There’s been a recent Government Digital Service (GDS) roadshow. Nice enough idea.

At the mo there’s a lot of obvious “reaching out” and “listening” happening publicly between GDS and other bits of gov. I guess the new(ish) senior leadership team will want to make some statements of intent (through actions) about ways of working, even if it is reiterating We’ll keep doing this.

A blog post written by Kevin Cunnington, head of GDS, went up yesterday about the roadshow. You can read the blog post here.

Writing blog posts is useful. And writing and publishing good quality blog posts – that are thoughtful, considered, honest – is a sign of good culture to me.

In the post Kevin shares ”some of what I learned from the roadshow.” First up:

People are happy to see GDS outside London

Just the act of getting on a train and leaving London for the regions showed we were committed to working collaboratively and the organisation is a credible transformation partner.

Which I had to read three times to check I had read it correctly.

The subtitle: People are happy to see GDS outside London.

Just the act of getting on a train.

Leaving London.

And for the regions.

I’d have guessed, yes, people are happy to see GDS get on trains to go other bits of government outside London. But this is not new insight. This is nothing new. Because people from GDS have already got out there, into “the regions”, and not just recently.

Some quick examples of the top of my head:

  1. As I type this I am whizzing down to London from “the regions”, missing one of the regular cross gov design meet-ups, which are frequently not in London, in “the regions”. Today’s meet is in Cardiff. And people from all over gov, not just GDS, head over. But usually GDS rep the most at those meets.
  2. The accessibility meets: I think the next one is in Newcastle, and remember one in Leeds last summer. Likewise we had a bit of a patterns get-together outside of London before Christmas.
  3. I remember Tim Paul and Caroline Jarrett coming to Newcastle earlier last year to do some patterns work, for a couple of days.
  4. Assessors coming to spend a day in “the regions” to helpfully go through the work we’ve been doing, yeah, some of that too.

I could go on.

People are happy to see GDS outside of London, yes, and always have been.

Maybe it’s just my view. I am boringly pragmatic, but I have a pretty healthy relationship with lots of people at GDS and lots of bits of GDS, as well as other bits of gov. I would guess that doesn’t mean it is the same for everyone else. But I would guess I am not alone.

Maybe it’s the work I have been on. Maybe the places I have worked. Maybe even the way I work. If I am ever near GDS in London with some time spare I find people there are happy to see me and go over stuff. (Well, they say they are happy. They might just be tolerant.) I know other people are happy to be welcomed at GDS.

There’s stuff GDS does that is leading digi gov work, the root being the Digital Service Standard. Adopted by many, out there way beyond “the regions”. And there’s other stuff that GDS is leading in that many would like to see out there more across gov, the brilliant Parity Pledge springs to mind for me (which Zara Farrar wrote an update on recently).

Maybe my issue is the use of the regions.

It’s not just about London. In recent memory it never really has been. There’s departments and bits of departments spread across the country. Kevin’s previous role was at a department, DWP Digital, who have a pretty strong presence of people doing good stuff in Leeds, Newcastle, and Stockport. The regions just plays out an us-and-them mindset. One gov, one nation, one something. Digital as a mindset isn’t about geography. It’s about people doing stuff for people. Digital is the enabler, the glue.

As people we exist in the world, where digital is an accepted, almost expected. We use digital means to communicate. This is not just not just “digital transformation” thing. It is a real world thing. We use digital a lot across gov to collaborate too – which can save time and money, sort of important in the public sector, where we want to get stuff done. Email lists, Slack, whichever of Google Hangouts/Skype/WebEx we can all get onto and do use. Lots of this stuff happens because the Modern World!, and we can work like the modern world does in gov. This means it’s not just about being in the same physical room.

Anyway, I hope I have struck the right constructive tone I was aiming for there. If anything the original post that started this off shows words matter.

On the train down to London this morning I cobbled together some commemorative tongue-in-cheek sticker designs, one for people from London who travel to “the regions”, and one for people from “the regions” who travel to London.

If you want one (or several) let me know on this form. If there’s any interest I’ll get some printed off next week.

Update on Saturday 8 April 2017 There was interest. Thanks to everyone who has asked. I have ordered both designs, and ordered some spares. So, if you want some, the order form is here.