Leaving government to spend more time with my family

I’ve always liked that phrase. Brings to mind all those lovely post-scandal impromptu doorstep press conferences with Tory ministers in the early 90’s. Anyway, I digress….

I’m sure this won’t be a huge surprise to many but my time as a civil servant will shortly come to an end. I’ve been working in Whitehall for coming on seven years and feel that it is time for a change. I’m sad to be leaving but at the same time I’m glad to be going.

Sad because I really enjoy doing what I do and trying to help push forward the government online agenda. I think there is still masses to do and I like being part of that. Sad also because I have felt for a while that web stuff is still not being taken seriously enough. I’ve been scouting around for a new challenge in Whitehall for a long time now but the truth is that beyond building and managing corporate websites, those roles don’t exist. There’s been a lot of talk over the last four years of how more senior strategic web roles are inevitable, but in that time its been just talk. So there was no next move for me.

But glad because I’ve been apart from my family for a while (we’re moving to Ireland and they went over a while back for the start of the school year) and am looking forward to being with them again. But also glad because being independent will allow me to focus my energies on projects that I’m interested in, and bypass the daily grind of bureaucracy that tends to get in the way of the cool stuff.

Over the last year or so that has become more and more of a barrier to doing what I enjoy the most. The changing role of my employer inevitably brought higher pressures and expectations (and rightly so given its increased responsibilities) but with little additional resource to do it. I’ve also found my extra-curricular activities being scrutinised and discouraged in a way I hadn’t expected after it being benignly ignored for the first year or so (tip for any civil servant bloggers: you may get permission or have a tacit understanding from your manager that its okay to blog, but if the management structure above you changes, you probably ought to start all over again. Previous agreements don’t seem to carry much weight). Hence the even lighter that normal posting here over the last few months.

So, what next?

First I’m going to take a good chunk of time off to get to know the area we will be living in better, and to of course spend some quality time with my family. I could do with a break and frankly I don’t think its a bad thing that I get away from the scene of my crimes for a while.

Then I will be open to offers. I’m interested in

  • helping organisations to define their digital strategies and implementation options
  • using social media tools to observe, interact and initiate and make better policy / services
  • getting the best out of the web to assist government media communications (I’ll be writing more about this shortly)
  • identifying the value of integrating new cutting edge web2.0 tools in the workplace

I would describe myself as a digital pragmatist: good at defining online strategy but with a mind on what is practical and realistic (particularly in the current climate). I’m looking forward to putting my skills and perspectives into good use – possibly in the way that Nick Booth has recently described.

If you are interested in talking to me about opportunities, my contact details are on my LinkedIn profile. Not quite sure when exactly I’ll be off, but hoping that it won’t be beyond this.

Here’s to a happy 2009.

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  1. You are going to love the thinking time. This looks a a huge step towards being much more fulfilled. Good Luck. (we will still see you at ukgovweb?)

    • Ed
    • December 31st, 2008

    good luck mate!

  2. Well done you. Am sure an independent Jeremy will be able to achieve far more than the civil servant Jeremy. And what a sad indictment that is!!

  3. Sad to see you go — hope we’ll have a chance to catch up before you make the schlep to Ireland? I second Nick’s ukgovweb query 🙂

  4. As if I would miss it 🙂

  5. Congrats and welcome to the real world!

    • andrewlewin
    • December 31st, 2008

    A mere seven years? Such a fly-by-night dilettante compared with the rest of us institutionalised souls!

    Very sorry to see you go. Happy for you as you head off to frolic in Ireland of course, just sad for us because it leaves the e-comms scene a man down and an important bit poorer in the ongoing work to bring social media, Web 2.0 and the 21st century in general to the darker corners of the bureaucracy.

    Wishing you well naturally, and hoping you’re going to keep up your Tweeting and blogging so that you can be a commentator from afar.

  6. I’ve said it before, but good luck, and you’ll be missed on Victoria St. You’ve led and been a catalyst for a lot of great government innovation online in recent years, and I only hope the rest of us can keep up some of the work you started.

    Enjoy Kerry! if that’s her name… 😉

  7. Sad to see you go Jeremy – the government social media scene will be all the poorer for your absence. Pity we didn’t get to meet face to face at onlineinfo, but I’m sure our paths will cross again in the future.

    • Angelina Munaretto
    • December 31st, 2008

    Jeremy, it will be sad to see you go. Though I am only a lurker, I for one have been watching and learning from you since only June this year and have learned an immense amount on Government and social media via your blog as a Government communicator. (Canada)
    Enjoy your time with your family and best wishes for a new year.

  8. Great move. I’m glad you can talk about it more openly now. Don’t be tempted to go back on your pledge to take the time off (I’m sure you’ll get offers). I think it’s *really* important. It’ll all still be here when you’re ready.

    • John Sheridan
    • December 31st, 2008

    Jeremy, it’s been great fun knowing / working with you and good luck for the future. I’m sure this won’t be the last we’ll hear of you!

