UK policy and politics careers

Dis­claimer: this is not a com­pre­hen­sive guide, just notes of the an­swers I gave in re­cent con­ver­sa­tions I have had. It was sug­gested it could be use­ful to share. This is very UK fo­cused.

My notes are available in this Google Doc and I may con­tinue to up­date the Google Doc ver­sion with fu­ture con­ver­sa­tions or up­dates.

1. Policy ca­reers in the UK



There are lots of im­por­tant causes that are im­pacted by UK policy, rang­ing from cli­mate change to an­i­mal welfare to AI risk.

Policy jobs can roughly be split into three groups:

  • Politics

  • Civil service

  • Think tanks, lob­by­ing, etc

Worth not­ing that the civil ser­vice is poli­ti­cally neu­tral, poli­tics ba­si­cally re­quires you to be party af­fili­ated, think tanks can be neu­tral or par­ti­san. I ex­pect (not seen it hap­pen) that it would be difficult to move a ca­reer form se­nior in poli­tics to se­nior in the civil service

For more de­tails see be­low.

Gen­eral job hunt­ing tips ap­ply. Keep you eyes on EA sources like the 80K job board and var­i­ous Face­book groups (here and maybe also here and here). Look at job de­scrip­tions early to see what qual­ifi­ca­tions you would need. Etc Etc.

You should prob­a­bly go for the area which matches your skills best, al­though of course there are a vast range of jobs in each area. If I had to push one route it would be to­wards jobs in poli­tics as be­ing the most high im­pact, but maybe also the hard­est to do re­ally well in.

Most peo­ple I have en­coun­tered in this space fo­cus on their ca­reer build­ing on skill ex­per­tise like poli­tics (fo­cus­ing on one poli­ti­cal party) or policy mak­ing (eg civil ser­vice) but a few fo­cus on topic ex­per­tise (like sel­l­ing your­self as the ex­pert on AI) and that seems to work too.



See the guide at: https://​​​​2016/​​01/​​10-steps-to-a-job-in-poli­tics/​​

To ap­ply for many of the poli­ti­cal jobs, go to: http://​​​​



Best guide for EA folk on this is: https://​​​​ca­reer-re­views/​​policy-ori­ented-civil-ser­vice-uk/​​

It is much bet­ter than this guide so go read it

To ap­ply for any jobs in the civil ser­vice, go to: https://​​www.civilser­vice­jobs.ser­, or ap­ply for the FastStream /​ a civil ser­vice grad­u­ate scheme.

If look­ing for jobs you can use the HIPE app to filter for jobs by cause area: https://​​​​WoCnWT

It is use­ful to know that for jobs in the civil ser­vice grades from low to high are nor­mally AA, AO, EO, HEO, SEO, G7, G6, Deputy Direc­tor, Direc­tor, Direc­tor Gen­eral, Perm Sec.

  • HEO (or EO) is grad­u­ate en­try level

  • SEO is with a bit of out­side experience

  • G7 and G6 are mid­dle management

  • Deputy Direc­tor and above is se­nior civil service

You might want to aim for jobs in the area you are in­ter­ested in but it is of­ten bet­ter to go for the best jobs for fu­ture pro­mo­tion (es­pe­cially if you are join­ing at a ju­nior level and plan on stay­ing in gov­ern­ment for a while). This means

  • Jobs that match your skills

  • Higher grade jobs (bet­ter to fail more in­ter­views for a higher grade job)

  • Minis­te­rial pri­vate office jobs

  • Policy jobs (eas­ier to move from policy to an­a­lyst rather than vicer versa)

  • Pres­ti­gious de­part­ments (Cabi­net Office Trea­sury)

  • Poli­ti­cally im­por­tant topics

  • Pro­ject or strat­egy roles (in policy) so you can about or over­see a bunch of ar­eas.

You can of­ten find an email ad­dress on the ad­vert and ask to talk to the hiring man­ager (my favourite ques­tion to ask is “what challenges do you face with find­ing the right per­son for the role”) or even bet­ter to un­der­stand the work, ask to talk to the cur­rent job holder.

To get use­ful ex­pe­rience be­fore join­ing you want any­thing that ex­pe­rience that helps you an­swer ques­tions of the form “tell me one time you have [rele­vant be­hav­ior]”. See list of “be­hav­iors” for job in­ter­view at: https://​​as­­lish­ing.ser­​​gov­ern­ment/​​up­loads/​​sys­tem/​​up­loads/​​at­tach­ment_data/​​file/​​717275/​​CS_Be­havi­ours_2018.pdf

Policy ex­pe­rience is good. Other­wise any­thing that gives you ex­pe­rience of man­ag­ing com­plex situ­a­tions, groups of peo­ple, difficult pro­jects, etc. If pos­si­ble, man­age­ment ex­pe­rience is great.

