A digital journey

A tweet from Simon Wardley made me chuckle this week:

It stung a bit too – after all, I started out being someone promoting social media in government, and now here I am banging on about IT and transformation.

Of course, a bit of imposter syndrome is probably a good thing now and then – it never pays to be too confident, after all.

However, there is a bit of logic to my transition from hapless social media consultant to hapless digital transformation consultant, I think.

What I preached about social media was about getting on with things, making it easier and more convenient for residents and service users to access information, or make their views known. It was in a bit of a niche, around communications and engagement, but still.

However, as time went on, it became clear that this could only take you so far – you have to turn engagement into something actionable for a difference to be made. At this point I found myself in discussions with web teams and others around making websites more useful in delivering services (it was around this time that GDS started work on the single domain project).

Again, though, time passed and things didn’t move as quickly as I and others might have hoped. This was because, it turns out, that delivering great services online doesn’t just rely on a great website. It needs (at least) two other things: decent technology on the back end, and services fully designed to meet user need.

So it was at this point that, despite having started out in the social media days trying to work around IT, I realised it was necessary to fix IT in order to get even the simple things done properly. So here I am – modernising IT teams and helping organisations transform digitally.

Could I have started out at this point, ten years ago? Probably not. I needed to be hapless at social media so I could be hapless at websites so I could be hapless at IT and transformation.

Now I just need to work on being less hapless.

Maybe tomorrow I think I’ll settle down

Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?

It’s hard when thinking about the things we do to scratch out a living not to recall Larkin’s words about the manner in which work can dominate our lives.

I’ve been thinking about work a lot in the last few months, to the point where I’m making a change in what I do and how I go about it. This Friday will be my last working at Adur & Worthing, and from the following Monday onwards, I will be shifting up the road to Horsham District Council.

The main reason for the change really is a temperamental one, I guess. I’m moving from a permament job to contracting. At Horsham I’ll be an interim with a defined period of time to work in. Having a go at a permament role has been an interesting experience, but it has become clear to me, and I suspect to one or two colleagues, that I am a sprinter rather than a marathon runner. I do my best work in short bursts, before momentum runs out and boredom sets in.

The other interesting thing to me is the new role itself – Head of Technology Services. That might sound to you like a fancy way of saying IT Manager, and to an extent you’re right. Somehow I’ve pivoted from being someone who knows a little bit about how the web works to being the bloke in charge of the infrastructure, the applications, the data, the security, and yes, the web. I’m not quite sure how this happened, but I’m kind of pleased it has.

My role going into Horsham is to put a technology strategy together, get the programme of work lined up, and to ensure the structure of the team and the roles within it are the right ones for the future. You’ll notice that the ‘D’ word, digital, hasn’t been mentioned yet. It might be a semantical thing, but I’m trying to avoid it this time around.

There’s a thing about being able to talk about digital ways of doing things, without people automatically assuming that it is the digital team’s job to do it. It isn’t always, and I think having a team and a strategy that isn’t called digital means that one can talk about digital in a much more open way, without it being seen as a land grab, or a takeover by one particular group in an organisation.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the challenge and getting stuck in at Horsham. And then in six or so month’s time, I’ll be moving on again.

So the answer I’ve found to the conundrum of work, I think, lies in words from another of Larkin’s poems: peculiarly for him (and perhaps for me to choose them) amongst his most uplifting:

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

What I use 2016 edition

Here’s an update on the kit and software I’m using on a daily basis, just in case it’s of use.

My main computer is an 11” Macbook Air.

It has the i7 processor and 8gb of RAM and is the best computer I’ve ever used. I use it for home and at work, thanks to our Councils’ move to cloud based services.

I do have a work laptop, which I turn to when I need to access things like our HR and finance systems; and if I need to do some printing. It’s a Dell somethingorother.

