It’s good to be ‘going public’ and introducing myself after a very exciting first few weeks in post as head of learning and development for the IPA. 

Some background

As the youngest of five very vocal girls, I learned some hard lessons about participation from an early age! Lively dinner table conversations often centred around the pursuit of fairness and equity both domestically and societally, and so it was there that my commitment to voice and inclusion was born. 

Fast forward a couple of decades, and this commitment took root professionally during the early days of austerity. I learned from leaders at Bolton Council who knew about the value of working in partnership with unions to make tough decisions; I first undertook group facilitation training as a direct result of seeing these conversations managed so well. 

I brought these facilitation skills into social housing in 2011, focused principally on outreach and community engagement to help tenants manage the impact of incoming welfare reform changes. At Southway Housing Trust, I worked with a leadership team who didn’t just ‘get’ tenant voice, but had it deeply ingrained into their values and decision-making processes. 

As my work in housing grew more strategic, I became more interested in how employees at all levels can use customer insight - and their own voices - to drive continuous improvement.

I took the leap into consultancy in 2015 and since then have had the privilege of working with leaders from across public transport, infrastructure, housing and health to take a systematic, participative approach to organisational improvement. This meant helping them put employee voice at the heart of strategy development, corporate planning, team development, improvement projects and the management of day-to-day work, informed by the philosophies of Dr W. Edwards Deming, Dr Joseph Juran and others. These post-war thinkers were radical in their day, but their impact on the improvement landscape - with its embedded respect for workers - has been lasting and profound. 

The road ahead - hello IPA!

Beginning a new chapter at the IPA has been a fascinating journey so far. 

We’re starting to think about what collaborative working with the Institute for Employment Studies could look like, 12 months post-merger. One of the main attractions of this role was working with such a robust and ever-evolving evidence base for participation; we have a golden opportunity now to further connect the ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ of engagement and to help employers build a picture of what this looks like for them. 

It feels apposite to reflect on the role of participation and engagement in a year that is unprecedented for general elections around a world which is showing democratic fault lines.  A healthy democracy doesn't just provide free and fair elections; it provides the conditions in which individuals can exercise agency over and improve their lives. It nurtures both pluralism and collective representation. These conditions may be provided by political systems; it is for the components of civil society - employers, unions and employee representatives among them - to make these conversations productive. 

Net zero, AI and health and wellbeing are all complex issues which can’t be solved by one team or department. Couple this complexity with a workforce that has more access to information (and misinformation) and with interests and alliances that span ever-diverse groups and geographical spaces, and the job of engagement becomes more urgent still. It requires teams to work laterally and in collaboration with front-line staff.

Business leaders should not be distracted by anti-EDI ‘noise’ and maintain a robust focus on their values in order to navigate the road ahead.  No one organisation alone can save the world, but all organisations have a role in shaping it. It is only through proper engagement that they will do a decent job of it. 

Working with such leading voices in engagement such as Nita and the Engage for Success movement affords me the opportunity to take the most multi-faceted approach to involvement that I have been able to yet. From building a strategic narrative right through to getting ‘under the hood’ of employee experience, I am looking forward to helping IPA’s clients continue to build their strategic knowledge so that they can focus on the questions that matter, using robust insight from their people to make decisions that create lasting organisational and societal benefits.