‘Honour the emperor’

It is easy for me to write this as a middle class, white Brit for whom oppression is not something I’ve ever directly had to put up with. My response is therefore more theoretical than what faces people who are already reporting the sorts of post-Brexit hate we had here. I hope I would always seek solidarity, not safety.


We spent last night at Central London Vineyard in solid prayer, bothering God about the state of the world.
It was challenging. Challenging to reflect on our own divided country as well as the one across the Atlantic. Challenging to think that most of the world’s desperate people don’t care who’s in the White House or what the EU looks like. And very challenging to hear first hand testimony of recent events in Calais and the treatment of those unaccompanied children who had found some small refuge in the Jungle.
And in all of that it was challenging to respond to the words of Jesus:
‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.’

Continue reading ‘Honour the emperor’

Did Phil Parkinson and Bradford City break Jose Mourinho?

A colleague of mine is a Chelsea season ticket holder and he just mentioned that last night’s atmosphere at Stamford Bridge had sent a clear message of support for their Special One.

I jokingly suggested that their woes date from the afternoon of January 24th, the day Bradford City turned 2-0 into 2-4. And we wondered what the data said. So I went to Soccerbase and had a quick look.

Since Jose Mourinho returned to Chelsea they’ve played 129 times and he’s won 76 of them. That’s a very healthy 59%.

59 of those victories came in the 90 games before hosting Bradford City. That’s 66%; two wins for every three games Chelsea played.

But following that defeat in the FA Cup his side has failed to win 22 out of 39. After coming face to face with Phil Parkinson, Jose has won only 44% of the time.

The facts speak for themselves.

Update 17th December 2015

It took seven more games for mutual consent to see Jose Mourinho’s second spell at Chelsea to come to an end.

In those six weeks he won 3, drew 1 and lost 3, knocking a further percentage point off his post-Bradford City win record.

Before Phil Parkinson outsmarted him The Special One’s side had lost just 13 times in  90 games. His final game, the 2-1 defeat at Leicester City, was his 13th defeat since his humbling at the feet of Stead, Morais, Halliday and Yeates.

Results over 90 minutes Played Won Drawn Lost
Before FA Cup Defeat to bradford city 90 59 (66%) 18 (20%) 13 (14%)
Post FA Cup defeat to Bradford City 46 20 (43%) 13 (28%) 13 (28%)
Overall 136 79 (58%) 31 (23%) 26 (19%)

The data I used, sourced from Soccerbase.

Fragile states and digital foundations

When crisis hits it puts unexpected pressures on infrastructure. In some cases the state or its civil society is resilient and can cope but where the physical, societal or administrative fabric is already fragile then issues are compounded and recovery becomes harder. And then there’s the impact of war.

The world has developed coping mechanisms for dealing with this. Government aid and development budgets kick in, international organisations mobilise and individual donors dig deep to help meet needs. And lots of time, money and thought continually goes into making sure that the quality of those coping mechanisms gets better. But the scale of the need can be overwhelming.

Digital can be a huge enabler and a powerful tool in helping to support those responses. Today is the Techfugees conference. That’s a great response to a crisis that has reached the tipping point in the public consciousness. It’s brilliant that the conversations don’t end today but will be followed by efforts to deal with problems: the Techfugees hack day tomorrow, Ich Bin Hihr in Berlin on Saturday and maybe also Code for the Kingdom in London over the weekend. People are getting together to unify around solving identified needs rather than fragmenting into delivering well meaning, but not yet validated, ideas.

Continue reading Fragile states and digital foundations

Code for the Kingdom challenge: community

On the weekend of 2nd October Christians with a passion for digital technology are going to gather in 14 cities* on 5** continents for the first ever global Code for the Kingdom hackathon.

I’m part of the Kingdom Code team organising the London event, we’ve got a great venue (the Westminster Impact Hub) and we’re hoping for a good turn out of both professionals and enthusiasts. With just over 4 weeks to go the anticipation is rising (have you got your ticket yet?).

