In praise of ‘hack’ days

I had the good fortune of being present this weekend (26/3/11) at the ‘show and tell’ of the Rewired State ran ‘Hack the government’ day #nhtg11.

Before I say more it might be worth making clear what a hack day is.

It is not something naughty or dangerous like trying to damage or deface a website; or breaking into a secure network.

No, the hack days I have been to over the last couple of years have been totally legit. Generally an organisation such as DCMS (Mark O’Neil) or UKOnline (Helen Milner) have provided access to existing data to a group of freelance developers.

The developers often have a day (usually at the weekend) to have a go at finding new uses for the data or mixing it (mashing) with other sources to create new tools or applications.

At the end of the day there is a ‘show and tell’ of what they have managed to produced.

Steph Gray (Helpful Technology) has already summarised the Rewired State event to which I can add a few personal observations.

Apart from the obvious credit due to the organisers and the developers don’t forget the colleagues from government and other organisations who gave up their Saturday evening to see the results. For example Julia Chandler from Dfid @juliac2, Ingrid Khoehler from LG Improvement and Development group @ingridk, or Sarah Baskerville @baskers from Dft.

So why do developers give up their time to do this?

Well there is an element of fun and challenge though of course it would be nice if they can develop a nice business opportunity as some – see Emma Mulqueeny on this issue; or create an application that is widely used: the Govspark application on government sites was created at a Young Rewired State event by Issy Long.

Ok so why did I and others go to the show and tell? Are we just bonkers? No not really. These are great events that leave me in awe of the cleverness of developers; their inventiveness; knowledge of emerging technologies etc. They are also often very funny, fast paced and mind boggling.

The potential and ideas opened up by such events are truly eye-opening.

So if you hear about a hack event and are not sure about going or have been thinking about offering to host one – perhaps you might now be interested. It will certainly make you look at your digital content in a new way and surely that is a good thing?





Are you in the loop? The Govloop that is…

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Steve Ressler the driving force behind Govloop  @govloop

Steve is a very engaging and talkative guy who was over from the US for a flying visit.

I came across Govloop some time ago when Julia Chandler @juliac2 who had been over in America for a conference mentioned it.

So what is Govloop?

Well unlike Fight Club you can definitely talk about it and spread the word.

Steve said that he had it idea of setting it up after having working in different parts of the US govt structure – including an audit body.

Govloop has a number of full time employees who aim to pull together the public sector digital community in the US. They generate some revenue by running various digital events.

Their platform is chock-full of resources and there is a continual stream of content and discussion.

For example there is a great short guide for project management.

But don’t take my word for it – have a look for yourselves and see what you think…


(Hopefully if I have got any of this wrong Steve will let me know.)



Messages in a bottle?

How many of our messages are sent out in a bottle?

We write our message stick it in a container and throw it out onto the sea of the internet.

At some point the bottle knocks up against some foriegn shore, gets picked up and someone reads the message.

What happens if it landed on the wrong shore? Or it arrives on a desert island? The bottle leaks and the message gets blurred? Or the bottle breaks?

Damm, bit of a shame really.

What if we could go around and find all our bottles and see where they landed, track back and see how they got there?

What if we could attach a GPS to the bottle and see when it was going off track. 

Next time we might not even bother throwing out the bottle we might get in a rowing boat and hand deliver the message.

So what do I want to be a bottle thrower or a hand deliverer?





What is the value of our content? Or ‘show me the money’

I have been pondering what would happen to our digital content if I said to colleagues:

‘what would you do differently if you got a pound for every time your report was downloaded; someone visited the landing page, or said they had followed one of your’ recommendations?

As soon as I have said this to a couple of colleagues they have said ‘ooh that’s a nice idea’ though I am not sure if they are referring to the money or the principle itself?

However it does raise an interesting question – what would we do differently?

Start thinking about goals and objectives; create calls to action, monitor results etc?

If that is the case why don’t we do it now? Can we? When do we start?

So my follow up thought was – well what actually is the value of our content and if we could work it out could we put a value on each download or visit to a landing page?

I need to have a think about this but I have a feeling I can do something along the lines of:

A) Cost of producting a report

B) Divided by:

number of downloads

number of page views

mentions on social media e.g. Twitter

C) Gives an ROI of X

So does this mean we could create goals in Google Analytics and then give them a value?

I am thinking aloud here but that’s an interesting thought?









Blogs that I have recommended for inclusion on Govloop

I was kindly asked by Govloop if I could recommend any blogs for inclusion on their network.

These were the ones that immediately came to mind.

Its by no means definitive and not meant to reflect negatively on anyone else.

Steph Gray – Helpful technology – essential –

Dave Briggs – Davepress – essential –

Carl Haggerty – Carl’s Notepad –

Stefan at DWP – Public Strategist –

Paul Clarke – Honesty Real –

Neil Williams – Mission Creep –



Creating personas for public sector Performance Measurement specialists

We have been trying to recruit some users to test some rejigged content for our website

The audience we are looking to research are interested in Performance Measurement.

We chose this group because, as well as being a specialism in its own right,  it can be cross-cutting discipline and of course it is also a core NAO audience.

The usability supplier asked – so what kind of people are these so that we know who to recruit?

In lieu of any better ideas – I have asked the conference organiser of the NAO Performance Measurement conference what kind of personas they would target.

Also one of my colleagues who is organising this conference is digging out some background.

In the meantime follow a great tip from @andyheadworth at Sirona Consulting I carried out a search on Linkedin using the search string below. ‘performance measurement’ ‘public sector’

Very usefully it identified a number of people in this specialism.

I looked at their profiles and extracted:

  • skill sets e.g. Customer Satisfaction measurement
  • typical quaifications
  • professional memberships e.g. CIMA
  • membership of other Linkedin groups such as ‘Lean systems thinking in the Public Sector UK’

I cut and pasted these into an email and sent them over to the usability supplier which seemed to be appreciated. 

Hopefully we can build on this and with more information create some ‘proper’ personas – but at least its a start.