Week #58 at the Digital Service: Notes for 5–9 June 2023

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A closeup of a laptop showing multiple screens during a video call including a youngish white man with glasses sitting in a cubicle; outside of it hangs a pink poster saying ‘Be bold’ in big letters and some colourful bunting

I had a short and intense but entertaining week. I only worked 2 days out of London and took the remaining days off to see art and design exhibitions and meet former colleagues and friends. And I went to my trusted hairdresser George on Essex Road, who knows my head best.

Monday, I worked from a nearly empty GDS office in Whitechapel. From there, I delivered our discipline onboarding to the May and June new starters and refined the draft of our OKRs for the quarter.

Communicating our community work

At GDS, I also spent time with Kara and Paloma planning next week’s panel discussion on “The long slog of public service transformation”. We will hear from 3 community members: Ülly from Estonia’s Ministry of Education, Marco from Italy’s Team Digitale, and from Laurence, who worked with governments around the world. We drafted 5 guiding questions for the panel discussion:

  • What has been easy to change – and what has been hard?
  • Don’t ask for permission; ask for forgiveness. Where have you applied that, and how did it work out for you?
  • What keeps you going? How do you stay resiliently and sustainably towards more fundamental transformational change?
  • Public service transformation is a multi-generational effort. What are your tips and recommendation for the next generation to succeed with public service transformation?
  • If you had a magic wand – what would be the one thing you would want to change, or which obstacle would you want to remove?

Kara also walked me through the deck she presented at UX Scotland later in the week – on “The power of communities of practice: How communities can make your work and working life better”. It captures much of the essence and distils the content from other decks, talks, and discussions. As the talk was recorded, I hope it will be shared shortly.

On the way back from London to Berlin for 9 hours via Eurostar and Intercity Express trains, I wrote the draft of a new blog post titled “Communities of practice: catalysts for effective government transformation”. The blog post gives an overview of the local, national and international public sector community that others and I are doing. It will be a good account of the efforts of the last year and what’s to come. I am aiming to get the German and English versions of the post out at a similar time.

In the late evening and night hours, Katrin and I finished another community project: the latest issue of the Service Gazette. We always need a deadline and picked next week’s Creative Bureaucracy Festival as the anchor for the latest German edition. With a clear goal in sight, we worked with the help of all contributors through the review of the pages. Maintaining a little thumbnail document of all previews covers since 2015, I found a colour combination that again felt different. And while I think I should redesign the layout at some point, it feels like it has not aged too much in the past 8 years.

We sent the files to our trusted printer Newspaper Club, which we have used since 2015. Within less than 48 hours, the newspapers were printed and delivered to North London. I could not imagine any better customer service.

It is the first printed newspaper we completed in about 1.5 years. We got 9 contributions from 11 authors. All of them work in or with the German public sector. We will distribute the copies from Tuesday evening onwards, and, as always, I’m looking forward to people getting their hands on the printed papers.

We will also publish the articles one by one in coming days on Medium.com. The first two are already available. Now, I’ve hooked on the format again and started thinking about another English edition for autumn. Possibly, it’s something we can time with the season’s conferences.

Before heading out to exhibitions in London’s Design Museum and the Design Biennale at Somerset House, I dialled into a big community call. It hosted Kate Tarling, former Head of Service Design at the UK’s Home Office and now best-selling writer of the book ‘The Service Organization’. It discussed the question, “How do we lead and deliver successful services, sustainably?”.

Kate shared blocks from the book through a short presentation and answered various questions the 125+ people from multiple countries had.

Kate made an essential point that digital service teams must focus while change must happen on various levels, possibly even simultaneously.

What’s next

Monday will be meeting-heavy. I need to catch up with everyone who I didn’t talk to this week. On Tuesday, my colleague Sonja is organising a half-day user research offsite for everyone in the design and user research discipline. It will allow us to establish a baseline and identify priorities for investment.

Then on Tuesday late afternoon, we will be running our second public-facing meetup, this time at CityLAB’s office. Like in April, all tickets are gone, and have dozens of people on the waiting list – despite a much bigger space. We will again record the talks and make them available via YouTube.

On Wednesday, Derek from Apolitical will run a half-day unconference format titled Global Innovator’s Forum, which is also linked to the Creative Bureaucracy Festival. Only on Thursday is when the festival starts, and we host our panel discussion. I will also try to record that – if technology allows me to. On Friday, we will discuss our user-centred design community proposal with our colleagues from the NExT network. I’m very much looking forward to that – and the entire week.