Week #7: 13–17 June

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Zwei Personen mit Klebezetteln und Stiften in der Hand schauen auf einen großen Bildschirm, der verschiedene Layouts von Webseiten zeigt

This week passed in no time again.

We published the first design-related blog post on the Digital Service’s blog. Together with Carina, Christin, Daphne, Paul and Sophia from the design team, I share what design is, why it needs to be inclusive and accessible, and how it’s the most purposeful work we have done.

People from various parts of the German public sector, especially local governments, shared the post. Others from the civic tech and design community asked for more detailed and specific posts, which are indeed in the making.

Understanding communities of practice

On Monday, I learned more about NExT, the German government and public sector’s network and platform for various communities of practice.

Its managing director Vincent, who is also the face of the organisation, is leaving the organisation by the end of the month. In an extended session, he further detailed what NExT does, how it operates, and where it could develop.

NExT hosts various formats, including community meetups, bar camps, and workshops. There are existing communities of practice around mobile apps, machine learning and artificial intelligence, or internal-facing consulting. All of those are well-documented with individual sections on their website. Each community of practice has a summary page describing its value proposition and audience. All list past and future events, many have published summaries of previous community meetups, and a few have published white papers and other documents.

In the past 6+ years, I have not seen any similarly well-document public sector communities of practice work anywhere. Some folks have tried, including OneTeamGov and Gebruiker Central, but not with the same degree of structure and consistency. Unfortunately, as elsewhere, and despite the critical work, the funding status of NExT’s work as a registered association isn’t fully sorted and safe.

As the Digital Service is an engaged member of the NExT network, I should get involved.

Learning about public sector interactions

I caught up with Joshua, who is leading our Tech4Germany programme. Tech4Germany is the Digital Service’s longest-running programme of work. Once a year, it brings multidisciplinary fellow teams into Federal ministries for 3 months to work on a practical challenge. We discussed how the design fellows can be supported well and what kind of supporting material they can and should get.

As the Digital Service consists of a) the fellowship programmes and b) the software-developing digital service teams, the distinction is not apparent to government ministries and agencies working with us. However, despite the different levels of work experience with long-standing software teams and the 3-month fellow teams, which are a bit more junior, the encounters that public servants have should be somewhat consistent.

To learn more about the German public sector, its structures and ground rules, I attended a public administration 101 talk on Friday. A senior lecturer from the Foreign office explained the established chain of command and communication, the roles and responsibilities of Federal ministries (policy-making) and their subordinated agency (policy-implementation), and the theory of colours. The latter is particularly quirky. It has nothing to do with Goethe’s classic works of the same title. Instead, it’s about colour-coding in public office and which coloured pen a public officer is allowed to use depending on their rank and status. To her surprise, I asked how colour-blind people are considered in this decade-old practice. She had not heard that question before, apparently.

Participating in company activities

On Friday, our organisation’s summer event included a visit to the Federal Chancellery. In the back garden, we briefly heard from Wolfgang Schmidt, Federal Minister for Special Affairs and Head of the Chancellery, valuing our work and ways of working. And so in 7 weeks at the Digital Service, I made it into the government headquarters, while not getting to No 10 Downing Street even once in 6 years of Cabinet Office employment.

The summer event was the first time since I joined that almost everyone in the organisation came together in one physical location. After all formal agenda items, many of us ended up in an open-air bar at the river Spree for more lengthy chats about work and life.

2 days prior, almost a quarter of the staff participated in a 5×5 relay race. Eventually, we had 3 teams. With a bit of luck, I ended up running in the fastest team. We ended up competing with teams from other Federal Ministries, the German State Pension agency, and Berlin local districts.

Such physical activity will always exclude colleagues, but it’s great for bonding and delivering something as a team that’s not software or service. Some people decided to join just for cheerleading – which was equally great.

We might start training earlier next year with dedication and focus. We might also go bolder with our t-shirt design – and if it’s only to make the logo bigger 😉

Writing my first talk

A few days into the job, some people reached out, asking if I would speak at their events. Interesting, they consistently asked about my take on service design, UK government examples, and what it means for Germany.

So I wrote my first talk, balancing UK government examples, a general overview of public services and service design, plus some recommendations and suggestions for the German context. For a few more weeks or months, I might be able to get away with using case studies and examples from the UK – especially as we are missing big successful multi-year transformation projects in Germany. Developing those will take years, obviously.

I will record any talk developed for a public-facing event and make it available via YouTube. So if your German is somewhat fluent, you might want to subscribe to the channel.

In addition, I’m identifying speaking opportunities for our design team so that we increase our public exposure. That increases our work’s public visibility, supports our ongoing recruitment efforts, and gives our designers opportunities to grow their experience in public speaking.

What’s next

Next week, I’ll finish and deliver that service design talk at the Gov Tech Gipfel, work on objectives and key results for the next quarter, and participate in some hands-on bug-busting, which I look forward to.