“Just over a year ago I wrote ‘Leaving, Moving, Staying‘ about my decision to leave Dstl (the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) and move to London with my wife. I also sketched out some ideas about what I wanted to do for the future. Well the future quickly becomes the present and an update is overdue.”
I drafted that paragraph early this year, but didn’t finish the post; that ‘present’ is already past, and the ‘future’ referred to is more or less present. And if I don’t write an update soon it’ll be history.
So here it is, an update. It’s more a snapshot of what I’m doing now, rather than the narrative of how I got here – that’ll have to go on the blog post backlog.
I had said that if freelancing didn’t work out I’d “try and get a regular job.” What I hadn’t anticipated was seeing an advert for a regular job, that I couldn’t really resist, drawing me back into the Civil Service. I’ll quote from the job advert ‘About the Role’ section (my emphasis):
Effective management of digital information is vital for good policy making and ensures government is able to meet its statutory obligations. The holder of this new role will be responsible for leading a cross-government work programme to improve how departments manage and exploit the digital material that they create.
This role offers a rare opportunity to combine policy, delivery, cross-government transformation and external stakeholder engagement. You will lead an expert, multidisciplinary team to develop new digital information standards, a new compliance regime and departmental support arrangements in order to achieve real and lasting improvements in government digital information management. This is a high-profile area in which think tanks, media and academia are taking an increasing interest.
This post will enable the successful candidate to design and deliver solutions to the pressing challenges set out in the report Better Information for Better Government. It will give the holder the opportunity to develop their profile and impact at the heart of government, as well as their leadership, policy and delivery capability. The successful candidate will be expected to develop their personal credibility on digital information issues and create a network cross-government and externally to further this policy agenda.
One of the reasons I decided in 2015 to leave the Civil Service was because there didn’t seem to be anyone in central government at that time interested in doing the things described above. I’d done some good things in that vein in one agency of one department (see Changing the way Dstl thinks, connects and acts), but I was convinced there was an opportunity to improve the way we work with information more broadly in government.
I took up post at the start of July 2017 in the middle of a ‘re-scope’ and had the opportunity to influence the shape of the future programme. It’s a little early to say too much about that as things are still shaking down after the first steering board. But I’m happy we have an ambitious vision for a long-term programme with a broad scope. And I’m now officially the Programme Manager of the Better Information for Better Government programme.
If you want an insight into how I’m approaching this role I think it’s fair to say I still stand by more or less every word I wrote last year in Helping Civil Servants help Citizens which concluded: “The public sector as a whole will not be able to embrace the benefits of the web’s third decade and beyond if it remains shackled to a records approach designed three decades before the web was invented.” I also remain committed to the ideals and principles set out in various blog posts about what it means to be #OfTheGovernment, #LoyalToTheNetwork and part of #OneTeamGov (all credit to some great thinkers, writers and doers: @xcaplin, @jukesie, @jereeve and @kitterati).
I’m very excited about the potential to do good things – to help make the civil service a more accountable, efficient, effective and better place to work – whilst being well aware of the cultural, small-p political, financial and technical challenges. Of one thing I’m certain: I can’t do it alone and I can’t do it with just my team. I need the support, engagement, challenge and help of my network. I’m confident I’ll get it, which makes me a very lucky person indeed.