Legends of low code panel recording

This Tuesday Nick and I ran the legends of low code panel session, and much fun was had, and great learning shared.

I was joined by:

  • Kev Rowe, Croydon Council
  • Craig Barker, Cumbria County Council
  • Clare Evans, Tewkesbury Borough Council
  • Lee Gallagher, Hertsmere Council

Check out the video recording above, to hear about

  • the great low code projects all the councils have been working on
  • the cultural changes that went alongside the technology switch
  • the downsides of using low code and how to overcome them
  • who is best placed to become a low code developer in your organisation

Hope it’s useful!

SensibleTech

I’ve started up a new site recently, which I’ve called SensibleTech.

The aim is to share the stuff I’ve learned over the last decade or so of doing digital in public services. I reckon most of the things that are keeping people and organisations from confidently grasping the opportunity that digital offers are things they don’t need to worry about. They just need reassurance that answers are out there.

I’ve moaned in the past that a lot of the potentially useful material that gets published isn’t useful at all, because it’s so often vendor-produced and so, naturally, focuses on how great their product is, rather than everything else that goes into building great digital services – particularly the things that don’t quite go to plan.

So I want to publish articles sharing how I approach certain things in the hope that others can make use of that themselves, and some of the templates I’ve made over the years. I’m also talking to experts in the field and sharing their experience and knowledge too.

In the future, I’d like to look into more formal learning, whether online workshops over Zoom or e-learning courses that people can complete at their convenience. But for now, articles and videos are enough.

Go and take a look around, some of the content on there already includes:

Hopefully there’s something useful for you in there. If there’s anything you’d like me to cover, just let me know.

I’ve also resuscitated the Digital Digest email newsletter to send the latest stuff into people’s inboxes. You can sign up for that here.

A CDO chat with Ben Unsworth

It’s taken a while to record the second CDO Chat video, but today I finally had the joy of an hour of Ben Unsworth‘s virtual company!

Ben has done loads in digital government, including stints at the Home Office and with FutureGov, and these days he is the Director for Service Transformation at Essex County Council.

In this video, we talk about Ben’s role and what it encompasses, the importance of accessibility in digital services, the roles needed to make change happen, and the impact of the lockdowns and the future of work. Oh, and of course we hear a little about his shed too.

If audio is more your thing, you can grab that on Soundcloud.

Interesting links – 18 Feb 2021

I find interesting things to read, bookmark them, save a chunk of text as a quote, and then occasionally copy and paste it all into a blog post, so you don’t have to.

Digital Inclusion Toolkit: now live

Leeds and Croydon Councils recently won central government funding to create a comprehensive and collaborative how-to guide for digital inclusion.

Link

Delivering and accelerating in a pandemic – DWP Digital

Within DWP Digital our Technology Services team designs, builds and operates that platform, and in the last 10 months has ‘moved mountains’ to keep those services going.

Link

Working Smarter Field Guide

Learning informally and socially means connecting our individual work with our teams, communities, and networks. It requires honing our curiosity and seeking out different perspectives and ideas. It takes more than individual sensemaking to understand complex situations, so we have to find others to challenge our assumptions and learn at the edge of our professional abilities.

Link

The tiny video toolkit

People ask me [Coté] how I do the tiny videos. I hope to do a screencast at some point, but in the meantime, here are some notes.

Link

Announcing our new digital skills training offer – MHCLG Digital

We’re inviting local authority staff to apply for one of 10 certified courses with FutureLearn, covering a range of topics such as accessibility, design, decision-making and leadership. We’re testing the water with a small number of licenses and courses, but if we get enough positive feedback we’ll look to purchase more and make it an ongoing thing.

Link

A CDO chat with Kit Collingwood

As part of an occasional series, here’s a video of a conversation I had today with Kit Collingwood, Deputy Director for Digital and Customer Services at the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Kit shares some great insights and has some really interesting views on digital transformation in local government, so I really do recommend you watch the whole thing!

If you’d rather listen to it, you can grab the audio-only version here.

Monthnote February 2021

February is a short month, of course, but this one seems to have lasted for ages! Perhaps the impact of lockdown.

The month started with snow, and we had a good amount here in south Lincolnshire, enough for Ruth and I to make a pretty good effort at a snowman. It’s interesting, I think, that there were none of the histrionics that normally accompany heavy snowfall in this country. Most people were at home anyway, so it was fine. Turns out that’s probably what we ought to do every time there is heavy snow – just stay home and get on with things as best you can. It doesn’t last long.

The end of this lockdown appears to be approaching, but for those who are missing their social life, I Miss My Bar is a fun website, providing some ersatz pub-like atmosphere for wherever you happen to be.

I’ve had to start house hunting again – my hopes for being settled in one place for a while were dashed when my landlord put a for sale sign up outside my house! Charming. Hoping I can find somewhere where I can just be for a little while and give me a chance to save up properly for a deposit so I might buy myself a house in the future.