In terms of software:

  • Chrome is running the whole time, hooked into my work Google account, where I access Gmail, Google Drive, my calendar and so on. Pretty much all the productivity work I do for my job is in Google’s suite of apps.
  • Trello and Tweetdeck are usually open too
  • Safari is often open, which hooks into my personal Google account
  • I have two other email addresses that I check regularly my desktop (I know…) which I host with Fastmail and pipe into Apple’s Mail app
  • Slack is usually open. I’m a member of about five teams that I access regularly via the desktop app
  • I use Reeder to keep up to date with RSS feeds (old skool, right?) – I use Feedly as the web service to keep it all in sync
  • I bookmark stuff in Pinboard, which then autoposts into Twitter for me via Zapier. Zapier also zaps bookmarked links into Pocket for me, so I can read them later at my leisure
  • Following a chat with Matt Jukes, I do most of my writing in Ulysses, whether taking notes, drafting blog posts or my email newsletter
  • Occasionally I’ll use Transmit for FTP, I have Microsoft Office installed but very rarely use it, do the odd mind map in MindnodePro, draw something with Omnigraffle, have a chat with someone in Skype, listen to music on Spotify, or screenshot something with Skitch.
  • I still have loads of different tools installed for editing text, most of which I don’t use very often or at all (Byword, Scrivener, BBedit, Atom, Writeroom, MarsEdit, probably others)
  • Utilities wise, I use Alfred as a Spotlight replacement and TextExpander is usually running
  • I store pretty much all my files in Dropbox
  • My blog uses WordPress.com and I pay to use my own domain and to not have adverts
  • My newsletter uses Mailchimp’s free tier

My phone is an iPhone 6, space grey with 64gb storage.

On my home screen I have the following things:

  • On the top row: photos; camera; app store; settings
  • Next row down: A folder with emails apps (Mail, Fastmail, Outlook, Inbox and CloudMagic – each app has a different email account feeding into it. I have too many email accounts); Natwest; Music; Google Maps
  • Next row: Spotify; Simplenote (for todo lists and quick notes, rather than ‘writing’); Overcast (easily the best podcast app); a folder with ‘reading’ apps (Medium, Buzzfeed, Nuzzle, Yahoo News Digest, Pushpin (an app for Pinboard), Kindle, NextDraft, iBooks)
  • Next row: Trello; HulloMail (provides a visual voicemail like tool, plus emails voicemail messages as MP3 files and transcribes them too); Wikipedia; Reeder (mobile version of the deskptop RSS reading app – again syncs with Feedly)
  • Next row: Slack; Pocket; folder with messaging apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, iMessage); Safari
  • Bottom row: Facebook; LinkedIn; Ulysses – for bashing text in during idle moments; Twitter
  • Dock: Phone; Hangouts; Google Calendar; Gmail – the last three are all logged into my work Google account

The layout of apps regularly changes – I try and keep my most regularly used apps towards the right hand bottom corner – easily in thumb reach.

The second screen has other stuff on it, but I don’t use them on a regular basis really.

The main change over the last year or so is that Evernote has dropped out of this completely. It’s still there, but I hardly use it anymore – even to revisit notes previously made (which rather begs the question why I bothered making them in the first place).

Hope this has been useful and/or interesting!

Eleven years a blogger

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According to the archive on this site, I’ve been writing this blog for eleven years today – since September 2004.

This is the 2,646th post and there have been 4,263 comments on them over the years.

Lots has changed in that time, personally and professionally. It’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be where I am now without having started it.

It’s done three things, I think:

  • helped build my profile over the years, creating all sorts of opportunities
  • helped me develop my ideas, from the half baked to the barely lukewarm
  • helped me build my network of friends and collaborators

There’s a bunch of other bits too, in that I’m sure I must be a better writer now than I was when I started, and eleven years of fiddling with WordPress have taught me a load about technical stuff (mostly to leave well alone).

I’m so grateful for the folk who read this blog and respond, for the occasional kind words of encouragement I get.

On the very odd occasion that folk ask me for advice on getting on the world of digital and/or government, I almost always suggest people start blogging.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to continue for at least another eleven years.

Post-post-bureaucrat

I’ve always rather liked the title of Steph’s blog and how he gives us occasional updates on how his life outside of the government machine is going. His post-bureaucrat life seems to be going really well.

I left government as a direct employee back in 2008 from which point on I was self employed, with a period working for Learning Pool as a proper employee for 18 months in the middle.

Now, I find myself employed directly by government again. Since April I was the interim Head of Digital and Design at Adur and Worthing, but a couple of weeks ago I was interviewed for the permanent role, and I got it.

So now I have gone from being post-bureaucrat to post-post-bureaucrat.

How does it feel? Here’s a few things that have occurred to me.

1) It’s great not having to sell stuff. Over the last few years I’ve had all sorts of ideas on how to do interesting stuff, to solve tricky problems. I didn’t get to test all of them though, because first I had to sell them.

