, events bringing together those working in the same field, and, where appropriate, by putting organisations in touch with others facing similar issues. If our work across the public sector could help you, please do not hesitate to contact us, or post a comment.
About the author: Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General. Amyas has been head of the NAO since 2009, before which he was a global partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers and Commercial Director at the Ministry of Defence. He has served on a range of cross-government Boards and Groups.
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