Category: Personal


Narcissitecture

People who retweet all their mentions. Who only follow you if you follow them back. Who only like your blog post if it mentions them.  Who set up second accounts so they can retweet and recommend themselves. Who only read something if it affects them directly. Who only vote for their tribe, their interests, their ideology. Who retweet their Follow Friday mentions. People who wrestle everything into their agenda. Who ignore anything they can’t relate to their agenda. Who care more about what they are doing for you than for you.

People like me (and, statistically, probably like you as well). I recently listened to an entire hour of a podcast because I was told I got a mention in it. It was bollocks. Not sure why I did that, or why I care. I’m probably only curious about myself.

Narcissism seems completely part of the fabric of society now. Maybe it always has been, but social media amplifies its visibility: the default tabs on the standard Twitter client – Home, Notifications, Messages, Me – reinforce the use of the platform as a narcissistic tool. If you follow more than a couple hundred people, “Home” overflows so you are more likely to see your notifications than you are to see tweets from others. Using lists aggressively, as I do, is the only way to follow more people and keep sane, but this isn’t a prominent feature of the platform. So we are gradually enticed to track our notifications more than the “content tweets” of others.

Blog like no-one’s reading. Because, you know, they probably aren’t.

6 songs part 2

After last week’s post on the Six songs of me, top tweeter Janet Davis ratcheted up the difficulty by proposing an alternative set of questions. I like a challenge so here goes.

1. What song do you remember best from college/university?

I hung out with some slightly offbeat people at Uni. The song I remember everyone listening to most are “Ain’t no Friend of Mine” by The Sparkles (although a number of different versions did the rounds if I remember correctly, which I probably don’t). I’m not really in touch with any of those people any more and just now was the first time I’ve listened to it since. I really hate it.

The other song that reminds me of this period of time is “Stand” by REM. In my final year I hid away a bit to get studying done and discovered late night radio. I remember the first time I heard this song and it’s been a favourite since. I’ve never done the dance though.

2) What song best evokes your experience of a study or work trip?

Difficult. I’ve not been on many study or work trips where music has featured much, and I’m racking my brain. Null response on this one.

3) Which song is most likely to bring a tear to your eye (or to make you weep copiously)?

I’ll cry at virtually anything except music. Some of the Mozart piano concertos (especially number 20) remind me of my Mum and that makes me go a little bit, though.

4) What is the best song to kickstart your most creative thinking?

Difficult to choose just one here. Technically the answer is “anything I like”, but if I had to choose just one it would be something quite sparse. Portishead’s “It Could Be Sweet” fits the bill.

5) Which song helps you work when you really need to concentrate?

If you want to concentrate you need something quite long. “Close to the Edge” by Yes does it for me. Sorry.

6) When you’re angry, on which song do you want to turn up the volume?

Hoo boy. I’ve learned that anger is really a cover-up for something else. At those times I meditate. Preferably to Spiritualised. “Pure Phase“, “Sway“or “Angel Sigh“are best.

7) Which song sums up the person you would like to be?

I’m quite content with who I am, really. If anything I merely struggle towards being better-adjusted. For this song I am going to pick “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” by The Flaming Lips because a) I think the Lips are well-adjusted, and b) who wouldn’t want to be a black belt in karate? :)

 

Six songs

The Guardian website (disclaimer: I am a bleeding heart pinko liberal leftie) has set out a challenge: to select six songs that sum you up. There’s a full article here explaining why it’s an important project and a link to the project website, sixsongsof.me for people to record their own list. The difficulty is ratcheted up beyond the usual “epic mixtape” level by the project asking you very specific questions: unfortunately, not all the songs that were ever recorded are selectable using the site.

My problem is that the answers to some of the questions that  wanted to use weren’t there and in some cases I wanted to add some narrative, alternatives and/or explanation. So I’m blogging it instead.

Here goes then.

1) What was the first song you ever bought?

Embarrassing. It was January by Pilot. So sue me. I was 7 or something.

2) What song always gets you dancing?

Lots of options here.  I like pop music and I don’t much care how trashy it is. On the other hand, I like to think I can appreciate something that’s well-crafted and for sheer energy I have two favourites: Talking Heads Crosseyed and Painless (this live performance is particularly groovemungous) and the poppy punk of Angel Interceptor by Ash which never fails to put me in a good mood.

3) What song takes you back to your childhood?