Once you are in the civil ser­vice it is easy to move around and more jobs will be available to you. To read more on how to have an im­pact in the civil ser­vice see the guides go­ing up soon on



This could be work­ing in think tanks or cam­paign groups or in in­dus­try.

Jobs could in­clude:

  • Research

  • Poli­ti­cal lob­by­ing (in­fluenc­ing poli­ti­ci­ans)

  • Govern­ment lob­by­ing (in­fluenc­ing and work­ing with civil ser­vants)

  • Cam­paign­ing (build­ing coal­i­tions, gain­ing pub­lic sup­port, run­ning a pub­lic cam­paign)

The most pres­ti­gious jobs are in the most pres­ti­gious or­gani­sa­tions. A some­what dated list of well-known think tanks can be found at: https://​​www.the­​​poli­tics/​​2013/​​sep/​​30/​​list-think­tanks-uk

There will also be policy jobs in fa­mous or­gani­sa­tions (like Google, etc)

EA topic al­igned think tanks in­clude, but are not limited too:

Also see: https://​​­​​think-tanks/​​

2. Sum­mary policy ar­eas and ca­reer op­tions in the UK civil ser­vice – June 2019



Gen­er­ally quite good and well done in the UK.

DFID (Depart­ment for In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment) is a world leader in de­liv­er­ing in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment policy.

A sig­nifi­cant chunk of ODA (Overseas Devel­op­ment As­sis­tance) bud­get is spent by other Govern­ment de­part­ments (such as the FCO or the DHCS) rather than DFID They do not spend these funds as well and may ne­glect effec­tive­ness con­sid­er­a­tions or have in­ten­tions that over­ride the in­ter­est of the peo­ple the money should be helping.

In­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment spend­ing is over­seen by ICAI (In­de­pen­dent Com­mis­sion for Aid Im­pact) who work to en­sure it is effec­tive. (The Trea­sury in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment team may play a similar role too)



The gov­ern­ment has com­mit­ted to a range of minor im­prove­ments in an­i­mal welfare, for ex­am­ple recog­nis­ing an­i­mal sen­tience, im­prov­ing la­bel­ing of fur, end­ing live trans­port of an­i­mals, etc. This work is seem­ingly all on hold largely be­cause of Brexit.

Ca­reer con­sid­er­a­tions – an­i­mal welfare

Map­ping of jobs in the UK civil ser­vice that re­late to An­i­mal Welfare.

Best place to work is likely in DEFRA (Depart­ment of the En­vi­ron­ment Food and Ru­ral Af­fairs (or in a rele­vant job in a cen­tral de­part­ment like Num­ber 10 or Trea­sury).

In DEFRA the best teams would be the ones on farm­ing: eg fu­ture farm­ing team, (DEFRA biose­cu­rity teams less so as that is more about whether to kill lots of an­i­mals if a dis­ease breaks out).

There maybe in­ter­est­ing jobs at the minute in trade (Depart­ment for In­ter­na­tional Trade) given Brexit.

There might be is­sues other than fac­tory farm­ing worth fo­cus­ing on. For ex­am­ple where there is a sci­en­tific con­sen­sus which differs from the cur­rent policy (maybe in an­i­mal test­ing re­quire­ments) or where the im­pact of policy change to­wards the stated policy aims has been poor (like stop­ping an­tibiotic use on farms)



The UK Govern­ment is act­ing to sup­port the AI in­dus­try though an Office for Ar­tifi­cial In­tel­li­gence, an AI Coun­cil and an AI Sec­tor Deal. The UK is man­ag­ing the im­pli­ca­tion of new tech­nol­ogy through and a Cen­tre for Data Ethics and In­no­va­tion (CEDI).

The Office for AI is busi­ness fo­cused and will mostly be im­ple­ment­ing the pri­ori­ties men­tioned in the UK’s 2017 In­dus­trial Strat­egy: mak­ing sure the work­force has ma­chine learn­ing skills, grow­ing the AI sec­tor and sup­port­ing busi­nesses to use AI [1]. One as­pect of this work is the AI Sec­tor Deal [2] which is a billion-pound ini­ti­a­tive be­tween gov­ern­ment and in­dus­try which launched in 2018.

The Office for AI will also act as a sec­re­tariat to an AI Coun­cil [3]. This AI Coun­cil, launched in 2019, has 21 se­nior mem­bers and in­tends to drive AI adop­tion, data & ethics, AI skills and di­ver­sity through closer en­gage­ment with academia and in­dus­try. It was Ini­tially a recom­men­da­tion of the In­de­pen­dent 2017 re­port on Grow­ing the AI in­dus­try [4]

Cen­tre for Data Ethics and In­no­va­tion (CDEI) could per­haps be de­scribed as the body that would be a reg­u­la­tor for AI and data use if any­one knew what reg­u­la­tion was needed [5]. Fur­ther down the line CDEI could plau­si­bly could be­come a reg­u­la­tor, al­ter­na­tively CDEI might sup­port the In­for­ma­tion Com­mis­sioner’s Office (ICO, the in­for­ma­tion rights and data pri­vacy reg­u­la­tor), to be the body that reg­u­lates fu­ture tech­nol­ogy.

Beyond this the UK Govern­ment is en­courag­ing AI adop­tion in spe­cific ar­eas of policy in­clud­ing defence [6,7] trans­port [8] (with the Cen­tre for Con­nected and Au­tonomous Ve­hi­cles) and health­care [9] and sup­port­ing AI re­search through sup­port of the Turn­ing In­sti­tute. Re­cently the Com­pe­ti­tion and Mar­kets Author­ity (CMA) have in­tro­duced digi­tal mar­kets strat­egy [10] re­flect­ing an in­tent to ex­am­ine the tech Sec­tor more.

Ca­reer con­sid­er­a­tions – AI policy

The Office for AI and CDEI are be­ing run by of BEIS (Depart­ment for Busi­ness En­ergy and In­dus­trial Strat­egy) and DCMS (Depart­ment for Digi­tal Cul­ture Me­dia and Sport). Jobs will likely show up by look­ing at jobs in these Depart­ments.

For EAs wor­ried about AI risk and AI reg­u­la­tion and look­ing to have an im­pact the CDEI is the bet­ter place to be, as more rele­vant to work in that area.

How­ever for gen­eral ca­reer cap­i­tal build­ing in the area of AI policy it’s less ob­vi­ous. At this stage I ex­pect the re­cruit­ment will not be for spe­cific roles (just gen­eral re­cruit­ment) so it is hard to know what roles ap­pli­cants would get. Over­all if the ap­pli­cant had no ex­pe­rience of work­ing in AI prob­a­bly Office for AI would be bet­ter as more chance of build­ing rele­vant ca­reer cap­i­tal. That said, the most cen­tral gov, Trea­sury, CO & No10, could be bet­ter ca­reer cap­i­tal still.

There will also be cor­re­spond­ing jobs in­ter­act­ing with these or­gani­sa­tions from cen­tral gov and other bod­ies in­clud­ing in DCMS, BEIS and NSCS.

- The team in BEIS work­ing on set­ting this up is fully staffed at pre­sent.

- I’m not sure about the DCMS team.

- I be­lieve the re­la­tion­ship be­tween NSCS and these bod­ies is some­what nonex­is­tent, but pos­si­bly work­ing in policy on that re­la­tion­ship (in ether body) would be a very good place to be in terms of AI risk is­sues and AI policy ca­reer cap­i­tal.

- There is prob­a­bly also a Trea­sury per­son who is deal­ing with the fund­ing for this but I ex­pect it is a small part of one job and not an area that can have much say.



Long term risks in gov­ern­ment: Depart­ments own spe­cific risks. (E.g. Health and epi­demic risks. BEIS and civil nu­clear dis­aster. Home Office own a lot of risks.) This is co­or­di­nated by the Cabi­net Office, who pro­duce:

  • Na­tional Se­cu­rity Risk Assess­ment (NSRA), of ex­ter­nal risks. Looks over 20 years [11] (al­though the fo­cus, the tier­ing, is on the next 5 years). Was last car­ried out in 2015 [12]. Did not seem to recog­nise any emerg­ing risks.

  • Na­tional Risk Assess­ment (NRA). Looks over 5 years. Not made pub­lic. [13] [14]

  • Na­tional Risk Register (NRR) of civil emer­gen­cies. The pub­lic ver­sion of the Na­tional Risk Assess­ment. Pub­lished ev­ery 1-2 years. Last ver­sion was 2017. [15]

Govern­ment risk as­sess­ments generally

  • do not take into ac­count emerg­ing risks (risks that may hap­pen but are not cur­rently likely or not likely in the next few years).