Work continues to be a challenge – there is almost constant change happening, and this brings with it the need for a lot of organising, adjusting, explaining and planning. It is exhausting, particularly when in the context of the pandemic. The (non-covid related) death of a member of the team this month hit many of us hard, especially those that were close to him. A reminder of the important things, and of how fragile life can be.

I’ve not blogged much this month, but have a few ideas for things to write about – and the fact that I have now finally discovered how to write posts in WordPress using the old classic editor might help me a bit! Not a fan of the block editor that has come in recently, so being able to avoid it is great for me.

I published the ‘CDO Chat’ with Kit Collingwood, which at the time of typing has over 550 views, which is amazing given its length and subject matter!

I shall have to find a willing victim for another soon!

I’ve also got my first coaching group organised, and we started things up yesterday. Technically that’s in March though so I shall say no more about it for now.

Book-wise, I thought it had been a slow month, but on checking it turns out I did ok:

  • Judgement on Deltchev, Eric Ambler – pretty good espionage thriller, set in a fictional Eastern European country after the second world war
  • The End of the Affair, Graham Greene – absolutely superb, obviously
  • A Room with a View, E. M. Forster – had a lot of fun reading this, nice to follow the Greene with something rather lighter
  • Asylum, Patrick McGrath – I love McGrath’s unreliable narrators, and this is a classic example. Fantastic writing. Rather oddly, my paperback was missing the first 13 pages of the story (!) so I had to read the start as a free sample on my Kindle!
  • The Anglo-Saxon Age, John Blair – an Oxford Very Short Introduction, a series I love. I’m a bit obsessed with Anglo-Saxons and early English history at the moment (blame lockdown!) and this provides a gloriously concise summary.

This month in movies…

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel – almost too whimsical, but some great performances amongst an amazing cast
  • Hail Caesar! – great fun
  • Inside Llewyn Davis – literally nothing happens, but it does so beautifully
  • The Lighthouse – utterly bonkers. I have no idea what happened in this film
  • The Ides of March – a slick political thriller, very engaging

I’ve also really been enjoying the US version of The Office on Netflix, and Channel 4’s Great Pottery Throwdown. Continuing my current obsession with medieval English history, I can also thoroughly recommend 1066 – A Year to Conquer England, which is entertaining and informative, even if it employs some slightly odd and distracting techniques at times.

Need volunteers for an experiment in group digital coaching!

I am looking to recruit a small group of digital doers across local gov to help me test an idea I have had – for a virtual coaching group.

What I think this looks like is maybe a group of 6 people working in local government on digital ‘stuff’ in one sense or another. I don’t think specific roles, experience or levels of seniority matter particularly – in fact a mix will probably really help the group dynamic.

Involvement will be some online conversations, sharing problems, frustrations, ideas and solutions with each other through a mix of text chat, video calls as a group and one to ones. I’ll be in there too, adding whatever experience I might have.

This really is just an idea for now, but it will be interesting to test it to see if it has benefit. If you would like to join, or know someone who might benefit, please let me know by filling in this short form.

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Interesting links – 9 Feb 2021

More nuggets spotted online, shared for your edutainment.

5 tips on running virtual events – DWP Digital

One of the biggest learning points for the events team was that you can’t take a plan for a physical event and simply run it virtually instead. It just doesn’t work. You need to create a way to engage attendees remotely, while they’re having to do most of their work through their screens, from their home. However, virtual events have a lot of opportunities for being inclusive and allowing people to join in regardless of whether they can travel to another location.

Link

Retail, rent and things that don’t scale — Benedict Evans

Part of the promise of the internet is that you can take things that only worked in big cities and scale them everywhere. In the off-line world, you could never take that unique store in London or Milan and scale it nationally or globally – you couldn’t get the staff, and there wasn’t the density of the right kind of customer (and that’s setting aside the problem that scaling it might make people less interested anyway). But as the saying goes, ‘the internet is the densest city on earth’, so theoretically, any kind of ‘unscalable’ market should be able to find a place on the internet. Everyone can find their tribe.

Link

Being Human – Catherine Howe

Bureaucracies are designed to protect themselves from harm – they have formal complaint routes and escalations and a hierarchy that is there to maintain the status quo. And when you look at a wider context you can see some of the drivers for this – the more we see a world based on risk and blame the harder it is for us to be human and authentic in our interactions.The first time fix of customer services is allowed for simple questions – to go there with more complex stuff brings levels of risks that most bureacracies are not comfortable with as it takes you to the place of difficult choices and trade off – the messiness of complexity.

Link

The Real Novelty of the ARPANET – Two Bit History

Today, the internet is a lifeline that keeps us tethered to each other even as an airborne virus has us all locked up indoors. So it’s easy to imagine that, if the ARPANET was the first draft of the internet, then surely the world that existed before it was entirely disconnected, since that’s where we’d be without the internet today, right? The ARPANET must have been a big deal because it connected people via computers when that hadn’t before been possible.

