Steve Messer

Product Manager
Government Digital Service
@stevenjmesser

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Blogging and working in the open

So I’m going to talk about blogging and working in the open.

There’s lots of ways of working in the open, blogging is just one of them.

GDS

Thank you to Matt Jukes, Amanda Smith, Neil Williams, Dan Barrett, Ellie Craven, Sam Villis, Jonathan Kerr and the #weeknotes community

@stevenjmesser

GDS

First of all, a big thanks to these people who have been stalwarts of the blogging and working in the open community.

@jukesie

@ayymanduh

@neillyneil

@dasbarrett

@Ellayanor

@stamanfar

@jonodrew

@webofweeknotes

What’s the point of blogging?

So what is the point of blogging?

GDS

blog (weblog)

noun

a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style.

@stevenjmesser

GDS

First we should define what a blog is.

READ FROM SCREEN.

Blogs have been a part of the Web since the 1990s when web publishing tools were made easier-to-use for non-technical folk. They’ve always tended to be in a diary style, allowing people to talk about what they do, their interests and anything they please.

GDS

Blogging helps to

  • open up government
  • form a dialogue with our audience
  • share what we’ve learnt

@stevenjmesser

GDS

But what’s the point of blogging in government?

Blogging helps to READ FROM SCREEN.

It’s really all about starting conversations and sharing knowledge. The audience might be fellow service creators or it might be end users.

GDS

Blogging is all about working in the open

@stevenjmesser

GDS

But it’s worthwhile taking this a step further. Blogging is all about working in the open.

Working in the open causes you to be honest about your work and makes it easier to collaborate with smart communities of peers.

I’ll expand on that...

What’s the point of being open?

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“A culture of open, digitally enabled policy making and service delivery is critical to our future success.”

  • Government Transformation Strategy

@stevenjmesser

GDS

The Government Transformation Strategy says that READ FROM SCREEN.

It’s written into our values as an organisation too: ‘Make things open, it makes things better.’

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-transformation-strategy-2017-to-2020/government-transformation-strategy-tools-processes-and-governance

GDS

It’s about the importance of working across organisational boundaries, to make things better for users

@stevenjmesser

GDS

Being open is about the importance of working across organisational boundaries to make things better for users.

If someone in Department A talks about a particular problem and someone in Department B says they’ve encountered the same thing, they’re likely to ignore the boundaries and differences between their departments and explore the problem together.

The shared goal is making things better for users and working in the open helps facilitate that.

The goals of open

So, more formally, what are the goals of open?

And these don’t just cover blogging, they can be attributed to our day-to-day practice too.

Participation

Rocket fuel for smart collaboration.

READ FROM SCREEN

Speaking outside of your organisational box can attract other people, get conversations started and accelerate collaboration.

https://openmatt.org/2011/04/06/how-to-work-open/

Agility

Speed. Flexibility. Getting shit done.

READ FROM SCREEN

When you work in the open, you’re more likely to check what you’re saying before putting it out there. It encourages a better, more accountable working practice, as well as working out how to build the right thing.

https://openmatt.org/2011/04/06/how-to-work-open/

Momentum

Communities want to push boulders that are already rolling.

READ FROM SCREEN

Simply put, working in the open is cheap PR. People love to get involved in exciting projects headed in the right direction.

One of my favourite stories is how Neil Williams got offered a job at GDS because he blogged so enthusiastically about a single government website, and Tom Loosemore happened to spot it.

But you see this with the Local Digital Coalition too. Teams in previously under-the-radar councils becoming visibly active in improving their authority’s ways of working.

https://openmatt.org/2011/04/06/how-to-work-open/

Testing and rapid prototyping

Testing and refining as we go.

Working in the open creates better feedback and testing loops, and the history of changes is documented. You have the opportunity to welcome a more diverse set of voices to comment on your work, which is always a good thing.

Leverage

Getting greater bang from limited resources. Punching above our weight.

And again, blogging is really cheap PR. I’ve personally made a ton of good connections I didn’t expect simply by talking about what I’ve done.

Don’t worry about making things too polished though, raw honesty (or slightly processed honesty – runny honey) is some of the secret sauce to making it work.

(That means you can talk about failure as well as success.)

So why blog about our work?

So why put in that effort to blog about our work?

GDS

It feeds the conversation about agile, user-centred transformation

@stevenjmesser

GDS

Blogging is not about thought leadership or public performance, it’s about actively feeding the conversation around agile, user-centred transformation.

By putting our experiences out there and talking about the new challenges we’re facing, people can empathise or respond, developing the transformation project we’re all a part of.

And we should be more open to talking about failure too, or announcing when things didn’t go to plan. Not to call ourselves out but help others later down the line.

GDS

“The more we obscure how we work, and why it’s valuable, the harder we’ll find it to gain broad organisational support for the next project, and the one after that.”

@stevenjmesser

GDS

This is an excellent quote from Ellie Craven who used to be the PM on GOV.UK Registers.

READ FROM SCREEN

Talking about our work helps us better describe it and its value across government. It also gives you a chance to show your working without that person needing to attend a talk or Show & Tell.

https://www.dxw.com/2019/02/discovery-embracing-the-unknowns/

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“We should do the hard work to make this simpler for those who come after us.”

@stevenjmesser

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And then she goes one better...

READ FROM SCREEN

Talking about our work now helps people who might one day step into our shoes.

https://www.dxw.com/2019/02/discovery-embracing-the-unknowns/

GDS

Blogging helps to

  • open up government
  • form a dialogue with our audience
  • share what we’ve learnt

@stevenjmesser

GDS

So going back to what I said before, READ FROM SCREEN

Some principles

GDS

Blogging principles

0. Civil Service Code

1. Don’t be a dick

2. Ask someone before mentioning them

3. Spoilers suck – so don’t be a dick

@stevenjmesser

GDS

Some principles then.

The Civil Service Code underpins everything. Stick by that.

But the first real rule, don’t be a dick.

Try not to be the person to say the wrong thing or inadvertently give away a ministerial plan or cause offence to a team member. None of that is good, but you can mitigate it by asking a second pair of eyes to look over your work.

Ask someone before mentioning them, they might be staying away from the “spotlight”. One of my colleagues doesn’t use social media, for example, and wants to stay away from it, so I only ever referred to them as ‘our delivery manager’.

Spoilers suck, so avoid telling another team’s story. They might be doing great things but try not to build too much of a picture if you must mention it, they should have the right to cause a splash.

How can I start blogging?

Hopefully that’s done enough to convince you to get started. So here’s a few tips to get going.

Add a ‘Blog’ column to your kanban board. It’ll help you consider which pieces of work are worth sharing and talking about. You might even build up a few stories per sprint to talk about.

Break it down into smaller chunks, it’s much easier.

GDS

Search ‘How to write a blog post’ on the GDS wiki

@stevenjmesser

GDS

If you want to post on the official government blogs, search for ‘how to write a blog post’ on the wiki.

Agnieszka, Head of Editorial, is really nice and usually willing to talk through an idea with you. She makes a living from blogging outside of GDS, too, which is a sign she’s the right person for the job!

GDS

Try weeknotes, personal reflections on your working week to learn, improve and make connections, and speak to the #weeknotes community

@stevenjmesser

GDS

If you want to start small and maybe try something more personal, weeknotes are a great way to get going.

Weeknotes are personal reflections on your working week to learn from what you’ve done and improve your practice from week to week. You simply write about what you’ve done and how you feel about how it went.

There’s an excellent community on the #weeknotes hashtag on Twitter who can give you ideas, but you can also just ask for help. They’re super friendly.

It’s worth saying that blogging isn’t an easy thing to start, you’ll probably get ‘the fear’ about receiving criticism on your work or thoughts. But that’s fine, my advice is to just dive in and have a go. Usually your fears don’t match reality, and there’s an amazing community there to comment and help if you’re struggling anyway.

GDS

Easy-to-use platforms like Wordpress and Medium can help you start a blog in minutes

@stevenjmesser

GDS

You don’t need any money to get started, really, you can spin up a blog in minutes using platforms like Wordpress and Medium. It’s a quick way to test out the practice and see if it’s right for you.

GDS

Static site generators like Jekyll and Hugo give you more creative flexibility

@stevenjmesser

GDS

If you’d like to create your own website, static site generators like Jekyll and Hugo are low-tech ways to get started.

You might have heard of GitHub Pages which runs on Jekyll. You simply feed it some Markdown files and it builds a website for you. GitHub Pages is free too, and it’s a good way to become more familiar with Git in general.

GDS

Services like Missinglettr, Zapier and Quuu Promote can syndicate your blog posts on social media automatically

@stevenjmesser

GDS

And you needn’t worry about having to promote your blog posts either.

Services like Missinglettr, Zapier and Quuu Promote will syndicate your blog posts on social media automatically, helping your posts to get a greater reach.

GDS

@stevenjmesser

GDS

You really can become a self-facilitating media node these days, as awful as that is.

But remember the goal is to share knowledge and get more people involved in agile, user-centred transformation.

And finally...

Because there’s one last thing I want to check…

This is an experiment and it could go wrong, but I’d like to ask.

GDS

Hands up if you wanted to work here after reading GDS blog posts...

@stevenjmesser

GDS

Thanks!

Steve Messer

@stevenjmesser

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