The Government Digital Service podcast looks at innovation and digital transformation across the public sector. We'll interview interesting people both inside and outside government and cover new developments as they happen.
Government Digital Service Podcast #24:Celebrating Black Excellence in Tech
Hello and welcome to the Government Digital Service podcast. My name is Vanessa Schneider and I'm Senior Channels and Community Manager at GDS. Like previous episodes, this one will also be recorded via Hangouts as we're all working remotely now.
Today's podcast topic is Black Excellence in Tech as part of the GDS celebrations to commemorate Black History Month. The GDS Black Asian Minority Ethnic Staff Network at GDS have planned a calendar of events for the third year running. This year, many of the events are themed around Black excellence. To learn more about this, particularly in the tech sector, I'm joined by 3 guests: Samantha Bryant, Matthew Card and Chuck Iwuagwu. Sam, could you please introduce yourself to our listeners?
Hi, everybody. I am Samantha Bryant, or just Sam, and I am an Associate Delivery Manager on the GovTech Catalyst Team, and also one of the co-founders and co-chairs of the GDS BAME Network.
Awesome. Thank you, Sam. Chucks. Do you mind introducing yourself?
Thanks Vanessa. Hi everyone. My name is Chucks Iwuagwu. I'm Head of Delivery in GOV.UK. And before becoming Head of Delivery on GOV.UK, I was Head of Delivery on the Verify programme.
Great. Thank you, Chucks. Finally Matthew, could you please introduce yourself?
Hi, I'm Matthew Card. I'm a Software Engineer, also a Senior Leadership Team Advisor at the BBC. I also run a motivational platform called Release D Reality, and I've started a Black tech network group as well.
Fantastic. Thank you, Matthew. So from what it sounds like, you all carry out important roles in digital, data and technology areas of your organisations. Would you mind sharing how you've gotten to the positions in your careers that you are in currently? Let's kick off with Sam, maybe.
Ok, so I didn't come into the Civil Service thinking that I would land a tech role. And my initial idea, plan wasn't to be in the Civil Service for ages, but having found a tech role that is a non-techie tech role, I literally like found my niche, and that really encouraged me to stay in the Civil Service for longer. So I moved from the Cabinet Office to Government Digital Service, where I developed and progressed to being an Associate Delivery Manager. And I absolutely love the role. And also because I'm super passionate about D&I [diversity and inclusion], I formed the BAME Network here at GDS.
I would say the most important thing about my role was just like being surrounded by like-minded people. So at GDS, there are a lot of people who are in the tech organisation but not necessarily holding tech roles. And so before I became a DM, I was able to liaise with different managers in GDS, get an understanding for the work that they do, and it really aligns with my natural skill sets. And because I had a natural love for technology anyway, it, those two things aligned. So that's how I became an Associate Delivery Manager.
That's really cool to hear. Do you mind sharing if you've had any experience outside of the public sector, outside of the Civil Service maybe?
I have, but not in a technical role. So I've worked for, I would call them like e-commerce tech companies like Groupon. And prior to that, I did some teaching, like all of my other jobs prior to this were very diverse and not necessarily aligned with what I do right now. But I also did a degree in English, which is really helpful when you're in a tech role, because communication is key, whether we're thinking about how we make our communications accessible, and when when we think about how we communicate with all stakeholders or how we communicate tech things to non-techies.
That's really great to hear,
Government Digital Service Podcast #23: The Data Standards Authority
Hello and welcome to this month's episode of the Government Digital Service Podcast. I'm Alison Pritchard, the Director General at GDS - before taking up appointment at the ONS [Office for National Statistics] as its Deputy National Statistician and Director General for Data Capability.
So I'm delighted that, although I'm moving, I'll still be part of the wider digital and data transformation agenda through ONS’s digital and data services, and our work on data governance boards.
GDS is responsible for the digital transformation of government. As part of that, we’ve set a vision for digital government to be joined up, trusted and responsive to user needs. We're focussing on 5 pillars to get that done, one of which is data - the focus of this podcast.
Government holds considerable volumes of data in a myriad of places. But often this data is inconsistent, incomplete or just unusable. If the government is going to realise the benefits data can bring, we'll need to fix the foundations. And one way of doing this is by focussing on data standards.
GDS is leading a new authority, the Data Standards Authority (DSA), that focuses on making data shareable and accessible across government services. The metadata standards and guidance we published in August were our first deliverable. They cover what information should be recorded when sharing data across government - for example in spreadsheets - to assure it's standardised and easy to use. It's a step in quality assuring how government data is shared. Our focus on standards is one part of the bigger picture around better managing data to assure better policy outcomes and deliver more joined-up services to citizens.
