Working open works (3)

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


Part 3 of this talk is basically just a roll call of the people, teams and organisations I find inspiring for their approach to working open. These are the folks I learn from week in, week out.


Will is a senior user researcher recently at GDS and (I think) now at the Home Office. I still remember not long ago him tweeting about wanting to start blogging but getting in his own way. Well now there is no stopping him! He has shared all manner of insights in his writing recently but this post — basically a retrospective of his time at GDS — is incredibly honest, open and full of lessons that go far beyond his own experiences.


Dan Hon is a Brit now living that hipster life in Portland 🙂 Formerly working in ad-land in recent years he has been fighting the good fight in the US public sector with Code for America and then with the Californian State Government. His newsletter isn’t as regular as it once was but is still worth subscribing to for the regular gems and he occasionally drops a mind-blowing blogpost or a crazy Black Mirror-esque short story.


Cassie Robinson works at Doteveryone (amongst other places) and a few month ago shared this amazing blogpost — basically her ‘user manual’ so that colleagues etc could get to know her and how she worked more easily. I think it is an amazing piece of writing and also incredibly useful — I copied the idea as have a number of other people (here is a collection collated by Richard) and I genuinely think it is something I will ask teams to do in future (if only within the group.)


These days Melody Kramer works at Wikipedia (so pretty solid ‘open’ bonafides) but previously she has worked for NPR and 18F — so almost a clean sweep of organisations I’d want to work for if I was American!

She was a big contributor to the amazing openness demonstrated by 18F in its early days (which I talk more about later) and has done an enormous amount of thinking in the open about public service media and basically her approach to her career. She is also very funny.


These days Laura Hilliger is an Open Strategist at Greenpeace (I can only strive for a job title that cool!) but I met her a few years ago when she was also involved with what became the Mozilla Festival. She was already streets ahead then in her thinking about working in the open. Her influence is obvious in the amazingly transparent approach Greenpeace have taken to completely rebuilding their global web presence — there has been an unprecedented level of transparency during its progress — even compared to the early GDS days. As someone who is primarily a digital publishing nerd I have found it endlessly fascinating.


I couldn’t talk about openness without mentioning my old team. I am consistently amazed (and proud) at just how far they moved past the modicum of openness I introduced while I was there. Their use of Githib Pages to share soooooo much of what they are doing and with such a consistent cadence is really inspiring.


Now in the live talk I referred to Dan as a God of Openness — I stand by that but what I was supposed to say is that he is the ROCK God of Openness — hell he even wrote me a theme song. He was a #weeknoter of some repute and is always thinking about ways to operate in the open. The team weeknotes by Michael are always an interesting insight, the meet-ups at Newspeak House (and now further afield) are a wonderful idea and in general I think the whole Parliament Digital Service deserves kudos for its approach in what cannot be an easy environment for openness to flourish! Also shout out to Carrie and team for the open pics of MPs!!




It isn’t just the ‘internet of public service’ where openness is infecting organisations though. While Netflix were not the force they are today when they leaked their famous culture slidedeck onto Slideshare they were still a big player and it was an unprecedented look into a growing, new company with some radical ideas. They didn’t have to share it but doing so changed peoples perceptions and forced people to look at them differently.

When the great diaspora from GDS to Coop took place there was bound to be a surge in blogging and openness around their digital activity but what has been really interesting is how it has infiltrated the wider organisation with a much more authentic style of communication and transparency emerging from every corner of the organisation.

Buffer are a bit of a gimme here. They are famous for their approach to radical transparency — sharing salaries, financial details and basically constantly shining a light on their own business practices. I have to be honest even I sometimes find their approach a bit too radical for my tastes!


18F are the internal digital agency that works within the US Federal Government. They aren’t the US Digital Service. That is different. No I don’t really understand either. What they are though is amazing. From launch they have consistently worked in the open, shared their learnings, owned their mistakes and basically provided a blueprint for anyone trying to work in a modern, open manner in public service — anywhere. I cannot imagine how hard it must be in the current US Federal environment but the fact that they continue to work this way and keep delivering really gives me hope that we can really make a difference working this way.


OK that is it really. If you made it this far thankyou for sticking with it! I hope some of it was interesting 🙂

I’m going to do a Part 4 at some point to address the massive gap in this talk — the HOW.