Now I have this job, I’m in a position where I can just get on and do stuff, to test out some of the thinking I’ve been doing and see if it works in the real world.

2) This is exhausting. Part of the reason why I don’t blog much at the moment and am nowhere near as active on Twitter etc is that I just don’t have the energy. There is so much to be done, and having this role, and being permanent in this one organisation, has given me a sense of responsibility for getting stuff done, which means I am working as hard as I can, all the time.

3) My attitude to sharing has changed. Another reason why I’m not as active socially online as I was before is that my feelings towards it have changed. Social media was really all I had before to market myself, and I don’t have the need to sell any more.

It’s more than that though. There’s something about working at a local authority that affects your sense of loyalty. I haven’t lost my belief that being open and sharing ideas and work with others is a fundamentally good thing. It’s just that, with finite time, energy and attention, I’m more likely to do something that’s on my todo list at work.

I actually think that I need to rebalance this a little, as there is clear benefit for work if I am engaged online, finding out what is going on elsewhere and flying the flag for our approach.

4) I’m only just starting to calm down. It is a different pace when you’re in something for the long haul rather than a short term contract. Since I got here I think it is fair to say I was working at freelance pace, getting involved in everything I could, chucking out ideas, writing papers, making things happen.

It’s important to keep up a quick pace, I think, but I’m starting to learn the importance of pacing myself, choosing my battles a bit more carefully, learning when to step back and let others take the lead on some things.

5) LocalGovCamp will be interesting. Am really looking forward to this year’s event, especially after missing CommsCamp earlier in the year. This will be my first LocalGovCamp as a local government employee, so it will be a special one, I think.

I’m hoping to run a session with others on the topic of government as a platform and also to discussions about LocalGovDigital, which I feel now I can take a full part in, seeing as I’m now a paid up member of the club.

Coming home to #localgov: I’m joining Adur and Worthing

Worthing beach

I’m back, BACK, BAAAAAAAAAAACK!

Am super-pleased to be able to write that I’m joining Adur and Worthing Councils in April as Head of Digital and Design.

It’s a great time to be joining a great organisation, with fresh people in senior positions wanting to make change happen to improve things for the people, communities and businesses in the local area.

My job is to build a digital service within the Councils, building the team, designing the processes, putting the technology together and increasing capability across the organisations to deliver better, cheaper, services that people actually like using.

There’s also some interesting work to be done around innovation and creativity – enabling everyone to be involved in improving the systems and the processes within the Councils. The opportunity here is to be able to develop the Councils to be thoroughly modern, digital-age organisations.

There has been a lot of talk recently about digital in local government, which I haven’t been able to resist joining in. This is my opportunity to put my ideas into practice. What’s more, working out loud is the default for me and I will be bringing this into the Councils. Luckily I won’t have any trouble from the boss on this score, as he’s into that kind of thing himself.

For me, it’s a return to full time local government – I left in 2007 to briefly work in the further education sector, and then went freelance. Most of my freelance work has been with central government, but I have been fortunate to be able to keep my eye in with occasional work within the local sector and I’ve done my best to be helpful both online and offline, at events and so on.

It’s a full time role so means that I am going to be closing the freelancing chapter in my life. I’m more than happy to do so – it hasn’t worked for me, or my family, for a few years now, if I am honest.

Being able to focus on a single mission is going to help me deliver my best work, and also free up some attention for my wife and our two kids, and having a ‘proper’ job will hopefully lead to me living a more ‘proper’ life.

I’m moving down to Worthing during the week on my own to begin with whilst I get the lie of the land. Anyone who lives in the area who would like to invite me round for dinner, please do so. Our aim is to move the family down to the south coast in time – but it wouldn’t be wise to rush that.

I’ve been ruminating a fair bit on the last few years – the things that went well, those that went less than well – and will share some of that in future posts. There are also a lot of folk who need thanking, who’ve supported me in a number of ways in the last few years.

I’ll leave things here by saying that I am so excited about this opportunity, and cannot wait to get cracking.

Paul has blogged about this here.

Photo credit: Miles Davis

Published elsewhere: mobile stuff and intranets

Light posting in these parts recently. I’ve been somewhat distracted by the so-far unsuccessful job hunt.

I have had a couple of pieces published elsewhere though. Firstly, a post on Comms 2.0 about mobile:

The growth in popularity of messaging applications, such as Whatsapp, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Kik and others have caused a few communicators to start thinking about what the impact of these new channels might have on the way we engage with our communities.

