• Public sector design — time for a reset

    09 July 2024

    Public services should work much harder for the public. However, the new UK government isn’t going to meet its aspirations for digital and data unless it resets the public sector’s approach to design.

  • Digital talent and precariousness in government

    28 March 2024

    Given there’s a UK election coming up, there’s going to talk about how to get more tech talent into government. Most is probably going to be encouraging ‘tours of duty’ from the tech industry. That short-term engagements are the way to get people with digital skills in to government. I thoughts I’d share my experience from 2011 on the precariousness that creates.

  • Marathon

    28 January 2024

    I’m running the London Marathon in April. I’m doing it for Barnado’s who helped our family through the adoption process and beyond to give something back.

  • Speaker notes: administrative fairness in practice

    14 November 2023

    The following is (approximatly) the talk I gave as part of the Administrative Fairness Lab’s panel at the ESRC Festival of Social Science.

  • Government service design: outcomes and ‘fairness’?

    19 October 2022

    Would it be ok if a digital public service makes it simple for users to achieve a proximate outcome (get a widget licence, apply for a widget support allowance, pay widget tax, appeal a widget removal order etc) if the process feels less than fair? Or if the rules are opaque, inconsistent or unknowable? If it’s unclear who is making a decision and why? If no one has designed how it feels to interact with the procedures and processes that sit around it? Or if, collectively, services build a nagging sense of mistrust in government (or, at the very least, fail to maintain a level of trust)?

  • A measure of value for digital public service delivery

    16 March 2022

    User need: outcomes for people, their representatives or communities

  • Dyslexia

    19 October 2021

    I recently came across my assessment for dyslexia from when I was 14. My mum had been fairly ruthless at decluttering, but she’d kept that, a source of vindication I think.

  • The limits of simple

    16 September 2021

    I came across this paragraph in a review of the work of Elinor Ostrom:

  • Subsidising R&D for a handful of trillion-dollar tech giants

    26 August 2021

    A good summary of what happens when cloud companies come for an open-source project, in this case Mapbox

  • Composite services are here

    26 August 2021

    I’ve written before, back in the before-times of 2015, about the idea of ‘composite services’. It was slightly clunky thinking then, premised on the idea of signing-in to multiple services getting easier through things like oAuth and physical security tokens like Yubikeys.

  • Service marginalia

    25 August 2021

    It strikes me that Apple’s privacy labels ….

  • How this thing works

    24 August 2021

    These two plastic scoops came packaged with our dog’s food. It’s one of those monthly subscription services and the scoops came in the welcome pack.

  • 15 questions for the future of digital practice in government

    24 May 2021

    I’ve copied these questions over from this thread.

  • Useless data

    12 November 2020

    I tend to listen to In Our Time when I’m having trouble sleeping. Or, at least, I listen to it to the end when I can’t sleep. There is this bit at the end of the podcast version where the producer pops in to offer the guests a drink. I think mostly because the academics would happily go on all day if not. Anyway, at some point insomnia drove me to start noting down the drinks they chose. Then it became a thing and I felt obliged to continue, not really knowing why I had started. Lockdown has freed me and the producer from that obligation, and I am in possession of probably the world’s most useless dataset:

  • How many project management paradigms do you have in your organisation?

    19 August 2020

    How many project management paradigms do you have in your organisation?

  • Public interest technology and covid data - whose job is it?

    06 August 2020

    Lockdown rules differ across the UK and are set by different, overlapping layers of government - UK, devolved, local. The result is it’s hard to understand what the current rules are for any given location. GOV.UK lists the rules for England, set by the UK government only, not those set by the devolved administrations or local authorities.

  • Some unconnected thoughts on contract tracing and COVID Secure venues

    29 July 2020

    Since the debate about digital contact tracing started, I’ve had a picture pop into my head from the Human Geography 101 module from when I was an undergraduate. It was a set of horizontal ‘tramlines’, each one representing a person, with the x-axis representing different locations - work, home, cafe etc. I think it was representing movement around New York. The message I think we were supposed to take away was that maps and grid references are not the only way of representing human movement around a place, and besides, most of us are too predictable to require a high level of resolution.

  • Rishi Sunak's 'Plan for Jobs' speech - some digital gaps

    08 July 2020

    I just listened to Rishi Sunak’s announcement about the first steps towards restarting the economy and getting people back to work. I can’t comment on the economics of it (beyond the size of the numbers), but I think there are a few digital policy gaps that will need filling:

  • The UK’s digital strategy should be the wholesale elimination of administrative burden

    25 June 2020

    The UK government’s aim to use digital to grow the economy as we learn to live with COVID-19 is probably the right one. But will policymakers go looking in the right place for growth?

  • If government is mostly service design, is most government service design databases and rights?

    22 June 2020

    With apologies to Matt Edgar for re-purposing the title of his excellent blog post Most of government is mostly service design most of the time. Discuss.. If you’ve not read it, you should.

  • Who governs? Platform privilege, contact tracing and APIs.

    29 April 2020

    Apple and Google have, through the design of their contact tracing APIs, removed choices from democratic governments seeking to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. If (if) a centralised model will lead to better public health outcomes (and some people are a making the case that it is) then their design choices have made this harder. As Peter Wells points out, in creating an arbitrary limit of one-app-per-country, they have also removed the ability to meet different types of need (for example, an app for NHS workers where they can use check-in type design pattern to register that they are on a non-COVID ward, or record the PPE that they are wearing).

  • Getting people back into work: ethics, efficacy and trust

    29 April 2020

    Government ministers have a choice about how they use the welfare system to help people who have lost their jobs or businesses get back to work. That choice includes questions of ethics, efficacy and trust.

  • The boring side of tech, transparency and contact tracing

    28 April 2020

    The tech-twitter conversation about contact tracing apps has focused on privacy and decentralisation. Regardless of the form it takes in the UK — and it looks like for now it will be a centralised system, (hopefully with some very strong legal constraints) — there are eight things* that the NHS should do to make sure the process enables a healthy and open public debate.

  • The UK government should negotiate free access to Faster Payments to speed up COVID-19 payments

    15 April 2020

    The thing about infrastructure is that it fades into the background to the point where people stop questioning how it works. So when the US government announced plans to make payments to citizens, the focus has been on delays needed to change the printing process to include the president’s signature, rather than the fact that cheques are being printed at all.

  • Digital public services: cross-civil society collaboration during the COVID19 crisis

    08 April 2020

    This is a quick blog post to write up some ideas from a conversation between Dan Barrett and Richard Pope about how civil society organisations can better work together on data.

  • A model planning condition for digital infrastructure

    30 January 2018

    Following from my previous post about the ability of the UK planning system to deal with digital infrastructure like the InLink, it seems there may be a mechanism to give communities a say over what sensors, data collection practices and targeted advertising they invite in.

  • InLinkUK - targeted advertising, planning permission and public space

    11 November 2017

    Our local high street is going to have one of its phoneboxes replaced with an ‘InLink’.

  • Bye2k - government IT and Brexit

    11 July 2017

    As Mat points out, one of the unwritten stories about if Brexit can be implemented is that of the changes required of ‘government IT’.

  • GDS Retrospective #5: things that have changed

    02 July 2017

    To finish of this seris of retrospective posts I thought I’d list 7 things that have changed for the better as a result of the things GDS and others across government have done over recent years:

  • GDS Retrospective #4: transformation and mental health

    01 July 2017

    Transformation projects can be hugely rewarding, but something that needs talking about more is this: they can take a toll on the people doing them.

  • GDS Retrospective #3: professions and design

    01 July 2017

    In reality, it’s something I think to be simultaneously true and not true.

  • Google Jobs will break 90 years of welfare policy - here's what the policy response should be

    21 May 2017

    In 2013, Ian Duncan-Smith said “looking for work should be a full-time job”. This was to be policed through the ‘claimant commitment’ a document that would detail, among other things, the number and type of jobs that someone would be expected to apply for. People would then present evidence that they were spending up to 35 hours a week trying to meet those targets when they signed-on.

  • GDS Retrospective #2: tools for making & communities

    16 April 2017

    Tools that help teams make things faster and tools help teams talk to each other better are very powerful levers when it comes to digital transformation.

  • GDS Retrospective #1: knowing when to run

    16 April 2017

    This is part of a series of blog posts about reflections on my time at GDS. See background and caveats.

  • Beckton - a tool to build groups of paying members

    05 March 2017

    img {max-width:300px; border:solid 1px #ccc; margin-bottom:5px;} Is it possible to build a general purpose tool for creating a paying membership organisation?

  • Activity based permissions

    01 March 2017

    I got a CleanSpace Tag pollution monitor via a promotion with the London Cycling Campaign.

  • Is the internet the problem?

    16 February 2017

    As ever, Julian is both almost certainly right about this and has the clarity of thought to state it properly (and as ever buried in a post mostly about other things):

  • Retrospective

    13 December 2016

    I often wonder how different things might have been if I had not gone on holiday after the beta of GOV.UK launched, or if I’d been clearer in my mind about the sort of work I wanted to do at that time, or if I’d better understood the scale of the thing we were collectivly embarking on.

  • Designing digital services that are accountable, understood, and trusted (OSCON 2016 talk)

    23 November 2016

    These are the speaker notes and slides from my talk at OSCON 2016 last month.

  • Facebook and Twitter as public service networks (it's not just about the algorithm)

    11 November 2016

    It’s pretty clear that the code that chooses what we see on social media needs to be more transparent.

  • Brexit, open data and dangerous products

    24 October 2016

    There is going to be so much detail in the Great Repeal Bill - so many tiny decisions with potentially big impact - that it’s going to be hard to know what we are losing and what we are gaining. One thing we could lose is open data about dangerous products.

  • Dear England

    26 June 2016

    Dear England,

  • EU

    19 June 2016

    Thought for the Day is an anachronism, but there is one (only one) that has ever stuck in my head. It was broadcast in 2012 by Lionel Blue and it was about Europe, particularly about Europe immediately after the war. This is the transcript from the BBC website:

  • Policy options for getting wider adoption of the jobPosting standard

    22 May 2016

    The UK government has adopted the jobPosting standard as the format that it will use to publish job vacancies on the web.

  • 2 local government platforms someone should just build

    28 April 2016

    1) Where things are (as a platform)

  • Gherkin - a universal language for accountable bots?

    14 April 2016

    You can’t view source in Google Now.

  • It’s not about the technology! (Apart from when it is).

    12 April 2016

    “Digital/transformation/business is not about technology it’s about design / strategy / culture” is a recurring meme. It can be a comforting thing to cling on to, and it’s probably true a lot of the time, but is also not true in some important respects.

  • 7 project ideas

    06 April 2016

    Some things from an Evernote notebook called ‘ideas’:

  • Fosdem 2016 links and notes

    02 March 2016

    Richard Pope, 02 March 2016

  • UK Digital Strategy submissions - data sharing / labour market data

    17 January 2016

    The UK government is asking for ideas from the public towards its digital strategy. I’ve submitted the following 2:

  • Trust through doing: 3 links

    10 January 2016

    3 just-about-related links on the subject of trust and clicktivism:

  • Why technologists should join Which? (or what I learned failing to stand for election)

    08 December 2015

    Earlier this year Nicola and I decided to move house. After 10 years on Electric Avenue we’ve moved to suburban West Norwood.

  • 10 rules for distributed / networked / platformed government

    12 November 2015

    Earlier this year, when I was working with Jamie, Tom, Anna, Paul, Stephen and Adam on a vision for Government as a Platform, I got stuck on the Central Line on the way back from work and ended up trying to distill all the things the team were talking about. The list below was the result.

  • Changing changes of circumstance: 7 alternative design patterns

    09 November 2015

    Lots of government services require their users to report when things in their life or an organisation change.

  • This Place Is Ours: check-in to add this pub to the Assets of Community Value Register

    13 October 2015

    This has been sitting in my Google Docs since May, so I figured I’d just publish it here.

  • Empathy, augmented - public services as digital assistants

    30 September 2015

  • Product Land (Part 3)

    14 September 2015

    This is the 3rd and final part of an essay about design and possibilities.

  • Open standards for job vacancies

    02 July 2015

    Open standards can be a force-multiplier: a standard voltage for electricity abstracts away how the electricity was generated, this allows companies to confidently and cheaply build everything from household lighting to MRI scanners on top of it. An open standard can enable a wider public good.

  • Brand archaeology

    19 April 2015

  • Telegraph laws

    14 March 2015

    This was part of the telegraph zone of the new Information Age gallery at the Science Museum:

  • Mobile First Development For 2 75

    03 March 2015

    layout: blog title: ‘Mobile first design & dev (for £2.75)’ date: 2015-03-03 09:00 — Video of Chrome web tools mobile setup.

  • Permissions. Understood.

    27 February 2015

    This is part follow up to The challenge for web developers in 2015, part inspired by Francis Irving’s The advert wars.

  • Product Land (Part 2)

    15 February 2015

    Tools for exploring the margins.

  • Habitat - Fosdem 2015 talk

    11 February 2015

    This is the talk I gave at Fosdem 2015 about a proof-of-concept personal datastore called Habitat.

  • Fosdem 2015 - interesting links

    09 February 2015

    Web pages in Firefox are getting a Bluetooth API for pairing and sharing data directly between devices and web apps. GeoTrelis is a tool for doing fast queries against geospatial raster data. The demo I saw was priocessing several GB in a few sseconds on a standard laptop. GeoGig is distributed versioning of geospatial data. Matrix a distibuted comms system, but looks like it could also be used as a distributed immutable datastore. DIY book scanning [is a thing].( is a library for building distributed social network type things. I bet there’s a couple of hyperlocal things in that. Media Goblin is a decentalised Flickr/Youtube type thing. When we all have tiny home server, and it has had some UI love maybe this will be a goer. Scrapy is simple, serious looking scraper library for Python. Open Food Facts is building an open database of what is in our food, indexed by barcodes, collected via phone apps.

