Very unusually, I was in London for pretty much the full working week attending and presenting at various different events that I’d been invited to. As such I’ve split out some of the write ups of the specific events into #daynotes to avoid it being too massive — also I’ve had a few people mention to me this week that they enjoy the weeknotes which is nice to hear.
I was surrounded by more different types of personalities than I’m used to in one go this week from sales people, to journalists to outgoing and enthusiastic public servants, I’ve never felt more INTJ.
London is a place of extremes and whilst it has some amazing qualities I was pleased to be back in the North East by Friday evening. I wrote the first part of this as I sat on the floor of a jam packed train to Newcastle for three and a half hours.
Whilst a lot of that sounds a little negative, the week was actually incredibly positive. There are some amazing things happening at the minute which are gathering real momentum really and I’m pleased to be playing a (very small) part in it.
Some good themes and questions came out over the course of the week, I’ll pick three.
- Details in language are important — depending on their context people may use words interchangeably — like information/data/evidence/statistics/analysis.
2. People are finding it too hard to answer easy questions.
3. Connections are outcomes.
I’ve made some great connections this week and I haven’t worked out all the questions I have yet.
Week in brief
I said goodbye to the kids and headed for the station to meet Stephen who leads a lot of the technology side of the team. Stephen updated me on a few things and we had a good chat on the way to London.
We headed to Caxton House first. I’d been due to meet Kit and Stephen was meeting Phil B from Kit’s team. It ended up that we all met together and Luke also joined us . We headed across the road to meet.
Phil and Luke asked me a load of questions about my team and what we’ve been up to. We talked about areas we could collaborate. Luke is going to speak to Sree about our work sequential pattern analysis (state based sequences and lead lag dynamics). Stephen and Phil talked about AWS.
Kit and I then headed off for our original chat. I’d asked Kit‘s advice on something and she was helpful and supportive -as always. It was nice to catch up.
Stephen and I headed for the hotel via cable car. I FaceTimed the kids -my daughter asked what I did for a job as they’d been talking about that stuff at school. I then met Stephen for some food and a few drinks and we ended up meeting the organisers of tomorrow’s event in the hotel bar. We were there until quite late.
Before lunch I made a couple of phone calls. I spoke to Max (program manager for Data Science) about a meeting that was taking place that afternoon to do with 17/18 planning. There had been a flurry of discussions about resources so we caught up to talk about that.
I phoned Stuart. Loads of activity around the move to private beta for Churchill plus a lot of other peripheral discussions. We spoke about the work to configure the content delivery network and production virtual machines plus the IT health check, which is dependent on the end to end configuration being complete. We also spoke about some comms stuff and keeping the private beta users fully up to date. We have a bit of planned leave in and around the move so Stuart and I are speaking frequently.
Before we went for lunch someone tried to sell Stephen and I a 360º wifi enabled, motion sensor, security system. After lunch I spoke with someone about software testing then headed to the start of the afternoon sessions which began with some sessions by the sponsors.
During the afternoon Stephen and I bumped into Ben D (GDS data scientist) who was about to present the session with Philippa P (GDS product owner). Ben and I first met a couple of years ago when he was working for HMRC and was talking about some work he’d done at an event. I took too much of his time up asking questions. Ben came up to Newcastle in the very early days of me setting up the hub and met the team. He’s always been really helpful, is really enthusiastic and a great connection-maker.
Ben introduced me to Philippa who joined the team in March. This was great! One of the things in my head at the minute is the question of what it means to be a ‘data product owner’.
I need to follow up with Philippa I’m hoping she will be able to help me learn from her experiences.
During the afternoon sessions Becky (product owner for Manhattan) messaged me as something had cropped up and she wanted my view by a certain time. I figured I could fit a call in before one of the afternoon sessions. Becky had a choice to make about an upcoming board meeting where Manhattan would be discussed. It was a tricky decision but Becky made the right call.
Stephen and I spoke to the people at the AWS stand at the end of the day and then Charlie chaperoned me safely back across London in the rain and we had a good chat about strategy. I checked into a different hotel which would be my base for the rest of the week and FaceTimed the kids.
There’d been more emails and unexpected surprises for 17/18 planning which stemmed from the meeting I missed in the afternoon, this time around priorities and scope. There is a moral to this story somewhere.
I got in touch with Ash (heads up the software development team in Data and Analytics) and arranged to talk to him the following morning to get his views. I had a quick chat with Charlie about it all.
The event wasn’t until later so I worked in the hotel at the start of the day, clearing some emails. I tried to phone Corinne (Head of Data and Analytics Live Services) to get her views but couldn’t get in touch — I think because she was at the DWP Digital Leaders event in Leeds. I was sorry to miss the event but I’d agreed with Nick I’d present at his group if I could and since I was down in London anyway this made most sense. Ash phoned and we talked through the questions on priorities and scope. The issue was largely a question of risk. Ash and I were in agreement about the best course of action.
I decided to walk to Clerkenwell for the event. I usually keep my visits to London down to one day, travel underground, pop up where I need to be and then get the hell out of dodge.
I left the hotel and walked for about ten minutes before I realised I was going in completely the wrong direction but still arrived in plenty of time.
I wasn’t really sure what I’d been asked to present at and this was only the third meeting of the group so I was interested to see what it was all about. I’ve been asked to speak about the Churchill quite a bit recently from a number of different perspectives today’s angle was the open data one.
I felt it went down really well. There was a good level of enthusiasm and an acceptance of the challenges of design and scope .The ‘can I have one’ reaction from Lucy (Open Data lead at Devon County Council) has been a reassuring theme. I also got some questions about standards, linking up and collaboration across government. Blanca (interaction designer at GDS) asked some insightful questions about UX/UI challenges. Michael from Ordnance Survey asked about our plans for geographical dispersion data, I talked briefly about Manhattan and how the ecosystem of applications will grow.
I need to follow up with
- Blanca on interaction design in general and some specifics on Churchill.
- Stephen (a PhD candidate from Open Data Institute) on search engines and optimisation for data.
- Michael and Tony (from Ordnance Survey) about geospatial stuff.
- Matt (product owner of the ONS website) about customer my data and APIs.
- Bill (from Swirrl) for a general chat.
I got back to to the hotel relatively late and after I’d FaceTimed home I spoke to Charlie. He’d got back from the Leeds event and we needed to sift some applications and compare notes with Billy (who leads the Sheffield Hub). I then blitzed a load of emails and checked messages — including Stuart (product owner for Churchill) letting me know he could no longer travel to London for our joint presentation on Friday so I would be flying solo.
Even later on I got a message from Alan (Data Visualisation Editor at The Financial Times) saying I was welcome to join him for drinks if I was free the following evening.
A call had been arranged to talk about the 17/18 plans and the question of priorities and scope. I was unable to join due to the unconference so called Corinne on the walk to Haymarket — no answer so left a message.
I registered and grabbed a drink. A combination of the I in INTJ and overall shyness means I very rarely instigate conversations at these sort of events. For some reason this morning I decided to. The guy I spoke to turned out to work in the Data Science space and we had a good conversation about the interface between people and data. Fiona (Head of User Research at DWP) then arrived. We had a natter and she introduced me to Sophie. Fiona and I worked together on a customer segmentation project a few years age that was a lot of fun.
Corinne rang me back and we had a very quick call about risks and then I was into the start of the event. I sat next to Lucy who I’d met the day before and had a chat ahead of Kit introducing the event.
I’d been encouraged to pitch by Kit. I welcomed the encouragement since at an event aimed at bringing together together policymakers, service designers, digital professionals and cross-sector experts, I wanted to make sure data was part of the conversation. So despite a few nerves I pitched a session to discuss data -Talk Data to Me- a title shamelessly borrowed from a webinar series.
My initial reflection on the session was that it was a good discussion and I was pleased that a decent number of people attended! I felt like I wanted more of an outcome — probably out of a sense of responsibility for those attending the session. I got good feedback and as was pointed out to me later in the day, the discussion, the connections and the awareness are all positive outcomes. For my first unconference pitch I was reasonably pleased.
During the morning breaks and at lunch I chatted with a few people, I bumped into Dawn from GDS on my way to the first session. Dawn has asked if I’ll present at a GDS Community of Interest event and collared me to reminded me that I hadn’t responded. I did an impromptu Churchill/Greyhound demo to someone, I spoke with Daniel about coming to visit us as he is based in Newcastle, met Cath who is lovely and had to make a couple of phone calls to Stuart (about nailing some finer details for Churchill private beta) and Corinne (about the meeting I’d missed, we discussed and agreed how to handle the scope questions and the risk by incorporating decision points into the 17/18 plans — a good outcome).
I caught up with Jim (Delivery Director for the joint DWP/DH Work & Health Unit) after one of the sessions session for a quick chat about our work on developing products and how we dovetailed with the analytical community in the department.
During the afternoon breaks I bumped into Ben (Head of User Centred Design in DWP) in the break whom I haven’t seen for ages. Ben is leaving DWP over the summer so it was nice to catch up.
I’m on lookout the for an interaction designer. Ben had spoken to Paul (Director of Data and Analytics) in Leeds the day before and we spoke about resourcing in the context of 17/18 plans. Ben was complementary of the work in my team and what we have achieved within our context but recognised that we can take it to the next level with the right skills in the right places.
I’d seen a few comments on Twitter throughout the day like the one from Amanda
The whole day and the final session in particular definitely illustrated the different personality types.
Kit rounded off the day with a bit of a call to action and then people convened in the pub.
I had a chat with Fiona and met some more ‘Twitter folk’ — I had a good chat with Paul (a front end developer in DWP) who had built the OneTeamGov website. We spoke about tools and stoicism -and then football. Paul is a Manchester United fan and I was reminded about this — boooooo.
I thanked Kit and Lorena for their support on the day and spun past the hotel to drop my bag off and headed to Southwark to catch up with Alan. I’ve spoken previously about how supportive Alan has been and it was good to catch up. I met John (a data visualisation journalist), Chelsea (a social media journalist) and a few others. It was interesting being a random civil servant in a bar full of journalists. I’m a big fan of John’s work (and as it turns out Chelsea’s too). It was good to hear that John is a Newcastle United fan.
Government Statistical Service Presentation and Dissemination Symposium. I’ve outlined my thoughts/experiences of the event in the #daynotes here — although I only attended half of the event. Below is the stuff the happened in between.
I packed my bags and headed to Victoria Street and collected my badge, it was lovely to see Tegwen (GSS Good Practice Team) and Neil (the departing Head of DWP Statistical Services) on the way in.
The theme of the day was communication with impact, I’d been asked to talk about Churchill. I sat at the back with Matt, Rob and Catherine. I hadn’t seen Rob since the Graphical Web Conference in November, it was good to catch up briefly.
After my session I chatted with Darren B (Open Data at ONS). We spoke about the challenges of ‘sorting out data’.
I need to follow up with Darren.
I also caught up with Hiren (from BEIS), Mark (a statto at DWP) and Mike who was my first ever boss in DWP. I haven’t seen Mike for ages so it was good to see him. I’d decided in the morning that I was going to leave the event at lunchtime to get back home at a reasonable time since I’d been away from all week so I hunted Rob down, who was with Darren W, to say goodbye before I dashed to the station.
On the journey back I got a message from Catherine to say that DWP had won a presentation and dissemination award for our work on Churchill, Stat-Xplore, our interactive stats visualisation dashboards and gov.uk. A real cross team effort.
I made it back home to see my daughters swimming training.
That was my week.