November 12, 2019

The Cabinet Office’s Sophie Catlin reflects on her year-long secondment with CHI

James Cartwright

For the last 12 months, CHI has been lucky enough to have Sophie Catlin as part of the team, working as Head of Business Development on a year-long secondment from the Cabinet Office. Here, she reflects on her time as she leaves us to return to government.

Sophie began her career at Locality, a charity representing small, local organisations striving to transform their communities, where she worked on grant programmes to provide funding for the charity. “It was great meeting passionate people working to make the places they lived better for their communities,” she says. From there, she moved to the Cabinet Office, into the Office for Civil Society, where she explored the value of volunteering in civic life before joining the What Works Team.

“My role in this team was to support the National What Works Advisor, David Halpern, in making the case for an evidence-led approach to forming policy in government and supporting the pioneering network of What Works Centres in the UK to convene, share learning and look ahead at new challenges. It was a hugely varied and ambitious role and brought me back to organisations working at the front line, passionate about improving outcomes for the most disadvantaged communities and individuals. 

When the opportunity arose to support a fledgling and aspiring What Works Centre, I jumped at the chance.”

What was the remit of your secondment at CHI from the Cabinet Office, and why were you seconded here?

My role at CHI was to build our profile and reach and develop new partnerships and work streams to fulfil the objectives of our strategy. As a team member at a small start-up, it also meant pitching in to a number of other projects, from facilitating events to HR. 

CHI operates quite differently from a government office. What have been the differences, and have their been challenges or benefits?

Ligia’s vision for the organisation has been clear from the start. She assembled a fantastic, multi-disciplinary team that was a real privilege to work with. The pace at which CHI was able to move was immediately striking. With big ambitions and an agile, resourceful team and network of associates, we had an incredible year and achieved so much together. 

It’s been really interesting to work in a fast-paced environment where you can make change quite quickly and act as a disruptor organisation in a field where people have been doing things the same way for a long period of time.

The other big difference to working in the civil service was the significance given to user testing and design. Every event and conversation with our users and stakeholders was carefully considered and valued, and grounded in human-centred design principles. I believe continuing this will be really vital for CHI and other What Works Centres as the network continues to explore how it can have the strongest impact. 

All of this has taught me a lot about how to approach change and given me new ways to work with people.

What particular projects have you overseen during your time here?

Particular projects I’ve overseen have included the establishment of our partnership with the Office for National Statistics on SHARE indicators, and assembling our partners and Local Authorities areas for our What Works Community pilot. I’ve also been involved in the development of our trials work with the Behavioural Insights Team and various other team-wide activities like the Impact Forums.

What has been the value of the work you’ve done in your time at CHI?

Core to the strategy of CHI, and what sets the What Works Network apart from other research centres, is the focus on making evidence accessible and useful to practitioners on the frontline. For example, making sure that housing solutions teams in Local Authorities understand and can apply the evidence around homelessness interventions when commissioning and designing services. 

Making sure that we learn about what evidence practitioners need to make better decisions day to day is of equal importance. Without developing partnerships and initiatives which seek to build our offer on both those fronts, we won’t change practice to be more effective.

I was so pleased to work towards the establishment of CHI’s first What Works Community pilot. This brings together internationally leading experts in data, design and evaluation with Local Authorities who are innovating and open to testing new ways of working. I can’t wait to hear how they get on, testing solutions to old problems together. 

How important was it for CHI to join the What Works Network?

It’s great that CHI has been welcomed into the What Work Network. It signals our independence and connects us to a network of like-minded organisations that have inspired us, and to now be in a place to exchange our learnings. The Centre is also one of the first What Works Centres to be invited in as a full member, which speaks volumes about how CHI has gone about establishing itself. 

The independence of the organisation and its focus on being methodologically rigorous is really important, and I think it will also bring a fresh perspective on how vital it is to engage end users and use design thinking in the way that we communicate evidence to policy makers and practitioners.

Have there been any particular highlights from your time at CHI?

Having ministers from England, Wales and Scotland speaking at our first Impact Forums this summer, when we launched our first strategy was pretty amazing. It was fantastic to have support and buy-in to our plans from across the UK and it really demonstrated the value and interest in our work. 

Going forward I am reassured that I will still be part of the wider What Works family and I’ll be watching the progress of CHI with a keen interest as it grows and secures its role as a vital organisation, driven towards ending homelessness for good through the use of the best possible evidence. 

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