Second, an article for Alive with Ideas on rebuilding intranets so that they are actually useful:

[Intranets are] stuffed full of useless, out of date information, are hard to navigate, have appalling search engines, and most damningly of all, don’t really have a good reason to exist in the first place.

Could I make my blog my livelihood?

blog

Bit navel-gazey this post, but bear with me, and I would love your feedback.

So, as mentioned previously, I am looking for a job. The main reason for this is that I want to be able to focus on one thing, and not have the freelancer’s dilemma of always looking for the next thing while doing the current thing.

Trouble is, I have rather a niche set of skills that are pretty hard to fit into any job description that hasn’t been put together with me in mind – and not even I am so arrogant to think that anyone would want to do that.

(Of course, if you do want to do that, please get in touch.)

So, what are the options? One might be to try and build a business, based around a particular product or service. I’ve plenty of ideas for such things, lots of folk I could collaborate with, and am not writing this off at all.

If I am honest though, I think my real dream would be to be able to make a living through this site. Y’know, just like Gruber or Thompson or Kottke.

How might that be possible? Well, I’m in a good place tech-wise as this site is now hosted on the Rainmaker platform, a customised hosted version of WordPress which has a load of functionality built in, including a membership scheme that can be charged for, have members-only content, the ability to host podcasts, and to have a members forum.

I’m not currently using much of this but am in the process of moving all the various bits of content I do into the platform.

Currently, my content-creation schedule is haphazard, with me writing posts, recording podcasts and doing other bits and pieces when I can fit it around contract work and other consulting gigs. It all acts basically as a marketing thing, to try and convince people I know what I am talking about so they hire me for more contract and consulting work.

So, what might a business model for this blog look like?

The free stuff

Well, some stuff would still need to be free. Probably the type of blog posts I usually publish at the moment would remain free and accessible to anyone – but if the blog was my main focus, there would be more of them. I find it so hard to blog daily when I am also doing a full time job.

My podcast would also remain free and public for its current form, doing interviews with interesting folk in the digital world. Again though, with the site being my main focus, I could do them much more regularly, whether every month or even weekly.

I’d also like to do more with my bookmarks. Currently they are pinged to Twitter, and I include the best of them in my newsletter (when I remember to send it out). I would like to have a daily link roundup post though on the blog.

Finally, a free weekly email newsletter, done properly and regularly. Having the time to focus on this would make it much easier. I need to find a way to make it easy for people to get the blog content by email, and then also the added value of a newsletter. Maybe I could combine one weekly newsletter which featured some new content, plus links and summaries of all the blog posts that week, plus my bookmarks from that week.

Maybe people could also opt-in to a daily blog posts by email thing as well, if they are super keen.

So, for free: blog posts, podcasts, link roundups, general email newsletter – all doable because the site and the content around it is my primary focus.

I could make this more sustainable by looking for sponsorship for the free, public content, of course. I’d need to find a non-annoying way for that to work, but some people do very well out of it.

Paid for stuff

The sustainable way to make all this happen is to have regular subscription model, with members paying a small monthly fee to both support the free, public content, and to get access to other stuff.

For instance, Ben Thompson charges $10 per month to members, and they get an exclusive email most days with in depth analysis, as well as access to a forum to discuss issues related to Thompson’s writing, which Ben takes part in himself.

So what could I offer to members of this site?

One thing I would probably do would be a weekly longer, in depth piece of writing just for members. Picking a topic of real interest to my readers, and doing a proper piece of research and writing that goes beyond my usual well intentioned but half baked blogging.

I’d probably do an occasional solo podcast as well, discussing a recent news topic that’s worthy of a quick bit of audio. Likewise I would like to do more videos, such as the quick training ones I trialled towards the end of last year, which got some great feedback – those could be members-only.

Adding a discussion forum would be simple – it’s baked into Rainmaker as discussed earlier – and also I already have a community with a good membership and activity on it. Access to that forum is currently free, so I would need to figure out a way for that to continue for those people, otherwise it wouldn’t really be fair.

So, members who pay roughly a tenner a month get a longer, in depth article a week, access to extra podcasts and video training content and the ability to take part in a discussion forum, with other members and me. They also get the warm glow that they are supporting me to produce the freely available, public content too.

Does that sound reasonable? I have no idea, personally.

The other question is how to make it work. How many subscribers would I need?