Only one option here – Funky Gibbon by the Goodies. Although most of my family played musical instruments, I wasn’t born humming Bach fugues. No YouTube link because I don’t want to lose *that* many readers.

4) What is your perfect love song?

My lovely other half used to have an MP3 alarm tone on her phone of Weird Fishes / Arpeggi by Radiohead. So that song always makes me realise I need to make her a cup of tea. Also, it’s just musically and lyrically beautiful. Some people think Radiohead are miserable. Those people are losers.

5) What song would you want at your funeral?

One funeral is too many to go to, but the ones I’ve been to have had two songs: one when people are going in and another when the coffin is going out. So I have two selections here, which are actually written in my will so they will happen.

On the way in, it’s Pyramid Song by Radiohead. Preferably performed by a choir, but we can’t have everything.

On the way out, Zombie Woof by Frank Zappa. I want to make some people smile plus it has the most epic guitar solo in the middle. And like one of the commenters, I have lived for the riff at 3:56.

6) “One last song that makes you, you.”

Difficult. But I was listening to the Beck album Odelay the other day and thought how much I loved the way he cuts up styles and how the songs don’t really end, they sort of collapse. I love that. I could name any one of the songs on that album, I love them all. I would love to be half as eclectic and dare to just meander off instead of being crisp and “professional”. But I’m going to select “Loser” (which isn’t on that album) because he isn’t one. But then again, aren’t we all? Or something like that.

 

 

On being awesome

I’m not awesome. At least, not any more than any other human. Or indeed, any other plant or animal. Or rock.

The other day I tweeted: “Be mediocre. Awesomeness doesn’t scale”.

This is 2 sentences. One part is weak trolling, the other part is a genuine plea to set aside our narcissism and build some stuff that is sustainable.

Louise Kidney: responded -> “be mediocre????? how depressing ;O(” … “Rome didn’t get built cos someone settled for mediocrity.” … “If we all wander around going ‘frak it, don’t be awesome’ there’d be no athletes, no visionaries, no boundaries broken…and the world would be boring, 1 dimensional, samey, sheep herding awfulness.” She also linked to this passionate defence of her position: http://louquietly.tumblr.com/post/20643056805/aspire which is typically forthright and well argued. I like Louise a lot. She knows who she is.

But a) that’s only responding to my first sentence, not the second. And b) I’m not her. I couldn’t give a monkeys about athletics. Vision is nothing without execution. If we all lived like Amish, would we be happier? Quite possibly. If Rome had never been built, sure I wouldn’t be sat here typing this: if everything was different nothing would be the same. And other insipid truisms.

Maybe I’m getting old, but I like silence. http://icerunner.co.uk/2012/01/the-value-of-nothing/

I quite like “boring, 1 dimensional, samey, sheep herding awfulness” sometimes. Because there’s more to “sitting here” than some might think. Check out these pictures of people before and after a meditation retreat: http://www.utne.com/The-Sweet-Pursuit/The-Meditation-Makeover-Before-and-After.aspx

I like simplicity. I like the feeling of working in a team. Being part of something bigger than me. Being a small cog is a bigger machine. I want stuff that lasts when the cool kids have moved on. I want everyone else to benefit, not just the hipsters.

But more than all that I want stuff that scales globally. I want to help build stuff that everyone can use for ever. I don’t want to be chasing my own dreams on my own. I don’t want to stand out and be awesome.

If I have to sit in meetings all day nudging things forward inch by painful inch rather than being the swashbuckling, disruptive Lone Ranger to make that happen? Ok then.

Don’t climb higher than your angels can fly. Or something.

Innopints 3: Exeter

Capital isn’t so important in business. Experience isn’t so important. You can get both these things. What is important is ideas. If you have ideas, you have the main asset you need, and there isn’t any limit to what you can do with your business and your life.”

— Harvey Firestone

There’s been an occasional event since last summer where a bunch of us get together, have a pint and usually some food, and talk about how we might do things differently. This hasn’t been in a fixed location: the first was at Dartington, the second in Newton Abbott.

The awesome George Julian organised the first two as they were in her neck of the woods, and now it’s my turn. So I am pleased to announce that Innopints 3 will be in Exeter on the 12th March 2012 at 7:30pm.

If you’ve never been to one of these before, it is totally low-key and is basically just a bunch of like-minded people having a chat. Drop me a line (as I’ll need to book numbers) or tweet me if you have any questions. You’ll be most welcome!!