The team in the USA have already secured world-class virtual mentors and this week announced the six sponsored global challenges (#wearables, #purity, #minorityChristians, #games, #virtualreality, #generosity) for people to aim at.

We’ve also come up with some challenges of our own for London: #Christmas, #spiritualdisciplines and #community.

We’re eager to see what London makes of all nine challenges but personally I’m particularly excited about the #community challenge.

We all know that we’re living through an incredible period of technological advance. The digital revolution has completely transformed the way in which we not only stay in touch with our family and friends but also in how we forge, and maintain, connections with (former) strangers.

And of course that has implications for the way that we do community as Christians – whether that’s within our churches or not. A lot of these things might be well served by effective websites and existing tools but there could be some untapped potential out there and so we’re challenging the London teams to give some thought to serving the different communities we’re part of as individuals and churches.

  • Community in our churches
    Maybe your home groups get everything they need from WhatsApp, and maybe the social calendar is entirely deal with by Facebook. But maybe there are better ways of doing those things that haven’t been thought of yet. And how good are we at facilitating community for those who can’t get to church for whatever reason?
  • Community in our neighbourhoods…with other churches
    We know church can be quite tribal. In Croydon alone there are at least 129 on the Croydon Churches Forum website (and I’ve been to one that’s not even on that list). Can digital technology help the individual bits of the Body support, encourage and resource one another?
  • Community in our neighbourhoods…outside the Christian bubble
    If we do church in non-geographic ways then it’s possible to end up disconnected from the people we live next door to and ignorant to the needs of our local community. The Church Urban Fund’s Poverty look-up is a powerful way of understanding the needs of a particularly community but maybe you’ve got an idea for something to help churches and individuals avoid drive-by evangelism and instead respond more appropriately to the needs of the places we live.
  • Community in the buildings where we work
    Lots of us work in buildings shared by different companies. Unless you’re working for a Christian organisation there will be no formal element of faith in the workplace, over the weekend can someone build something that helps individual Christians connect with each other?
  • Community globally.
    The Code for the Kingdom weekend is a worldwide event and that means we could end up with teams that include people from several different countries. Maybe one of those teams will work on something that connects churches across geographic and cultural boundaries; or maybe another will think about how sending communities can stay in touch with their partners around the world. That’s just two ideas but how might your team explore what it means, as Christians, to belong to a worldwide community of billions?

If there’s anything in that (or the other challenges) that resonates with you then you know what to do: clear the weekend of 2nd October, buy a ticket, propose your idea on Indigitous and then come along to pitch it at the Westminster Impact Hub. See you there!


* Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Albuquerque, USA; Atlanta, USA; Bengaluru, India; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Houston, USA; Jakarta, Indonesia; Kansas City, USA; London, UK;  Los Angeles, USA; Nairobi, Kenya; Raleigh, USA; Seattle, USA; and Waterloo, Canada

** I’m not sure which continent Indonesia identifies with but I went with Asia.

Transforming Fiveways Croydon (or the bridge in my back yard)

The trouble with the A23

If you were designing London for 21st century traffic you probably wouldn’t build the A23. It’s only 53 miles long but because it starts at Waterloo Bridge and finishes in Brighton it’s got five different owners. In the 17 miles from Waterloo Bridge to the M25 it snakes through Kennington, Brixton, Streatham, Norbury, Thornton Heath, Croydon, Purley and Coulsdon.

So it’s hemmed in by residential property but it’s also the main artery for the ‘out of town’ shopping along the Purley Way and it’s the route to and from Gatwick. When Christine and I moved from Brixton we inched along it from A to B and back to A again (more than once). There were several pinch points in that journey but one of the ones we didn’t have to deal with is just to our south at Fiveways. Continue reading Transforming Fiveways Croydon (or the bridge in my back yard)

Pride (In the name of GOV.UK)

On Friday 19th December 2014 when the final agency switched on its pages we celebrated GOV.UK being ‘organisation complete’.