A hundred subscribers – which, if I am honest, sounds like a lot – would give me an income of £1,000 per month, which is sadly nowhere near enough to keep the Briggs family in the manner to which they have become accustomed. Not least when you think that there are costs to be taken out of that figure.

If I did sponsorship of the free content, that might be able to pull in £250 a month at the most to begin with – again, not enough.

Of course, what I would need to do then is to make up the deficit by doing contracting and consulting – but perhaps a bit less of it, to enable me to meet my content creation schedule.

Hopefully over time I could build up the membership side of things, enabling me to spend more time writing and sharing great stuff with people, which is what I really love to do.

Any thoughts?

So, what do you think? Would you pay for a membership to my site in exchange for those rewards?

Or should I just accept that I can’t make a living by blogging, and get back to the job hunt?

Some personal hopes for 2015

2014-12-12

I don’t want to call them resolutions – doing so means failure if they don’t come off. However, there are a few things that I hope will happen in the next twelve months.

1. Focus more on writing (or, creating and communicating)

When it comes down to it, the thing I most love doing is writing. Not proposals, or reports, or meeting notes – but creative stuff, on this blog and my newsletter.

Actually, maybe it’s a bit more than just writing – it’s communicating ideas generally. Attention seeker that I am, I do love speaking at events, and I see that as being a similar activity.

You could also roll in stuff like my podcast, which I really enjoy doing and need to put back onto a more regular footing. It ought to be possible to get at least one a month done.

On the blog I have managed to have a good run over the holiday period, having the time to think about what to post and to actually write it up has been super valuable. I’d love to be able to carry on publishing a reasonably substantial piece every day, or perhaps at least three times a week.

I’d also like to figure out a why of publishing shorter bits, maybe quick posts that point to an interesting website or app, or a news story perhaps. Also, the bookmarking I do of interesting stuff elsewhere on the web could be made more of I think, but am not sure right now what that might look like.

Finally, the newsletter needs rebooting. I managed to get quite a few issues out last year but would really like to be able to stick to a weekly publishing schedule in 2015. Of all the things I write, the newsletter is probably the most rewarding, especially in terms of the feedback I have been getting.

2. Get a proper job

Yup, I think it’s time. It’s four years since I left my last permanent post, at Learning Pool, and the last proper public sector role I had was at the information authority back in 2008.

Freelancing is fantastic in many ways, and it does suit me to a certain extent. However, it’s also exhausting. Even when you have what feels like a long term contract, you can’t let the networking or business development side of thing drop for a moment, because in six month’s time, you’ll be needing something new to do and need to be on people’s radar.

I also want to be able to actually deliver something that has my name all over it. As a consultant, you’re only ever supporting others to achieve things. Having a real single focus is something that appeals to me right now – particularly if it is going to be something that has a real positive impact on people’s lives.

Finally, I think the time is right for my family for me to have something more stable and a little more consistent in terms of working hours and levels of stress. I’d like to be able to experience something approaching a normal life, even for just a short while, and I owe it to Catherine, Ben and Ruth to try my hardest to make that happen.

So what does this mythical job look like? Well, something fairly strategic, where I can bring my experience of working across a number of organisations to bear. It’s no coincidence that I have recently been blogging about the ‘shared CDO‘ idea and that sort of role is definitely one I would love to have a crack at.

3. Do some real L&D

Just before Christmas, I started doing a course on CodeAcademy – the basic one on Python programming. It was really helpful in terms of doing some learning for learning’s sake – after all, I’m not going to be getting any work as a developer any time soon.

I’d really like to be able to do some proper learning this year if I can. I’ve been looking through the Open University course catalogue – but to be honest I’m not sure if the more formal courses are really for me, and of course there’s the cost.

So maybe the thing to do is to stick with the informal stuff, do some courses on the various MOOC platforms that are out there and other training sites like Lynda, and basically build my own curriculum.

4. Make something happen around digital capability – particularly in local government

In the context of work, I’m passionate about two things mainly – the internet and learning and development. My work in 2014 at the Department of Health helped me to combine these things, and if I took a regret away from my time at Learning Pool it was that I didn’t do anything significant to boost digital skills in the workplace via their amazing community.

So, during 2015 I’d like to be able to work on something that can contribute to the digital capability agenda, particularly in local government where it’s probably most needed right now.

I have some ideas on where to start, and no doubt I will be sharing them in all their half baked glory here on the blog soon.