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Climate Work Show and Tell

Public servants talking about climate action #govclimate

I started this project in March 2020 with fellow government service designer, Ben Carpenter, after a chance meeting at DOTI Fest in 2019 and a bit of soul searching into what the climate emergency means for civil servants. We launched during GDS Services Week 2020, and we’ve been steadily growing our audience since.

The cross-government Climate Work Show and Tell is a design experiment. It’s built on the hypothesis that if we create a safe space in government to share the good work that is already happening to address the climate emergency, then it might help to accelerate government action on the climate emergency by inspiring more of this kind of work, as well as faciliating collaboration - like many over-sized organisations government work is often a victim of silos. (In fact it resonates with the ideas behind setting up SustainLab RCA.)

How does it work?
The format is a simple 45-minute Zoom call on the first Thursday of each month. Two public servants and one external speaker each talk about their work for 5 minutes, followed by 5 minutes for questions. Each mini 5-minute ‘show and tell’ serves as a trailer or teaser for their work. It gives a flavour of what they’re doing. People can then follow up indiviudually for more in-depth conversations where relevant. The key design principle is holding just enough time and space to expose a captive audience to the range of work on government climate action. We share slides and contact details by email after each session.

What have we heard so far?
So far we’ve held XX show and tell sessions with XX speakers from XX different public sector organisations. This includes central and local government, and ‘arm’s length’ government bodies such as the Environment Agency. 

So what?
As the urgency of the climate emergency grows with each new IPPC report, permission from political leaders seems to follow (to a lesser or greater degree) in it’s wake, giving public servants permission to design and deliver policies and services which help to create the societal conditions for the necessary change. I believe public servants need to be ready for these moments and anticipate the political permissions which the climate emergency will eventually (hopefully) precipitate. With our design hypothesis above in mind, the intention is that the monthly x-govt Climate Work Show and Tells help to create part of an ecosystem of touchpoints to support proactive public servants to make this important work a reality....

An emerging ecosystem
Through the Climate Work Show and Tells we’ve started to discover initiatives across government with similar objectives to ours. Some are campaigns to raise awareness, others are communities to share ideas, ask for help and support each other, and others offer training in carbon/climate literacy. As a service designer, I find it helpful to think of this collection of initiatives as a collection of ‘touchpoints’ which faciliate multiple, connected networks of user journies crisis-crossing right across the silos of the public sector behind the scenes.

They are the grassroots or the mycellium, the underground living network of connections. Given the right conditions, they have the potential to penetrate the silos of the public sector backstage and bare fruit on the surface for people and planet. As Indy Johar noted at the Design for Planet festival (Nov 2021):
“Innovation [aka creative change] happens at the frontline, not at the CEO level. And not everything is a workshop; collaboration is not restricted to the theory of a workshop.”
What if...? 
So the format of the Climate Work Show and Tells means that we are surfacing the ‘climate’ work happening across the public sector. This could be quite a helpful unintended consequence. Seeing the bigger picture of a policy, across organisational boundries is not something that government is set up to do. It is something that it often sought out in a top down way through specific systems mapping projects. But what if you could flip that logic? What if we could create live system maps of a policy areas just by creating the conditions that encourage people doing the work to proactively share what their working on?  

Some personal reflections...
Designing the backstage of government is hard work. There’s no blank canvas. It’s not like designing a new service to go to market, where you’re in control of the whole end-to-end user or customer journey. It’s about getting clear on the outcomes you’re looking see, and working with what you’ve got to join up the dots. Seeing what touchpoints are already out there there, what’s working well, what’s missing, identifiying political opportunities, and finding how to tap into the motivations and align with the user needs of public servants and ministers alike.

Ben and I also wrote this blog asking civil servants: What’s your work got to do with climate change? (Feb 2020).


Photos by Guido Blokker and Wilhelm Gunkel on Unsplash.