DONE

At the end of July, I will be deployed from the Government Digital Service. Like much of the government digital estate that has come through GDS, I am being shipped as a much improved product.

Formula for leaving

I’m leaving, I had a great time working here, I am proud of what I achieved, the team are wonderful, but it’s time to go in search of new challenges.

This post doesn’t stray far from that leaving post formula, so maybe you are done here. Or if you read on maybe you’ll gain an insight or two into the GDS ‘secret sauce’ from someone who has had a hand in its concoction.

Continue reading “DONE”

I’m not dead, I’m a dad

 

When a ye olde colleague emailed me with the strange question, ‘Are you dead?’ I replied, ‘No, I’m a dad’.

He was asking because I hadn’t blogged since Pixie Lott was number one, and he was disappointed because he found my blog had been one good way to keep up on digital in government.

I told him that it was simply that I now had additional responsibilities at home in the form of a bouncing baby boy. And, when Ben was taking a break from bouncing to finally go to sleep, blogging was really quite far from my thoughts.

Still, if I was going to take his flattery I also had to take his point and get posting – check – even if I’m slightly cheating by riffing on what I emailed back to him in the form of four recommendations for blogs that cover central government’s use of digital.

I picked my recommendations based on the fact that I like reading them and they have posted regularly through the year offering genuinely unique insights. So well done them.

Continue reading “I’m not dead, I’m a dad”

Recommended reading… what China will do next, the failure of humanitarian intervention and a vision for online consultation

Here’s what’s been keeping me enthralled on the commute this week…

1. With China projected to overtake the United States in terms of economic output within the next ten years, many commentators are again speaking of a new ‘Asian century’ and the ‘decline of the West’. At Chatham House recently, Niall Ferguson drew on the last 600 years of world history to offer an insight into the changing global balance in terms not only of economics but also of geopolitics and ‘soft power’. Transcripts, video and audio are on http://chathamhouse.org.uk/events/view/-/id/1945/.

2. Adam Curtis consistently causes me think again about what I think I know. His new documentary series, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace is classic Curtis fare: sinsiter music + archive footage + dogma + elites perpetrating that dogma + scathing critique = licence fee well spent. But I am an even bigger fan of his blog, and this article on the ‘idea of humanitarian intervention‘ I found provocative against the backdrop of Mladic’s arrest, extradition and trial.

3. Consultation is a ‘set piece’ of government. Doing it better online is a coalition commitment. But how? As well as tackling search, usability and agile development on a centralised government website, an Alphagov sub-team also turned their attentions to consultation and policy engagement. What they came up with was a succint and persuasive proposal that deserves attention and further development, particularly what it has to say about ‘layering’. There’s an introduction from Neil Williams and a copy of the deck on the Alphagov project bloghttp://blog.alpha.gov.uk/blog/a-vision-for-online-consultation-and-policy-engagement.

Crossover appeal… why we need to link GDS, GCC and ICT

'autocomplete3' by Paul Annett
'autocomplete3' by Paul Annett

March 2011 saw a bonanza for those of us with an interest in government information and communication technology marked as it was by the unveiling of the Government Digital Service, the publication of the ‘Review of COI and Government Communications‘ and the release of the new Government ICT strategy.

First came the Government Digital Service (GDS) which gave ‘Codename Martha‘ formal status, an official title, a boss, a timeline, and put money where before there were only words. Government will have its single domain and from this point onwards will be looking to deliver of all its services and communications through a digital lens. To prove as much, a crack (or SWAT for MLF Review afficiandos) team was introduced headed up by Tom Loosemore and a man close to my appraisal, Jimmy Leach, who are soon to unveil a proof-of-concept for the single domain, going by the nom de guerre, AlphaGov.

Next up was the ‘Review of Government Direct Communication and COI‘. This set of recommendations, pulled together in which the Matt Tee, the outgoing Permanent Secretary Government Communication, called for the exiting of the COI and the creation of the Government Communication Centre (GCC) in its place. The GCC’s task will be to spend significantly less people and money delivering fewer but better marketing communications by amplifying cross-government themes over departmental campaigns. Propositions are to be sharper, ROI will be taken much more seriously and digital will underpin it all.

And last but not least we got sight of the Government ICT Strategy. And a very enlightened and on-trend ICT strategy it is too. In it are contained committments to open source, interoperability, green credentials, cloud, web, use of Agile and even democratic power shift (which is a boon for the likes of an old worthy like me). Another departure from the norm is that this document is mercifully brief, very clear on the actions required and very exact on when they should be done by.

Each release demanded attention in its own right. But the commonalities also ring out.

  • Money… set against the backdrop of the deficit, each sets out to save billions of pounds. £1.3 billion for GDS. £54 million for GCC. And an unspecified figure for Government ICT but a stated ‘presumption against projects having a lifetime value of more than £100 million‘.
  • People… There will be fewer people and the staff remaining will work to new skill sets and efficiency and effectiveness goals.
  • Digital… is an standout common theme but not one that is inevitable. Yes, you would expect the GDS to have lots of digital, but for the future of government marketing communications to be so acutely spearheaded by digital and then for the ICT strategy to talk in such ‘webby’ terms is a real watershed.
  • Centralisation… At a time when even the US Military is restructuring itself as a network, each of these HMG developments seek to put more strategic and delivery capacity in the centre. That’s intriguing, and like the point on digital above, is a real step-change.

