This is #MyOneTeamGov
In October 2017 I left Local Government after nearly 21 years building my career in Bristol City Council.
I loved working for the council — Bristol was my home town, I was born and brought up there, and I’d chosen to move back after six years away at university. Working for the council wasn’t my Plan A… although it turned out that my PhD in International Conflict Management and experience as a community mediator were valuable as a frontline Housing Officer and later on when negotiating the challenges of digitally enabled service transformation with people who feared for their jobs.
So, I’d grown over the years in a succession of roles, moving from Housing into Housing IT Support, setting up the first Intranet in the Housing Services department in 1999 and moving into Corporate IT Strategy in 2001. When I got the opportunity to help the new Director of Transformation create an Enterprise Architecture service in 2009 I grabbed it with both hands. By 2012 I was persuading colleagues that this new Government Digital Service seemed to have some good ideas, and that agile digital ways of doing things were better than our traditional programmes, projects and “Big IT”… and that led eventually to my role as Chief Digital Officer in 2016.
We did some amazing work in Bristol, genuinely transforming services based on user need, ripping out rigid legacy systems and replacing them with cloud hosted digital technologies. And so much of our success was based on the network of colleagues across the country that were also breaking new ground and sharing their experiences — successes and failures. The LocalGov Digital practitioner network gave me a new home to go to whenever I wanted to share my frustrations, anxieties and of course my elation when it went well.
But all things must come to pass, and in 2016–17 it became increasingly obvious that Bristol City Council was no longer the organisation I had loved for so long and I made the difficult decision to leave.
Since then I’ve been happy to work with some amazing folks in Perform Green (many of whom are ex-Defra and related agencies, sharing public service values) and had some amazing clients (including Cate Mclaurin at Acas/Hackney, Rob Miller at Hackney, Nicola Yates at FCC, Paul Maltby and Linda O’Halloran at MHCLG) but I have missed the community of colleagues I had in the council.
I spotted the emergence of One Team Gov through the people I follow on Twitter… many of whom I’d originally met through LocalGov Digital, at LocalGovCamp or GovCamp. This new network, with it’s inclusive membership and openness to anyone who shared their values, offered me a way to stay connected to people working in government. So when Gemma Phelan started to canvas support for a One Team Gov West meetup I was immediately up for it.
Lunchtime meetups in Bristol ensued, and it’s been a real pleasure to meet new people from the Defra family, Bristol Uni, some of my old team from the council, and several other digital suppliers in the region. I’ve even made it to one of the Westminster breakfasts when I was up working with MHCLG. Everyone in the meetups has been welcoming, interested to hear all the voices in the room, and open to sharing challenges and concerns — trusting the group to keep confidences.
In my career within Local Government I saw on many occasions a “them and us” attitude to contractors and suppliers. Now, I’d be the first to challenge those suppliers who have maintained dominant positions in the local government market on the back of poorly designed pre-internet age products, and are still intent on milking their cash cows rather than innovating to meet user needs more effectively at lower cost. But, I have also challenged my teams over the years to examine the easy prejudices we fall into about “profit motives” and the idea that somehow people directly employed by councils (or the Civil Service) are automatically more altruistic and less motivated by money. After all, I don’t think I ever met someone working for no salary…
I’ve worked with, and now believe I am part of, companies that have been founded by people who are inspired by public service values and an ethos of finding the best ways to meet people’s needs. Founders and Directors of these companies genuinely want to create products and provide services that are valuable to government and citizens, at a price that sustains them and enables them to grow — making profit, but also returning value to stakeholders beyond shareholders. These companies and the people who work for them can be trusted to hold to ethical positions, so that their participation in communities like OneTeamGov and LocalGov Digital is genuinely about sharing in the values of the network and advancing the cause.
So OneTeamGov has been a great addition to the community I look to for moral support, ideas, and a constant reminder of the passionate public service people who are doing their best to make a difference. If that sounds like something you are looking for too, follow OneTeamGov on Twitter, read some of the other great blogs about OneTeamGov, and find your nearest meetup on the OneTeamGov website