The dark ages of digital government


Digital government got off to a slow start in the noughties. As one of the grassroots advocators at that time, I did a few small things to help it along.

In late 2005 I launched the first ever blog by a Cabinet Minister, for a young David Miliband. It felt dangerous and exciting. Lots of the credit is due also to Ross, Charlotte and Edward for helping cut through all the fear and inertia.

In 2008 I became one of a handful of pioneers to start blogging openly about my work in central government. I wrote regularly about life behind the scenes in government comms (which is where digital lived, when we called it “new media” or “e-communications”) – talking about  digital skills for the public sector, information architecture on government domains and experiments in online consultation. (Plus some drivel about chickens and GTD). That blog fizzled out in late 2011, around the same time people first started declaring blogging was over and I became busy blogging on official GDS channels instead.

I also started using Twitter relatively early by civil service standards, mixing personal and work updates and testing the boundaries of what it was acceptable to share, leading me to write this document  to reassure nervous civil servants about how they could use Twitter to engage with stakeholders and critics. It caused a bit of a stir, including a heart-stopping phone call from R4’s Today programme, and my overlong, somewhat grandiose “Twitter strategy” became headline news for a day.

But as much as it makes me wince to read it now, that paper genuinely helped – unblocking not only UK government bodies’ fears of dipping their toes into social media, but also lots of other organisations worldwide. Indirectly, it also led to David Cameron saying “too many tweets might make a twat” on Absolute radio. I’m proud of all these outcomes, for different reasons.

In those frontier days from 200x to 2011 I also product managed (before I knew the name for it) the build of a few government websites and intranets, including a platform for BIS to consolidate multiple agency organisations’ websites into a consistent design and turn off lots of duplicative CMSs. It was kind of a precursor to GOV.UK which, along with the personal reaction I blogged in response to Martha Lane-Fox’s report, helped me stand out as a person of interest to Tom Loosemore and get me a in position to be part of the next phase of the digital government revolution…


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