That's all from me. I'll now hand over to Vanessa Schneider, the podcast host, who will be speaking to technical leads from GDS and ONS about how we take this work forward. Enjoy the discussion.
Thank you Alison. As Alison said, I’m Vanessa Schneider, Senior Channels and Community Manager at GDS and your host today. Joining me are Rosalie Marshall and Tomas Sanchez. Rosalie, let's start with you. Can you please introduce yourself and what you do?
I'm Rosalie. I'm the Technical Lead for the Government Data Standards Authority. That involves a lot of recruitment, looking and getting work streams off the ground relating to data standards, and just looking at the data standards landscape in detail.
Thank you, Rosalie. Tomas, could you please introduce yourself?
Yes. So I'm Tomas. I'm the Chief Data Architect for ONS [Office for National Statistics]. And I'm responsible for a bunch of things related to data architecture and data management. So one of those things is the ONS Data Strategy. And amongst the various things that my division in ONS does is best practices around data.
One of the things that we work on is data standardisation. So apart from that, I'm also quite keen, and responsible to talking to various departments across government about all the things that we do with the aim of, you know, being on the same page of best practises and so on. And this is how we got in touch with the Data Standards Authority and other streams in central government.
You mentioned that your area covers data standards in government. What does that entail?
So basically, the whole point of standardisation is to make sure that everybody uses the same things, particularly related to data. And it is, it is good that ONS is trying to do this. But we cannot do this by ourselves. Doing this in a coordinated way through, sort of, central authority like the DSA is very helpful.
While ONS has its own standards, to do what we need to do in ONS, there is, we need to agree amongst the different departments of what it
Government Digital Service Podcast #22: Content Design
Hello and welcome to the Government Digital Service Podcast. My name is Laura Stevens and I'm a Creative Content Producer here at GDS. And for this month's episode, we're talking about Content Design. We're going to find out what it is, how it helps government and where you can learn more. And to tell me the answer to these questions are Amanda Diamond and Ben Hazell. So welcome both to the GDS Podcast. Please could you introduce yourselves and your job roles here at GDS. Amanda first.
Yeah, hi, Laura. I'm Amanda Diamond and I'm Head of GDS Content Design and Head of the Cross-government Content Community. I joined GDS in 2016, so August 2016, in fact. So it is 4 years exactly that I've been at GDS. Last year I went on loan to Acas as their Head of Content to help with their digital transformation. And prior to that I have worked in journalism. So I started out as a journalist. Prior to GDS, I worked at Which?, the consumer association, as their Deputy Editor for Which? magazine, Deputy Editor for their travel magazin, and I helped launch and run their consumer rights website as their Consumer Rights Editor.
Hello, I'm Ben Hazell. I'm a Content Product Lead here at GDS on the GOV.UK programme. I currently work on a team dealing with Coronavirus Public Information Campaign. In the recent past, 5 months ago, I was working on the EU Exit Public Information Campaign. And prior to that, I've been working on the means of publishing and production for content on GOV.UK, looking at workflows and providing the tools and data that help people manage the content on GOV.UK. Prior to that, like Amanda, I was actually in journalism. I worked on a big newspaper website for about 9 years.
So thank you both for introducing yourselves. And I want to start with the first of my questions which is, what is content design?
I don't mind starting, and that is a great question, Laura, and one that I love to answer. So basically and I'll tell you for why, people often confuse content design with different things, mainly comms. They also think that content design is just about the words. And of course, words are really important and content design is you know concerned with words. But it's not the only thing when you're talking about content design.
So content design could be a map, it could be text on a button or a sign. It also includes things like charts or graphs. Content design is about packaging up the right information in a way that makes it easy for people to understand at the point that they most need it.
So for me, I often tell people that content design is at its core: problem solving. And what do I mean about that? Well, I mean that it's about asking the right questions to get to the best solution for your audience. So the best solution for your users. So asking questions like, well, what do our users need to know? What do they need to do? And what evidence? - it's all about the evidence - what evidence do we have to support what we think our users need to know or need to do? Because there’s a big difference between what we think our users need, and what they actually need. And that can often confuse things. And we also ask things like, how can we make the overall experience better for our users? So before Content Designers even put like a single word to a page, what they need to do is like dedicate a lot of time, a lot of effort to understanding the problem in the first place so that we can give people what they need.
