The Church of #LocalGov change

This is an unedited ramble with a side order of hero worship.

So I’ve had a restless night. I woke from a dream where I escaped from an American religious cult. One of the 1st things that came to mind was, “that’s the public sector”.

I’ve devoted 7 years of my life to public and civil service. Not long in the grand scheme of things. Certainly not as long as the 15 odd years I meandered through financial services.

I see this dream as a reminder that I’m at a crossroads. I have an idea that’s currently the number 1 local government makers (@LGMakers) project. But I’m scared to take the leap and do it.

I could do what I normal do and delegate it. Package my idea, find it a home and wave it goodbye. But I like this idea. I really like this idea.

It’s an attempt to instil and build digital capability in the public sector. Put differently it’s an attempt to change a perceived culture. A culture where people aren’t equipped with the skills to listen to users. Where colleagues don’t know how to build prototypes. Where we can’t use them to inspire and procure change.

In affect I want to replay the early days the of the Government Digital Service (GDS). But in many public sector organisations simultaneously.

Rather than dreaming anymore, it feels like time to research. Who are the key players in the public sector that also want to do something similar? More importantly who is currently trying and succeeding (or failing).

One person who always gets my attention is Ben Welby. To sum him up in 3 words; moral, angry, football. Moral because he is a devote follower of Jesus. Angry because he is frustrated with the pace of change. Football because he seems to place Bradford City Football Club over everything but his wife and the afore mention monotheistic deity.

When people in GDS want direction on issues related to local government, they turn to Ben. You only have to read his blog posts to understand why. Unlike mine they are objective. He takes arguments apart and lays them out. He commands a position of respect for doing so, whether he realises it or not.

If I was asked to pick the leader of the Church of local government change, it would be Ben.

Okay, hero worship done.

Now whats for breakfast?


#socitm2014 – once upon a time this room was full of rebels

The society of information technology managers (socitm) have an annual conference. In 2014 it was held at Old Trafford, the Manchester United football ground.

According to the website, approximately 350 delegates + 40 exhibitors attended. It was a 2 day event with an awards dinner in the middle. I was unable to attend day 1 but followed the #socitm2014 hashtag on Twitter.

[deleted a section here – just see this tweet and the replies]

I try to be objective. When someone criticises something I don’t understand, I make it my mission to learn more. I don’t know much about socitm and unfortunately, people I respect criticise it. So when the chance to attend the conference was offered, I took it. On the way there I wrote down a bunch of questions and tweeted them:


This received some feedback.

I spoke to a socitm member on day 2 and got the following answers:

  • Diversity – “well, just look around” (I saw mainly middle aged white men)
  • What is it good for? – “yes, all of those”
  • Who can be a member? – “both, but not sure how much”

I didn’t pursue answers to the other questions.

Here is the conference agenda (scroll to day 2). My recollection of the morning was vague, but I do remember that:

  • there wasn’t an interactive voting session during the chair’s intro
  • the Director of Digital Value for Money from National Audit Office wasn’t on Twitter
  • Kelvin Lee from Crown Commercial Service spoke with some passion
  • I walked out of David Chalmers talk as I was bored
  • all the presentation slides were awful, inaccessible and, well, awful

I missed most of the 1st breakout sessions. I had to make calls and do some work. Big thank you to the people on the O2 stand. They had the tool I needed to swap SIM cards in my iPad.

Parts of the 1st breakout sessions I did see were uninspiring. With the exception of Tom Baker, Chief Information Officer at Norfolk County Council. He showed an interesting slide which Nick Roberts (socitm president) captured:

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 18.56.14

This received lots of interest and questions, which I was pleased to see.

After lunch I saw a speech by Tom Loosemore, deputy director at the government digital service (GDS). He nailed it. I’m not typing this because I work at GDS. He just nailed it. Clear delivery. Simple slides. Easy to follow.

More breakout sessions followed. More uninspiring content. The worst by far was IBM’s “Smarter Cities – As if People Mattered”. The advertised speaker was unable to attend, which may explain the poor presentation. I took nothing away, except that playing several 6 minute videos is a bad idea.

After the last break, a very nervous Rachael Mfoafo talked through her research project. Then we got onto the panel session, which for me was the highlight of the day.

NB: 350 delegates came to the conference. Only 55 were left for the panel discussion. That means 295 people missed the most inspiring part of day 2.

Panel member Tristan Wilkinson was replaced with Carrie Bishop. Like Tom, she nailed it. I mean, she really nailed it. Here are some quotes:

  • “what is the actual problem we’re trying to solve?” LINK
  • “It should be digital by design, not digital by default” LINK
  • “It’s not just about open source or open data it’s about being open as a human being” LINK
  • “we’re still doing the wrong things, for the wrong reasons, most of the time” LINK
  • “legacy systems; get rid of them!” LINK
  • “it costs public money to procure the wrong thing” LINK
  • “they haven’t got a spec, they’ve got a bunch of prototypes to inspire the market” LINK

and my personal favourite from Carrie:

  • “once upon a time this room was full of rebels” LINK

I really liked what Carrie’s fellow panel member and Guardian journalist Jane Dudman said:

  • “you’ve got to accept that #digital is disruptive and just get on with it” LINK

295 delegates missed that, the fools.

All in all I’m glad I went. But there some changes I would make:

  • vet all presentations
  • vet all speakers
  • be more diverse
  • unconference

Happy to help make this happen.

Deja Vu All Over Again

Jonathan Flowers

I am personally inspired by the folk who are driving forward the LG “”Digital”” agenda in multiple ways, through events, blogs, tireless work and at significant personal cost in terms of time, and, um … cost.

From several local gov camps and similar, and much tweetage there seem to be a whole set of recurring themes around getting this stuff to break through into action. Again.

There is an emerging realisation that something higher-order than good work in one or more authority is needed. And various attempts to create organisational forms that will take things to the next level. Again.

All of this dialogue, though eerily familiar, is actually incrementally useful in trying to put our fingers on the question of why this isn’t yet breaking through the way we’d like.

I don’t know the answer to that, but here are some thought pebbles to set spinning across the pond of “”digital””…

View original post 730 more words

what I will do next

So heres the thing; I love local government (localgov) and anyone with a passion for it.

But as we march towards 2015, there are capability gaps in localgov and the wider public sector.

Some, possibly many parts are behind the digital curve.  But that’s the tip of the iceberg.  There are also policy, cultural and workload issues as well, to name but a few.  Basically, I’m referring to the shortage of resource and skills to deliver world class user centric services, both internally and with external help.

I will change that.

All over our United Kingdom there are talented people who can make things better.  So we’ll draw groups of 12 in to 1 place (lets call them the dirty dozeners).  Then challenge them to show us all how to ‘level up’.

With your help I will:

  • crowdsource challenges to be solved
  • crowdsource potential dirty dozeners
  • let anyone vote on the things above
  • tie dozeners into 6 week contracts
  • crowdfund the resources they need
  • match dozener’s skills to challenges
  • co-locate them into 1 open space
  • give them challenges and let them deliver
  • then send them home with fresh ideas, skills and solutions

Come the next election we’ll all have an alternative model to deliver the local things, on a national scale.

Thoughts?  I’ve created a kanban board which you can comment on (you’ll need a Trello account).

There was a hangout at 1pm Sunday 12 October 2014 which due out useful comments and ideas.

You can see (and add to them) via

The hashtag is currently #LocalGovAlpha.  Come get some

What a complete waste of time, effort and taxpayers’ money

Warning: this is an unedited ramble on a career blip.

So, its 10pm Friday night and its been quite a week. My other half is still at work and I’m at home drowning my sorrows.


This week our property purchase fell through, our relationship suffered as a consequence and I’ve decided to quit my current role at the Government Digital Service (GDS).

The pillars of my life are my relationship, doing my public duty, and my home. All 3 pillars have just wobbled. As I said, quite a week.

The quitting my job bit is by mutual agreement with my line manager. In 6 months of trying to be the service manager’s community manager, I feel that I’ve delivered jack shit.

That isn’t completely accurate, obviously, but it feels close enough.

Right now I’m not entirely sure where I’ve gone wrong (I will find out) but I suspect it revolves around choosing a role, any role, other than continuing to support Contracts Finder (a ‘service’ that GDS inherited, not something we designed and built).

I arrived at GDS in mid-September 2012, a month before DirectGov and BusinessLink were switched off and replaced with GOV.UK

It was an amazing time. Frenetic, heated, inspiring. The government digital equivalent of going to the moon.

I told my then line manager I was happy to support Contracts Finder (I love transparency and open data, which its supposed to do) but it would drive me nuts after 6 months, which it did. I ended up back on medication to regulate by bipolar type II affect disorder, a mental health ‘gift’ that makes me manic.

After 18 months at GDS still working on Contracts Finder I blindly took another job, the one I’ve just agreed to quit.

This was my 2nd mistake.

My 1st mistake was joining GDS.

That last sentence is NOT something I type lightly, as I love my employer. I fundamentally believe in our design principles, I think the service manual is a truly beautiful piece of work, and that we’re going in the right direction to help improve digital capability in the civil service.

But I didn’t do any of that. For 18 months I supported a complex, badly documented service that users hated (1st mistake) then in a moment of mental health induced mania jumped to a role I shouldn’t have (2nd mistake).

What a complete waste of time, effort and taxpayers’ money.

The reason for typing this today (Friday 10 October 2014) is that its World Mental Health Day. I don’t blame my mental health, I blame myself (not that I see the 2 as separate things). Bipolar is part of me; something I can use or abuse – a ‘gift’ I live with. But its not a excuse – I would never use it as a ‘get out of jail free’ card, and go on protracted sick leave. That’s not me.

But I will no longer will a take a job because it (or the organisation its in) are shiny and cool.

From now on, I will avoid knee jerk decisions when my judgement is impaired.

I know what I want to do with my life (I can’t tell you cause it breaks some rules) and its time I start getting there.

Contact me on Twitter via @jaCattell and ask me how I am, please. If I reply “good” then bitch slap me back to reality, because you can’t have the good without the bad. Its just not the way life works.