As for the venue, we have a veritable cornucopia of possibilities in the South-West’s premier city and I’m happy to be swayed by a majority view. There are excellent Indian, Thai, Moroccan, Chinese, Italian(1) (2), Spanish, Mediterranean and even English options.

Please make a suggestion in the comments below and I’ll put a shortlist together.

If you’d read my previous post (from a long time ago – sorry this follow-up is so late) on Enterprise Architecture in Political organisations you might be forgiven for thinking I disliked office politics. And I suppose I do. I guess this is because I’ve generally had an analytical mindset that wanted to optimise the obvious things. Want me to build a web server? I’ll try and make it return pages as fast as I can. Ask me to design a solution? It’ll be as cheap and effective at its stated aim as my skill can make it.

To be honest my approach is more than a little lacking in imagination. Of course the people I work with want these things, but after a certain point, no-one notices. Initially I was horrified that someone might give me a task either to keep me distracted or to act as a lever in some other process, and then my horror gradually mellowed into cynicism and, finally, acceptance.

And therein lies the story of my long slide into middle-aged mediocrity. Except that there’s another side to this. In the comments on my last post Mike Lamoureux commented that politics can act to show “who is passionate, and about what, you just have to read between the lines”. There are some other reasons why politics might also be good:

  • it can ensure that a one-dimensional view of the enterprise doesn’t get railroaded through
  • it can be a way for the brightest in the organisation to rise to the top
  • it might be needed to provide for change that is blocked by formal systems of governance

(list adapted from Mintzberg 1998: 243-244)

As we previously noted, politics is everywhere. So if all Enterprise Architects have to deal with politics, and it isn’t all bad, what do we do with it?

I think this lies at the heart of many of the problems with modern EA practices. Those with more political savvy can bypass, leverage, ignore, or exploit an analytical architecture group in more ways than the group itself probably understands. It may seem unethical to someone with a purely analytical education – it certainly did to me – but that’s the way humans are.

It’s time to man up. As my colleague Carl Haggerty might say, lets do Black Ops.

I think that one of the things an EA team needs to decide at the outset of its practice is what its political goals are. Political EA means having a future state vision, not just of the shape and plumbing of an organisation but of how power flows through it and the desired position of EA in that power flow (if you don’t include yourself in the design, don’t complain that you’ve been sidelined – that’s what you wanted, yes?). In other words, we need to architect the power architecture as well as the delivery architecture.*

EA teams also need to manage stakeholders differently. Now the idea that communication is essential is not new for an EA team. But I think we haven’t gone far enough: we need to explicitly play some games to make our future state a reality. If our future state doesn’t make it, someone else’s will: and then we have stopped being the architects of the enterprise and we might as well go home or go back to coding or whatever it was we were doing before. So lets pick some winners early on and put our weight behind them. A covert prediction market might be a good way to identify those people who are rising in the organisation and those who are on the way out. Quietly aligning some EA artifacts with the ambitions of those rising stars is one way to accelerate our own influence.

Finally, we need some political strategies of our own if we are to get our (analytical) architectural projects through. I’ve noted some basic ideas in a previous post but these can be expanded and seem to fall into five categories (thanks again to the awesome Mr Mintzberg 1998: 244-246):

  1. Accept and manage political realities. If one thing has no chance of getting through, request something else. Lets not bash our heads against the wall fighting battles we’ll never win.
  2. Target middle management. Most resistance to any kinds of change will lie with middle management (and lower). These are the people you need to be actively managing to find out their sweet spots and pitching ideas at to ease their pain. (ISO27000 standards, for example, systematically do this by devolving risk ownership to middle management, thereby making these people change the behaviour of their staff)
  3. Use classical political tools. Politics is the art of the possible. Focus on ends, not means: “good enough” results are sometimes good enough: increase management options by focusing on broad issues rather than sensitive narrow ones: anticipate problems and show how they might be dealt with (you may get your way even if you don’t get the credit!): anticipate what coalitions might form against your ideas, who might be in them and why.
  4. Manage coalition behaviour. For example, change the order in which issues are addressed to make different coalitions form: increase the visibility of some issues to influence coalitions: unbundle some of the issues into smaller issues. We can adapt strategies to satisfy some coalitions but its easier not to (unintended consequences and all that).
  5. Take direct action against a coalition. Pre-emptive coalitions, counter-coalitions, re-shuffling (or removing) coalition members in an organisation, co-opting coalition members, or increasing communication efforts all fall into this rather high-risk category.

