Week #74 at the Digital Service: Notes for 25–29 September 2023

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Two framed posters leaning against a white wall – one says: ‘Our values’, the other says: ‘Purpose, mission, vision’; both posters contain illustrations and short paragraphs of text

This week was short and inward-facing. Because the first 2 days I spent holidaying in Paris – with buttery croissants, sweet cider and impressive Ron Mueck sculptures.

On Wednesday, after I arrived back by train only early in the morning, all heads of delivery disciplines – design, engineering, product and transformation – got together with our colleagues from the people team for an offsite to discuss performances and salary changes.

Reasonably similar to sessions we had at GDS annually, we gathered to discuss how everyone is doing and where they are heading. At DigitalService, we do this every 6 instead of 12 months.

As part of that, our 6 values, now framed and put up on every level of our building, play a not insignificant role. Since colleagues have co-created them, people aim to live by them and ask their peers how they are doing against them. Linking the organisation’s values back to people’s performance isn’t something I have ever seen explicitly during my time at the Cabinet Office or Nokia. At DigitalService, a person’s performance evaluation is connected to their contributions, achievements, and behaviours. The latter are tied to the values. While the frameworks are new and in iteration, people started using various approaches to collecting feedback. It ranges from asking people in person to sending short forms.

Equipped with our input, the people team colleagues will do their part of the performance and salary evaluation so that my people leads and I will pick things up in a few weeks.

Talking to people about the future of German public sector work

Talking to people is what I do anyway. In the last few days, I have had good conversations with people interested in our work and how it may align with their desired career paths.

Some people use my Calendly link initially set up for Mega Mentor, which leads exclusively to exciting and educational conversions. This week, I spoke to someone who has worked in the public sector abroad and was curious to hear how I see the sector developing a greater appetite for in-house user-centred design in the coming years. Of course, that’s difficult to say, but I certainly see progress that was unthinkable even 5 years ago.

I had similar conversations with people at the Edinburgh conference last week and am glad about them. People have built exceptional skills and experience elsewhere and consider bringing them to the land they were born in. Once again, I’m considering putting together a mini page as part of this domain to list all current public sector openings in Germany. There might be a growing interest in that.

Conversations with people working in well-funded scale-ups or for fossil fuel-powered industries also go well – until we talk about our salary ranges. Despite Digital Service‘’’s good salaries, we cannot compete with these organisations.

It reminded me of the Japanese concept of ‘Ikigai’. It refers to giving a person a sense of purpose, a reason for living. On the internet, you can find 4-circle Venn diagrams covering:

  1. What the world needs
  2. What one is good at
  3. What one loves
  4. What one can be paid for

There is some balance to be found, and prioritising everything at the same level might not work. From a privileged position, I can say our pay is reasonably good – better than in a central/federal government department in the UK or Germany. So, it should be attractive enough on the pay side and deliver well on the other ‘what the world needs’ circle. Then, it only needs people who are good at it and passionate about it, too.

In the coming week, I will have more conversations – as we are participating in an open studio night on Thursday.

Preparing for next week’s events

Reaching October, we have at least 3 bigger activities:

On Wednesday afternoon, we are hosting a few international public services for an exchange about our work, topics of interest and exploration of possible collaborations. I’ve created a 3-hour agenda for it, including short talks, some breakouts and time for mingling. I still don’t know how many people are going to join, but hope for a good representation of nations and roles.

On Thursday morning, Kara and I will be giving an alternative version of our ‘The long slog of public service design’ talk. It’s for a broader service design audience at the Service Design Network Global Conference in Berlin’s Radialsystem space. I started making some changes to the narrative to give broader context, an insight into public sector design work, and build links to people’s private sector experiences.

We are joining a cross-town open studio night for conference attendees on Thursday evening. Participants can visit up to 6 design consultancies and organisations in the broader neighbourhood. The list includes DigitalService and CityLAB Berlin, making it a one-third public sector representation.

The short description I wrote says this:

“How’s the digital transformation of German public services progressing? DigitalService, the German Federal government’s central digitalisation unit, opens its doors, shares how it works and welcomes a chat about service design and transformation practices in the public sector. Its 20 designers and user researchers work on services in the areas of justice, tax, and digital identity. Following a talk on the long slog of public service design on day 1 of the conference, they are eager to compare notes with people from other sectors and countries.”

What’s next

Two days of conference and half a day of international community gathering plus a public holiday will squeeze regular meetings and activities into the remaining 1.5 work days. So, it will be a busy week, especially as many folks are in town and expect social time, too.