Working with @curiousc and Co @Public_i


I’m very excited to announce that from the end of this month (w/b 27th February 2012) I will be working 2 days a week for a fixed period of 6 months with the lovely folks at Public i as the Citizenscape product manager.

Why am I doing this?

Well that is a good question, I didn’t need to look for additional work, nor was I actively seeking to leave the council, in fact I’m very happy working at the council and we have lots of work to do and push forward as well as some of the additional things that I’m trying to push forward with Sarah Lay like the new Content Strategy Community, all of that will still happen as I’m not working alone and have lots of amazing people to work with to help make these things happen.

But I see this as an opportunity to experience a different culture, different ethos and working with people who are trying to solve a problem I care deeply about – the impact and opportunity of social technologies on democracy.

I’m already doing lots of things in my spare time so volunteering wasn’t ever an option here and I do love working on a variety of topics which are actually at their core linked around a set of common issues:  empowerment, engagement, social capital, participation and of course “digitalness”.

What will I be doing?

First and foremost I’ll be working with the development team and the rest of the good folk at Public I on helping them improve the overall user experience and focus of the Citizenscape product.

I’ll be providing constructive disruption and challenge and hopefully help make it a solution which helps the democratic process evolve.  Obviously 2 days a week is limiting so it will be a challenge but one that will also be a great learning curve for me as well.

The CitizenScape pages  state a set of assumptions which I feel are a good starting point to focus my thinking around the product – are these assumptions still correct for example.

The assumptions behind Citizenscape are simple:

Council’s should not be building social networking sites themselves – there is already a lot of activity online. Local Authorities need to connect to that rather than starting from scratch

You need tools that reach out and exist on the sites that people are already visiting – not waste your time trying to get them to visit you

The social web encourages co-creation and participation – this makes it the right place to start to engage people in democratic debate

On the whole they are still valid..but how does this actually translate into real life…

It is important for me to state up front that the product doesn’t quite work yet, I mean it does work technically, but in terms of the real opportunities I think it has some way to go.

The current version does make me think whether or not I could achieve perhaps 70-80% of the output within some free products like pageflakes or netvibes…that isn’t to say the existing product is poorly made or developed because it isn’t but the challenge is trying to build or create something that is actually still hard to articulate and explain even with the assumptions listed above.

In addition to that another challenge will be to either accept that aspects can be replicated on free platforms and move onto understanding the real value of the remaining 20-30% or increasing the opportunity of the whole product.  I’m not sure what the answer is yet but that is something I’m looking forward to working on over the coming months – whatever the answer, it has to be sustainable.

Will I succeed?

Who knows, I’m lucky to have such an opportunity and to be able to explore this in such a “low risk” environment…I won’t know until I try, It may not work out, or it may work really well…

I want to thank Catherine Howe for allowing me this opportunity to start with and for believing in me enough to allow me to temporarily adopt one of her projects and help steer it forward…that in itself is an honour and a privilege.

All I know is that along the way I’ll be learning, sharing my thoughts and thinking here on my blog.

Children are the best teachers…


One of the many joys of having young children is that they can teach you so much – how to enjoy simple moments, how to express yourself through dance and how to skip along to just about anything. One of the most interesting areas my children teach me most in is about how human behaviour has changed around the use of technology.

The look on my sons (7 & 5) faces tells me so much when I try to explain that when I was their age, or even a bit older – I had to wait over an hour to “hopefully” load a computer game called manic miner on the ZX Spectrum.  For them it seems to take “forever” to wait for Angry Birds or in fact any game that shows the words “loading” on the screen before you can play it….Oh and the fact trying to explain that I had to use a “cassette tape” to load the game is even more amazing…You’d think I was almost from another planet.

I personally notice this more when my children interact with my mother – not that my mother is technologically ignorant, but I do notice the difference in the language my children use and the expectation they have around specific devices or situations – e.g. every phone is assumed to have a touch screen and is connected to the internet.

A  recent example of when my children made me laugh as well as taught me a new perspective was when my youngest son Finley, who is 5 years old, came home from school one day and walked up to me as said:

“You know on the computer at school, the screen you go to, to ask questions and find things, that is called google” he then did a little dance and then turned back to me with a big smile and said “google, that is a funny word isn’t it” and continued his little dance accompanied by a very infectious giggle.

One thing I don’t think I’ve ever done is actually think about the word google…listening to my son, got me thinking that actually it is a funny word, but up until then it had only ever meant “search” to me….

Another example was when my oldest son Ewan, who is 7, started telling me some very interesting and quite detailed facts about sharks, whales and other sea creatures.  When I asked him if he had found these out via google or the internet, he replied “No Daddy, I didn’t use the computer, I read it in my Ultimate Book of Knowledge”. This made me chuckle at first, I must never assume anything, also it was naive of me to think that the only place children learn is the internet – books, yes real printed books, play a very important role in the development of children (as my school colleagues and library colleagues would testify)…As a parent, I have to let my children help me understand where the balance is…

Sometimes we have to remember that not everyone see’s the world as we do and that we stand a better chance of communicating with people if we start to appreciate the world as they see it and understand how particular things could play a role in that world.

As I say to my children often, everyday is a school day.

To cc or to not cc


I actually think email is amazing, it is actually quite mind-boggling to think that information I type into a message is received by another person within minutes, anywhere in the world…So I don’t have any issues with email as such but it does have its problems.

One of the most annoying things in my view is the use of “cc” ,  It would seem that not everyone uses it in the same way.  My understanding (i could be wrong of course) is that the use of “cc” is to ensure that those people who are included in the “cc” field are included “for information” purposes and are not being asked the questions related in the email.

However with the emergence of social networks and forums etc, is the “cc” field actually still a valid field to use. If you feel someone ought to be made aware of a communication and feel that there is a potential for them to contribute then why don’t we just include them in the main message.

I know it isn’t really a problem and it doesn’t even matter to most people…but on days when you need to prioritise your mailbox, those messages where I am not the primary intended receiver then I will leave them for another day.

I guess just another reason why we ought to rethink our use of communications technologies.

Ok rant over…

Going the extra 102 miles


When friends suffers a bereavement it is often hard to know what to do to help or even say, that help is often even harder when it is a young child that someone has lost.

So when those friends says they want to raise money in memory of their child, then there is only really one answer


Well a friend of mine (Neil) is raising money for the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths by getting a group of friends, to cycle 102 miles from Bristol to Exmouth overnight on the 13/14th August this year – it’s officially called the Exmouth Exodus.

That Yes to help, is then quickly followed by a serious thought about whether or not you are physically capable of doing such a ride….but it is really the least I can do, although it is quite daunting as the website says:

The ride is unsupported and it’s a condition of participation that you accept responsibility for your own safety and recovery should you be unable to complete the ride. This isn’t a race or sportive, it’s a group ride on public roads. There’s no broom wagon to pick you up, and it’s essential to carry a basic toolkit and familiarise yourself with simple repairs such as mending a puncture. If you break down, you should expect help from fellow riders

I’ve never cycled that far before, nor am I particularly good with mending my bike either, but it is a great opportunity to raise some money for a great cause and challenge myself as well as getting fitter along the way.

I know most of you won’t know my friend but I hope that you could make a donation – it really doesn’t matter how small. It would certainly help keep us all motivated as a group to know that after cycling those 102 miles we raised a good total for a deserving charity.

You can donate via the team’s Just Giving Page here

You can view the route elevation below to give you a sense of how tough and long it will be (remember this is through the night as well)….although I am looking forward to the downhills :) Fingers crossed it is a clear sky with a bright moon?

Phew, I can now stop feeling like a fraud


Inspired by my colleague and good friend @MartinHowitt ‘s blog post “The discipline that dare not speak its name“. I thought I’d reflect on the Enterprise Architecture Journey here at the council from my perspective.

The role of Enterprise Architect is being deleted here at the council and is being replaced by a new role with a much reduced scope. Firstly I agree with Martin’s assessment on the role and the lessons he learned but would like to share my viewpoint.

My observations on my 2 years in the EA Team:

The first year I felt very much out of my depth and always felt like a fraud when telling others especially Technical Managers in IT that I was an Enterprise Architect (raised eyebrows and all that). An issue for me in not gaining an understanding and more self-confidence quicker was actually down to the team itself – not intentionally of course.

We spent too much time discussing what we thought Enterprise Architecture was and what it meant, instead of actually agreeing on what outcomes we all want to see and allowing individuals to define their own style supported by some broad models and frameworks.

It all changed for me when we defined a set of EA Services and associated processes and standards. This gave me focus on the *how* and also defined the role into meaningful services that were much easier to explain to people when they asked “So, what does an Enterprise Architect do?”.

My second year,  I can honestly say, was the most interesting, not because of the work I did, but because the level and depth of the conversation I had with colleagues in the team (in particular Martin) about how what EA is, how it can be delivered effectively within a Political environment and where we can start to make changes and refocus efforts to reinvigorate the EA effort.

So it was a sad day in February when we were informed that the Enterprise Architect posts were being deleted and we all face the prospect of redundancy….for me I was actually more concerned about the loss of the role than whether or not I had a job or not in a few months time.

In terms of Enterprise Architecture, we achieved quite a lot, but no one cared about the stuff we did, it was all really background and context setting for us to understand how and where we could apply EA in the council. We created strategies, programmes, which no one wanted to accept. But we kept going and simply refocused and re-purposed all of the early work we did in to a manageable piece of work and presented in a context that was actually relevant to the council.

We made mistakes, quite a few of them and we learned, we missed opportunities, quite a few of them but we learned, we made progress but it is only now looking back that I can actually see how much progress we made. I’d like to think that if the right people remain in the council then an element of Enterprise Architecture will continue in a covert way and the council will start to see the benefits of adopting Enterprise Architecture approaches without really knowing. I could live with that.

Martin and myself have already made progress in enabling and equipping others in the council with the skills by adopting a virtualisation of  Enterprise Architecture, you can read the blog posts that Martin and myself put together back in February on this very topic (caution – read only if interested in EA) – Virtualising EA for Sustainability and Virtualising EA – Process.

So one of my reflections is that I always thought that for practically 95% of my time as an EA I was a fraud, incapable of actually doing the role –  But looking back now,  I was more than capable, but I failed to realise what opportunities it presented me.  I was also distracted by my lack of confidence and unnecessary discussions about approaches, I realised that these discussions were driven by the lack of confidence of others and their own insecurities.  We were all learning, but we didn’t have an effective team culture to really be open about those insecurities and lack of confidence.

So as I type this I am in a position where I am looking forward thinking about what my next move will be – continue with the process and apply for one of the new posts or leave the council and find new challenges. Either way I can stop feeling like a fraud as I have now graduated from the DCC School of Enterprise Architecture.

What I do know is that the skills, approaches and general philosophy of Enterprise Architecture will always stay with me – once an EA always an EA, I just won’t tell people. :)

My lessons learned and observations from my time as an Enterprise Architect are as follows and they are applicable to most jobs really:

  • Be pure of vision but pragmatic in delivery.
  • Don’t get distracted by other people’s insecurities.
  • Their simply isn’t any substitute for effective leadership
  • It’s more about who you are, not what you know.
  • Enterprise Architecture is a professional where most people don’t agree on a common definition but come together around outcomes.
  • I believe that Enterprise Architects can come from any part of an organisation and don’t have to understand the deep complexities of IT, Information or Business Process.
  • Enterprise Architects exist already in pretty much every organisation – you must learn to spot them.
  • Use your social and business network to full effect to access knowledge and constructive challenge and feedback.
  • Your ability to communicate to all people at all levels in multiple ways will directly influence how successful you will be.
  • No one really cares what you do, they only want you to help solve their problems.
  • Accept that politics exists at ALL levels of ALL organisations – ignore this at your peril.
  • Never tell anyone you are an Enterprise Architect :) Unless you absolutely have to…

There are plenty more lessons I could share, but they maybe better shared over a beer or two, so if you are interested and you see me around, don’t be afraid to ask.