There’s a lot more on this subject that a blog post can’t do justice to. I have yet to read any political theory, but am sure there’s a lot of stuff in there we might be able to use. But that’s for the future, I hope this post gives some practical stuff we can use now to get better outcomes for our organisations.

*One thing I’m missing is an actual reference architectural model for an architecture of politics. If anyone has any ideas how I could develop or steal one, please let me know in the comments. I promise I don’t bite!

Reference: Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, Lampel, “Strategy Safari” 1998 FT Prentice Hall

A month of Sundays

In my household Sundays have tended to fall into a pattern: we wake late (some later than others), have a leisurely breakfast, do the housework, have a leisurely lunch, then drive out to one of the beautiful places near me and walk, chill out and take photographs, all the while letting the munificence of nature stroke our stressed-out brains.

Not very exciting, perhaps. Almost certainly not exciting enough for some of my readers. But it’s what we do.

The last four weeks, however, have seen this pattern repeated, but on a daily basis, as we toured New Zealand in what turned out to be a very small campervan. I didn’t keep a diary during this time as there wasn’t time or space to write. So I’m just jotting down here what we did on each day to remind me for when I get it together to upload photos and suchlike (at the time of writing I am still feeling quite dozy with jetlag).

Monday 21st Feb: Arrive Auckland 7am. Witnessed a road accident on way to hostel from airport. Spent day asleep and then had fish and chips, then slept again.

Tuesday 22nd Feb: picked up Nissan Vanette campervan from North Auckland. Decided to get as far from the city as possible so as to minimise the risk of becoming an accident statistic. Drove down SH1 and then a spectacular road up the west side of the Coromandel peninsula, booked into campsite. Saw the devastating news of Christchurch on the TV and started ocntacting people to let them know I was ok.

Wednesday 23rd Feb: Coromandel. I fell in love with Kiwi engineering and native Kiwi bush country on the Driving Creek railway. Then we drove East and camped in Whitianga.

Thursday 24th Feb: Whitianga – Hamilton. After a wander and leisurely breakfast we headed for Hamilton to see an old family friend. The drive went through some of the less interesting bits of Kiwi scenery: farmland, sheep, cows, abandoned farm machinery and vehicles on bricks. But I found our friend Joy Homewood easily enough and she was as lovely as I remembered from my childhood.

Friday 25th Feb: Hamilton and Waitomo. Joy drove us down to Waitomo to see the caves and we were guided through them by Maori. For a brief few moments, in a boat beneath a constellation of glowing insects, it was magical. Exit through the gift shop. Then we took Joy out to dinner at Genjy’s in Hamilton – a good fun place to eat. Good times.

Saturday 26th Feb: Hamilton – Rotorua – Tongariro. We reluctantly left Joy and headed to the volcanic centre of the North Island in Rotorua. A Maori guide explained some history and took us to see the most reliable geysers and boiling mud pools. Exit through the gift shop. Then a drive round the shores of the beautiful lake Taupo and an overnight at Tongariro Base Camp.

Sunday 27th Feb: Tongariro. This was my unfinished business. When I was 10, my family attempted to cross the Tongariro saddle but were turned back by bad weather. Today, we finally conquered the mountain. It was a tough walk amidst awesome scenery. I will never forget.

Monday 28th Feb: Tongariro – Napier. We were sore from walking so decided to head somewhere chilled out to cool off. Napier, famous for it’s Art Deco architecture, seemed suitably cultured so we set off from Tongariro Base camp, taking the Desert Highway before heading back round Lake Taupo and East to the coast. In the event, it was a long drive.

Tuesday 1st March: Napier. We spent most of the day doing chores, a bit of shopping, and exploring the town and observing the port from the hill. We also got some working internet and started booking some things up for the days ahead. Next time, I’ll do more planning up front.

Wednesday 2nd March: Napier – Martinborough. Our morning was spent taking a tractor trip out to see the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers. The trip was good fun and we likes us some gannet, they are fine birds and the viewing positions were right up close. In the afternoon we headed South to wine country. New Zealand has lots of good wine and Martinborough is right in the centre of a great wine-growing area. I drink beer. I hate wine. Ho Hum. In the middle of the night I get out of the van to go to the loo, and the stars are out. I had no idea there were so many. I feel very small.

Thursday 3rd March: Crossing. Up very early to catch the ferry from Wellington over to the middle island on a perfect day for it. In fact the weather has been utterly glorious all the way so far with only the occasional shower at night. That is all set to change, however: we book into a campsite on Queen Charlotte Drive after watching a ray cruising around the bottom of the water nearby, and go to bed. In the night, the heavens open.

Friday 4th March: Picton – Farewell Spit. After a quick, rain-soaked breakfast, we headed west towards the far north-western corner of the middle island. The weather clears as we drive and in bright sunshine we reach the Farewell Spit in the late afternoon. On the far side is a beach that looks like the Skeleton Coast – all surf and sand dunes, and no-one about. Wild, sunny and raw. It’s unforgettable.

Saturday 5th March: Golden Bay. In the morning we visit the Farewell Spit again and spend some time watching for wildlife. There is surprisingly little. New Zealand seems to have lots of good habitat but not very much living in it. I don’t know why. There are a load of Pukeko and Jane spends some time trying to get good pictures.

Sunday 6th March: Abel Tasman. We leave our campsite early and drive West over the mountains to Marahau, where we book into a campsite and catch a water taxi a few miles up the coast. This National Park is spectacular with native bush, turquoise sea and golden sandy bays. We hike back to our campsite. The stars are out again that night.

Monday 7th March: The West Coast (1). A day’s drive to Westport and some more advance planning. The roads on the West of the island are spectacular and we pass through gorges and passes. The van is coping well although it is slow going up hills and I am constantly pulling over to let people past me. Kiwi drivers are insane.

Tuesday 8th March: The West Coast (2). We drive down the west coast from Westport to the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. Westport – Greymouth in particular is just stunning. We book into a campsite in Fox and prepare to walk on the glacier in the morning.

Wednesday 9th March: Fox – Arrowtown. The morning is spent walking on the glacier as part of a group. I’ve never worn crampons before, but it worked out ok and the glacier was beautiful. In the afternoon we drove through the Haast pass and then over Cordrona towards Queenstown. Some scary driving but the van picked out its path like a little hill-pony. Arrowtown is VERY clean and tidy. A bit eerie in some ways.

Thursday 10th March: Queenstown and Fiordland. In the morning we did a rare adrenalin thing – well, when in Rome and all that – and went jetboating in the Shotover gorge. That was good fun. Then we drove to Milford sound in the afternoon. The weather was closing in and the trip is quite a scary one involving a very long tunnel. On the other side we discovered there was nowhere to camp, but the campsite owner took pity on us when he saw our little van and let us use his car park.

Friday 11th March: Piopiotahu (Milford Sound) and Te Anu. This isn’t just rain: this is Milford Sound rain. Huge succulent raindrops the size of blackberries soaked the van overnight, each carrying a seeming payload of starving sandfly who tucked into our pale English blood with relish. I could connect the dots on Jane’s legs and it would spell something unspeakable. But it cleared just as we took to the boat and we were rewarded with a million waterfalls all tumbling into the fjord (it’s technically a fjord, not a sound), a scene that photographed itself. In the afternoon we escaped the way we had come and dried out at the comparative civilisation of Te Anu.

Saturday 12th March: Te Anu – Catlins. A long day of driving to the extreme South where we showed up at the southernmost tip of the island (no gift shop – Land’s End please take note) and Porpoise bay. Camped in a campsite that seemed more like a farm. The stars, though…oh my.

Sunday 13th March: Catlins. We visited a lighthouse and explored another deserted beach, almost tripping over a resting sea lion. These big boys are dangerous, though, so we back off pretty quickly. Later there were fur seals along the coast, some penguins, and finally a short drive up to Dunedin where we camped.

Monday 14th March: Dunedin. The morning was spent on the Taieri Gorge railway, a gentle trundle into the mountains accompanied by a commentary from an increasingly leery Kiwi version of Peter Alliss. In the afternoon more wholesome pursuits as we went to view the albatross colony on the Otago peninsula. Those birds are BIG and magnificent.

Tuesday 15th March: Dunedin – Kaikoura. We decided to miss Christchurch out and a long day of driving took us round the city and up the coast. Christchurch outskirts were busy in rush hour but we didn’t see anything untoward.

