So, by now everyone knows that Mike Bracken is leaving GDS to do great work with the Co-operative Group after leading us to saving £1.7bn in government spending. A few others have also decided that now is a good time to move on to pastures new. Stephen Foreshew-Cain, the current GDS COO, is to take on leadership of the organisation, with a number of highly motivated and experienced people stepping up to fill the other roles.
Some sources have divined an invisible pattern in these leaving announcements and have come to the conclusion that GDS is losing steam or that we no longer have the support we once enjoyed in Cabinet Office or the rest of government. They predict that our strategy will be curtailed – potentially by others departing in some kind of mass exodus.
There’s been plenty of top-down response to this but there is also a growing groundswell of responses via the #OfTheGovernment Twitter hashtag. There have been great pieces from GDS folk like Louise and Dai but what’s really impressed me is posts from government colleagues like Jason and Sarah who are outside of Cabinet Office but speak eloquently about “picking up the baton” of producing world class user-lead digital services.
This is what has got me thinking that it’s time to stop talking about “the centre” or “devolution to departments”. Instead we should evolve from being a great Government Digital Service to a supremely excellent Government Digital Community.
There are great things being done by great teams in digital services all across government but in many cases unless you happen to be sitting next to the team doing the work it’s hard to find out about it. There’re some insightful blogs by digital teams in departments but I believe there’s much to be gained by those inside government by having sight of what’s happening during the iterative rough-and-tumble creation of digital services by being able to remotely attend show and tells.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google, still run a whole-company in-person and online meeting every Friday called TGIF. They show off new products, roadmaps and technology – but they also talk about (sometimes monumental) failures as well as answering pointed questions from employees all across the organisation. It would be relatively easy to setup something similar for a Government Digital Community – perhaps run in turn by GDS and then each of the members of the Digital Leaders team. A similar thing could be arranged for technology by OCTO and those in the Technology Leaders team. Importantly, each one would have important updates and demos from organisations all across government. Teams should be competing to get on the agenda!
That kind of meeting is headline grabbing internally but there’s so much more we could be doing. We have an assortment of excellent cross-government communities such as service managers, user researchers, digital service designers and many others (including excellent not primarily digital groups like Policy Lab) . It’s time to have somewhere that we can find those groups and their resources. The presentations and Q&As that they organise could be recorded and made available for people to watch in their own time. There’s huge potential for cross-organisational mentoring and secondments.
The Technology Leads could make a commitment to the cross-government Slack being available to everyone in government not on a secure network by the end of 2015.
Even this is just a start. We could have a common collection of users needs, user research personas and many other things.
Finally, for those feeling braver, there’s the possibility of running a TGIF-style session but in public as part of a more radical transparency agenda. Not a polished affair but open conversations with the wider digital community about the nitty-gritty of building government digital services.
The first step in all of this is to discuss setting up an internal TGIF. In order to do that we would need volunteers from across government.
Who’s with us?