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Matthew Sheret

Tom Eckersley

I’m still not used to having glasses. I keep having to flit between having them on and off. One of the best things about the Tom Eckersley exhibition was that the public information posters were clear enough to understand either way. Bold, clear ideas. No ambiguity. Beautiful.

All the ads for exhibitions and lectures… not so much. But that’s a different thing.

I was chatting to Mark and Louise about how that could be a way for GOV.UK to talk about services. ‘Do this, here’ might be all we ever need to say.

…and they were ace. I had a lovely evening last night, watching five very brave people show unfinished talks and films in a pub. Thanks to Giles, Reema, Anne, Louise and Ste for doing that – you were brilliant.

The audience were brilliant too. About twenty-five people came by, which felt like the right number. It meant some good chats got going at the close of the night without putting too much pressure to the people talking. The Queens Head is the perfect venue for that kind of informal affair too; thanks to all there.

Giles showing some slides

So, what did I learn?

Five might be too many people. It didn’t leave quite enough room for chat and feedback, and I’d like to make more space for that. Entirely my fault, that, and if I try it again I think I’m going to aim for three instead.

Eventbrite was an odd thing to use for this. It gave me a good sense of attendee numbers, and a means of telling people that I’d mucked up the timing, but it also made it feel a layer more professional than it ought to have done.

Technical hiccups didn’t matter. I worried a bit too much about them before we kicked off, and I needn’t have.

GOODNESS people are lovely. Generous with time and feedback, more than forgiving of mistakes and faffing, happy. That was nice, especially on a frosty January night.

I’d like more help next time. Maybe for programming – the variety was ace, and I’d like it to stay that way – but definitely for the audience. Anne did a brilliant job of getting some people in who brought a different energy to the room, and I think there’s room for more of that. It results in a better range of feedback, and that’s really what the night is all about.

Anyway, I’m going to mull on it a bit and maybe have another crack in March.

The Environment Agency, blogging about the release of a service going into beta, using video on the GOV.UK blogging platform.

Environment Agency blog

I’ve visited a few bits of the civil service, with Ali, Russell and others, and there are things we take for granted about how we communicate at GDS that blows others away; videos, public blogs, senior management taking the time to talk to staff, staff sharing how they work with their colleagues… the lot. And the thing is, it’s all relatively easy for us. We’ve had the freedom to define how we do that stuff.

The really hard work, whether at GDS, EA or wherever, is in the graft of building a service. Obviously. But from the little corner of the office responsible for posters and powerpoint (or key-frames and keynote, if you like) stuff like this looks like success too. Well done them.

Getting feedback on work-in-progress can be really hard, particularly for things like talks and films where sometimes you need a range of inputs and perspectives. It’s especially hard to get feedback if you’re new to it all.

So, I’ve booked a room in a pub where people can try stuff out in front of a few friendly faces and with no pressure to perform. 7.30(ish) on January 20th at The Queens Head, Piccadilly.

Currently the lineup includes three speakers (Giles Turnbull, Reema Mehta and Ste Curran) and two film-makers (Louise Downe and Anne Hollowday).

If you’re free, come. You lot are brilliant, and your feedback could be really valuable. Plus it’ll be a great night in a lovely pub in central London surrounded by warm and friendly faces.

Details are below, but if you’ve got a minute do sign up to the Eventbrite page – space will be limited, and it’ll be easier to keep you up to date if details change.

A night where people try stuff out
Monday 20 January 2014, from 7.30ish

The Queen’s Head
15 Denman Street
W1D 7HN London
United Kingdom
(Google Map)

Come!

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Last night I spoke at LDNIA. It’s the first time I’ve spoken at a thing for a while. Two reasons for that.

1) I haven’t had anything to say for a while. I wanted to wait until I’d made some things rather than just reckoned about them. I’ve been with GDS for a year and a half now, and I’m comfortable talking about what I’ve been up to (although, to be honest, you’re probably better off asking Sarah Richards to say something instead. Seriously. I’ll put you in touch if you want – she’s brilliant).

2) The last talk I gave was a eulogy for my Grandad. You know, I didn’t think that was a thing until I realised that it was, absolutely, a thing. The last time I spoke I had to fight very hard not to step away from the lectern – funerals are nothing like anything.

Hannah’s post the other day reminded me that stacks of energy goes into talking. Or, at least, that I try and put a lot in. They can wipe you out, when you put a lot of yourself into them. I haven’t been doing them all that long – often it feels like a novelty.

I get so much more out of them though. I work out what I think about stuff when I write a talk, and how I feel about things when I perform one. That’s a valuable thing.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying to those who came last night ‘Thanks’. You were lovely. It would have been my Grandad’s birthday yesterday, and it felt fitting to be exercising a bit of my brain that’s been dormant for a while. Thanks also to Matt for inviting me – much appreciated.

Three things. The Caught by the River social last night was tremendous fun. Some great readings and talks, followed by a beautiful snippet from Michael Smith and Maxy Bianco’s films series Another England. Well worth spending some time with.

Something that struck me – something Tim Dee put into words, actually – was the value of the talks and readings coming from people who were a little bit more experienced. A little bit older. The thoughts were a bit more worn in, the perspectives a bit more mature. They’d spent serious time thinking about and doing the things they were there to talk about. I liked that. I think there’s still a huge value in the raw reckons of inexperience, but I enjoyed the fact that this wasn’t that.

Secondly, I’ve started using linkydink, a service that compiles submitted links from a group of people into a daily digest. It’s really nice, a kind of collaborative Roo’s Letter. Greg‘s running a list called The Best of People, and it’s swiftly becoming my default repository for Things That Have Made Me Think. Greg’s tastes are sufficiently different to my own that I’m getting a kick out of seeing his contributions.

Finally, I’ve started hanging out at Orchard on Tuesday mornings. You should come.

Orchard cups

A couple of weeks ago I grabbed a few blog posts from the GOV.UK blogging platform and sent them to print.

We’re about a month away from the volume of blogging over there getting too big to keep track of. We need to explore different ways of collating that stuff for people, and I thought a ‘best of the month’ in print might be an interesting experiment.

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It doesn’t work. At all.

The lag between sending something to print and getting it back – whether with Newspaper Club or Lulu or anywhere else – makes it way easier to put some distance between whatever creative spark prompts the work and the actual final thing. That distancing effect was even greater when I realised I’d fucked up the file before I exported it (the front page header was utterly wrecked).

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Many pieces are too ‘of the moment’ and don’t stand up to a monthly schedule. The ones that do work well could actually just as well be collected in a year or so – it doesn’t really matter when.

Still and all, it’s a useful thing. What we did end up mulling over is how a PDF collection, or epub version, might work. Something not a million miles away from what Aly‘s getting people to do for the Transition readers, just downloadable. For people to ‘take offline’.

Basically, it’d be nice to get some of these stories in front of people in a format that doesn’t remind them of work. I like the idea of a few curators – for service managers, designers or delivery managers – picking their highlights and packaging up the URLs for people to read over a weekend, or on the train home.

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