4 December, 2023
4:30 pm - 5:30 pm

Sarah Healey, Permanent Secretary, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities

Thinking differently: achieving a cognitively diverse civil service

This roundtable is part of Reform's new project with Newton Europe, 'Reimagining Whitehall: A manifesto for delivery'.

For decades, consensus has grown that the Whitehall system, despite its many strengths, needs transformative reform. To tackle current crises and prepare for future challenges, a more diverse, dynamic, and delivery-focused government machine is needed. 

As we head towards a general election, Reform, in partnership with Newton Europe, will explore the practical steps any government must take to ensure it is equipped to deliver. We will consider what structures and capabilities are needed to secure Whitehall’s position as a world-leading institution. This will include considering the skills, tools and insights needed to ensure government can turn ideas into outcomes, the corporate functions needed to execute, and the role that cognitive diversity and an innovation mindset can play in successfully addressing the huge challenges facing the nation. 

Through a five-part series of high-level events with Whitehall leaders and experts, we will identify existing best practice as well as opportunities for systemic reform. We will capture this in a collection of timely outputs, culminating in an impactful ‘Manifesto for delivery’ to inform an incoming government.  

This is the third event in our series through which we will identify existing best practice as well as opportunities for systemic reform that can secure a more diverse, dynamic, and delivery-focused government machine.  

In important ways, the civil service is much more diverse than it once was. For example, the number of senior civil servants who are women or from BAME backgrounds has significantly increased through conscious efforts to diversify. Yet in other, equally important, ways, Whitehall has further to go. As is well covered, there is insufficient diversity in the backgrounds, skills and experiences of those who shape government. These cognitive blind spots can hinder Whitehall’s understanding of citizen needs, the effective design and delivery of policy, and the resilience of the government machine and its ability to respond to crises. Enabling Whitehall to ‘think differently’ through greater diversity will help scur better outcomes, as well as ensuring it better represents the public it serves.  

At this event, Reform will examine how Whitehall can best promote cognitive diversity – through its recruitment and promotion policies, its structures, processes and ways of working, and the culture it sets – and in doing so, pave the way for a more open and reforming model. 

Reform are delighted to welcome Sarah Healey, Permanent Secretary for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities to explore progress to date and identify next steps to build a modern machine fit for the challenges ahead.  

This is an invite-only, Chatham House roundtable supported by Newton Europe.