#LocalGov to #GovUK @GDSTeam – OMG!

I have moved from Birmimgham City Council (BCC) to the Government Digital Service (GDS) in London, taking up a role as User Support Lead and today, Tuesday 18th September 2012 is my first day.  I’m a little excited, to put it mildly 🙂

GDS focus on making national Government more efficient (at least from a digital point of view) building on the work done by DirectGov and others.  I will help shape a world class user support team, solving issues and garnering feedback to improve our service.

So, I’m a civil servant now, not a public servant, right?  Or am I both? #confused.

This is an important distinction, as during my involvement in the recent “Local GDS” buzz, a wise #GovUK sage connected me in private and advised me to think and act carefully.  I had created the @LGDSTeam Twitter account and associated blog and was bashing out ideas and interacting with others.  Even with my usual good intentions, this was wrong, especially without first consulting my new employer.  So I stopped using @LGDSTeam and changed the bio to read, “I have moved to @LocalGovDigital. NB:This account is in no way, shape or form related to @gdsteam“.

This is important, because the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) look after local Government, not GDS.  National Government consists of a dozen or so departments.  Local Government consists of well over 400 local authorities.  Whatever parallels in efficiency savings though the use of digital technology I had imagined, I had joined 2 dots without first considering the implications.  Anyway, lesson learnt. Promise.

So, my main concern; I’m now a civil servant.  Will I need to start thinking even more politically than I did in BCC?  Is “politically” the right word?  Please help me by commenting below.

I have much to learn about GDS’ mandate and will certainly will be reading up on it over the next few days and asking many, many questions of my new boss.  On my reading hit list are: –

  1. Government ICT Strategy – Strategic Implementation Plan
  2. Government Digital Service – Putting the public first…
  3. Re-read all the blogs and comments at digital.cabinetoffice.gov.uk

I don’t want to hang up my funky #LocalGov baseball cap and start parading around in a #GovUK bowler hat (not that such a thing exists any more, I hope).

I do want to help find the common “digitally efficient” ground between #LocalGov and #GovUK.

But boy, am I gonna do it carefully, referring to experts and taking advice.


So long and thanks for all the fish

From: James Cattell/POD/BCC
On: 03/09/2012 12:42
To: Excellent #localgov colleagues

Well, I’m (hopefully) off to London soon to take up a job at the Government Digital Service.  Read about their (soon to be our) work at http://gds.blog.gov.uk/about

But before I go, I want to say thank you to some key people (please share with your teams – too many names & email address to remember)

Frances Cannon + South Birmingham voids & lettings team
I joined as a temp nearly 5 years ago, helping process property viewings & lettings. Quickly started banging my head against the brick wall that is local Government. Frances & the team gave me confidence and helped initiate my into “the council”

Majit Sohal + Ladywood voids & lettings team 
Quick stop over in Ladywood, again as a temp. The diverse team meant the Xmas buffet was amazing! With the exception of Sattie’s cake 😛 (fair play for trying, though)

David Fearn + Hodge Hill & Yardley rent team 
Brilliant team to work with and Abid Hyatt is a v.understanding boss. Considering what we do (debt collection) spirits are always high. Will miss the move to Woodcock street and Ian’s / Wendy’s pun runs 🙂

Glen Knott + People Resourcing & In-Source 
Have put up with me and my constant craving for new projects. Darren & Nadia took the brunt of my rabid nonsense. Thank you both 🙂

Richard Tedd + fellow Change Agents /Specialists 
What a stunning bunch of people the change agents & specialists are! Richard, Sarah & Chandra deserve special praise for helping me through.

Raffaela Goodby + Birmingham BEST 
Without doubt, the work I’m most proud of in Birmingham City Council. Alex, Charlie & Kevin inspired me to become, “Mr.Mind Map”. If you ever need me back, just let me know!!!

Elena Martin + CHAMPS2 
Certainly not the best work I’ve done. But Elena and team deserve praise for putting up with me. As it now transpired, this was the start of my descent into mental health issues.

Dave Allport + Birmingham Energy Savers project 
An amazing project to install photovoltaic cells on housing in Birmingham. Dave is such a focused Project Manager and someone to learn from. Unfortunately, my mental health started to impact my work.

Dawn Flook + Customer First programme 
After briefly returning to the rent team, I was asked to help out with this project. My mental health was becoming a real issue at this point, as I started to suffer hypo-manic attacks. I remember walking into Dawn’s office (programme head) and giving the week long induction 3/10. One day, I walked out of the project and into South Birmingham Mental Heath Trust. Turned out I had, “creative madness” (also know as type II bipolar affect disorder).

Raj Mack + Digital Birmingham colleagues 
I returned to the rent service, convalesced and sorting out my head. Raj asked me to consider helping out with a cool project they were working on. I’m typing up my report on opening the council’s data to the world, as you read this. Many thanks to Raj, Heike, Niki, Surita, Nicola & Annette.

Simon Gray + Social Media working/steering group 
Was led my a bizarre Canadian lady called Debra, when I first joined. But this group of forward thinking individuals are leading the way on social media. The group hasn’t met for a while, but their work speaks for itself http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/socialmedia  – Special praise to Guy, Geoff & Kaja.

Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay & Transpeople’s employee network 
What can I type?  You lot are a-ma-zing!  I’m now proud to identify as a gay man because of you. Peter, Marie & Amy in particular have inspired me in one way or another. Peter helped me see light at the end of my mental health nightmare. Marie stepped up & took over my role – beautiful & brilliant lady who has growing confidence in her abilities.

Thank you, one & all – its been a pleasure working with you in Birmingham City Council. Hope you’ll have me back at some point, if Joe & I decide to come back to Brum.

Kind regards,
James A.Cattell

GDS + data.gov.uk = sense?

Had an interesting conversation with a highly experienced and knowledgeable Government employee recently.

After flirting around several fascinating topics, we eventually discussed open data and its place in national and local Government.

From the sound of it, the current Government is going to bail on the whole “schmazel” of open data.

I hope that: –

a) I got the wrong end of the stick

b) The individual is just downtrodden by their experience with open data

c) They were just wrong.

My friend had an idea; if the Government Digital Service (GDS) is perceived to be doing good stuff, why not roll data.gov.uk under GDS’s wing and give open data a potential shot in the arm?

I liked this idea.  Not because I’m (hopefully) about to start working for GDS, but I love open data and want it to grow, growing our economy in the process.

data.gov.uk has received some negative press recently: –

Four out of five people who visit the data.gov.uk website leave it immediately without accessing links to data, says the parliamentary watchdog, and there are big gaps in information about adult social care and other parts of the public sector, so that people cannot use it to make informed choices.

Read the full article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/public-leaders-network/2012/aug/01/government-transparency-public-accounts-committee

My own experience of contacting data.gov.uk (as someone who is building the open data plan for the largest unitary authority in Europe) has been inconsistent.  Yes, they were launching an improved version of their website at the time, but 3 weeks to reply to an email?  That’s rather poor in my book.

So, what am I saying here?  Well, if its true that the Government will “go South” on open data, then I agree; pick data.gov.uk and GDS up, and squeeze them together into one small powerful ball of hot, glowing power.

What do you think, please?