A day in the life: lessons learnt between government and not-for-profit

Posted on: 16 December 2014

I’m James, a Delivery Manager for Government Digital Service (GDS) which is part of Cabinet Office

I recently had the privilege of shadowing Rachel Tait at Students Hubs as part of the National Council for Volunteer Organisations‘A Day in the Life’ scheme.

What I observed:

Students Hubs has two central offices (London and Oxford) and works through Hubs at universities to encourage students to become involved with social action. There is a central group of Programme Managers who work with the Hubs to coordinate their work against Student Hubs wider strategic goals.

I started the day in a meeting with the Programme Managers, where they reflected on the organisation’s goals and how they were helping achieve them. The meeting identified what to be doing more of and things to change.  It was clear everyone had a great understanding of the goals and how their work and the work of the Hubs were feeding into them.

Following that I attended a committee meeting at Imperial Hub and I was impressed by the level of student engagement and the activities that were taking place, one of which was planning a stall at the upcoming careers fair.  It was great to observe the enthusiasm and ownership of activities by the students.

The last part of my day at the Student Hubs London office and I observed a team meeting reviewing options for new office accommodation. It was approached with openness and consideration for all the team members at Student Hubs not just the people in the meeting.

Student Hubs are a nimble organisation, with big goals spreading out across a number of sites and it was impressive to see such a scale of achievement with only few people working for it centrally and the Hubs delivering the volunteering opportunities being quite dispersed.

Overall the main thing that stood out to me was the professionalism, engagement and drive of all the people I met during the day.

What did I take away from it as a civil servant?

Organisations can make quick decisions, even when engaging with a wide number of external users. The key is knowing your user (student), which Student Hubs do.

Students want to get involved and contribute to society, they just need to be enabled to find the right means to do that.

If you give people responsibility and opportunity they do great things with it, and you should trust people with opportunities far more.

An important motto at GDS is “show the thing” and I realised how powerful that is, as Rachel mentioned she saw how we worked and understood what we were doing just by seeing our work and our walls, not by me telling her about it. This was encouraging and it demonstrated the power of simple behaviours an organisation takes on.

What could Student Hub be doing more of

My main thought was about how the programme team plan and review work. They would benefit from working more closely with the local Hubs delivering the service to provide more feedback to the Hubs on how their teams are serving the organisational goals and meeting the student needs. They are already doing this in part, and it is great work, by increasing the closeness of the relationship and reducing the feedback loop they would increase the benefits of those working relationships.

I heard scaling mentioned a few times, and it seemed Student Hubs has a good understanding of students’ needs, because their great organisation and Hub setup allows them to be close to students. I’d like to see them focus on continuing to understand and improve the offerings to students, increasing the pull of demand at their existing Hubs and improve the feedback loop before widening out their reach.

Wrapping up

As I said at the start I felt it a real privilege to have my day shadowing Rachel and see an organisation that was pushing for growth, intelligently working with its constraints that clearly valued its teams, students and the idea of contributing to one’s community.

James Ashton

James is a Delivery Manager for the Government Digital Service. He recently spent the day shadowing our Community Action Manager Rachel as part of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations' 'A Day in the Life' scheme.

Tags: Third Sector

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