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Government Digital Service

December 8, 2011

By Martha Lane Fox

Launch - Government Digital ServiceThis morning I have been at the launch of the ‘Government Digital Service‘, the official beginning of the new team, formed under Mike Bracken to deliver on recommendations in the ‘Digital by Default’ report we wrote last year.  I am still reeling from the energy, excitement and talent that is now being deployed to make public sector services better.

There were some short presentations and speeches from Francis Maude and Ian Watmore, then I did a ten min recap of why I believe this new team and work is so vital.

It’s pretty simple for me. The government in the UK has the opportunity right now to not only create a world class tech team that builds extraordinary digital talent and services but also to transform the lives of millions of people by encouraging them online.

For the most socially excluded people in the UK, the internet is a vital tool. Government is also one of the key relationships in their lives, so brilliant services can and should go hand in hand.  There should be the same focus and energy on making customer friendly services as there is at Apple or Google or Facebook.

I want the UK to be a place that has the whole world admiring the way the government has used the internet. Yes we have tech city, yes we have silicon roundabout and yes we have incredible open data – let’s not stop there, but instead help this new team to shape in a dramatically different way how citizens interact with the state. I want this team to be a place that our best UK talent wants to work – turning down jobs abroad, or at a bank, or at Google so they can work in the public sector.

It already happening and this is only day one. Long may it continue.

Looking at the building is a great starting point from which to observe the real change that is happening. Its taken a huge amount of work by the team, but they are now located in one open plan and creative space, with things on the walls and people talking to each other and smiling, which is scarily rare in the world of government departments.

Come and visit and read mike’s blog about what they are up to.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. William permalink
    December 9, 2011 8:53 am

    I think I understand this better now, thanks Brian. I must say when I got made redundant in 1990 I was so angry about this (with a vitriolic, personally directed anger I am reluctant to recall) it fuelled me for six years or so. I got over it when my new company took over the firm that had made us redundant. That works, but isn’t really applicable in this case. In any event, +1 to your hope that all those so affected can reach the state you now have.

  2. December 9, 2011 8:51 am

    i am sorry that you and anyone had such a difficult experience during the transition and i wish you every luck for the future.

  3. William permalink
    December 8, 2011 7:35 pm

    Alex – that’s an unhappy story and sounds like unfortunate timing. Perhaps this explains the critical – even bitter – tone to your comments on GDS, which I found perplexing and quite in contrast to my experience of the day. What can one say? Things in government have taken an inspiring turn for the better, but this has clearly been hard on you. And the future holds a great deal more disruptive change which will be hard on a lot more people. So I guess it’s important to be reminded of that. Anyway I hope you find a way back into doing what you’re good at and enjoy.

    • December 8, 2011 9:15 pm

      William… I think I can partially understand where Alex is coming from. There was a group of people that fought quite hard to get us even partway down the road that GDS has been able to cover. The difference between our efforts and today is change of Government and Ministerial support. When I launched Directgov | innovate and helped found DotGovLabs, the intention was always to take an open source route and UCD route to digital service product design. We made some early headway.

      When the new team came along (and I’d already left by then) it had the outward appearance of having skipped over the fact that Alpha had some lineage that it had forgotten about – and people like Alex and myself and the work we’d done were conveniently forgotten – even though it was in many ways the predecessor of Alpha and GDS.

      And there is no escaping that perhaps some of it is sour grapes. We’d have loved to have had the remit the team has been given today. And indeed, we’d probably love to have been among the people who participated today – because we were equally as proud of the fact that we were being disruptive at a time when it wasn’t being supported.

      In any case, having been invited to today’s event as an afterthought, I intend to draw a line under it all and support – if from a distance – the new team’s good work. I hope Alex is able to find the ability to this as well.

  4. Alex Coley permalink
    December 8, 2011 5:58 pm

    I actually turned down a job at an American bank to work at Directgov in 2009. Within four months of your Digital review I was redundant and my whole team were fighting for their jobs while a whole new team was brought in without any competition. So, objective achieved!

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