Capability Reviews

The GCS Communications Capability Review Programme has been running since 2011.

Its objective is to assess the communications function of Whitehall departments and arm’s length bodies (ALBs), identifying areas of strength and areas where improvement is needed.

What are the reviews?

Each review looks at whether the organisation is undertaking the right communication, in the most effective way, using the right skills mix. They take into account the core principles of government communication, such as the importance of digital, the need for greater partnership working, and the value of evaluating what we do.

We have reviewed all major Whitehall departments and have also undertaken four cross-cutting reviews focused on digital, defence, internal communications, and regional communications.

These reviews confirmed that government communications are tactically strong and strategically weak, and that while pockets of excellence exist, improvements are still needed in a range of areas – including strategic planning, policy engagement, professional leadership, digital communication, internal communications, and evaluation.

What do you mean by ‘capability’?

Each organisation is evaluated against the GCS Capability Review Programme Framework (PPT 59KB), developed by a working group of Directors of Communication.

It focuses on:

  • Strategy and planning: Is the organisation undertaking the right kind of communications activity?
  • People and resources: Does the organisation have the right skills to deliver?
  • Implementation: Is the organisation’s communications activity effective and efficient?

Who are the review teams?

Each review team is headed by two to three independent experts – usually, one or more of these are from outside the public sector. The review team is supported by the GCS Profession Team at Cabinet Office.

What does the process look like?

Relevant documentation is analysed in order to better understand the organisation’s priorities and performance, as well as the context within which it operates.

Key departmental staff, stakeholders, and other external commentators are then interviewed. Communication teams may also take part in a facilitated workshop.

The review usually takes place over a two- week period, at the end of which the reviewers agree their findings and make recommendations.

What are the outputs of the reviews?

The report’s recommendations are designed to help both organisations and government communications in general to improve. They focus on roles and communication functions and not on individuals. There is no pass or fail mark and organisations are not ranked against each other.

Key themes from the review programme are also shared across government communication to help improve performance more widely and to inform the ongoing professional development programme provided by GCS.

A final report is presented to the organisation’s Permanent Secretary or Chief Executive and Director of Communications. The report identifies areas of strength as well as areas for improvement and includes a series of actions to be undertaken within an agreed time frame. Progress is reviewed after six and twelve months.

Review updates

Since the review programme started, a number of organisations have asked for a review refresh to invite scrutiny of progress since the original review and to assess capability against any changing business priorities.

Do you want to be a capability reviewer?

Contact us at: