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Why you should talk to angry people

I said to someone a while ago, as I raised my voice, ‘I don’t normally get angry’ which caused a lot of amusement to the person standing next to me.

Actually I get angry all the time usually when I am trying to book something online or buy a ticket because of a clunky system or being forced to register or provide date of birth. I could quickly list here the organisations that make me most angry. I won’t as that’s not fair.

However it did make me think a bit more about angry people and why they are valuable and should not be avoided.

Angry people care. They might sometimes care about the wrong think but at least they care.

Have a quick think about the people you know who strike you as being angry, it could be friends or people you work with. Now have a think about what they care about.

It could be, as I saw at the weekend, angry Arsenal supporters as they got beaten by Watford. Or it could be poor customer service. A rubbish website. Money being wasted gold plating a service; or providing a service no one uses. Building something without user testing.

Now I am not saying we should all be like David Banner and turn into the Incredible Hulk. However being angry might not be a bad thing and more particulary perhaps we should seek out the angry people? They care and probably have some ideas about how to fix what annoys them.

So switch on your ‘angry radar’ and see what you can make better.

Is openess a movement as big as environmentalism?

I went to a fascinating event last night Open Knowledge London #oklondon at Newspeak House organised by Rufus Pollock.

If you are not familiar with Rufus he was the found force behind the Open Knowledge Foundation and a former member of the Transparency Strategy Board.

Rufus has stepped down from day to day involvement in the Foundation but is still keen to pursue the theme of openess.

His message for the evening was that many people are working on aspects of openess and the benefits that they bring such as a more healthy, more transparent, more accountable society. However often such groups do not see themeselves as part of a wider movement based around opening up information/knowledge.

There is the work around opendata; or open access journals; openess around medical trials; opening up information in museums. There are many other examples.

A number of speakers, all who were fascinating, showed some of the variety of openess projects that exist already. This was to reinforce the argument that openess could and should be a movement as big as environmentalism.

In short we should all stand together around the banner of openess.

Want to know more or be involved? Contact Rufus @rufuspollock or come along to the next meeting on 13 April at Newspeak House.

Who do I support and why?

In my own extremely modest way I give little bits of money regularly to a few organisations that I think are important – this is separate from one-off more spontaneous donations.

It’s an interesting illustration of where I am willing to put my money which might encourage a few others to chip in as well – maybe as your New Year’s resolution?

So in no particular order the list is:

The Open Knowledge Foundation – I have done this for a number of years to help run their servers once I realised the importance of their work.

Wikimedia Foundation – roughly for 18 months or so. Well I do use their site a lot.

The Open Rights Group – I have been a member for several years because I am interested in privacy, net neutrality and other issues.

Today I have just started giving money to Mozilla who create and run Firefox. I have used Firefox for such a long time it seemed worth helping out and made me think of creating this list.

I also give to Shelter who probably need no introduction but do great work providing help to the homeless.

The Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture was founded by the late Helen Bamber who was one of the first people into Belsen concentration camp as a very young nurse. Hearing her speak about this many years ago make me want to support their great work with truamatised victims.

Finally Medecins Sans Frontieres who I came across by my love of France as they were founded by Bernard Kouchner in 1971 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. MSF are totally independent and have no religious, political or economic ties. They are often the first into regions in crisis and the last to leave. Their doctors and nurses often put their lives at risk.

So that is my list. It’s not quite Bill Gates but every little helps…

Who are the real ‘digital leaders’?

I see a number of groups these days called ‘digital leaders’ which made me reflect on:

who/what is a digital leader?

how many are there; is there a finite number?

what elements constitute this kind of leadership?

Some common features of leadership are:

leading from the front and setting an example

taking a calculated risk

being willing to make mistakes, learn and move on

be different from the crowd

If there are a large group of people now called digital leaders can/do all these attributes apply to them? Are some people now digital leaders due to being in a post called digital leader?

Are we looking in the wrong place for our digital leaders?

What about the first people who blogged about what they do in the public sector without explicit permission that they could do?

Or the pioneers who set up the social media channels at their own risk; channels that are now taken a core communication tools?

How about the people who give up their weekends or evenings to attend Meetups to talk about digital issues; or go to events such as the various unconferences or camps.

What about the people who take the initiative to set up and run such events which eats deeply into their personal lives?

Or the person who championed the users or open data long before it became fashionable?

Surely these are the people showing true digital leadership? They live these values every day and show/ed their commitment by doing what they say and making significant personal sacrifices.

What do you think?

I want the ‘shiny’

I have always loved the Monty Python sketch in the operating theatre where one of the surgeons says ‘I want the machine that goes ping’. He is only happy once it is in the corner of the room pinging away.

In the digital world the same phrase could be ‘I want the shiny’.

What is the ‘shiny’?

The shiny is the web page/site/application that is relatively quick to build and not too expensive that puts a nice and no doubt improved skin on an existing service.

