Working open works (2)

Talk from Service Design in Government 20180307


I gave a talk at (the amazing) Service Design in Government conference yesterday as something of a last minute speaker (I got the call Sunday afternoon for Wednesday) and as such I didn’t create the talk in quite as structure way as I usually do. This meant that while I had slides and a basic framework of what I wanted to talk about I hadn’t actually written the talk — nor rehearsed it outside of the voices in my head. I think it showed but I hope my passion for the topic got me through. Amazingly I kept to time as well!

Anyway this is basically a preamble to say I am now retrospectively writing the blogpost(s) that would usually provide the detailed notes for the talk. Lets see if it bares any resemblance to what I said on the day!

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


This is part two of my openness talk — the bit about Why you might do so with a bunch of examples to where people have done so successfully.




I’m a bit of a weird dude. I mean we all are to some extent and the power of the internet to make it easier to ‘find your tribe’ is well established but for me nothing helped me with this more than writing #weeknotes. Opening myself in this open way — talking about the ups and downs of my working week has always been useful for me. I wrote about it previously. The amazing thing that has happened over time though is this amazing community that has built up amongst the other weeknoters — it is an amazingly helpful, generous, supportive group and I’m proud to have been involved. What I also find amazing is that while our little community was growing, another entirely independent weeknotes community was growing around the WB-40 podcast hosted by Matt Ballantine (there are a lot of Matts in this story!). Clearly it was an idea that found its moment.




It is safe to say I am a little obsessed with improving hiring for ‘this thing of ours’. There are not enough people to go around, it is hard to fill roles outside of the big cities, there is a tendency to rob Peter to pay Paul and generally we are scrapping in a wider market without the advantages of many of the industries we are competing with. Openness helps. Read this amazing post from Melinda Seckington (who I called Melissa in the talk — so sorry!) about here ‘Employee Evangelism’ approach. There is a video of her talking about it — well worth a watch.

Another example of openness that will have a benefit for recruitment is places like Gitlab — where their entire staff handbook is open. It gives you an amazing insight into how they work, how they are structured, their bureaucracy…basically it answers all those questions you forget to ask when the interviewer says “..any questions for us.” and you mind goes blank. I admit the main thing I learned from Gitlab was that I could never work there — but that is useful as well 🙂




The whole ‘not invented here’ problem is prevalent throughout the public service (nowhere more than local gov though — my god!) but working in the open can help lessen the effect of this. If people are sharing their ideas, tools, patterns, decisions, failures and code openly it becomes much harder for the case to be made not to take advantage of what it available. It is difficult to make the case to spend another skip load of money on something when voters can see that the next council over have done something similar and are willing to share.

[There was a section here about gold.service.gov.au but its been pulled in the 48 hours since I first prepared the slides!]



This is an underlying principle of all of this open lark. It is too easy to get into ‘hamster on the wheel’ mode in ‘this thing of ours’ — agile is hard. The momentum kind of sweeps you forward but you need to find the time to look up and look sideways. To see what other people are doing and how they are doing it! A few years ago I was lucky enough to spend my 5 days of assigned personal development time in the civil service just going and shadowing other product teams (in Gov and beyond). I learned more from this than any course I’ve ever been on (or *cough* any conference I’ve attended.)

Someone I admire for his commitment to doing this is Simon Wilson — currently at DWP. Simon always makes time to visit other teams, to get out and meet other designers, to arrange meet-ups — all for the great good. This isn’t easy and it often means giving up his leave days!


I can’t remember the first time I heard someone say ‘Publish don’t send’ — the first reference I can find is related to the launch of the first GDS digital strategy. As a principle though it was bigger than that. It was about freeing information and decisions from the inboxes of the few and publish on the web for the many. This was practical advice as much as anything — freeing you from the tyranny of local knowledge systems and failing intranets. The ability to write once and then forever link (how many times have I linked to Tom’s ‘Not ‘Appy’ post!) totally changes the knowledge sharing dynamic but the better.



Working in the open also significantly supports that delicate balancing act of managing expectations (of stakeholders — usual Buffy joke — , users and colleagues). One of the best ways to do this, again in my experience, is the use of public roadmaps. In Neil Williams GDS have one of the masters of this artform — I have returned to this blogpost time and again over the years and Jamie Arnold wrote a couple of posts (and once spent a day talking me through his approach) that really provides a way of visualising complex programmes of work.

Recently though Futurelearn have written a wonderful series of blogposts on their approach to roadmaps and I think they are must reads for anyone even slightly interested.


So one of the things about me is that I am actually painfully shy. I have built up all manner of coping mechanisms to hide this (most of the time) but actually conferences (and even more so unconferences) actually fill me with dread…but I also love them because I meet amazing people who I would otherwise never see in person. So my openness takes so much of the pain out of all this — people who read my blogging, my Twitter or whatever regularly start conversations feeling like they know me and I am able to do the same with fellow open travellers. I speak at conferences so I don’t have to start chats — people will come and talk to me.

I’m not alone it turns out — there is a whole trend for introvert speakers out there and apparently it fits in with a category of something I was referring to here;


That is part two done and dusted. Part three is basically a roll call of my open heroes.