I had a rest. No work. It was brilliant.
I wrapped up my 6 month contract at UKTI in the first week of February. Lord Maude left the week after.
I’m working part-time at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. I’m lucky to be part of a brilliant team led by Chief Digital Officer Emma Stace. I’m acting as a roving programme director. I’ve been leading 3 discovery projects – one about digital transformation of corporate services, one piece of service design and one piece of Wardley mapping.
I’ve been doing some speaking too. I took a delightful excursion into the world of live art to speak at The Pacitti Company with the amazing artist Gemma Marmalade. We talked about how punk and feminist principles inform the (very different) work we do. Or ‘our practice’, as they say in the art world. I did my talk about feminism, punk rock and public services at People Before Pixels. I loved this meet up and it’s going to become a regular date in my diary. I spoke about digital transformation at Think Cloud for Digital Government in London and took a trip up to Manchester to talk about local government digital and procurement at Think Cloud For Local Government.
To do all that stuff, I spend a lot of time looking at screens. To balance this out in my spare time, I’ve unsubscribed from Netflix and Amazon Prime. It’s made me so happy. I read books again! Next up is the new Nicola Barker novel, The Cauliflower. A new novel by my favourite writer, at the exact moment I’ve started reading again. It doesn’t get better than that.
In June, I was approached by a new client: UK Trade and Investment (UKTI). In July, I filled in lots of forms for them and waited. I’m not very good at waiting. In August, I started work there as Head of Digital Services. My role is to set up a digital delivery team. We’ll build excellent services for UK companies that want to export and brilliant tools for UKTI staff. Over the 6 months I’m at UKTI we’ll take the first services through discovery, alpha and, if we go fast enough, beta. I’ve learnt loads from existing members of the UKTI digital team, who’ve been doing really valuable research and discovery work. There’s a big opportunity to improve the UK government’s trade services and I’m very happy to be involved.
I wrote about what I learned from working at GDS, what I learned from working at departments, and why we should keep getting better at digital government. People seemed to like it.
I went to San Francisco. It was lovely. I saw some big trees.
I’ve had a quiet couple of months work-wise, so they are sharing a monthnote.
I just got back from Porto where I did some excellent wandering, eating, drinking and general hanging out. I was delighted to be in the presence of many beautiful buildings. Porto is full of gorgeous churches and dishy art deco. My two favourite kinds of building! I also went on a tram and a funicular, my two favourite forms of transport.
I finished working at the anonymous IT company after a year. I’m proud of what my colleagues and I achieved there. They now have a digital proposition for public and private sectors, a team and a go to market plan. I wish them the best of luck!
I’m doing my first Rebecca Industries event tomorrow (July, I know, but arranged in June). I’m MCing a breakfast event about digital health, at Digital Catapult in Kings Cross, London. The event is organised by TechTalkFest and Tech London Advocates. I’ve missed public speaking after not doing it for a few months, and am looking forward to this and hopefully many more events. They may have to drag me offstage.
Having less client work has given me more time to attend to my network. I’ve loved re-connecting with existing friends and meeting new people. I’ve also joined Exponential and am interested to try this more curated (sorry) way of getting to know new people in the industry.
Finally, I’ve been reading things and feeling inspired by them. I recommend them all! Ella wrote about simple things men in tech can do to make the industry less sexist. Ella recommended Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water, which is an absolutely exceptional memoir I cannot do justice to here. I devoured it in one sitting and will return to it many times. For your more theoretical needs, Wendy Brown’s Undoing the Demos is an argument that neoliberalism is hollowing out democracy, through an analysis of Foucault’s Birth of Biopolitics lectures. Sarah Sharma’s In the Meantime responds to the idea that technology is speeding up time by analysing the experiences of time by people in different jobs, and argues that people’s experience of time are shaped by their place in society. I’ll end my feminist nerd-out here.
In April I finished up my short project at Trafford Housing Trust, an organisation with an excellent commitment to neon, to which my limited photographic skills cannot do justice.
My role was to write them a digital strategy in 15 days. I’m proud of what I did in that short space of time. I’m grateful for inspiration on this project from from Emer Coleman, Lou Cordwell and Anne McCrossan. My Trafford colleagues, especially Matthew Gardiner and Liz Dowd, have grand ambitions for digital and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
I’ve also done more work for the anonymous IT company, mainly on proposals for potential clients. It’s nice to be doing business development work again. It’s been a few years since I’ve done it for people other than Rebecca Industries. It’s also nice to get top marks on the proposals from clients, hehe.
Outside client work, this month I bought a flat. I’m proud and happy to have achieved this important Rebecca Industries objective. Now I’m taking 2 weeks off to move in.
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.
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 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 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.
This is a bumper monthnote because I took 2 weeks off at the end of December. I spent one of those weeks at home in Yorkshire. Here is Scarborough in all its gloomy magnificence. Note large expanse of grey sky.
At the anonymous IT company, colleagues and I have got approval to do the next stage of our project, which is brilliant news. I’ve also been doing some enjoyable work on digital projects for their clients.
Elsewhere, I’ve been turning my attention to using my skills for Good. I’ve started getting to know SH:24, a sexual health start-up, and will be helping them out a bit in February. I’ve become a fellow of the RSA. I’m not sure what exactly these two things are going to involve but I think they will be excellent. I’ve also got a new project with an organisation that does Good (and is ooop north) which starts in February.
Most importantly of all, Sleater-Kinney, creators of the Official Rebecca Industries Corporate Song returned with a new album called No Cities to Love. It is magnificent and made January 2015 the best January of all time. Surface Envy is currently my favourite song. It’s about working hard to achieve excellence, and choosing to do this hard work collaboratively.
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.
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.
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.