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!

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