Each release appeared independently and has been picked up by different practitioner communities. Colleagues in digital may have read one release and not the others, and the same goes for communications and IT colleagues. But they must be conversant in all three.

The trick is to understand them not as three separate entities but as a trinity. None can achieve its ambitions in isolation of others.

Regardless of the new budgets, new team sizes or new technology, it is this blurring of lines between three previously separate disciplines that is the point and the most exciting challenge of the next 4 – 5 years.

#ukgc11 – My Unconference Log

'#ukgc11 t-shirt' by lesteph
'#ukgc11 t-shirt' by lesteph

Back in the day I used to attend and speak at a lot of conferences. I was even instrumental in organising the UK’s first eDemocracy conference.

But since starting at the FCO I’ve had my head down. I don’t get out on work time as much as I used to; these days I rely far more on the likes of Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up on what’s what and who’s who. It works, but I miss the face-time with smart, creative people who are as passionate about digital as I am (my wonderful FCO colleagues excepted).

So it was I was really excited to attend UK GovCamp 2011. This was my first time along and tickets were hard to come by, so I thought to record my experiences and observations here to add to the other great commentary from the day and latterly.

Attendees

It won’t be any surprise that it was a total geek-fest, but it was the number and range of geeks that was impressive.

There were about 200 people there, which I understand was the biggest UK GovCamp to date. Amongst the 200 were local government people, central government people, commercial sector types as well as a few academics and journos. There were developers, policy officials, site managers, CIOs and IT representatives. It was this mixing of the discipline pools that was one of the most interesting aspects of the day.

Format & Venue

I’ve been to one or two unconferences and to be honest attendees sometimes struggle with the participant-led facilitation. But the Barcamp approach was perfect for the attendees and there was no shortage of people stepping up with good ideas for sessions when the grid was opened up. From there it was relaxed and playful but always focussed and meaty.

Microsoft were the hosts, putting us up in their swank Victoria offices. What a place! Loads of room, airy, good meeting rooms and quality breakout areas. Plus a Kinect set up, although I didn’t get time to play.

Sessions

What a choice! You could go to sessions on AGILE, open data, hyperlocality and an introduction to the new HMG CEO of Digital. Unkindly there were a lot of clashes, but such is the way with unconferences.

I made it to three…

Continue reading “#ukgc11 – My Unconference Log”

Evolution is alright by me – it’s what got us here

It’s not just in North Africa that there’s talk of revolution. I understand that over the next three months we should begin to see the Martha Lane Fox review of government digital move from the PDF to the browser.

The review proposed its recommendations were ‘revolution not evolution‘. But in practice expect the proposals to be much more of a progression than a drastic, fundamental restart. That is not to try to kill the buzz; the proposals are exciting, their acceptance at the highest levels is inspiring and there are very smart people running the development. Instead it is to argue that this development has a long lineage.

To demonstrate what I mean let’s compare the recommendations with one contemporary government site – a site I know well – www.fco.gov.uk.

[I paraphrase…]

1. Establish one standardised front-end… in 2008 the FCO launched the current fco.gov.uk, which brought 250+ sites and public services on to one platform and one domain. A central team (based in London and 4 regional hubs) was mandated to set standards and manage their development.

2. Become a wholesaler as well as a retailer… although it didn’t launch this way, nowadays the FCO makes its travel advice, news, speeches and other forms of content available as feeds and promotes their reuse.

3. Devolve editorial… FCO directorates and teams who had their sites rationalised still produce and upload content directly as and when they wish.  Around 400 staff have the ability to work the CMS while following centrally set objectives, policies and editorial plans.

4. Appoint a CEO for digital… FCO’s digital leadership comes from its Head of Digital, who has responsibility for editorial, engagement and technical aspects.

None of this to say that the FCO site gets it all right; the FCO has a long history of admitting its digital weaknesses and of making concerted efforts to address them, improving or rather adapting steadily to the ever changing environment. As have other departmental and public sector sites.

The intention here is to show the new ‘supersite’ (or, probably more accurately, the new digital service) will inherit features from current sites and services, and in this sense, the products set forth by the review will be ‘evolution not revolution’.

While it will resemble previous generations of government digital undoubtedly it will do the good things even better as a result of its heritage.

Where I hope (and hear) the revolution is more likely will be in the building of the thing.

Expect Agile rather than PRINCE2. More iterations rather than finished products. Prototypes and proofs of concept. User-centred principles and creative over corporate design. A preference for open source and extensibility. Decent, longterm investment.

It can’t be done any other way. Otherwise, today’s revolution will end up being tomorrow’s ancien regime.

[Yet more] Praise for Digital @ BIS

BIS Digital website screengrab

In the spirit of openness and transparency, there is a section of some government websites that deserves more of the searchlight. It’s the digital team pages, and one in particular has come under my scrutiny lately – Digital @ BIS.

bis.gov.uk/bisdigital has just recently launched. It’s primarily for webbies in the department and in its agencies, but it also serves to inform the wider public about what BIS does digitally should that public be minded to know more.

Not many departments have such sites even though more or less all have digital teams. Those that do are practicing what they preach.

The BIS example should be considered ‘best of breed’. It knows exactly who its audiences are and in what order. It’s design balances form and function. And it provides the passing novice or the hardcore practitionner with a wealth of content that taken as a taster or as a full course represents a hearty insight into a core function within a key government department.

Continue reading “[Yet more] Praise for Digital @ BIS”