2023 in review

The year I turned 50 is a strange one to review as while it was really a year of much good, a couple of events cast a shadow over much of the time. 

Nan passing away at 101 was hardly a surprise but it has definitely made for a sadder end to the year than would have otherwise been the case and the whole nonsense where I was accused of essentially being corrupt by a fellow civil servant intermittently soured the first half of the year and more – leading to me leaving a role and team I loved in the end.

Oh and my grand plans for life as a solopreneur? The timing of that couldn’t have been worse!

All that said though I did have a lot of positive adventures this year and did much of what I set out to achieve.

Travel

In the end I went to either the US or Canada five times this year. I visited Toronto (twice), Montreal, New York, DC, LA, Ottawa and Philly. I spoke at events in Ottawa and DC, saw LL Cool J and Ice T in LA, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in Philly and was amazed by the street art in Montreal (if horrified by the weather).

I also did a little UK tour going from Cardiff to Manchester to Carlisle to Dumfries to Glasgow – where I finished with the Banksy exhibition (and my fourth case of Covid). 

I visited exhibitions about Basquiat, Haring and Banksy. A 50 years of Hip-Hop photography show and saw 100s of pieces of street art.

Events

Like I said above I spoke – on panels/roundtables – at Code for America in DC and FWD50 in Ottawa. I really enjoyed both conferences and it is always great to get a different perspective on similar challenges. I also did a talk at Service Design in Government in Edinburgh about prioritisation at scale and then recycled the ranty elements of it for a shorter, funnier talk at Productank Bristol.

I gave a talk about roadmapping and planning in general for the Scottish Digital Academy and ended up writing up a looonnngg Q&A after the fact as the talk overran into question time.

Debbie, Steve and I organised and facilitated three Product for the People unconferences and ‘launched’ a supporting blog. We managed events in London, Cardiff and Manchester (though I couldn’t attend Manchester as it was the funeral.) These seemed to have landed really well and it is great to be doing them with Debbie and Steve who are not only lovely but also pragmatic and up for experimenting with the format.

Govcamp was a lovely way to start the year as usual and we had some sticker fun again, the mySociety 20th anniversary event was a little awkward for me while Camp Digital in June reaffirmed itself as my favourite conference to attend.

Jukesie Jobs

I managed to send out another 42 jobs newsletters this year though the final demise of TinyLetter created a bit of a year-end crisis as to the future of the emails. It is going to continue but the new plan is now the new-new plan as the latest Substack Nazi drama reaffirmed my feeling that they aren’t the platform for me so I’ve decided to bite the bullet and invest in using Ghost.

Steph has been building me a Digital by Default Jobs website on WordPress which I will launch early in 2024. This is an extension of the newsletter. Open for people to promote all DDaT (or Government Digital and Data) roles at £50(+VAT) a month for an ad I hope it will at least wash its own face. More news soon.

Related to all this I also opened up my calendar to let people book in 30 minute chats with me and was rather overwhelmed with the response. In the end I did 26 sessions – 23 with people new to me – almost all of which were career conversations (and two of which I lined people directly up with roles). It was really interesting and insightful and I met some lovely folk. I also gave a talk to college students in Exeter about doing digital in the Civil Service – and particularly about the apprenticeship route.

…oh and I helped recruit my successor at DBT as a member of the interview panel.

Work

The first two thirds of the working year were very much focused on introducing a new roadmapping and planning approach at DBT, recruitment and coaching the product cohort (mainly on the dark arts of public sector small ‘p’ politics and bureaucracy.) I gave a few talks, encouraged more working in the open, make some plans for evolving the team structure, dealt with the spectre of the ‘machinery of Government changes’, lead a couple of Service Assessments, arranged a few temporary promotions and generally was really getting into the swing of the whole Head of Profession thing. Oh well.

The final third of the year was primarily spent working on the Open Referral UK stuff where we were investigating the opportunities for accelerating its adoption. This was a nice project to get my toes wet with consultancy again. New people, some familiar issues, supportive but hands-off clients and a pretty clear ask. Also part-time which was nice.

That said it was supposed to be part-time so I could spend time building my ‘business’. This proved to be less straightforward than I’d hoped. There was definite interest and a lot of conversations but moving conversations into contracts proved difficult (or maybe I just made it hard) but what was clear is that what people wanted from me and what I wanted to do weren’t aligned…and I realised if that was the kind of work I was going to get then I’d rather do it from within an organisation with the resources and benefits to let me just focus on the work not the chasing the work.

So I have finished the working year by accepting a job. More on that in January.

Fifty 

Yeah I turned 50. I was pretty preoccupied with it in the run up (and I took a LONG run up) but it turned out to be the most fun and least stressful of the milestone birthdays. I had a lovely ‘party’, got some amazing gifts, did all that aforementioned travel under the umbrella of ‘it’s my 50th’ and found myself the most comfortable in my own skin ever.

I still dress like a 90s twenty-something and consume media like a teenager but I y’am what I ‘y’am.

So that was 2023.

Onwards.

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