Why I’m #OfTheGovernment

“So this is our phoenix moment. GDS doesn’t just need to sit inside one building. We have the responsibility to work not on the Government, but of the Government.” – Jason Caplin, Digital Director of UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) [Saturday 15 August 2015]

I joined the Government Digital Service (GDS) on Tuesday 18 September 2012, a date I know off by heart. Back then there were a couple hundred of us.

We were preparing to switch off DirectGov and Business Link. In other words make GOV.UK live.

It was a frenetic time. People were busy, stressed and loving it.

The only other work experience I’ve had that comes close was at Lehman Brothers, a now defunct investment firm. I did trading floor technical support in 4 different countries for them back in 1997.

In government I know I’m making my country a little bit better everyday.

I never felt that way in Lehman Brothers.

This is why I’m #OfTheGovernment – because I know I make a difference.

I left GDS in January 2015 to work in the Cabinet Office Transparency and Open Data team.

But I’m still a GDS’er – that spirit will live in me forever.

User research, user needs, agile, sprints – all this I learnt at GDS.

In Jason’s blog post he askes us to:

  • make a commitment to remember why we got into this in the first place
  • announce when we, as a government revolutionaries, are ready to move on to out next in-government contract

I went to work for GDS because I:

  1. saw alpha.gov.uk and thought, “wow” – I remember that moment with crystal clear clarity
  2. was frustrated with Birmingham City Council’s (BCC) internal and external digital services
  3. wanted to learn from GDS and return to BCC to digitally detonate it

I’ll make good on #3 one day, but not yet. There are still many roles I need to learn.

Then I will move back to Birmingham and blow it up.

Jason – thank you for reminding me why I got into this 😊


What I learnt from user research training

On 13 and 14 August 2015 I attended an introduction to user research. It was held at the offices of the Government Digital Service in London and run by John Waterworth.

I learnt that user research is:

  • not a dark art practised by a few magicians
  • a way to replay and capture user’s memories
  • crucial to (re)developing government services

At some point I’ll try and turn the following into a proper blog post, but for now, here are some quotes I noted down during the training:

  • Theres never anything you need to do before you start listening to people
  • We need to know what people think about things and where they’ll get stuck
  • Go and look in more detail where things are wrong
  • In government, we must care about [people who struggle with digital services]
  • Research is pointless if you don’t share it, eg “Heres what we learnt from users”
  • Blog a lot about what you find – talk openly
  • “Create insights that travel thru an organisation” – James Nel
  • User research doesn’t have to be expensive
    • Doing it will save your project time and money
  • If user research is difficult to watch, imagine what its like for your user
  • User’s ability changes over time, eg when they get older
  • Doing assisted digital research makes services as simple as possible
  • User research can change policy
  • Its not an I.T. system, its a service
  • The more people you speak to, the more you learn
  • The most important thing is to be human – start gently, start friendly
  • It can get emotional sometimes, as often you’re the 1st person thats ever listened to a user
  • Avoid talking about yourself
  • Avoid complex questions
  • When writing up your findings, do it from the user’s point of view

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye

There’s a sad sort of clanging
From the clock in the hall
And the bells in the steeple, too

I’m one of the Government Digital Service (GDS) children.
I look up to the calm, collected leader that is Mike Bracken.
And today, Monday 3 August 2015, I’m sad to hear our leader is leaving.
Note: I type “our leader” even though I no longer directly work for GDS.

Not many leaders would:
* tweet you on a Saturday morning asking if theres anything they could do to help
* entertain you in several 1-2-1 meetings whilst listening to crazy notions
* greet you with a handshake and smile at every event they see you at

Dunno what else to type, except that I wish our leader all the best.

I flit, I float
I fleetly flee, I fly