Wednesday 16th March: Kaikoura. This place is the whale, dolphin and seal spotting and swimming capital of the Island. We opted for a Maori-owned expedition out and saw some magnificent sperm whales, dusky dolphins and a humpback whale.  Weather was perfect. Again.

Thursday 17th March: Kaikoura – Wellington. An early start to drive up the coast to Picton and catch the ferry back over to Wellington on the North Island. We have a dinner date with Doug Newdick and despite us messing him about a bit, we met up. Our best meal so far, and some good company – followed by a dash to the van in the rain. Is our luck with the weather going to hold?

Friday 18th March: Wellington – New Plymouth. Doug had tipped us off about some good things to see in Wellington, but we can’t cope with being in a city again and so we head off up the West Coast in search of some space. In the event we make it quite a long way – as far as New Plymouth, after circling the magnificent Mount Taranaki. a long drive but worth it.

Saturday 19th March: New Plymouth. We lol about town for a bit. I really like the atmosphere of the downtown area and we have some good food. Then we head for the mountain and take the short walk to Dawson’s Falls and the goblin forest that surrounds it.

Sunday 20th March: New Plymouth – Raglan. Our time in New Plymouth ends with an entertaining trip around the harbour and an excellent lunch courtesy of some cafe who’s name I can’t remember. Then we drive north to Raglan, home of one of the finest left-hand breaks in the world. Whatever that means. We eat at the excellent Namaste Kitchen. Namaste New Zealand. I honour the place where my wallet meets your gift shop.

Monday 21st March: Raglan – Auckland. Ah, so that’s what “left hand break” means. Surfer’s paradise. If I had more time I’d learn to surf here. But sadly, we are running out of time and have to return our trusty van in Auckland. Our flight finally takes off at 11 pm.

And that was that. Overall there was too much dashing about and not enough chilling out, but this was still the most awesome holiday I’ve ever had and I’d do it all again like a shot. Some more general reflections to follow once my brain settles….

This year was the second time I had attended the UK GovCamp in London. As with last year, it was in the unconference format unorganised by Dave Briggs and Steph Gray and held in the offices of a technology giant in Victoria. Last year it was Google’s gaff, this year Microsoft kindly donated their space. The poor guy from MS had to put up with being the butt of everyone’s jokes pretty well all day, and to his credit he bore it all with very good humour.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The real event started the previous evening at a pre-event drinks session hosted by Learning Pool. We were quite late to this but managed to get some food and mingled with the various people there. Most notably I had a good catch-up chat with Sarah Baskerville who had had quite a difficult few months but I’m pleased to say seemed to be very much herself:

I do like Sarah, even if I feel I could get drunk just by talking to her :)

I also met up with a number of other people, it’s a bit blurry but I remember meeting Paul Mcelvaney, Mary Mckenna, Dave Briggs, Nick Booth, Anke Holst, Anne Kempster, and Dan Harris amongst others.

I can’t really take my drink, and when we got back to our hotel it was nearly midnight and I struggled to get to sleep. So the next morning was always going to be hard work. But loaded up with Travelodge coffee and breakfast we piled across to Victoria and across the “threshold of doom” (one of my companions paused just before the sliding front door and said “are you sure about this?”) into Microsoft’s HQ.

The first thing that happens at a GovCamp is that everyone introduces themselves in roughly 10 seconds. Last year it was name, organisation and 3 “tags”: this year it was name, organisation and “what you are here for in one word”. 178 people were there and Lloyd Davis expertly facilitated this to happen surprisingly quickly: having spent the previous week agonising over what my “tags” would be I was caught on the hop but managed to recover in time to say I was there to recharge: which is as true as I could make it.

The next thing is the creation of the agenda. There were a lot of available rooms and everyone queued up to propose a session and they all went on post-its and a programme was created. Again, Lloyd did this brilliantly, with good humour and managed to keep everyone brief and on-message. The whole thing took half an hour and then we were off into our first sessions.

My first session was a talk by the new Government supremo of all things digital, Chris Chant. He’s only been in post a couple of weeks and so this was quite a coup (by Mark O’Neill, I think) to get someone in with so much clout. Having said that, this session didn’t really belong at a GovCamp because the format (talk, Q&A) wasn’t what you normally hope for (ie a multi-way discussion). I think that Chris seemed a good guy but I’m not hopeful that the direction of Government IT will massively change as a result of his appearance at GovCamp. In my opinion this discussion needs to get to a new level of depth before we can have any reasonable chance of success. In particular there seems to be the view that engaging with SOCITM means you get a good view of the needs of local government: although SOCITM is a good organisation and there are some great people there, this just isn’t true. IT managers are not best placed to input to strategy, there are too many political considerations there, and I might be blowing my own trumpet but I feel that local government IT architects are the people that central government really need to be talking to.