That view doesn’t get the history quite right. It also undersells what made the ARPANET such a breakthrough.

Link

Interesting links – 4 Feb 2021

Some bits and pieces I have been reading lately.

The relentless Jeff Bezos – Stratechery

What is clear, though, is that any attempt to understand the relentlessness of the company redirects to their founder, Jeff Bezos, who announced plans to step down as CEO after leading the company for twenty-seven years. He is arguably the greatest CEO in tech history, in large part because he created three massive businesses, all of which generate enormous consumer surplus and enjoy impregnable moats: Amazon.com, AWS, and the Amazon platform (this is a grab-all term for the Amazon Marketplace and Fulfillment offerings).

Link

To build or to buy – that’s the technology question – GDS Technology blog

Regardless of the route you choose, you cannot outsource risk. It’s important to make sure you have the resources, insight and knowledge to manage and oversee your products in the long-term – whether you build, buy or both.

Link

Users or people? – dxw

As Russell Davies said in his blog post, Consumers, users, people, mammals: “If you need reminding that your customers/consumers/users are people you have bigger problems. Changing what you write on your briefs/stories isn’t going to help.”

Link

Setting up my new Mac

So, I got an unexpected refund from the Student Loan Company (bonus!) recently and spent it on one of the new MacBook Airs. It’s a beautiful machine. Apple seem to have fixed the keyboard issues they were having a little while ago, it’s lightning quick, and the screen is gorgeous.

I’ve not had a Mac for a few years now, relying on my work-supplied Windows laptop, and a Chromebook for other personal bits and pieces. I must admit, I didn’t think I had missed it much – but I’ve found myself realising that, actually, I had just learned to put up with a load of frustrations!

So what software did I put on this thing?

Browsers – it comes with Safari as default, but I added Chrome and Edge. I’m logged into Safari with my personal Gmail account and use that for day to day browsing. Chrome I use with a G-Suite account, to keep that tidy and in one place, and Edge I use for an Office 365 account for the school I help govern. I know there are many ways to create standalone apps from websites, which is an alternative way to keep all these account separate, but I’m happy with this solution.

From the Mac App store I installed some stuff I bought years ago, but are still perfectly good for my needs:

  • BBEdit – I use the free version of this veteran Mac app as a simple text editor
  • Pixelmator Classic – good enough for the image editing I do, although there is a new, Pro, version out
  • Evernote – still the best way to capture notes of all kinds, I’ve tried others, like OneNote, Bear and Notion but keep coming back to this.
  • Omnioutliner – not something I use a lot, but sometimes using an outliner to plan thoughts is a really helpful method, and I’ve not come across a better tool that Omnioutliner.

Stuff I installed from the web:

  • Transmit – a great, easy to use FTP client. Mostly used to help managed websites
  • Zoom – well, duh
  • Microsoft Office – I don’t actually use it that much these days – Google Docs does the business most of the time, but occasionally the MS suite cannot be avoided so it helps having it on here. Also it comes with Teams, so…
  • NetNewsWire – previously, I used Reeder for my RSS aggregation (yes! I still do that!) but on this Mac I went ‘back’ to NNW. I put ‘back’ in quotes because it’s an entirely new, open source application these days. It works great.

I also took out a subscription to SetApp, which gives access to a whole host of useful Mac apps for a tenner a month:

  • Bartender – helps keep my menu bar tidy. Inessential but nice.
  • Capto – a fairly easy to use screen recording app. Screenflow used to be my default choice in this space on the Mac, but as this was included in SetApp’s bundle it saved me money to use this
  • CleanMyMac X – tidies up the crud that builds up on any computer over time
  • Cleanshot X – an improvement on the default screen grabbing tool
  • Gifox – makes simple animated GIFs
  • Marked – takes documents written in Markdown and exports them to various formats. Useful when it is needed, which isn’t all that often
  • MarsEdit – the grandaddy of desktop blog editing apps, every post I write starts off here
  • MindNode – mindmapping tool that’s a joy to use
  • Paste – a clipboard manager. If you’ve never used one before, you don’t know what you are missing. Keeps a record of everything you copy, so you can paste it at any time in the future
  • PDFpen – for wrangling with PDFs
  • Prizmo – turns scanned documents into editable text (OCR type stuff)
  • Rocket Typist – like Paste, a tool you don’t know you need until you try it, then you can’t live without it. This allows you to set system wide shortcuts that automatically expand short snippets of text into longer ones. My personal favourite app in this space is TextExpander, but this works well and doesn’t cost me any more money.
  • Ulysses – an app for composing longer form writing projects. It uses markdown and presents a pretty minimalist writing experience. This is an app I felt I ought to download but haven’t actually used for anything yet.

I also invested in an Anker USB hub thing, to make up for the lack of ports on the laptop. It’s an elegant design and seems to work very well.

Photo by Thom on Unsplash