UKRI Policy Internship with the Youth and Social Action Team, by Jacob Downs

Another successful Researcher Employability Project features in this week’s blog, as Jacob Downs shares his experiences of working in Whitehall.

Jacob Downs

Department of Music

University of Sheffield

My REP took the form of a three-month UKRI Policy Internship coordinated in collaboration with HM Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). My ‘directorate’ was a subsection of DCMS as a whole, known as the Office for Civil Society (OCS); and my team, a further subset, was the Youth and Social Action Team (YSAT). The project brief I was given pertained to the Government’s current policy on charitable giving and everyday philanthropy. The team sought research that probed the foundations of existing government policy and practice, leaving in its wake a series of recommended policy interventions based on rigorous evidence. This would be used in part for the purposes of an upcoming ‘spending review’ during which the Department’s expenditure and the success of its funded initiatives would be evaluated in tandem with new, evidence-based ‘options papers’ for future projects.

Government Offices Great George Street (GOGGS)

In addition to undertaking a modest amount of empirical investigation into the affective and social-psychological bases of charitable civic engagement, I realized that a useful ‘legacy’ resource would be to give an overview of my academic literature review in an accessible format. I created a small, Wikipedia-like encyclopaedia resource on the Government’s intranet to do this, one that would serve as an easy-to-use reference tool when planning a new project plan. In addition I left behind a number of reports on my recommendations and summaries of my evidence. I returned to the Department two months after the internship ended to deliver my findings in a workshop-style meeting with my superiors within the Youth and Social Action Team.

I enjoyed the work, but it was made all the more enjoyable by the fantastic collection of people with whom I worked. I was made to feel so welcome and so valued by my colleagues, sitting in on meetings and being guided by those whose expertise I relied heavily upon. Everyone was patient, understanding, and remarkably positive. The team morale was bolstered by an excellent social activity schedule, with office drinks on Whitehall every Thursday (with many colleagues working from home on the Friday!) plus special team outings every month to darts clubs, bowling alleys, and the like. I relished the opportunity to have a team, to have colleagues I saw almost every day, and to share smiles and laughter – something that is often less common on a day-to-day basis for solitary PhD students. My time at DCMS concluded with a majestic karaoke evening to mark my final send-off. I am so grateful to the team for their support throughout.

There were a few ‘hiccups’ during my time in the Civil Service that I can now look back on and smile. One was the umbilical relationship I had to my lovely line manager, James. Each day for the first ten (of thirteen) weeks of the internship, I would be required to go to the front desk to collect my canary yellow ‘visitor pass’ and wait for one of my poor colleagues to trudge down four floors to collect me. I wasn’t allowed to be in the building unattended. I found myself obsessively taking note of which colleagues ate lunch at which time, where they ate, and when they left the office each day so I could fall in line and leave the building without causing a nuisance. (In reality I should have been escorted to the loo every time I went, an indignity that I was grateful my colleagues allowed me to avoid.) I did feel like a bit of a burden, despite my colleagues’ protests.

Another ‘hiccup’ was my immersion within the nomadic everyday practice of ‘hot-desking’. The restriction of public sector funding has now led the Civil Service to supply just seven desks for every ten employees. (That’s 0.7 desks per person!) The practice of swapping desks was not itself the issue but rather the consistent lack of available workspace. Those of us who were unlucky in securing a desk for the day would instead have to find a spot to perch in the ‘Collaborative Breakout Zone’, a space characterized by questionable ‘comfy’ decor designed specifically to afford an informal setting for team meetings. One day an e-mail came through stating that preparations for a ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario meant workspace was scarcer than ever and that employees were encouraged to work from home for as many days of the week as possible. Falling into line, I ended up spending on average three out of five days working from home, missing out on some parts of the office experience for the sake of my shoulders and back.

‘Hiccups’ aside, I’ll look back on my time at DCMS with a smile, one induced mainly by the wonderful colleagues with whom I had the pleasure of working. I’m so grateful for the experience, and I hope the work I produced during my time in the Department will prove useful for the team.