Grandma’s dictionary

I have been given my Grandma’s dictionary. It is my most treasured possession. It is an incredible thing, and a mystery.

Grandma’s dictionary is a handmade dictionary. The vast majority of the words it contains are between 2 and 4 letters, and most are obscure. They cover 75 pages. They are grouped by their first letter but are not in alphabetical order within the letter groups. Revisions have been made to some of the definitions.

The book is a lined pad of paper, reinforced with string. The outside covers have cloth pasted onto them, and the inside covers have wallpaper pasted onto them.

The first page of the dictionary
The first page of the dictionary

Grandma’s dictionary is a mystery. No one in the family remembers seeing before it was found in her house, after she died. It might well have been made while Grandma was in domestic service. We speculate that Grandma collected these words for playing Scrabble or for doing crosswords, both of which she loved. I wonder if she got the words and definitions from crosswords, though they might have come from another dictionary. Whatever the purpose, Grandma was educating herself after leaving school at 14. I think we could discover more about when the dictionary was made by looking at the definitions and seeing when they were current.

I plan to document every page online, so people can see the dictionary wherever they are, and make sure it goes to a good home when I’m no longer here either.

Visiting Code for America and 18F

In San Francisco last month I visited Code for America and 18F. Thank you to Lana for the introductions.

Code for America very generously fed me and let me do a talk to them, and I got to hang out with Brie when a few of them were in London a couple of weeks ago. I talked about the UK Government Digital Strategy, working with people who have lower digital capability, and how working in a department rather than at GDS has shifted my perspective. 18F people very generously talked to me while we drank coffee, which was also excellent.

Code for America's beautiful office. People do work here, they're just hiding in the back left.
Code for America’s beautiful office. People do work here, they’re just hiding in the back left.

These are my brief reflections a few weeks on, about the similarities and differences I found compared to my experiences doing digital government work in the UK. They are based on about 240 minutes of data, so take them with a pinch of salt.

These things are similar

  • people are really keen to talk about their work and learn from each other
  • there is a sense of excitement that these organisations exist and what they can do
  • members of staff have been happy to make substantial changes to their careers to be part of it
  • people are really ambitious about the impact digital can make on service delivery but…
  • there is just too much to do and it can be overwhelming!
  • there’s a strong awareness that digital government/civil tech are about changing culture and organisations as much as they are building digital services

These things are different

  • I found less of an interest in being seen as global leaders in digital government/civic digital
  • people talked very openly about the need for a diverse workforce, with sophisticated rationale for why this mattered, and what they were doing to overcome it – this is unlike anywhere I’ve done digital or digital government work in the UK
  • the offices are much nicer

I’m pleased and proud to be part of an international digital government community. We are very fortunate to be able to turn up in each other’s offices, be welcomed, and get to know each other. Thank you to everyone I met, I found our conversations really inspiring and returned to London full of energy and enthusiasm. Onwards!