Yeah, and I definitely, I agree with all of that. There's no doubt that there's a fair chunk of writing in what we do. But it's also about use of evidence, about research and about iteration, about constant improvement. And I think a lot of it comes back to being humble about understanding that it
Government Digital Service Podcast #21: The DDaT Fast Stream at GDS
Hello and welcome to the Government Digital Service Podcast.
My name is Vanessa Schneider and I am Senior Channels and Community Manager at GDS. Like last month's episode, this one will also be recorded via Hangouts as we're all remote working right now. We're going to be talking about the Digital, Data and Technology Fast Stream experience at GDS. The Digital, Data and Technology Fast Stream, also known as the DDaT Fast Stream for short, is one of 15 different schemes on the Civil Service Fast Stream. Applicants can choose up to 4 scheme preferences when they apply. As a DDaT Fast Streamer you're participating in a four year scheme with both six month long and year-long placements.
GDS is one of the organisations in which Fast Streamers are placed. So we will be hearing from colleagues across GDS with experience of being on the DDaT scheme.
I'm Clare Robinson. I'm a Fast Stream Performance Analyst working on GOV.UK. So that means that I look at the performance data that we have available and try to understand what it is that users are trying to do on GOV.UK, where they're going and what it is we need to do to make their journeys better.
Do you think that the Fast Stream has lived up to what your expectation was before you applied?
What I've really loved about working for government is the fact that people don't have another option, like there is no, there's nobody else that can give you a passport. We have to do it. And that confers on us a really different expectation because we can't ever decide that something is too hard. We have to do the best we can for everybody. And that was probably the thing that really defied my expectations. I came in thinking that it would be all about implementing government policy. And actually some of that is true. But most of it is about providing citizens with things that they need from government. And that's really a different mindset, perhaps, than I really expected to have.
Do you mind going a little bit into detail about the different placements that you've had before arriving at GDS?
So I started as a delivery manager in Bristol working on licencing and permitting services. My role was to make sure that we were delivering those projects on time when we needed to. So I learnt a lot from that, I learnt a lot about agile, so how to manage people in a really productive and sort of continuously improving way. And I learnt a lot about myself, like what I how I work, what I like, what I find more challenging. That led me to my next placement where I went to the Department of Transport to be a User Researcher. And that was really great 'cause I was working on a whole just a massive range of projects.
And then I got to go on a secondment. So this is sort of an interesting feature of the Fast Stream is that you can go out to, often to charities or other partners. But I actually chose to go out to industry 'cause that was like I really wanted to take that opportunity just to see how digital services work from kind of a more commercial side. And so I got to go and be a Co-creationion Consultant at Fujitsu. And the kind of work I was doing that was really interesting because I was running what are called design-thinking workshops, which are very much, very much in some ways follow some of the user-centred principles that we have in government, and in GDS - it's all about starting like what do users need?
It was really interesting to see how a sort of commercial enterprise used user-centred thinking and design-thinking to sort of challenge both themselves, and the customers that they working with to kind of co-create like solutions to complicated business problems. So that was that was really interesting.
We often hear that GDS has
Government Digital Service Podcast #20: Celebrating 2 years of the Local Digital Declaration
Hello and welcome to the Government Digital Service podcast. My name is Laura Stevens and I’m a Creative Content Producer at GDS. And today we’re going to be talking about the Local Digital Declaration. This is a set of guiding principles that help support local authorities, of all sizes and capabilities, to deliver great digital services and platforms that meet the needs of their users. And since it launched 2 years ago, 223 public sector organisations have signed up to it.
And to tell me more about the work the declaration has done is Lisa Jeffrey and May-N Leow. So welcome both to the podcast, please could you tell me who you are, where you work and how you’re involved with the Local Digital Declaration.
So yeah, I'm Lisa Jeffery. I'm a Regional Relationship Manager for Government Digital Service, GDS, I'm based in Leeds. And we're here to help open doors and raise awareness of the support that's available from GDS and to connect people where it's beneficial to do so to support digital transformation. I started working at GDS in May 2018, and that's just a couple months before the Local Digital Declaration launched in July 2018, and I've been involved ever since then really over the last 2 years.
Hi everyone. I’m May-N Leow, and Head of the Local Digital Collaboration Unit. So almost a year now at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government [MHCLG], and yeah, Lisa is a fantastic champion of, of the declaration and we love working with her and GDS.
So I’ve actually seen it from both sides. So when I was working in the council in Southwark, we were co-signatories of the declaration, we also applied for the funds - so I have that perspective of what it feels like to be in the council. So yeah, it’s been really fantastic seeing it from both sides of, of the pond.
So I described the Local Digital Declaration briefly in the introduction. But I’d like to hear a bit more about it. It’s a set of 5 principles - could we talk through them?
So it's, it’s, as you say kind of Laura, it’s, we’ve got 5 principles in the declaration, and it's based around the GDS Service Manual as well as the Technology Code of Practice.
But the key things for us is that obviously we want users and citizens need to be first when you know, designing a system and offering good local services. And the second one is around fixing the plumbing - so we want to fix the hard, complex problems. It's not very sexy but it's completely vital for delivering good services. And then we want to design safe, secure and useful ways of sharing information and data and that's even more critical from COVID and what we've learned in the crisis response. And then the fourth one is to kind of demonstrate leadership in creating the conditions for genuine organisational transformation, making sure that it can actually happen. And then lastly, working in the open whenever we can so as many people can learn from, from each other.
So those are kind of, the 5 principles we have in the declaration.
So the Local Digital Declaration is a joint initiative from GDS and MHCLG. And can you describe for me who is it for?
So it's aimed primarily at local authorities and other public sector organisations that meet the requirements of signing the Local Digital Declaration.
I think the Local Digital Declaration is a, is a great example of what can be achieved if, if we all work together. It's co-written by 45 different organisations, so it's really about shared ambition for the future of public services in the internet age. And it's now been signed by 223 different organisations.
And can you describe some of the councils who have signed it? Sort of, are they big councils, are they small councils, who
Government Digital Service Podcast #19: A spotlight on GOV.UK Notify
Hello and welcome to the Government Digital Service podcast. My name is Laura Stevens and I’m a Creative Content Producer at GDS. And like last month’s episode, this one will also be recorded via Hangouts as we’re all remote working now.
So today we’re going to be talking about GOV.UK Notify. This is the government’s messaging tool which allows teams across the public sector to send out text messages, letters and emails to their users - cheaply and easily.
It sent its first notification in May 2016, and this month GOV.UK Notify reached a milestone and has sent out one billion messages.
Notify gets critical information to people that need it. It’s used by local councils, health organisations, central government departments, fire services and many other public sector bodies. And it’s used for a diverse range of services including flood alerts, blue badge notifications, doctor appointment reminders and informing prison wardens of their rotas, to name a few.
So to tell me more is Pete Herlihy, so please could you introduce yourself, what you do here at GDS and your role on Notify.
Yes, I can Laura. So yeah, I’m Pete, I work on the Notify Team, I help them out. I’m a Product Manager. I’ve been at GDS since the beginning, I haven’t, I haven’t made parole just yet.
I’ve worked a lot on a number of platforms in GDS, so publishing platform, GOV.UK, register to vote, petitions and more recently, when I say more recently, my, my latest gig is on Notify, which we’ve been doing now for just over 4 years. And we started with literally 2 people and we’re now 11, and yeah my role on that is just to help and support that team to deliver what is GOV.UK Notify.
And why was Notify set up 4 years ago?
Well there’s a story there. So Notify was one of the solutions that came out of something called the ‘Enabling Strategy’, which was a piece of work GDS did. The, the reality behind that piece of work was we needed to figure out as an organisation what we could do to help the rest of government do what they do.
And so there was a bunch of stuff going on, we looked at various different kind of common problems across government that we wanted to solve, and, and that was kind of where the whole Government as a Platform programme emerged during that time. And one of the problems we wanted to solve was keeping people informed.
And we, we learned very quickly that we probably didn’t need a status tracking application, but what we needed was a notifications platform. And the reckon was, which we did soon validate very quickly, was that if we could kind of just tell people what we knew as soon as we knew it, we didn’t have to wait for them to get anxious enough to jump on a website and look and you know, sign in and see where the thing was at. So it might have saved, or it would have solved our problems with regards to you know the cost of running contact centres and all that avoidable contact, but it wouldn’t really have helped our citizens or end users as much. And so we, we fairly early on validated that and pivoted from a status tracking application to a notifications application.
And can you talk about some of the service teams that use it, like who uses it and what do they use it for?
Well we have now, what’s the number, around 2 and a half thousand service teams now using it, which is a lot. I think - when we started, someone, there was an external consultancy that did a little bit of work for us and they thought there might be 80 services that would use it. And, we were like OK cool, that’s a good number to aim at. But, it’s a completely different profile actually from what we’ve envisaged.
We thought at the start they’ll be a bunch of really big service
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Easy listen and informative
The guests always have really interesting experiences to share, and this is a great way to find out what innovative work is happening in the UK government.