  • are not good at pick­ing up on cross-cut­ting is­sues, how­ever they may be get­ting bet­ter at that and I be­lieve Cabi­net Office are re­do­ing pro­cess at the min.

  • are de­cent at cat­e­goris­ing en­demic and point risks and recog­nis­ing small risks.

AI risks are not recog­nised in Cabi­net Office risk anal­y­sis (that I have seen). Some recog­ni­tion of AI risks has already taken place within the UK. The House of Lord’s “AI in the UK: Ready, Willing, and Able?” en­dorses the Cen­tre for the Study of Ex­is­ten­tial Risk’s tes­ti­mony on cy­ber-se­cu­rity, dual use tech­nol­ogy, and the pos­si­ble AI arms race – but stops short from recog­nis­ing the risks stem­ming from su­per­in­tel­li­gence. [16]

Cy­ber se­cu­rity sup­port is pro­vided by the Na­tional Cy­ber Se­cu­rity Cen­tre (NCSC).

Cy­ber se­cu­rity of weapons is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of [prob­a­bly MoD]


[1] p39, In­dus­trial Strat­egy, HM Govern­ment, https://​​as­­lish­ing.ser­​​gov­ern­ment/​​up­loads/​​sys­tem/​​up­loads/​​at­tach­ment_data/​​file/​​664563/​​in­dus­trial-strat­egy-white-pa­per-web-ready-ver­sion.pdf

[2] https://​​​​gov­ern­ment/​​pub­li­ca­tions/​​ar­tifi­cial-in­tel­li­gence-sec­tor-deal/​​ai-sec­tor-deal#fur­ther-information

[3] https://​​​​gov­ern­ment/​​news/​​lead­ing-ex­perts-ap­pointed-to-ai-coun­cil-to-su­per­charge-the-uks-ar­tifi­cial-in­tel­li­gence-sec­tor

[4] In­de­pen­dent re­port on Grow­ing the ar­tifi­cial in­tel­li­gence in­dus­try in the UK, https://​​​​gov­ern­ment/​​pub­li­ca­tions/​​grow­ing-the-ar­tifi­cial-in­tel­li­gence-in­dus­try-in-the-uk

[5] Cen­tre for Data Ethics and In­no­va­tion Con­sul­ta­tion, https://​​​​gov­ern­ment/​​con­sul­ta­tions/​​con­sul­ta­tion-on-the-cen­tre-for-data-ethics-and-in­no­va­tion/​​cen­tre-for-data-ethics-and-in­no­va­tion-consultation

[6] https://​​​​guidance/​​emerg­ing-tech­nol­ogy-for-defence-programme

[7] https://​​​​gov­ern­ment/​​pub­li­ca­tions/​​hu­man-ma­chine-team­ing-jcn-118

[8] https://​​​​gov­ern­ment/​​or­gani­sa­tions/​​cen­tre-for-con­nected-and-au­tonomous-ve­hi­cles

[9] House of Lords, (2018). AI in the UK: Ready, will­ing and able? Re­port of Ses­sion 2017-19. [on­line] Available at: https://​​pub­li­ca­tions.par­li­a­​​pa/​​ld201719/​​ld­s­e­lect/​​ldai/​​100/​​100.pdf [Ac­cessed 15 Jul. 2018].

[10] https://​​​​gov­ern­ment/​​pub­li­ca­tions/​​com­pe­ti­tion-and-mar­kets-au­thor­i­tys-digi­tal-mar­kets-strategy

[11] https://​​as­­lish­ing.ser­​​gov­ern­ment/​​up­loads/​​sys­tem/​​up­loads/​​at­tach­ment_data/​​file/​​62484/​​Fact­sheet2-Na­tional-Se­cu­rity-Risk-Assess­ment.pdf



[13] https://​​​​guidance/​​risk-as­sess­ment-how-the-risk-of-emer­gen­cies-in-the-uk-is-assessed

[14] https://​​​​gov­er­nance/​​toolkit-on-risk-gov­er­nance/​​good­prac­tices/​​page/​​theuk­sna­tion­alriskassess­ment­nra.htm

[15] https://​​​​gov­ern­ment/​​col­lec­tions/​​na­tional-risk-reg­ister-of-civil-emer­gen­cies

[16] ??