January [month note]

After the roller coaster ride that was November and December with the launch of the project that had consumed me for six months January has seemed a hard slog. Perhaps it is always this tough and some kind of built in self-protection system just makes you forget how bad it is though from year to year? Anyway I struggled a bit to get back up to speed but I am starting to feel more like it now – just as well as things are heating up at work.

There has been no shortage of things to keep me occupied though. An early outing was a visit to the Watershed to see Bill Thompson from the BBC speak. Bill has an interesting dual career at the Beeb being both an on-air journalist and working for BBC Archives (a place that, not for nothing, is my dream job). I have had the pleasure at being at a few of his talks now and he is a gifted story teller who rarely use slides and instead weaves pretty complicated concepts of freedom of the internet, ceding control to corporate powers and the transformational power of stories while peppering the talk with humorous asides and enough verbal footnotes for a Masters dissertation. The notes for the talk are on Bill’s blog so I recommend you go and spend 20 minutes reading that – I’ll still be here when you get back.

The following week was our Digital Service Assessment from GDS. This was a major milestone as without a ‘pass’ here the project would not be green-lit to move to the Beta phase (and I have to be honest I had pretty much zero plan b!) It was an interesting experience and one I think we massively over-prepared for but better that than being caught out. Everybody external to the project had been extremely confident about our chances of success but I have to be honest I was nervous right up until we were finished and sat in Wagamama having a Katsu curry! All is well that ends well though and we got the nod and it is all systems go.

The same day we launched Visual.ONS to some public acclaim. I have an odd relationship with this project. It was my idea, the idea of a ‘neutral point of view’ data journalism site was something I pitched a lot this time last year and I commissioned the development and worked on the original specification. I even directly selected the core technology choices. Then however timings got complicated and I basically handed it over to others to actually see through and now Alan and his wonderful digital content team are bringing it to life. This gave me an interesting perspective where I could be publicly proud of it while not feeling like I was showing off. I enjoyed that.

As ever the twin pillars of my life were front and centre. Procurement and recruitment are never really far away. The procurement work seems to have gone well and I am looking forward to getting moving on our Beta. The constant recruitment campaign continues – with two User Researcher posts out at present and a Social Media post coming very soon. I am going to blog separately about my desire to really focus on this aspect of my job this year – I think it is vital.

I’ve written about Govcamp elsewhere. It felt different to me this year as I wasn’t there for an inspiration boost as so often in the past and I also feel like much more of an insider these days but I still enjoyed it and it is an interesting way to get a feel for what are the burning issues of the day – that social media *still* is says a lot about how far we still have to go.

I finished the month today with a trip to Cardiff to attend the ‘Coding for Social Good’ event that marks the official launch of the new MSc in Computational Journalism at the journalism school. It was an amazing line-up key noted by (20 year) Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger as well as representatives from The Times, the Electronic Freedom Federation, Twitter, Red Cross, Open Rights Group and Change.org. I am going to try and write my notes up later but there is a live blog here and I understand the talks were recorded and will be online next week. It was a fascinating few hours – notable as well by how good the questions from the audience were in comparison to usual conference fare.

I’ve also been experimenting a little with a new approach to social media in January though I doubt anybody but myself will have noticed. I am treating it as a bit of a ‘social media diet’ and will probably blog about that at some point. I’ve certainly found it an interesting and useful exercise.

Oh and I am, as hopefully you can tell, back on my own blog after several months writing on Medium. I love the product that is Medium but in the end it didn’t really provide any additional traffic and the benefits of owning my own ‘brand’ as it were here outweighed my enjoyment of the user experience over there.

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