  • Signing in & composite services

    06 February 2015

    Usernames and passwords are on borrowed time as a design pattern. Examples of the damage it does are everywhere. The only thing keeping it credible is two factor authentication via SMS or a mobile app, and that can’t reasonably survive the switch to mobile as the dominant way of accessing the web (because it’s not really two factor if it’s on the same device, right?).

  • Democracy at the point of use?

    23 January 2015

    I went to hear Vernon Bogdanor talk about the (first) 1974 General Election the other day. It’s part of a seris about post-war elections that is well worth a watch.

  • The challenge for web designers in 2015 (or how to cheat at the future)

    17 January 2015

    This is a second attempt at articulating this issue, and was inspired by a conversation with @psd who also pointed me at a TEDx talk entitled A time traveller’s primer. The first attempt is here.

  • Abundantly useful

    14 January 2015

    It’s nice when things just become quietly, abundantly useful.

  • Time to start designing and demoing mobile first?

    24 December 2014

    I’ve always had a bit of a problem with responsive design. It too easy to assume the most important context is the size of the screen, too easy to fall into the habit that the way you build a mobile version of a service is to change the presentation layer - just shuffle the same content about the page in a different order and hide a couple of things *.

  • co-op v2?

    01 December 2014

    There’s a quote in this O’Reilly Radar trailer for a talk about the bitcoin blockchain that has slightly melted my brain:

  • Product Land (Part 1)

    10 November 2014

    You can’t build what you can’t think of in the first place.

  • Music notes: September

    05 October 2014

    Real Lies - Dab Housing Benji Boko - No.1 Sound - Beta Hector Remix - feat. Ricky Rankin Brother culture - Sound Killer Half Man Half Buscuit - National Shite day - if only for the lyric “A man with a mullet went mad with a mallet in Millets”. You could build a great passphrase generator from HMHB lyrics. Spotify link

  • OpenStreetMap as infrastructure - a localgov map?

    04 October 2014

    The Moabi project is reusing the tools of the OpenStreetMap project to map natural resource use in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is an example of what Mikel Maron (from the Moabi project) and Elizabeth McCartney (from the US Geological Survey) called ‘OpenStreetMap as Infrastructure’ in their recent talk at State of the Map US ie taking the OpenStreetMap tool-chain and applying them to new problems.

  • Info-buildings

    25 September 2014

  • Music notes: August 2014

    25 August 2014

    Baxter Dury - Pleasure. Walking south towards Bedlam? Original members of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop at Glastonbury. I was at this and it wasn’t being pro-filmed, so I assume this is from a bunch of fans with GoPros. The Human League - 4JG, from The Golden Hour of the Future. Cristobal Tapia de Veer - Utopia Finale

  • MOO.COM UX rules - circa 2008

    02 August 2014

    I wrote these up just before I left MOO I think.

  • A recipe for starting & prototyping new projects

    27 July 2014

    1) Know your history.

  • Notes - elements and self hosting

    24 July 2014

    The BBC World Service series Elements uses the elements of the periodic table to look at the world economy. Well worth a listen. Ark OS goes into beta and owncloud hits version 7. Self hosting is growing up.

  • Where are the dedicated writing devices?

    21 July 2014

    For some reason, I seem to be thinking a lot about input at the moment.

  • Cards

    17 July 2014

  • Cucumber tests for regulatory data?

    16 July 2014

    This is a write up of an idea that came out of the Environment Agency hackday.

  • Notes: 2034, OSM mapping, triangulation

    06 July 2014

    Programming Perl in 2034 by Charlie Stross is just brilliant - he covers what causes things to change, to stay the same and the reality distorting change the awaits us in the coming decades (and the place of programming languages in 100 years time). The whole thing is quotable, but this about sums it up:

  • Local government

    06 July 2014

    Sarah Prag has written a great shopping list of things a ‘GDS for local government’ might need, and points out that some would be controversial.

  • Timeless

    22 June 2014

    We went to see Goldie’s Timeless end-to-end at the Festival Hall as part of the Meltdown Festival on Saturday. Live drums, live vocals. Amazing.

  • Anatomy of a project space

    22 June 2014

  • Notes: manuals, homomorphic encryption, lazy database

    08 June 2014

    Manuals (XKCD) and manuals (VW Beetle).

  • Input

    01 June 2014

    5 tiles is a brilliant example of designing from 1st principles.

  • Moving from Gmail

    27 May 2014

    I finally got around to moving my email from Gmail to Fastmail. It’s been churning away moving over 8 years worth of emails for over 24 hours now.

  • Notes: Capital Ring, habitat

    21 May 2014

    Completed the Capital Ring. Last 3 stages were a bit epic - about 19 miles in one day. Nearly walked into a deer.

  • Notes: 5 - 9th May 2014

    20 May 2014

    Walked stages 9 and 8 of the Capital Ring South Kenton to Osterly (3 more to go).