The typical sequence is to choose an ‘easy’ target of a poorly functioning service; run an Agile project; do lots of user workshops; spin up some web pages; Alpha; Beta etc. The end result is a nice feature that users like and generates some good feedback. Cue some pats on the back; presentations and repeat. Plus there is a new shiny.

So what’s the problem?

Exactly, what was the real problem? Was it the skin that was changed; or the underlying infrastructure/process? Was anything done about the later? Probably not. Why not? Well that is a bit more of a challenge involving often some complicated moving parts; multiple organisations and legacy systems. Who wants to work on a project that will clearly take many months or years; why not go for the ‘shiny’ quick win, take the money and run.

An interesting conflict arises when an organisation actually wants to look at the deeper longer term problems but externally it is put under pressure to do the shiny.

So if you are working on a digital project you might want to ask yourself ‘am working on a shiny? Or if you are a commissioner ‘am I asking for a shiny’? Go on be honest….

Accountability Hack #AccHack15 – lessons learnt

What did we learn from Accountability Hack 2015?

That bad weather and broken trains will not stop determined developers coming to a great event.

That the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee wants much better quality public sector data – watch her introduction to the event.

That data quality is still a massive issue – read my separate Medium post.

That user research is important, APIs can always be improved, great ideas come from sharing and challenging each other; and developers have a great sense of humour – read our Storify.

That teams want to come back next year. Cheers





Nice data, shame about the quality

I have been known to attend one or two hack events. What is the most common feature mentioned? Of course it is data quality.

I was at one event a couple of years ago where one of the developers’ presentation was purely about the quality of the data supplied. Our friend Pareto would probably say that 80% of effort is cleaning up data, 20% is building something.

The same happened at Accountability Hack 21–22 November:


This is where I can hear my high horse trotting around the stable, pawing the ground, getting ready to be saddled up.

Clearly there are some transitory problems. Very few organisations are looking at processes involving data from end to end and considering wider data consumers as part of their data ecosystem.

Often this is because data is being generated as the by product of delivering services (‘exhaust fumes’), not delivering transparency or data. Clearly this needs to change.

If these processes change will this solve everything? Probably not. The whole point about hack events and external consumers needs is that often they are about being innovative and people wanting to do things differently. Unless there is a data crystal ball lying around this will always throw up challenges to the way data is presented.

However maybe some of these issues can be mitigated?

How about an internal data manifesto?

Data is our biggest asset

We are a data driven organisation/society

All our data is valuable

We should value our data

It is not our data as we hold it in trust for others

We are the custodians of our data for future generations

We must know how society wants to use the data we generate

Data is at the heart of what we do, how we operate and how we benefit society

Vanity thy name is publisher

Has anyone ever fixed the problem of vanity publishing?

I have come up with a couple of ideas.

There are some fairly obvious ones such as asking:

  • what are your success criteria?
  • how are you benchmarking?
  • what comms objective are you meeting?
  • what’s the business case?

Of course this does not tend to help with people who have got it fixed in their head that they must have an X or a Y.

There is another more punitive approach which I call the Refund response.

So you spend a lot of time building something which it turns out hardly ever gets used. What do you do? Ask for a refund.

How does that work?

I think as follows — work out how much time was spent on the project. Say a week or two weeks. Go back to the commissioner and say ‘ok we need that time back so we cannot do any more work for you for the next two weeks as we need a refund on the time we spent on your last project’.

I am looking forward to pilotting this very soon. Enough said.

People before personas?

I went to a great Meet-up last week organised by @rosebotanic. It is part of a series that Rose has set up called People before Pixels

This particular event was a workshop organised around the theme of ‘How to make personas in the public sector?’

There were about 40 people there to contribute their views and knowledge about personas.

Personas workshop

Rose did a nice overview described the standard view of personas. We divided up into tables and were given a persona template to complete.

Personas template

We were then given an envelope with quantitative information from which to create a persona. This is where it got interesting. We only had skeleton information and therefore had to make a fair number of ‘semi-educated’ guesses. After this we had an envelope of qualitative information. So again more ‘guesses’.

This is what we ended up with plus a pretzel:

Personas final

The point of all this was to then have a debate about the value of personas. This led to lively discussion which was very productive.

Without wishing to generalise there was agreement that personas are very useful at the start of a project to generate a common view of which users we are talking about and their priorities. They have great value for team members who have not really thought about users before. They create a hook to start productive discussions.

Do personas though have a longer term value on a project once it is underway? There were more divergent opinions on this: some did keep their personas and refreshed them on a regular basis. A more common view was that they clearly are artificial constructs (which can be dangerous sometimes) which should then be superseded by more detailed work around more tight user groups of real people. In effect people before personas.

The whole meet up was excellent and a great format to get people talking and thinking. Here are Rose’s slides

If you are interested the GDS service design manual does not seem to mention personas but talks more about prototypes which for them could be appropriate in the context of what they are trying to achieve. Here is some US guidance and of course Wikipedia.