A lot of sessions at the previous Govcamp had focused on open data or web-based public engagement. I’m not particularly interested in either of those topics so it was good to see a number of different emerging topic areas: my second session was a case in point as it was on the subject of mentoring. The government hopes to recruit a whole army of business mentors to replace Business Link, which is shutting down. New on-line mentoring services like Horse’s Mouth are starting to come to the fore, as well as MentorWell which this session demonstrated. I don’t know much about the skills involved in being a mentor but I think that I probably need to both have one and be one (if you’re interested, drop me a line :) ) – and I think that modern organisations should have ways of supporting their workforce like mentoring embedded deeply into their cultures.

So that was the morning. Lunchtime saw me catch up with some more people (not enough, I fear) and then we were into the first sessions of the afternoon.

The first session after lunch turned out to be my favourite one of the day and was on location-based services. There was talk about using services like FourSquare, Google Latitude or Gowalla (disclaimer: other location services are available) to enable added value for people visiting public locations like libraries by showing their support, or by pushing additional information to them. My main epiphany around this time was that the interesting thing (to me) about location-based services was not so much the service itself but the supporting event-driven architecture that determines what value can be added. I came away from the session inspired to try and create a test case for something in this area.

My next session was about Sharepoint. It’s a bit unusual for a Microsoft product to be the subject of a GovCamp session but I felt it was important as a lot of time and money goes in to implementing Sharepoint in Local (and central) Government with seeming mediocre results. The facilitators of this session were the guys from 21 Apps (one of the conference sponsors) and they stressed the value of good communication, UX design, and requirements specification up front in the implementation project. An interesting aside occurred here as the 21 Apps presentation featured a slide showing the Marshall Rightshifting model. I happen to be following the creator of that model on Twitter and tweeted that I’d seen it on the off-chance he was listening, which he was, and we had a short exchange which concluded that the success of the implementation of any enterprise-scale software is critically dependent on the prevailing mindset in the organisation and cannot change it on its own.

The final session was a small (in number of people, but big in vision) one with James Cattell from Birmingham about the various models for divesting and mutualising services being delivered by local government. Not a lot can be said about this without naming the various councils and services discussed, which would be wrong I think, but the importance of social enterprise as a critical success factor in a lot of these operations was a heartening thing to see being taken seriously.

And then as fast as it had begun, it was all over and we headed for the pub. Big mistake on my part to have a pint on an empty stomach, we had to shoot across town really quickly to catch our train from Paddington and I felt pretty tired and ill all the way home.

I’d like to thank everyone who I met, especially my travelling companions, the organisers, sponsors and hosts, who made this such a great experience. I’m only sorry I couldn’t get to all the sessions I was interested in, particularly the ones about Agile project management in the public sector, LinkedGov, the Unlibrary and the particularly relevant primer about starting your own business. Fortunately I can catch up with everyone’s blogs about this on the #ukgc11 hashtag on Twitter.

I also met a load of people for the first time, and my experience was that everyone was very welcoming. We genuinely are all in this together, fighting for progress even if we sometimes disagree on what that looks like.

I’m already looking forward to #ukgc12! My objective is to have some more stuff to contribute back in terms of a session topic by then. :)

My mum.

2010 was a strange year in many ways. But for my family it’s ended on a massive high.

I woke this morning to the shock news that Janet Mary Howitt – my mum (pictured) – has been awarded an MBE for services to people with visual impairment and to the community in Devon.  Of course, the short blurb in the Guardian (one whole sentence!) doesn’t do a life’s work justice, and lots of people have asked me what she did, so I’m going to try and summarise it here, and of course because I am immensely proud.

My mum worked all her life as a speech therapist. This is not the same thing as elocution lessons teaching people how to speak proper: she was a mechanic to the voice boxes of people with serious speech impediments. If you ever lose your voice you can maybe glimpse the terror of not being able to speak for yourself: often as the result of a stroke or pure accident of nature, you stammer or your speech is slurred so that people assume you are deficient in other ways.

