Thank you

I am truly humbled by all the good wishes sent to me here and elsewhere over the last few days.

It means a lot to me.

I’m going to miss working on the inside, its a great place to be with many great colleagues around.

It just didn’t work out for me in the way I had hoped, that doesn’t mean though that I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone seeking great challenges – I would. Working in a bureaucracy brings challenges sure but I have enjoyed operating around those constraints and trying to make things happen. I don’t buy the whole ‘government is a terrible dysfunctional place’ line, I loved it.

But in the last few years I have often found myself comparing working in Whitehall to national service, so I guess I have completed my tour.

I’m a glass half full kind of person, I’m not leaving in a fug of negativity. Rather I hope this helps me to be more useful. I’m not disappearing, just changing the uniform. Or as Monty Python might say, not dead just sleeping (for a while anyway).

Thanks again.

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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.

Us Now – go see

I was lucky enough to snag a ticket to go and see Us Now at the RSA on Wednesday night.

Us Now, by Ivo Gormley, is a film about the power of online collaboration and communities – and what that might mean for future government. Its very powerful, highlighting some excellent case studies and interviewing a range of experts (its worth seeing for Ed Miliband’s appearance alone I think).

Others have already written better reviews than I could so all I will say is – its fantastic, go and see it.

There’s another preview viewing next Wednesday evening in London and there are still (free) tickets available. If you’re around, I highly recommend going along. This is one hour of your life you won’t regret giving up.

Ticket details here.

Government barcamp – the sequel

People have been asking me almost since the end of the last one when the next government barcamp would be held.

I’ve been reluctant to be involved in planning or organising it, partly because I thought there were plenty of others who could take it on (and it was a lot of work to get off the ground), partly because I wasn’t sure why we needed to have another one (otherwise someone else would have organised it?).

Doing something to follow up the barcamp has been on my mind for some time and I’ve thrown out all sorts of ideas without any real conclusion to the discussions.

Anyway it just so happened that two days ago discussion about a follow up barcamp came up on three separate occasions. Over lunch with two of my fellow conspirators from the first barcamp I was persuaded encouraged by them that now is the right time to think about another event.

Why? Because so much has happened in the last year of egovernment. In January 2008 it was all about making connections, getting the network going, and thinking about the possibilities.

But a year on, there’s a lot to show for the energy generated by the barcamp. Great social media projects, brilliant initiatives to make better use of government data, excellent work to improve existing government websites, and a geek minister.

Its never easy for us all to get together to share what we’ve done, how we did it, what went well, what went not so well. What you’re planning next.

So, what are you doing on Saturday 31st January 2009? Don’t know where it will be yet (but have a few ideas) or what will happen. But as I learnt to my cost last year, that’s all part of the fun. Hope you can make it.

Free legal web project barcamp

I seem to be permanently in a state of writing about things a week or so after they have happened at the moment and trying to play catchup.

This is a case in point. A week last Saturday (18th October) I went along to the Free Legal Web barcamp. The event was set up (and part sponsored) by Nick Holmes to bring together those intersested in creating an online service that pulls together legal texts (primary, secondary, rules. procedures, judgements etc) and commentary.

Its a brilliant idea. A small, but perfectly formed, group of 24 met at the RSA. It was a room of real enthusiasts – lawyers, hackers, civil servants – all more or less geeks with an interest in improving the availability and quality of legal information online.

I went along because my employer publishes a fair amount of information online that might be of interest to this project. But to be honest, much of what was discussed was over my head so I didn’t stay until the end.

However, it looks to me like the beginnings of an excellent and worthy project. With enough goodwill generated on the day to agree to meet again in mid-January.

You can find out more about the barcamp on the project blog, the email list, and the wiki if you want to follow its development or be part of it.

Tom Reynolds – public sector blogging pioneer

I went along to the TALK Innovation and Transformation event at the Natural History Museum last week. Three speakers talking about their experiences of social media in the public sector, then a brief sales pitch about a Confluence platform tweaked for local government use, followed by a rather nice lunch and conversation.

One of the speakers was Tom Reynolds, ambulance driver and author of Random Acts of Reality. I was quite excited about hearing him as I’ve been reading his blog almost since he started it five and a half years ago. I think that probably makes him the first public sector blogger in the UK.

I wasn’t disappointed. Tom was tired, having come straight from a night shift (and slugged back Red Bull whilst he talked to keep himself awake) and although he wasn’t as eloquent as he might have been after a long night’s sleep, his earnestness and enthusiasm for the subject shone through.

I wrote a few notes which are almost impossible for me to read so what follows is a precis of my memory of the event. But even this is enough to contain some genuine nuggets of goodness about the power of blogging in the public sector:

  • Bloggers are enthusiasts who care about their jobs and do it in their own time because they have a genuine desire to improve the organisations they work for.
  • Individuals are generally considered to be more trustworthy than faceless organisations and readers of blogs invest in the writers. The personal neature of the relationships that develop as a result of this bypass the corporate PR ‘filter’.
  • The value of blogging about your job for the public is that Individuals can tell great stories that humanise faceless organisations (who shouldn’t worry about bloggers on their workforce, their passion for the job is itself generally enough to prevent them saying things that would bring the organisation into disrepute).
  • The value of blogging about your job for the organisation is that they can find out way more about what employees think than annual staff surveys (Tom told an excellent anecdote about ambulance workers whinging on an unofficial forum a few years back during a heatwave about not having time to stop to buy drinks when on shift. Two days later the management delivered pallets of bottles of water to the depot. The impact on staff morale was immediate because management had listened, and demonstrated that they had listened).
  • The value to an organisation of senior managers blogging is that they can easily and quickly debunk rumours from the top of the organisation right to the bottom without layers of chinese whispers.
  • Work blogging is the ultimate in transparency and openness, it needs to be embraced by more organisations. Bloggers are the best advocates and advertisements for their employers. They are evangelisers for their employers. Their reputation is their currency and bloggers will generally fact check each other.

Thanks Tom, really enjoyed the talk (and without the aid of the dreaded powerpoint). Hope you got some sleep after.

Happy birthday My Society

My Society celebrated their 5th birthday party in style on Tuesday night at The Hub in Kings Cross. There was a fantastic turnout of familiar faces there to support and congratulate the team of, mainly, volunteers who have produced such great online democratic tools as They Work For You and Fix My Street (to name but a few).

Tom Steinberg, My Society’s director, gave a short talk looking back on their achievements and ahead at the challenges facing both My Society and government online (you can read a summary of it here). It felt a bit like an end of term report, and was none the worse for that.

Tom expressed some frustration that things have not moved as quickly as they had wished and that their influence on change in government was not as strong as they wished. I think he overplayed the negative. My Society’s influence is immense and can only grow larger. For those us working on the inside of government working on web stuff they provide inspiration and a sanity check on some of our more outlandish ideas.

Frankly, I was quite surprised that they’ve only been going for five years given the impact they have made. They are certainly controversial – and probably liked and loathed in equal measure by those inside government whose work they impact on the most. But what you cannot deny is the brilliance and simplicity of the projects they have produced. No doubt they have more in the pipeline.

Happy birthday My Society. Roll on double figures.