I was surprised to read today that many inspirational leaders from the Government Digital Service will be moving on shortly. Mike Bracken, Tom Loosemore and others will be departing Aviation House between now and October and they’ll be sorely missed.
I’ve worked at GDS three times over the last few years, most recently as Head of Engagement for the Performance Platform until June this year. Before GDS began I was fortunate enough to be invited to Tom Loosemore’s sketching sessions in a south London pub. While the name of the boozer has faded from my memory, the conversations we had will stay with me for the rest of my career.
Although I was ‘doing agile’ before I arrived at GDS, my three stints there helped me understand how to apply it to complex services and how to keep on delivering, despite competing pressures. We also ate some amazing cake. Or should I say caek?
I worked alongside some amazingly talented people and that’s had a huge effect on my subsequent projects. It’s about good use of data, communicating in English not jargon, delivering useful and useable work rather than talking about it. Above all, it’s about listening and understanding what actual users of your products and services need. Then single-mindedly delivering on those needs. You need nerves of steel. GDS had, and continues to have, them in spades.
There’s so much left to change in Whitehall, but what a start. Hats off to folks like Ben Andrews, Jamie Arnold, Richard Boulton, Charlotte Clancy, Stuart Cullum, Jordan Hatch, Pete Herlihy, Tara Stockford, Neil Williams and more who’re continuing this drive in Aviation House and elsewhere in government.
Departing Head of Design Ben Terrett has said that every designer should work in the public sector. I’d say anyone who’s serious about digital should too. The genie is out of the bottle now. People demand more from government and they’ve seen from projects like e-petitions, online voter registration, Verify and countless other new GDS services that it’s possible. There’s no turning back.
It’s thanks to Martha Lane Fox, Mike Bracken, Tom Loosemore and co-pioneers that this transformation is happening at all. The UK owes them big time.
I’ve heard Tom say a few times that this is about ‘speaking truth to power’. You need to stand up for what you believe is right. You need to stand up for your users.
I try to do that every day and I learnt it from GDS. To those stepping into new roles, I’ve no doubt you’ll do the same. I wish you the very best of British.