Week notes: 15 -21 January 2024

GOVCAMP! A million pounds. Boom time. Scooby.

I’m writing this intro while taking a little breather in a quiet corner at UKGovCampXL.

I’ve been in a whirlwind of overlapping chat for 5+ hours with like-minded folks, which has been brilliant and exhausting! So glad I came! So ready to leave! More on that later 👇

But first, highlights of my week…

A million pounds to grow BFI Player

We announced a big thing! I’ve alluded a couple of times to an exciting partnership, well this is it. We’ve struck a deal with The Uggla Family Foundation worth £1m towards our expansion of BFI Player, and are collaborating with them on a suite of extra benefits to help young people break into film. Let’s go! (Also covered here in Screen Daily).

If you don’t know already, BFI Player is a brilliant little-streamer-that-could, where you get to ‘see something different’ from a library of films hand-picked by BFI programmers, for a mere £4.99 a month. It’s a culturally-motivated commercial service within our non-profit (BFI is a charity doncha know), with huge potential to delight many more people – in turn helping fund BFI’s work on film preservation, education and supporting British independent film.

The main thing we’re doing is getting it onto more devices, with more of the functionality people expect. At the same time we’re strengthening the content and subscriber experience by putting more of the BFI’s heft behind it.

Some quick reflections about the Uggla deal:

  • I can’t imagine more fitting philanthropy partners! Our main contact is Cassidy, a producer and fan of the BFI. She has an infectious passion for screen stories and doing good in the world, so it really does have the makings of a great partnership.
  • My colleagues are awesome: Paul who runs Player, the fundraising and finance teams. It took a village to raise this £1m.
  • Fundraising is hard. I’m new to this game, learning lots, often out of my comfort zone (at drinks and dinners!) Respect to all fundraisers. 

Other work stuff

It’s kind of a boom time for talking to colleagues about the importance of doing digital well, what with the Horizon scandal, AI fears and the British Library ransomware attack all grabbing the headlines.  

So I’ve been seizing that opportunity a little bit, and paying closer attention to our security work. At the same time I feel lucky to be in a place where I’m mostly pushing on open doors, and trust and proportionality are the norm rather than knee-jerk reactions to such things.

I gave my two pennorth on some promising emerging designs from Re for BFI Player’s website. I’m keeping a lid on my excitement until we know what’s achievable without deeper change right now. I’m also trying to feed in opinions in a way that doesn’t just override or add to the noise (make it pop!)

We had an epic 3-hour exec board meeting, which felt focused and productive. We took some decisions on spending proposals, enabling us to finalise the 24/5 budget to put to governors.


My first Govcamp in a decade! It was SO GOOD to reconnect.

I plumped for the corridor camp experience.

In other words I didn’t go to any of the crowdsourced sessions, and instead I had excellent rapid-fire catch-ups with about 50 people, through the Brownian motion of the crowds in the lobby and corridors. It was such an efficient and fun bit of network maintenance, with loads of interesting and inspiring tidbits, group therapy and a fair bit of goss. I had a total blast!

Speaking of maintenance – David Heath mentioned the Festival of Maintenance which sounds like a brilliant thing. I might check out some of the videos here. Ironically, not a going concern. Makes the point itself, doesn’t it?

I need to follow up on a chat with James O’Malley (LizL’s other half) about Teletext preservation. He’s part of a community salvaging it from VHS recordings. Amazing!

Several interesting chats about how GDS is “these days”. Lots of non-GDSers curious about the demise of heads of profession and loss of the GDS Academy (the latter was the topic of a session in the afternoon).

Lots of chats also on local gov finance, collaboration models, procurement failure, service design, digital democracy, making the case for digital in constrained times, blah. Mind is buzzing, hoppefully snippets will come back to me in context!

Interesting to chat to numerous folks on the SME supply side (Scott Logic, dxw, TPX Impact, Public Digital, Digi2al, Oxford Insights and promising newbies Clear Star) about the trends they’re seeing (a push to bigger contracts, a squeeze on day rates). Hot competition, procurement nightmares but plenty of work going around.

Special shout out to Will and LocalGovDrupal – I’m so proud to see how this has grown since we got it going in Croydon. Now financially independent!

My preemptive post on X and BlueSky about aphantasia-related difficulty recognising people proved both helpful and regrettable. People I know less well helpfully re-introduced themselves. People in my inner circle made a joke out of it. That was quite fun as an ice-breaker though, tbh.

I only had the one Daniel Plainview style rant about how awful people are (in general), prompted by a chat about the less constructive contributions that frequently occur in group discussions.

Shortly after which (rather than clubbing anyone to death) I did a French exit/Irish goodbye at about 2.45. 

Life stuff

A surprising highlight was a double bill of Scooby Doo and Guess Who? with no sound (well, Photek, Vitalic, Goldie and The Prodigy) while I was on the treadmill. You can follow the plot and guess most of the dialogue pretty easily, which was fun to scooby-dooby-do.  

(There are several things in my personal life right now that are significant, but not really mine to share. Noting this for completionist memory-jolting, slash an example of one drawback of keeping a personal joural online).

🔍 Found, interesting 🤔

Can Gantt charts be cool? Yes (there’s a romanticism to the story in this post) but also no. 

The UK film festivals you need to know

User-centred IT – Dave Rogers has written the post I’ve often Googled-for and never found. 

Mike Bracken has gone to the mattresses with this opinion piece in the FT: No more ‘Big IT’: the failed 90s model has ruined too many lives. Amen, and “onwards!”

Dan Taylor-Watt on why we (mostly correctly) expect better performance from AI than humans. Dan’s great, I do recommend subscribing.

Experimenting with AI chatbots on GOV.UK. Most chatbots are hateful things, only meeting the needs of the organisation to reduce or defer contact. But this GOV.UK demo feels more like an interactive version of step-by-step guides, with potential to help users clarify complex government processes through inquiry. So… maybe? It’s certainly interesting, and I trust GDS to keep it user-centred irrespective of any hype tech pressure that may also be behind this. One to watch, certainly.

What the actual flip? DHSC signs ‘ministerial intelligence’ deal with X to analyse posts by would-be hires 

Zen Bharmal (apps product manager on BFI Player) has joined the weeknoting party, yay!

Watching, playing, listening 📺🎮🎧

Started listening to Penith by Lil Dicky. I love his TV series, Dave. The album is hit and miss tbh.

A really good Catfish this week. Coincidentally the catfish reminded me of Dave Burd’s hype man, GaTa.

Many hours of The Traitors means I am now caught up with the broadcast so I can talk to you about it… until I fall behind again next week! It’s even better than season one. Rooting for Harry. But I did like Claudia’s feminist dig.

Saw one of those films that just changes you: Beyond Utopia. An utterly jaw-dropping, gripping, brutal and brave documentary about defectors escaping North Korea. A fascinating, shocking eye-opener about the Kim regime – it’s beyond science fiction. You must see this film, it’s streaming from late January. 

A couple of BFI Player picks: 

  • Pink Flamingos. Another in the Scala season, and my 2nd of John Waters’s trash trilogy. Moments of this (the chickens, the dog poo, the mother-son fellatio) gave me that rare feeling I crave of equal parts revulsion and amusement. 
  • The Night of the Hunted. Sexy French horror, with a comically overlong sex scene near the beginning. I was drawn to it because of the disintegrating memory theme, which resonated. But thankfully I am not being tortured and abused (at least… to my knowledge).

We also ended up watching Terminator and Terminator 2 in bursts, cos they were on one of the free film channels. Will never not be the GOAT.

TV dramas: Based on a True Story (it was OK but I don’t think I will carry on) and Poker Face (pretty good, keen to try another).


Don’t send her an Instagram reel or buy a train ticket [TikTok]

Double-fisted [X]

Bathroom tap talking to therapist [TikTok]

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