I was interviewed by Vicky Sargent again for her Interesting Times podcast. We talk about digital transformation in local governments, focusing on Adur & Worthing Councils and Hackney Council.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
[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.