Government extends use of digital simulation for ‘information incident’ crisis training

The Government Communication Service has worked with a tech supplier since 2023 and has delivered training to crisis response specialists across Whitehall, as well as overseas officials in ally nations

The Cabinet Office has extended its use of a digital platform intended to simulate an “information influence incident” and help officials – in the UK and overseas – train for how best to respond to such a crisis.

The Government Communication Service (GCS) – which is based in the department and serves as the central professional body for the 7,000 people that comprise the civil service communication profession – entered into a one-year deal with Helpful Digital on 25 March, newly released commercial documents reveal.

The supplier, which describes its specialisms as “digital communications strategy” and “digital crisis preparedness”, will provide GCS with virtually delivered training intended to help civil servants prepare for the possibility of a major disinformation event.

According to the contract award notice, the Dorset-based firm will be expected to provide government with “a digital simulation platform… to bring a counter-disinformation exercise to life, emulate the often confused and confusing information picture that forms in the wake of an information influence incident, and provide prompts to imitate malicious activity and test the specific communications and counter disinformation skills required of the training”.

The text of the contract itself reveals that the training will also involve Helpful Digital assessing officials’ current “preparedness” for crisis and assisting with the creation of a provisional response plan. This will be supporting by a “training workshop with good-practice theory and exercises”.

Following the delivery of the “practical crisis simulation” exercises, the firm will assess the performance of those taking part in the training, deliver workshops on lessons learned, provide “coaching and development support for crisis team members”, and offer media training for those that may serve as government spokespeople.

Related content

The aim of the simulation-based training is to give comms professionals “practical experience of working to the crisis plan”, while also identifying “gaps and barriers to effective working in a crisis”, the contract says.

The exercise also “helps teambuilding and teamworking under pressure [and]… identifies future risks, mitigations and development opportunities”.

The deal, which is valued at £50,000 and can be extended for a further year, follows on from a previous agreement between Helpful Digital and GCS, which ran for one year up to February 2024.

PublicTechnology understands that the follow-up deal has been awarded after government was pleased with the improvements in crisis-preparedness delivered by the initial engagement. It is also understood that, as well as being offered to specialist civil servants in various Whitehall departments, the GCS International unit has also fronted delivery of the training to overseas officials operating in allies of the UK.

Government’s anti-disinformation work – led by the recently renamed National Security Online Information Team (NSOIT) in the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology – has been no stranger to controversy or criticism in recent years. Civil society groups and MPs from across the political spectrum, a number of whom claim that their online activity has been monitored, have accused the unit of opacity and overreach.

Government has typically batted off such criticisms and, in answer to recent parliamentary questions about NSOIT’s core areas of focus, tech and digital economy minister Saqib Bhatti indicated that the unit is especially interested in examining the dangers created by hostile nation states and artificial intelligence technology – and, in particular, the impact on the UK’s democratic systems.

“NSOIT’s remit and function is to tackle the greatest national security risks facing the UK from mis and disinformation,” he said. “It is specifically tasked with looking at threats posed by foreign states, risks to elections and understanding how AI and deepfakes can be used by hostile actors to spread mis- and disinformation narratives which are aimed at UK audiences. This remit is kept under regular review.”

Sam Trendall

Learn More →

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *