Changing of the guard at GDS


It has been a interesting week or so for those of us working in digital government. First the Executive Director of the Government Digital Service, Mike Bracken, resigned last week rather out of the blue. Lots of people have written about this and what a loss Mike is to the Civil Service and I am not going to repeat that here. Suffice to say he was a huge influence on the work we have been doing here and managed to totally change the conversation about digital technologies in Government in a relatively short period of time.

Today four additional senior members of the GDS team also resigned and to be honest these moves struck closer to home.

It is safe to say that Leisa Reichelt has driven the GDS ‘users first’ mantra more than any other individual. She has been a constant champion of putting user research at the heart of all the digital transformation work that has been undertaken in the last few years. The difficulty in recruiting ‘user researchers’ is partially her fault as she was so very convincing Government departments and other organisations all over the UK have followed the full-on user-centric approach – whereas previously it was often given lip service but little else. At ONS we have been accused of being militant in our commitment to user research and we have been fortunate to have the example of the work of Leisa and her team to point to as we followed that path. She has been a constant source of advice, guidance and support over the last year or so and the Digital Transformation Office in Australia are lucky to get her (and Jordan by the way!).

Ben Terrett has been the lead designer on GOV.UK for a number of years – he was part of the team that famously (in some circles at least) won the ‘Design of the Year‘ award for the site and has championed a truly digital first and almost utilitarian approach to design that I had never really encountered before. He invited our design and data visualisation team to join the Design group he chaired and just being a part of that community had immediate, noticeable benefits. The design of our Beta is clearly hugely influenced by his thinking, without being a carbon copy I hope. Like Leisa with user research Ben created an environment where you could have proper conversation about design in the civil service. This should not be under-estimated.

Both myself as an individual and the ONS Digital team in general had the least interaction with Russell Davies, the outgoing Director of Strategy, but in some ways he was most influential of all. For a start he is one of the people whose blog I have been reading since blogs were actually cool so a good many of my ideas on how to do this work originate in words on his domain and also he was one of the architects of the the GDS ‘design principles’ (as well as the Simpler, clearer, faster strap-line) and those principles – and our interpretation of them – has underpinned everything we as a team have done in the last 18 months. I can’t even imagine how often I have linked to them let alone referred to them in meetings.

Last but far from least Tom Loosemore also announced his resignation from GDS today. Tom has had a huge influence on my career since long before I knew him. When he was at the BBC I arranged for him to keynote a conference I was running just because I was fascinated in the work he was leading at the time. When he was essentially acting as the ‘founder’ of the original Alphagov team I was one of the lucky outsiders to be invited in to the almost derelict Hercules House to get an insight in to what they were working on and how they were doing it.

In the aftermath of some dark digital days at ONS Tom was parachuted in a couple of days a month to help us recover and find our feet a little. He was a constant source of advice, guidance and hard questions. His support was invaluable as was his willingness to volunteer the time of other great people at GDS to help us out as well 🙂 He became our most influential cheerleader and his speech writing skills should not be underestimated!

As Laura said on Twitter;

So I’d like to just say thanks from all of us at ONS Digital to Mike, Leisa, Ben and Tom. Good luck in the future.

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