October update

Autumn 2017 themes for Rebecca Industries are training and doing good.

There is a lot of demand for training, as organisations look to upskill their digital leadership and delivery staff. I think this is a recognition that bringing in expert practitioners isn’t enough to make digital transformation happen in complex organisations. I’ve written and run a digital leadership development workshop for Sopra Steria, in collaboration with Mighty Waters (best company name I’ve heard since Rebecca Industries). Ade Adewunmi and I have started to do our leadership training for heads of service design (and content design and research) on the semi-regular for GDS. We did the session at UX Cambridge too. Behind the scenes, I’m developing a couple of new training propositions with consultancies.

In doing good, I’ve been helping Dr. Sue Black and #Techmums with some project management for a Nominet-funded programme for young mums and an online course. I’m starting to work with #upfront to help women and people from under-represented groups speak at more conferences. And the Esmée Fairburn Foundation has commissioned Sarah Jackson and I to run our digital project management training for charities they fund.

I spoke at Ada’s List conference about being feminist at work. My session covered practical things we can all do to speak up for ourselves and others, and how we can influence the canon of tech. It was a brilliant day and you can read the summary here.

How to hire more women into technology roles

I was proud to be one of the original signatories to this article about how to hire more women into technology positions. It’s a crowdsourced blog post from over 50 women working in technology curated by Emer Coleman (Technology Engagement at Co-op Digital) and Charlotte Jee (Editor of Techworld).

The article places gender diversity in the context of other inequalities

Take a look at what your current senior leadership team looks like. Do you have a female CTO or CEO? Is your leadership team all white? What about your Board? Most senior women will want to look beyond just the leadership team. They see diversity in the round and look for organisations that are diverse in class, race, LGBT people, ability/disability as well as gender. So it’s not enough to add a token middle class, straight, white woman to your management team.

I like the recommendations because they are focussed on practical action, for example

… actually demonstrate there is no gender pay gap. There are products developing in the market where you can actually dashboard this for your employees. Consider using a product like https://www.sliips.com/ which takes actual (anonymized) payslips to provide absolute transparency around pay.  Of course this is even more important in the UK now since it’s the law for companies with staff in excess of 250.

You can read the full article on Techworld.

A blog is your contribution, over time, on the internet

I love this post by Giles Turnbull about what blogs do for organisations. Giles argues that

“A blog provides something that posting on social networks has never been able to match: a searchable, linkable archive of thoughts over time. A blog is a terrific way of explaining what you’re thinking and how those thoughts change.”

I agree. My blog shows my thoughts over time. Sometimes my thoughts are “I would also like to modify the citational practices of digital government, which as an intellectual project rests almost exclusively on a canon written by white men” (December 2014, pretentious, true). Sometimes they are “I’ve been doing a bit of talking” (December 2015, less pretentious, also true).

But blogging has another purpose for me – recording my contribution. I try to write a factual summary of the work I’ve been doing every month or so. Partly, I record my work because I want people to hire me to do more work. Mostly, I do it because I want my contribution to be publicly recorded. I blog to take up space. Too many people (women) I know have had their contributions written out of the story of things they’ve worked on. Writing down what I do might not solve this, but I hope it will help.

An ‘eek I haven’t written anything for 3 months’ update

In my last monthnote I mentioned I had a new project, working at UK Trade and Investment (UKTI). Things have been busy since then, hence the radio silence.

I’ve been setting up a team to work on a new service for UK businesses that want to export, which you can read about on the UKTI digital blog. I’ve been very fortunate to hire a talented and determined team who are doing excellent work in sometimes challenging circumstances. I’ve also been working with UKTI colleagues on our internal tools, and doing regular skills-sharing sessions how you can use agile outside digital teams. It makes me very happy when people in finance teams tell me they’re doing stand ups.


(Photo by @mskatiebenjamin)

I’ve been doing a bit of talking too. I spoke about doing digital transformation in departments to government officials from Australia, New Zealand and Canada at Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Digital Government Symposium. I spoke to cool design types at UCD2015 about feminism, punk rock and public services. This was the first time I’ve talked about my work in a personal way. I loved it and other people seemed to like it too. Girls to the front!

Monthnote March 2015

I’m in the mood for a brief, prose monthnote.

This month I worked on Trafford Housing Trust’s digital strategy. I feel very lucky to be doing a project with such a wide scope, where I can work on user research, digital skills for staff and customers and the internet of things as well as my usual (beloved) digital content and services. I also continued to work on setting up a digital service team at the anonymous IT supplier.

I started reading Pressed for Time: The Acceleration of Life in Digital Capitalism by Judy Wajcman, which is excellent so far. The gendered experience of time is one of my favourite topics. A book combining that with a feminist analysis of technology, by one of my favourite scholars, could not be more perfect.

I also went to see Sleater-Kinney 3 times. It was glorious.

Health apps and Haraway

My life has recently been enriched by two health apps. The work of Donna Haraway has enriched my understanding of why I like them, and why I don’t. Ella prompted me to think of them together.

Hormone Horoscope

Hormone Horoscope is an app for people with regular menstrual cycles. It’s very simple and very effective. It takes the findings from lots of scientific studies into the menstrual cycle and its effects, and feeds them to you day-by-day. Each day it gives you a ‘horoscope’ with information about your likely mental and physical state on that day of your cycle.


Babylon is a virtual GP. You book a video call with a GP, usually within an hour, do the consultation, and they email the prescription to a pharmacy of your choice. I have used it for minor ailments but I wouldn’t use it for anything more serious. It’s currently free but I will happily pay for it in future.

Donna Haraway


Donna Haraway is a feminist theorist of science and technology. Last weekend I re-read her essay A Cyborg Manifesto, which is probably her most famous work. One of the many arguments in A Cyborg Manifesto is to distrust binaries including the one between human and machine. Haraway makes this argument by writing about the concept of the cyborg. The essay is playful and complex.

I have learned from A Cyborg Manifesto that a strict binary between human and machine is incorrect. At the most basic level this has the implication that us humans are constituted by technology, and technology is part of us, we don’t live outside it. But while I begrudgingly accept I’m probably a cyborg not a human (or at least might be in future, and that this might be a form of liberation), I don’t like the idea of having health apps collect lots of data about me. I know my iPhone already does this to an extent, and it gives me the creeps. I suppose this makes me a reluctant cyborg.

A reason I like these two apps is because they use my input and combine it with other people’s existing scientific knowledge, which I would not otherwise have access to, rather than collecting data about me in the background and giving me the results, like lots of health apps. I like how all the medical knowledge Hormone Horoscope has about me is the start date and length of my menstrual cycle. I like that Babylon can link up with my medical records and update my regular GP with new information, or not. I like that it gives me better access to the medical profession, rather than collecting and analysing lots of information about me.

Haraway teaches us to ground our experiences and critiques of science and technology in their social contexts. A Cyborg Manifesto takes aim at patriarchy and capitalism, among other oppressive systems. This reminds me that my previous paragraph makes these apps sound more innocent than they are.

I am troubled by using private healthcare like this because I think excellent healthcare, including women’s healthcare, should be available on the NHS. I love Babylon because my GP’s surgery doesn’t give appointments quickly enough to be useful for short-term conditions, or conveniently enough to be accessible if you work. I love Hormone Horoscope because it makes scientific knowledge available in way that is meaningful for non-specialists, rather than leaving it in journals behind paywalls. They are both work-arounds for healthcare systems that don’t work for me.

They are also exclusionary for various reasons. They are only available to people with expensive phones, internet access and particular skills. Hormone Horoscope is very pink, presumably because it’s aimed at cis women. I could go on but this post was meant to mainly be about why I like these apps.

I’d like to write a sentence here that neatly resolves the conflict in me liking and disliking things at the same time but I can’t. I hope Haraway would approve.


Monthnote November 2014

In November I spent quite a bit of time on Rebecca Industries work, in which I

  • had interesting conversations about potential new projects for 2015
  • did lots and lots of admin
  • wrote more blog posts, which, happily, people read

On the Healthbox Health Social Innovators programme, I helped a couple of the ventures out with how to build digital products, which was really rewarding.

At the anonymous IT company I worked on

  • the business case for them providing digital public services
  • financial modelling, not my natural environment but good to dust off my modest spreadsheet skills
  • external meetings to discuss the proposition with potential clients

I also went to Paris to visit a schoolfriend, where we saw the Niki de Saint Phalle retrospective at the Grand Palais.

Three of Niki de Saint Phalle's 'nana' sculptures
Three of Niki de Saint Phalle’s ‘nana’ sculptures

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.

Music, kindness, and a government that listens to its people

This is my dissertation, which I wrote for my masters in Gender and Social Policy at the LSE, about 18 months ago.

Why I’m posting it

I’m publishing it here because it’s the thing I’ve made that I’m most proud of. Doing my masters alongside doing paid work was the most challenging and fulfilling project of my life so far. I get such a buzz from that kind of work (oh yes) and when this essay fell into place it was such a rush (really). It was also the most successful piece of academic work I’ve ever done in that (as I’m sure I’ll have told you if we have met) I got an outstanding distinction. 85! But more importantly than that, I feel it’s a piece that’s distinctively ‘me’. Close analysis of current government policy, using feminist political theory, tracing big concepts through to the nitty gritty of indicators/measurement.

I’m also publishing it because it makes me sad that this is a type of writing that doesn’t get read other than by students and teachers. Note that it’s written in a particular style which is not how I write outside academic work. Some parts make me cringe – both what I say and how I say it.

In both the dissertation and publishing it I was inspired by Sara Ahmed. Her work on happiness got me thinking about the topic. And now she blogs about complex subjects like that, I thought I would have a go too.

What it says, in the closest I can get to non-specialist language this afternoon

In summary, this is an analysis of the Office for National Statistics programme for Measuring National Wellbeing, using feminist political theory. I supported the ONS’s ambition to measure the success of countries/policy outside economic indicators, but I found their methodology lacking. I argued that the programme conceptualises national well-being as measurable, aggregative and individualistic. At the point I wrote my dissertation, the ONS basically collected together existing quantitative indicators of well-being. This ensured that the well-being of most citizens was incorporated in the programme, but obscured the complexity of the topic.

It particularly obscured interconnections and unpaid caring relationships between people, echoing the economic indicators of wellbeing that the programme places itself in opposition to. In my view, the programme’s inadequate acknowledgement of care and relationships as intrinsic to well-being invalidated its concept of well-being.  I then challenged the programme’s insistence that well-being must be measured quantitatively, because it relied on the assumption that individuals know and transparently express their emotional states.

When you add that all together, I argued, from a gender perspective, the programme could not be said to meet its aim of measuring national well-being.

Rebecca Kemp Wellbeing Dissertation (PDF)