  9. Both great and sad news, Jeremy. Great in that you actually broke free from the “golden handcuffs” (pension, benefits, paying seemingly untied to market pressures) that frequently keep people bound to jobs they no longer like and preven them from taking risks. Bad from the point of view that’s there’s one less person WITHIN government to push these ideas. I agree that innovation and risk is only possible if you find an accomodating niche, but I think the environment is changing (slowly).

    Best of luck across the Irish Sea!

    • David Pearson
    • December 31st, 2008

    Jeremy, sad news, but the very best of luck in 2009, and in the future – we’ll keep watching what you have to say 🙂

    The balance is between the day-to-day-grind – a dire week so far this week! – and the chance to innovate. You’ve cut out the tedious half of that. Just don’t lose touch with reality, either – with what our real customers actually value or need from Govt.

    Cheers.

  10. Jeremy – Good luck with your next steps. Have heart – there are many of us in (or on the fringes of) the civil service and government who want to change the world. Our time will come. In the meantime, being on the outside for a time will help you recharge your batteries and enthusiasm. Thanks for all you have done so far.

    Warm regards
    Owen
    http://www.aidinfo.org

  11. Sorry to hear that you are leaving the civil service. its a great loss for them. I am sure you will find many new ways to contribute and who knows maybe one day you will be back! anyway enjoy the time with your family and good luck for 2009.

  12. I was shocked when you mentioned this the other week and still can’t quite take it in now.

    We’ll miss you Jeremy. Sincerely hope you stay in touch.

    Senior strategic roles for digital experts will surely be created sooner or later – just a shame that a civil service later is too long for you to wait around.

    I was intrigued by your blog silence – grateful for the tip off.

    Enjoy Ireland.

  13. I lasted 3 more years in the civil service than you but left in the early 80s. I get the feeling from your post that things haven’t really changed that much since then.

    I guess, when you really boil it down, the civil service – particularly the Whitehall civil service – is trapped by the Catch 22 that also traps politicians.

    Politicians aren’t allowed to say ‘look, things are really very bad and to be honest we don’t know how to fix them.’ When faced with things which we no longer call problems (see my blog – they are ‘issues’ or ‘challenges’), those politicians who happen to be in government have to say either:

    a. ‘that’s not actually an issue/challenge/problem at all’
    or, if really pressed
    b. ‘yes, we have a bit of an issue/challenge/problem here. but we already know the solution and we’ve pretty much already fixed it: anyone who tells you otherwise (ie our opponents) is an idiot and not to be trusted so continue voting for us.’

    Politicians-in-government are forced by the system either to be in a state of denial or to declare victory too soon (which, as I point out at http://www.mindworksblog.com – is one of the reasons changes fail). They expect their senior civil servants to live in the same alternative universe. Anyone who says ‘we really do have a problem here’ or, worse, ‘look, we really don’t know how to fix it’ is beyond the pail.

    So, anyone who has the ability to innovate – really innovate – eventually realises that innovation and working for the government aren’t compatible: you can’t innovate if you’ve conditioned yourself to think that there isn’t a problem or that, in the unlikely event that there is, you’ve already solved it (see, for example, the recent case of No 10 bending the knife crime stats).

    Have a great time in Ireland. Just bear in mind that the Irish public service is very much like ours – it’s a democracy thing – but much better paid. (Hint: if possible, try to get a job as a teacher: their holidays are much longer than those of teachers in the UK and they must be the best paid teachers in Europe.)

  14. Quite a tour of duty. Enjoy the break (and try to time it with summer next time…). Look forward to seeing you when you’ve had enough of the family.

  15. Taxi mate. Bright Red London taxi. The only way!

  16. How sad. You will be missed, both for what you have done and for your inspiration. Maybe there’s something bigger round the corner where you can realise your vision.

  17. A sad day for web professionals in government. You’ve really led the way. I hope you’re going to keep blogging.

    • cormacheron
    • January 6th, 2009

    Fair play to you. You seemed to be frustrated when we met in 08. I think you are making the right decision.

  18. Good luck in the next ventures, Jeremy.

  19. Jeremy

    I’ve enjoyed following your blog and your ideas and enthusiasm will be missed within government.

    • carlhaggerty
    • January 10th, 2009

    Where ever you work, you will have the continued support of all the people you have helped through your blog and in person. The comments above are a good indication to the impact you have had.

    Good luck and best wishes.

  20. my twitter profile also mentions that i’m a web20 pragmatist – we’re an uncommon species..

    Best of luck with the move.

  21. Jeremy, what a shame we’re not colleagues anymore! But I’m sure your former colleagues will be hearing from you often enough.

    The reasons you give are clear enough. And I think it’s also clear that government still has a long way to go. Not only in providing career opportunities for the likes of us 😉 But mainly in understanding that government and society need civil servants like you: with initiative, enthusiastic, open and in contact with society.

    Instead of being muzzled civil servants should be stimulated and empowered to do their work in interaction with people elsewhere in government or outside government. Through blogs, social networks and discussion forums.

    The Online Guidance in the Civil Service Code has a lot to say about online participation, doesn’t that go for you to?

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