myWeek (s4e03)

Well that week was exhausting. I am supposed to be on a train to Cardiff for an event right now but am instead writing this while still tucked up in bed as I remain cream crackered. Totally worth it though as it was also a great week.

It was one of those weeks where I didn’t see the office for a second but didn’t mind — starting the week with a trip to the other side of the country to meet with the representative of a big Council and ending it speaking at a conference just up the road at UWE where I could walk to and from the venue. In between was a trip to Leeds for my first mySociety ‘all hands’ — a rare opportunity in a remote-first organisation to see people in person (and great that it was so early in my time at the organisation.)

I published my first post on the mySociety blog on Monday— just a little introduction to me and where people might be able to bump in to me in the weeks to come. It was nice to get off the mark. I have also had an offer to contribute a regular-ish ‘column’ to a publication that covers digital government, civic tech etc which I am quite excited about.

The meeting Monday on the other side of the country was a useful reminder of the complexity and scale of local government when you scratch the surface — the mix of County Councils, Unitary Councils and Parish Councils. All with different remits, priorities, budgets and goals. Not to mention all the specialist departments and teams within each of those organisations and the elected representatives at each level with their own portfolios and interests. It is a heady mix! Mapping an ambitious digital vision on top of that is challenging but potentially incredibly rewarding and undeniably interesting for geeks of a certain shade 🙂

The meeting in Leeds was at the wonderful ODI:Leeds space. It was brilliant to meet (almost) everyone in person and really get an immersion course into mySociety ways of working and culture. It really is a special organisation with a pretty unique range of projects — all more interesting than the last. The team is lovely but also intimidatingly talented. There are an awful lot of smarts in that room but thankfully I am now there to lower the bar a little.

I gave an update of the work of the Better Cities team which seemed to go OK — we have a lot on so it wasn’t hard. I also dusted off my graffiti talk from Ignite Swansea for one of the lightning talks (though my timings went to hell and it went over by quite a bit — sorry!).

We had some really useful conversations about the pricing strategy for MapIt (lots of exciting stuff coming soon here — look out for it), how we handle support for commercial clients now we have so many new members of the team and also just generally ways of working for the team moving forward — just getting agreement on sprint and planning cadences, when we do retrospectives (I didn’t give a choice as to whether or not we were doing them!), how often to meet face to face and a dozen other things that make a team a team. There was broad agreement on all elements — at least as a starter that is likely to evolve. I just need to write it all up.

There were a couple of interesting team wide discussions — one on the merits of moving from IRC to Slack as our primary internal comms tool which was interesting for me as I am such a fan of Slack but the nay side had some valid points I hadn’t previously considered. As it happens the shift seems to be happening after some work arounds were identified and I have to be honest I am glad to be returning to something of a comfort zone amongst all the other change.

The other topic that really chimed with me was a conversation about the balance being a non-partisan organisation alongside staff members being public with their political views. As someone who has been a civil/public servant a long time and thus subject to things like the Civil Service Code and ‘purdah’ I found the grown up and open approach that emerged reassuring as I have looked forward to dipping in my toe back into the realm of having ‘opinions’. That said I have found that I am a bit ‘stuck in neutral’ still and it is going to take a while to shake off the shackles of the Code.

While in Leeds I was also happy to finally get the chance to meet-up with fellow weeknoter and current #NHSBeta design lead Simon Wilson. We had a good rant on all the usual digital public service topics, strayed into football for a bit and generally put the world to rights over a couple of alcoholic beverages. Simon is ready to step back up to a more senior leadership role again now after a few years of having fun in the design trenches. This is going to be a big hire for someone so don’t miss out!

I skipped most of the social activities related to the meeting (a) because Jukesie don’t do Karaoke (b) I try not to get drunk in front of colleagues until much further along in my time at an organisation and (c ) I was pretty overwhelmed with it all — albeit in a good way.

On Friday I was a late sub for Mark at the Venturefest Smart Cities event at UWE, Bristol. As I said at the start UWE is not far from my home so I was able to walk to the campus — before getting lost finding the actual venue! It was an interesting event — heavy on the high-tech solutions (driverless cars,VR and drones for instance) but as with any event in Bristol plenty of people asking hard questions about ethical concerns and citizen need (amongst the less heartening talk of business models, monetisation and ‘growth hacking’…it was called Venturefest after all!).

I gave a short talk about mySociety, FixMyStreet and using technology to empower citizens. I particularly reinforced the fact that it was about providing people with the tools to engage and influence those with the power to improve their cities — and that being the goal rather than the technology. Also the fact that it turned out FixMyStreet had just turned 10 gave me a nice hook. The talk went down OK but then I really hit my stride during the panel where I was perhaps a little more bolshie than expected and gave shall we say an alternative perspective to the other panelists*. Anyway it livened things up at the end of the day and the delegates seemed to enjoy it — I also made some good connections off the back of it after.

I did forget to eat at all during the day Friday so the quick glass of wine after my talk rather signalled the end of the week and I scarpered home to collapse in a satisfied heap. We will see what next week brings.

*it was, I am sad to say, an all male (white and middle aged) panel with a (white, middle aged) guy chairing. In other circumstances I think I would have said no thanks but I didn’t twig until too late.