Some thoughts on secondment – and what I’ve been doing for the last month.

Secondments happen quite a lot in government – offering people short term development opportunities in other teams, which help to meet a need, while hopefully giving the secondee useful experience they can take back when it ends. I confess this is the first time I’ve ever really experienced one, having been more often in the position of supporting junior staff as they move around, while planning frantically how to cover the vacancy they leave!

Having spent the last month working with the digital team in the Department for Culture, the Olympics, Media and Sport (DCMS) doing some thinking about government’s digital needs during the Olympics,  I’m now very definitely a convert – and hope department boundaries can become ever more porous so that when people have a need, people with the skills to meet that need can be released to help. The payback for the teams having to lose their colleague for a while will be both in the additional experience and ideas that person will bring back when they return, but also the knowledge that it should be reciprocated, and if they have a need, they can put out a call.

So – high points and challenges? High points have included working on a fascinating subject. I should confess I’m not really interested in the Olympics as an event – apart from being incredibly proud of my cousin and his achievements in 5 (yes FIVE) paralympics but have been intrigued to be involved at this stage of the planning, where an immense amount of work has already been done, but as 2012 approaches and the whole thing becomes more urgent, communications planning and strategy is turning into practical implementation. The main thing that has been brought home to me time and again is the sheer scale of the event – the numbers I keep hearing are huge, whether it be of journalists expected to descend on London, to potential audience of the opening ceremony. And the size is unsurprisingly mirrored by complexity. There are at least five big areas of responsibility (including transport, London – as represented by the Mayor’s office, and LOCOG – who are actually tasked with putting on the games) who all have a role to play, their own infrastructure and depending on what the issue is that arises, their own input and involvement in the solution.

To meet this challenge, those involved are taking part in a series of practise events  and another high point for me was taking part in the most recent of these. It was a curious event, as it meant we had to pretend we were actually existing during the start of the games – being fed with a series of scenarios that we then worked through to test the models created and the tools that people working during games time would have access to. However, as it was just an exercise, none of the normal digital channels that would be available were live, so for example when the scenario said that there were some finals of events happening (with the heavy hint that a Team GB medal might be on the horizon) there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing asking for the results – when in reality, every broadcaster, twitterer and of course the excellent LOCOG Games site  would have given us every detail we needed – no doubt with live photos and film.

A literal high point was a meeting over in the LOCOG offices in Canary Wharf, which offers wonderful views of the Olympic site:

View of the Olympic Park

View of the Olympic Park

Back to daily experiences – working in a different office has taken some getting used to. The whole team – both digital and across the whole news and communications directorate have been extremely welcoming and helpful – but absolutely everything is different in this office to my home department! A month is not really long enough to rewire your brain to different ways of working, so many thanks to people who patiently answered the same question several times, and apologies to people who tried to reach me, but I had forgotten to log in to my phone!

Working on anything related to the Olympics also necessitates learning a new language. I had thought international development won the prize for number of acronyms and specific terminology , but LOCOG, GOC, LMC and many more means I think there is strong competition. I guess the same could be said for lots of areas of specialisation – roll on my exposure to the military!!

Returning ‘home’ on Monday, I’ll keep an eye on how the things I had a hand in evolve: looking forward to seeing digital services to journalists delivered and will of course look at the social media offerings.

In conclusion: the last month has been fascinating, exhausting, extremely busy, but definitely worthwhile – the best way to gain an insight into the world beyond my home department. Also, it has confirmed my view that it could only benefit government communications if departments could become even more flexible, lending people between teams to meet short term needs.