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Leading development

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Civil Service Fast Stream, Science and Engineering

Helen standing against a wall, smiling at the camera.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself

A: Joining the Fast Stream was a career change for me. I had been working for several years as a copy-editor for science and political science journals. Gradually, though, I realised I wanted to be helping to formulate and deliver public policies, rather than editing papers about them!

Q: Where is your current posting?

A: Many Fast Stream schemes offer the opportunity to spend six months outside the Civil Service on secondment – either in the wider public sector, the private sector or the charity sector. I’m currently on a six-month secondment in the climate change unit at WWF. WWF has observer status at, and sends a delegation to, the annual UN climate conference, so I’m co-leading a strand of WWF’s planning for COP26, which will be held in Glasgow later this year. 

Q: What are the three things that excite you the most about your current role?

A: Working with WWF’s incredible network of scientists, policy specialists and campaigners, spread across 80 offices around the world. Gaining a valuable insight into how external stakeholders such as NGOs work with government to shape public policies. And supporting high-profile businesses to set science-based targets, by which we mean emissions reductions targets in line with the Paris Agreement of 2015. 

Q: What are the key skills you have developed working on the Fast Stream programme?

A: Communication skills and how to adapt them to different contexts, whether that is chairing a meeting, speaking one-to-one with a colleague, or delivering a presentation to a large audience. Becoming solutions-focused and delivering work at pace. And interpersonal skills – the Civil Service employs over 400,000 people, so you’re working with colleagues from many different walks of life!

Q: What has been your biggest personal achievement since you joined the Fast Stream?

A: In my first year on the Fast Stream, I was posted to HMRC – specifically, the part of HMRC that is leading the construction of a dozen new cross-departmental office hubs around the UK. I led the development of a new digital strategy for these hubs, setting out how government departments such as HMRC can make use of smart technologies and IT in their buildings to reduce their carbon footprint and improve the experience of people working there. 

Q: What are the key challenges involved in your current role?

A: WWF’s position on climate policy is underpinned by the latest science, so I had to spend the first weeks of my posting getting to grips with the findings of the latest IPCC special reports on climate change as well as the technicalities of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Q: How would you describe the work culture within your department?

A: Casting my mind back to my time at HMRC, I would describe the work culture there as modern, increasingly digital and flexible, supportive, and fast-paced.

Q: What kind of support you have received from your manager to effectively deliver your role?

A: To enable me to effectively deliver my role at HMRC, my manager approved funding and time off to complete an industry-recognised project management qualification. I was also given space and autonomy to lead the development of a digital strategy for HMRC, which was very rewarding.

Q: What learning and development opportunities have you gained after joining the Fast Stream?

A: So many! Fast Streamers complete a core curriculum, which covers skills such as briefing ministers, commercial awareness and leadership. There’s also peer learning through various Fast Stream and cross-Civil Service networks, as well as regular opportunities to attend talks by senior civil servants.

Q: How have you benefited from different postings as part of the Fast Stream programme?

A: Initially, I was disappointed not to be based in Whitehall for my first Fast Stream posting. Looking back, though, I now value my time at HMRC in Nottingham as a great insight into the diversity of people and roles you find within the Civil Service.

I hope to work on climate or environment policy after I complete the Fast Stream, so my time at WWF has helped build my technical knowledge in this field. More broadly, the rotational aspect of the Fast Stream means you quickly develop a set of transferable skills you can apply to any number of roles across government, and that’s very exciting!

The Fast Stream application window opens in the Autumn each year. To pre-register your interest, email

#EachForEqual #SheWritesHistory

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