[Day note] GDS Creative & Digital Engagement

The medium is the message


Today I have been lucky enough to take Giles up on the offer of a visit to GDS Towers to sit in with the Creative team for the day (in return for me doing a little talk while I was there.)

I’ve been fascinated with the way GDS have spread their message through blogs, slidedecks and social media from the early days — constantly reinforcing their strategy via a steady stream of online content.

It initially came at an interesting time — blogging was really not prevalent in Government circles and many of the early gov digital bloggers were drifting off when suddenly GDS turbo charged the practice. Now it seems like every team in Government has a blog. So much so that GDS recently ran a ‘blog camp’ event!

Giles gave me a potted history of the evolution of the team and how it was born out of Russell Davies’ desire to provide the content to support (and supplement) the message Mike Bracken was pushing across the Civil Service and more widely he sold the digital by default mission and the changes that were needed. Over time — and especially post-Mike et al — their remit evolved to something much wider.

The team have an interested mix of responsibilities but most prevalent at their weekly meeting (which I sat in on) were working with teams to write posts for the various GDS blogs, policing and producing slidedecks (which given the amount of talks GDS staff do must be endless!) and also they make videos both for the wider GDS and also occasionally other Departments (up for discussion today was a video for the Government…well another service — not sure if I’m supposed to say as they are still working on it).

There was an interesting report of the success of pair writing with an expert — going line by line through a post to make sure it was clear and correct (there are reasons why I am not a proper writer — this would drive me mad!) This was something that reinforced an idea from Caroline Jarrett that Giles shared about needing one person who understood the thing deeply but another to explain the thing clearly — or something like that — it felt profound at the time.

[Sophie tweeted the following to me.]

[and from Caroline herself..]

It is an interesting model they have — a digital-era spin on a communications team basically with blogposts instead of press releases, slide decks instead of speeches and videos instead of publications. All of which is shared on and supported by social media and engagement. Many of the same challenges exist (especially the challenge of translating experts into something more accessible) but the fact that it is all happening online is itself making a point — this is the Government DIGITAL Service after all.

It is quite the content factory as well — I only met a few of the team but they all had a fair bit on their plate with clearly more to come — it takes a decent sized team to keep up with the demand. I have to be honest I am a little jealous — the whole ‘product propaganda’ or ‘service storytelling’ side of what we do is something I love and also something I think too often gets neglected or done poorly. ‘Make things open — it makes things better’ but to really do that you have to offer more than just the code — you have to explain the context and the thinking behind it. Having a team to do that? That is the dream!

Anyway — was a great day — my talk went down OK, bumped in to some old friends, met some Twitter folk IRL for the first time, had lunch in the park (thanks David) and caught my train home (just!).