Making British Government easier to learn

My friend and colleague Jason Caplin pointed out today that the LSE have open up the lectures for their undergraduate course on British government and how it all works.

It’s a fantastic resource, and great that they have shared this openly, as it’s something that would be of use to anyone working in and around government.

However, the formatting isn’t all that great and it doesn’t work brilliantly on mobile. Plus, there’s no ability for learners to ask questions, leave comments or discuss the topics.

So, I very quickly threw together a WordPress site to rehouse the videos, using a nice simple responsive theme and layout. I also enabled comments, so there’s a bit of a social element there as well.

I’d be really interested to know from folk if this has been a worthwhile endeavour, and if you make use of the site. Also, if you have any suggestions for improvement.

The site is at http://britgov.learninglabs.org.uk/

Happy learning!

Skills for digital transformation

gds-skills

The Government Digital Service has released a big list defining the skills needed for transformation.

It’s certainly comprehensive. It’s fair to say that it is more a list of skills that people need rather than the details of what goes into those skills, or how you start to equip a team with them.

However, for anyone putting together a team to tackle digital transformation, it’s a great guide for what people you’ll need on board.

Solving problems by drawing toast

Another nice Ted talk for the collection.

Making toast doesn’t sound very complicated — until someone asks you to draw the process, step by step. Tom Wujec loves asking people and teams to draw how they make toast, because the process reveals unexpected truths about how we can solve our biggest, most complicated problems at work. Learn how to run this exercise yourself, and hear Wujec’s surprising insights from watching thousands of people draw toast.

Some rough notes on local gov and digital

There was a debate raging late last week about the needs of digital in local government (again). I wrote up some thoughts to share with everyone – I was feeling somewhat limited by the 140 character confines of Twitter – and I may as well post them here too.

The GDS has set out, in the service manual, a pretty good template for how an organisation should go about ‘transforming’ services to make the most of the internet.

It covers taking a user-centered approach; delivering using agile, iterative methods; the importance of good design; and the need for measurement and continuous improvement.

This could easily be taken and given a quick edit to make it work within the local government context. Local government would benefit from having a consistent, shared set of processes to use get this stuff done.

Different councils will use these processes and get different results depending on their context. However, the shared process means they can share experience, staff and other stuff with one another and all be talking the same language.

What local government really lacks across the board is the capability to deliver this change. The service manual talks of what is needed in the multi-disciplinary team. The vast majority of councils do not know what these roles even mean, let alone have people able to fill them.

This is not to be critical of councils or the people working in them. GDS had to go on a massive recruitment drive to bring this talent into central government. Local government needs to find a way to do the same.

However, many councils are too small to justify having full time permanent employees doing these roles. They cannot afford them. Also, even if they could, they would find it incredibly hard to recruit anyone of the required standard. There just aren’t enough to go around.

So, a shared capability pool is something that ought to be looked into. Something made a lot easier by having a shared process, mentioned above. Councils could pool together locally and create a shared digital service. Counties could provide a service to local districts. Private sector suppliers could have consultants available for hire that cover all the necessary roles as and when they are needed.

The other thing GDS has done is built technology platforms and services. The big one is the single domain project, with the publishing platform. This is not the place for local government to start.

With lots of councils using the same process at a similar time, with shared people delivering it, it will soon emerge that lots of councils will be working on transforming the same services at the same time. This should lead to conversations about collaborating on developing digital services – those building blocks that all public services rely on, like booking, paying, registering, emailing, web-hosting, data storing, consulting, etc etc.

So, by creating a shared set of processes, working out how to develop the needed capability to deliver, and then emerging collaborations on technology, a local ‘digital service’ starts to form. Only, it’s not one organisation, it’s not a central gov imposed thing, nor a big fat IT outsourcing contract.

Published elsewhere: mobile stuff and intranets

Light posting in these parts recently. I’ve been somewhat distracted by the so-far unsuccessful job hunt.

I have had a couple of pieces published elsewhere though. Firstly, a post on Comms 2.0 about mobile:

The growth in popularity of messaging applications, such as Whatsapp, Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Kik and others have caused a few communicators to start thinking about what the impact of these new channels might have on the way we engage with our communities.

Second, an article for Alive with Ideas on rebuilding intranets so that they are actually useful:

[Intranets are] stuffed full of useless, out of date information, are hard to navigate, have appalling search engines, and most damningly of all, don’t really have a good reason to exist in the first place.

Bits and bobs for Thursday 29 January 2015

bitsboba

An occasional effort to link to interesting things I have seen. Not convinced about the format yet – let me know what you think.

  • One of my current obsessions is around mobile messaging apps. This interview with the CEO of Kik helps explains why this space is so exciting.
  • Slack has bought a company that does screensharing and voice chat to add to its text based workplace group chat thing. Makes Slack potentially more attractive to those looking for something approaching an all in one internal comms thing. For me though, it doesn’t move the workplace tech conversation on far enough.
  • A post about the future of Medium – published on Medium, of course. I really can’t personally figure out if Medium is incredibly interesting or just really boring. Could go either way – and the crunch will be when it begins to try and create revenue, I suspect.
  • A nice example from Simon Wardley on how to use his value chain mapping method.
  • Tumblr is rolling out new tools in its editor to help people use it to write longer form articles – a bit like Medium. Interesting, but one cannot help but wonder whether this goes against what made Tumblr popular with the people it’s popular with – i.e. quick sharing of memes, videos and so on. Is this Yahoo! starting to fiddle with its marquee purchase?

Enabling government as a platform?

On Saturday at GovCamp 2015, Mike Bracken announced the enabling strategy, the approach GDS is developing to deliver something they call government as as platform.

Here’s the nice, short video that explains it:

Now, this is very sensible and it is hard to argue against it. The one quibble I have is whether this really is government as  platform.

There’s no doubt that what is being proposed is a platform. However, when one thinks of well known platform plays outside of government – Amazon Web Services, Microsoft’s Azure, Google’s Cloud Platform, Salesforce and so on – the point is not that a platform has been developed, but that anyone can use it.

To me, what is being proposed by GDS is closer to a service oriented architecture – in itself a Good Thing and certainly not easy to achieve across as complex a system as government. Instead of building big end to end systems, we have a set of building blocks that can be assembled in different orders to create different systems. This saves time, and money, and creates more interoperable systems.

Perhaps, once all this is in place, the plan is to open it up to other organisations to make use of these service building blocks to develop their own tools. I hope so.

Imagine how good it would be if a supplier to government used the same financial platform that their customers were using? Could make life a hell of a lot more efficient.

Update: From GDS’s Deputy Director, Tom Loosemore: