Ooh it’s scary but exciting that @MTBracken yesterday sent an email to everyone in GDS to say that I’m leaving on 15th March. I’ve been in GDS just over a year but I’ve been in Government a hell of a lot longer so I thought I’d use this opportunity to say something about what I’ve learned about government.
People don’t go into government to do bad
You’d be forgiven for thinking that public servants/civil servants go into government to do bad. When you see the media stereotypes you think jobsworth, computer says no, job-for-life (no hoper).
I have a different view. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents were in public service as were, my aunts, my uncles, my father and my sister (as civil servants and teachers mostly).
When my father was a young civil servant his first posting was to a very (very) rural part of Ireland (Glengarrif in County Cork). There was a long-standing meme in our home about an old woman my father helped to access her widows pension. She was so grateful she waited at the side of the road for five days for his car to pass again to thank him with a present.
He of course had to explain she didn’t need to give him anything for “just doing his job”. At a time in Ireland, when people in public life (the bank, the clergy, teachers or public servants) were seen as having power that “ordinary” people should be grateful for, the concept of “service as job” is something that has never left me.
Democracy is not always what you think
And yes on the flip side there are those who seek to uphold their own silos and empires even though they don’t face the electorate at the ballot box. In my years in government I have generally found politicians more willing to take risks than officials (depending where you are on the electoral cycle) but in the main what I’ve experienced is both official and politician trying to bolt 19th Century systems of governance onto the mainframe of our 21st Century reality.
When you take the red pill everything looks like The Matrix
You will remember the scene when Morpheus offers Neo the red pill or the blue pill. If he takes the blue pill everything stays the same – if he takes the red pill (like Alice in Wonderland) he falls through the rabbit hole and sees things like they really are. We are at a juncture in society and technology where the system (and government) keep taking the blue pill struggling to deal with a new generation who swallowed the red one years ago. It’s a bit like the arrival of email - I still remember colleagues who used their PC monitors as a place to stick post-it-notes (this computer-email-thingy-will-never-catch-on).
With passion and leadership change is possible
I’ve been very fortunate in government to have had opportunities to both lead and serve. Tom Steinberg once said to me all it takes is finding the one person “who cares”. He didn’t quite say that. He said “all it takes is finding the person who gives a toss”. (I still currently work for government so can’t say exactly what he said but you get the drift). And it’s true our public service/civil service is full of people who give a toss.
And that’s where I exit
I have also been fortunate to work for people who really cared. In Dublin, Willie Soffe (former County Manager Fingal County Council), Leo Boland (former Chief Executive London Borough of Barnet and City Hall) Mike Bracken (Executive Director GDS). And I’ve been really fortunate to collaborate with a host of people who care deeply about the public realm @countculture, @jaggaree, @tobybarnes, @psd @janethughes, @tomskitomski,
@madprof, @paul_clarke to name but a few.
All my colleagues @gdsteam who work for government every day, because they want to make a difference. These are people who don’t expect someone to sit at the side of the road to give them presents. They are individuals who work everyday to be of service, to make something that will make life better for people. In other words – a whole organization – that well - gives a toss.
Where you will find me
In Placr helping my old friend Jonathan Raper bring the company to the next level (it's really exciting joining a startup I’ve been watching with keen interest for some time). I’ve also set up my own company Disruption Ltd and one of my first clients will be the Connected Digital Economy Catapult where I will be working for Neil Crockett their CEO.
There are so many people I would like to thank it would be impossible to name check them all. But if I have to name a sector to whom I want to give a special shout out then it has to be to the journalists that I have worked with over the past year (you know who you are). They have been amazing critical friends. They have not offered an easy ride but they are not the stereotype of “gottcha” either.
If the mantra of of Silicon Valley is “you have to collaborate to compete” then my mantra for government and media is that we have to “collaborate to comprehend”.
Government is hard.
That’s what I have learned.
I will be sad to leave it.
But I’m glad to have been of it too
Update: Thank you so much for all the very kind good wishes on Twitter it's been humbling.