I’ve been working for the Houses of Parliament as an education and engagement assistant for the past two years. If you spend any time in the palace, you’ve probably seen me or my colleagues explaining the role of MPs to a large group of over-excited year sixes or discussing the effectiveness of Select Committees with A-level government and politics students.
I normally do three of these tours a day throughout the school year, and while my contract means I get most school holidays off, I also get a few extra days to do training and shadow other departments. This is what brought me to PDS this April.
What I hoped to get out of spending the day with PDS
My interest in spending a day shadowing in PDS was mostly selfish. I’ve been interested in retraining in web development so I thought learning more about the Digital Service would be a useful insight, but if I’m entirely honest I just wanted to see what another department at Parliament does.
Working in the Education Centre in a delivery based role means it’s difficult to go to meetings or events with other departments, so when a colleague put me in touch with Jocelyn Peachey in the content team, I jumped at the opportunity to spend the day with them.
What I wasn’t expecting, however, was the incredible overlaps in the skills required to create digital content and the skills the education and engagement team use every day in teaching young children about Parliament.
My thoughts on the day
I started my day by attending the first half of a 'creating digital content' workshop. This is a workshop that was attended by people ranging from members of the Lord’s finance team to the new employee who'll be responsible for updating catering menus on the intranet (which I’m sure many will agree is the most important role at Parliament).
Much of this workshop focused on the same general principles that guide us in the Education Centre: create content that is as simple, readable, and as user-friendly as possible. While the staff at the Education Centre are not typically creating digital content, translating complex information into clear, concise content is at the heart of what we do.
All the terminology that we take for granted as adults working in Parliament - peers, political parties, bills, lobby groups, and even democracy (to name a few) - are completely foreign concepts to some of the school groups that come through our doors. In response to this, my colleagues and I have mastered our own techniques for explaining these ideas in a way young people can easily grasp.
The workshop allowed me to reflect on what I can do to improve the non-digital content I create on a day to day basis. Is there terminology I’m still using that could be confusing to young people?
A good example I thought of was a recent tour I did in which I told a group of year sixes in the House of Commons: “The Green Party only has one seat at the moment and their MP, Caroline Lucas, sits right over there.” A child in front of me immediately shot up their hand and asked: “So if they only have one seat, and more Green Party MPs get elected in the next election, do they all have to share that same spot on the bench?”
It had never occurred to me before that moment how unclear the term "seat in Parliament" really was. Since attending the workshop, I’ve been trying to spot these kind of misconceptions on my tours that children might be too nervous to ask about.
The importance of content design
After the workshop, I spent the rest of the day meeting different members of the content team and discussing the work they did. It really struck me just how essential their work is to all the messages being given by Parliament. Whether it’s about recruitment (Vanda Ladeira, the film-maker in the team made a video to help our team at a recent recruitment fair), Select Committees, or Commercial Services, so much of what the world sees of and how it interacts with Parliament comes down to its digital content.
It’s very clear to me how vital it is that people interact with Parliament as effortlessly as possible, and it was great to see all the work that another team is doing to make that happen.
Want to learn from Education and Engagement?
I know the Education Centre is a long walk for many staff, but we’re always pleased to have visitors (let us know in advance so you don’t have to fight through 90 primary students just to have a chat with us).
If you’d like to come along on one of our tours or shadow a workshop, please get in touch with me and I’ll be more than happy to make that happen. If Education and Engagement doesn’t appeal to you, get in touch with a department that does as there’s so much learning to be done in an organisation as big as Parliament.
Find out more about the work of the Education Centre.