We stand together

myWeek (s4e19)


When I found out Jo Cox had been murdered I was in a crappy Travelodge room somewhere in Glasgow for work. It broke my heart. I sat in that room alone and numb and decided that I needed to do more to live up to her ideals. This week I woke up early in another crappy Travelodge room, this time in Liverpool, to discover the reports of the Manchester terrorist attack. Again I was numb and shed a few tears reading the news but I really didn’t know what to do this time. What I could contribute.

I was due in Manchester Tuesday and was there to speak at a conference the Wednesday in the city. I was really unsure of what to do for the best and honestly felt incapable of making a decision on the topic. The organisers decided that the conference would go ahead and Manchester Town Hall was determined it should be business as usual so I decided to just do it — to not let the bastards stop me. It felt weird though and I’d be lying if I said I felt entirely comfortable but I am glad I did it. Being in Manchester for those days, speaking to locals, reading the tributes left with the flowers at the Town Hall, just experiencing the atmosphere seemed worthwhile if slightly surreal.

The fact that I gave a talk that went down well seems by the by really — but given that many, many people showed up even in the circumstances and that the opening keynotes were amazing — and directly addressed the attack — I felt a pressure to perform. To justify the effort all these people had made to just get there. To walk by the world’s press and a sea of flowers just to get to registration. As it happens I think I did pretty well. It is a crowd pleaser of a talk and I nailed most of the major points even if I did lose my way a time or two. Amazingly I did get the timing spot on as well.

Anyway here are my slides if anyone is curious →

I ended the week pretty drained — emotionally and physically but in any other circumstances this would have been an OK week workwise. Sure there were a couple of gut punches but there were a bunch of things that when I look back I’m going to want to be reminded of..

So the work related bad news was that the Mighty Pez (aka Stuart) resigned this week and is off to join…well lets just call them a firm interested in the Government of the Future. We have only worked together for a few months but it has been a real pleasure and he’ll be a loss to mySociety and the Better Cities team — plus he is probably my most reliable music recommender in the #nowplaying channel!

The week started with a trip to Merseyside to talk about Collideoscope, our spin off from FixMyStreet, that crowd captures data from cyclists regarding near misses and other issues they face. It was a meeting with a pan-public sector group with a remit for cyclist safety (amongst other things) and it was very much a discussion about how we can work together with an open and transparent conversation of the opportunities and challenges for all involved. The meeting seemed to go really well — Zarino came along as my local guide (well also as the designer who actually had been involved in the platform!) It looks like we are going to work on something together which is quite exciting — Collideoscope has a lot more potential than we have managed to achieve so far so fingers crossed. In future this project will be referred to as Scuffletown[1].

Tuesday I eventually made my way to Manchester and spent the afternoon cursing the hotel wifi as I attempted to do back to back client video calls. Golden Pond is a legacy project with ‘Médecins Sans Frontières’ that we are revisiting in an effort to revisit the way data and performance metrics are being captured for the site and also just to tidy up a few features that now the site has been live for a while have emerged as sticking points. I’m having to dust off my Google Analytics know how for this one and also the wider world of white hat SEO — it has been a while so more reading required!

Another call was with some clients on the West Coast of the US where project Red River Landing, a relatively traditional website build that is pushing Jekyll to its limits as a CMS plus an elegant solution for a site preview option, has reached the content phase. The team are writing a bunch of new microcopy and I’ll be adding it to the site for them to smooth out any bumps in the publishing flow before handing it over to them to manage themselves. Basically much of the meeting was reassuring them we didn’t need to overcomplicate things and that they could use a workflow with us that they were comfortable with rather than for them to fit in with us. I think we can be a bit too tied to a very particular process which is not always that obvious to our clients. If you spend all day in Github everything looks like a Github Issue is the new if you just have a hammer everything looks like a nail?

Wednesday was CampDigital and my talk (see above). It was also the mySociety Limited board meeting and I called in from the ‘green room’ at the conference to present my papers and give an update on the work of Better Cities. I was pretty downbeat about my contribution to the previous board meeting (back in episode 8) but felt I was much better prepared this time and able to present a much more coherent story. It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns as an update but we were able to have some good discussions and I just felt like I had a much better handle on things. I kind of think these sort of activities should be challenging — if they aren’t you probably aren’t pushing hard enough.

Thursday was our face to face team meeting in Bristol — it is always great to get the team together and we missed the last get together as Dave was in New Zealand and I was in Florence. Its started on a bit of a downer with the news regarding Stu but it was a fun and useful morning. Particularly discussions about investigating a new approach to our mobile services, like everyone our mobile traffic is just growing and growing, and there are opportunities there for us to make some changes. The question as usual though is just how much time do we commit and what is the opportunity cost either way. We get a pretty impressive number of downloads of the app per week already and if you can separate the feedback about the app from the feedback on Council responsiveness(!) on the app store we score pretty well there as well so this isn’t a case of a burning platform but we can clearly offer more so Dave is going to get his thinking cap on and see what he can come up with after a bit of research.

I had a long chat with Mark, the guvnor, and it is safe to say I dropped the ball a little when it comes to the FMS Pro marketing. There is nothing wrong as such but it didn’t kick on in the way Mark and I had previously discussed because I had been prioritising other tasks for myself and the team ahead of it. Which is slightly odd as it is the work I am most comfortable with and have the most ideas about. It was a useful reset though and I am going to clear the decks for a few days next week and really knuckle down and get this done — as well as lay the foundations for some additional improvements later in the summer.

Friday was a flying visit to London for a meeting about Blue Heron. This is an incredibly exciting potential project where we are in early discussions with potential partners and potential funders. It is 100% the kind of project that I joined mySociety for the chance to work on and it was a really inspiring meeting that lifted my spirits at the end of the week. I also got to sit in on a show and tell from the team of the person I was visiting — I always love the opportunity to do this. To see what other teams are up to and how they work. I spent time last summer visiting other teams and I learned loads and I’m thinking about dusting off that idea.

On the train journey home to Bristol I got an email telling me we’d won Hinkletown — which was a proposal I’d put in to support a human rights organisation’s ambition for a more usable web application to support their work internationally. It was initially intended to be built atop of our Alaveteli platform but in the end it seemed like that probably added a tier of complexity too far so we’ll be looking to actually build on a lot of the front end work that GDS have shared for this one instead — taking advantage of the hard graft they have done to make forms etc more accessible and usable.

So yea — that was my week.

For what it is worth.

[1] What is with these weird project names? Well there in lays a tale 🙂 When I was researching my talk about openness & blogging for OpenTech I was trying to remember where I first encountered #weeknotes and while I tracked them down to BERG I didn’t remember who it was that wrote the posts that initially inspired me. This week I randomly remembered it was Tom Armitage and amazingly he is still at it! He also still does something I only vaguely remembered but used to love. He uses codenames for all his projects so he can refer to them over time without revealing too much (Warren Ellis does this in his newsletters as well). I have decided to implement that and am randomly select U.S. ghost towns as names from a Wikipedia list from now on!