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.



Keeping up with the #GOVUK blogs

There are many fascinating things to read on blog.gov.uk. However there isn’t a blogroll (a list of all the blogs) available in Outline Processor Markup Language (OPML) format. OPML files can be imported to your favourite blog reader. This saves you time and effort.

So one weekend I hacked together:

I used this to inform the Service Manager community of interesting things. I continue to use it for my own learning and development. Sometimes I share things I see with a wider audience.

Keeping this service updated is currently a manual process. Every Monday morning I:

Enjoy 🙂

My civil servant Twitter rules

These 5 rules apply to tweeting about my employer’s organisational structure, procedures, communications and decisions.

X = news organisations, bad hackers, disgruntled followers, etc.

Y = the United Kingdom, the government digital service or myself

Z = colleagues, other departments or suppliers

  1. Don’t tweet when your judgment is impaired
  2. What could X do against Y with my tweet?
  3. Could my tweet impact relations with Z?
  4. If not sure, don’t tweet, ask boss
  5. Boss not available?  Don’t tweet.

I hope this post helps fellow civil and public servants.  For further reading, check out social media guidance for civil servants and the civil service code.

I also strongly recommend this bundle of links from @pubstrat, whose advice started me thinking about this checklist. 

#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.

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?