Three years ago one of the four things Baroness Lane Fox told government to do was ‘fix publishing‘. She recognised that hundreds of different publishing platforms could do a good job in isolation but required the public to understand the complexity of government and that approaching similar needs in bespoke ways was expensive and inefficient. It wasn’t the first time government had recognised the complexity of its web estate and we’ve stood on those broad shoulders to successfully replace over 600 websites with just the one.

That achievement is only really the end of the beginning but I’ve been reflecting on my highlights so far, in anticipation of what’s to come. I’ve got seven. Continue reading Pride (In the name of GOV.UK)

Can these bones live?

This is a post about an Old Testament prophet, but it’s not about theology.

It’s also a post about local government, but it’s not about a local Government Digital Service (GDS).

Last week I sat and watched as one of my colleagues showed off government’s digital wares. Not wares built in the GDS offices in Holborn but the work of people elsewhere in government. It’s going on in almost every department. It’s happening across the country. And it’s happening at pace.

It’s a great party. But it’s invite only, and local government hasn’t been included on the guest list.

And it doesn’t look like local government is going to organise one itself.

There’s a consensus that a radically different approach to local government IT/digital delivery is not just a nice to have but something of an immediate imperative and there’s been a lot of debate about what that might look like and who might start that fire.

One of the organisations that local government looks to for leadership is the Society of Internet Technology Managers (Socitm). Last week I joined my GDS colleagues Tom Loosemore and James Cattell at Old Trafford for their annual conference and it was there that I saw Tom proudly highlight the paradigm shift in central government.

Not every local authority has Socitm membership anymore; there are some doubts about their supplier-led model and I’ve seen Better Connected, their flagship annual survey of local authority websites, come in for some criticism over the last few years. But this two day event should be a valuable resource for IT managers around the country to come together and share their successes, inspired to return to their desks confident that they can play the transformative role that their jobs offer. To hold these roles given the possibilities of the 21st century is an opportunity to cherish.

Sadly, it didn’t seem like that’s the case. James has written up his experience of the event and I’d have to echo his disquiet at the number of delegates who had been at a conference paid for by their local citizens for membership of a group that doesn’t always get the most positive reviews and who had chosen to leave early:

…350 delegates came to the conference. Only 55 were left for the panel discussion. That means 295 people missed the most inspiring part of day 2…

Eleven years ago I had a very profound conversation with my friend Dave. We were sat at the university library cafe talking about a particular institution and how the associated baggage meant you might as well tear it down and start from scratch.

And then Dave dropped Ezekiel into the conversation.

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

In his vision Ezekiel is told by God to prophesy tendons, flesh, skin and life over those bones, he does and the valley is transformed. In that context it’s a message of hope for his people.

In my conversation with Dave it was a check to our enthusiasm for imagining what a new institution might do if it was free from history.

And in the context of last week it’s a relevant observation about the value of existing networks, of active relationships and of institutions that might otherwise be past their best.

As Carrie said to those delegates who were left:

once upon a time this room was full of rebels

Can they roll up their sleeves and get stuck in so that those bones can change by themselves? Failing that there needs to be a voice crying out in the wilderness that’s willing to flatten some mountains or straighten some paths.

Either way, local government, and the public sector as a whole, need to get past the navel gazing and crack on with delivering.

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

Ezekiel does as he’s told and that valley of bones is transformed with life. I wonder what the next year will bring for localgov and its digital journey. I’ve got my own opinions. And I’ve got some hope. But something has got to give, and give soon?

Local government digital service and the GDS design principles

This is the final entry in a series of blogposts unpacking my opinions about the local government digital service debate. In the first post I set out my opinion that a single entity with the mandate and resource to address the common needs of the public is overdue; in the second I wondered about what that might mean from a democratic point of view; my third wondered about the distinction between building and buying services and my fourth explored how this might work in practice. I hope it goes without saying that I don’t claim to have all the answers and want to know where my assumptions are completely barmy!

In this series of posts I’m expressing an opinion. I find the idea persuasive and the need obvious for a local government digital service. I’m certainly not claiming to have all the answers! I think your position on this matter will have a large amount to do with whether you think Baroness Lane-Fox’s cry of “revolution not evolution” is as appropriate in the local context as it was centrally. I believe it is. Happily, local government doesn’t need to revolt from scratch – GDS doesn’t have all the answers but we’ve got some very useful experience about trying to bring all the things together. I think the GDS design principles are brilliant and so to conclude I’m going to think about what they might mean in a local context.

Start with needs*

*user needs not government needs

Local governments have different priorities, different political makeups, different challenges and different histories. They are all unique. And our experiences as citizens can’t be separated from the characteristics of where we live.

But are our needs unique?

The Local Government Services List says not always. It’s imperfect but it is a helpful starting point for the user needs of a resident in any given postcode: if services or information can be described in a consistent fashion then why can’t they be surfaced and accessed in a consistent fashion?

Do less

Continue reading Local government digital service and the GDS design principles

Local government digital service: how might it work?

In this series of blogposts I’m unpacking my opinions about the local government digital service debate. In the first post I set out my opinion that a single entity with the mandate and resource to address the common needs of the public is overdue; in the second I wondered about what that might mean from a democratic point of view and in the third I gave some thought to where services come from already, and could come from in future. In this post I ask how it might work in practice and finish off the series by considering the relevance of the GDS design principles in the context of local government. I hope it goes without saying that I don’t claim to have all the answers so please comment and tell me where my assumptions are completely barmy!

I don’t think I know the answer to this piece of the puzzle but but from my standing start I think there are a few possibilities for how you might create a local government digital service.

Fundamentally this must start with someone having enough mandate to formally recognise the activity that already exists and do a proper Discovery about what 21st century local government digital services could, or should, look like if they were being created from scratch. The Discovery phase of a project is the place to get all the hopes and concerns expressed and understood. It neither prescribes, nor proscribes, a particular approach but gives the space to test some ideas and come up with an idea of what your prototype might look like.

It was interesting that DCLG hosted the event that they did and that the department’s digital leader commented on the resistance to the idea of GOV.UK. So perhaps central government is beginning to think about funding something centrally from the top down to create something akin to GDS. Such an approach would need to work alongside the experience and expertise within councils and make sure it isn’t felt to be an imposition on local authorities whilst still maintain its ability to achieve the disruption it needs to. A centralised approach may be effective in delivering services free from the legacy overheads but it may prove difficult to build the relationships between local authorities that will actually result in consistently world class service design.

Continue reading Local government digital service: how might it work?

Local government digital service: build or buy?

In this series of blogposts I’m unpacking my opinions about the local government digital service debate. In the first post I set out my opinion that a single entity with the mandate and resource to address the common needs of the public is overdue and in the second I wondered about what that might mean for democracy. In this post I think about where services come from and in the others I wonder about how it might work in practice and finish off the series by considering the relevance of the GDS design principles in the context of local government. I hope it goes without saying that I don’t claim to have all the answers and want to know where my assumptions are completely barmy!

In the debate about meeting localised user needs in a coherent fashion it can be forgotten that it’s something that actually happens every day. There is a precedent for local residents to administer very postcode specific activities through a single product that is managed and delivered centrally.

They are not perfect examples of services that would be given the Digital by Default Service Standard seal of approval but that’s even better – they give the local government digital service lessons to learn and opportunities to iterate.

A first example would be the Blue Badge service. It is a piece of policy owned by the Department for Transport but which is administered by local councils. The digital service gives a consistent experience to the person who wants to apply for, change or renew their blue badge. That is a veneer on top of a complicated process but the complexity is hidden from the public allowing the service to be administered according to the local characteristics of the relevant council. The service is showing its age and has certain usability issues but here is a common user need served by a common digital service to administer a central government policy in a very localised way.

Continue reading Local government digital service: build or buy?