The job calls for the fusion of science, art and care: speech is a highly technical thing, and sufferers often lost confidence along with their voices. My mum worked to rebuild the confidence of her patients as well as their speech: many of them went on to become her friends. Often beyond the call of duty she acted as advocate to many who couldn’t persuade the system of their needs themselves. And she acted as counsellor to those who struggled emotionally to come to terms with their loss of voice.

For several decades she plugged away at the gaps in the NHS and started to build a second voluntary career in her spare time. For ten years she led a team, primarily in Sidmouth but also at the Exeter Northcott, providing audio descriptions of plays for the visually impaired so that they could enjoy the performances as much as everyone else. She read talking books for Calibre. For twenty years she volunteered for Exmouth Talking Newspaper, a service that is a vital lifeline for many people to get their local news in a form they can actually use. She also set up and acted as co-ordinator to a self-help group for some of the people she had helped who had had strokes.

So this award reflects a whole lifetime of service to people who really needed it. In a world where people can get knighted just for extorting shedloads of money out of others, this proves there is at least some sanity left in the system. And I want to say this: for every person honoured, there are hundreds of thousands just as worthy out there who didn’t. An award is partly the result of well-connected friends and supporters, not just the value you add. Service is of course a reward in itself, so don’t volunteer for stuff because you might get recognised by the government (chances are you won’t): do it for the itch you want to scratch, and you’ll build a network of goodwill stretching further than you can imagine.

Finally, I’m writing this because I have just about worked out that she will never now learn to use a computer. My mum has been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of dementia and thankfully this award has arrived in time for her to understand just how much love for her there is in the world. When I saw her yesterday she was overwhelmed by the sheer number of messages of congratulation that came through and she is finally realising just how many people love her.

Whatever I do in my life from now on, I’ll never be as awesome as my Mum. So on New Year’s Eve 2010, this one’s for her. I am proud and honoured to be her son and I couldn’t have had a better mother, friend and role model. Happy New Year, Janet Mary Howitt MBE.

24 hour party tweeple

I’ve just had a whirlwind few days and (for my own sanity, mainly) want to put some markers down here and maybe develop some of the topics a bit later.

On Thursday and Friday this week I was privileged to attend the third Likeminds conference in my home town of Exeter. Likeminds is a conference that is largely about social media – at least there were a lot of social media consultants there, and the sessions were definitely angled that way for a lot of the time – and I am in no way a social media guru. Somehow, this worked for well for me.

After the last Likeminds back in February I blogged a load of things that I wanted to see changed to improve my own (selfish) experience. I’m delighted to say that a lot of those ideas were acted upon – although I can’t take all the credit, Scott and Drew (who set it all up) are a couple of sharp cookies who know what will work and what won’t – and it made the whole thing much more satisfying for me – less rock concert and more symposium.

I met a lot of great people and had a lot of interesting conversations, and (of course) learned a great deal. Perhaps I don’t learn as fast as I should and I have been since reflecting that this is probably an attitude problem on my part – I feel under a lot of pressure to demonstrate my expertise in my day job, and this restricts the sort of open-minded vulnerability you need to have in order to really allow yourself to be influenced.

On Friday night, a group of local Tweeters ran a 24-hour tweetathon in aid of some great local charities – HospiceCare, St Loyes and HeadwayDevon. As far as I know it hasn’t been done before in this format and it was a nerve-racking experience and my respect for people who have run interactive broadcast media (like the superb Matt Young from RokkXpress) has deepened – you really need to plan carefully as well as responding spontaneously to whatever happens.

It was also a struggle getting up at 5:30am for a 6am tweeting start on Saturday morning after all the excitement of a highly challenging two days at Like Minds! Now I am very tired and emotional but want to thank all the great people who have made the last few days such fun, in no particular order:

- my crew for the lunch on the first day of Likeminds – Ann Holman, Fabian King, Gary Day-Ellison, Patrick Hadfield, Julie Ellam, Kathryn Mcann, and at least one other person who I stupidly haven’t noted

- the people I met on the conference floor: Jonathan Alder, Ann Dempster, Ash Mashhadi, Matt Young, and many many more

- the second day lunch conversation which had me gripped, with Jon Akwue, Crispin Heath, @markofrespect, Sue Windley, and at least two other people who I haven’t noted

- my 24hr tweet companions Karen Clarke (awesome idea and organisation!), Adam Stone, Becky Moore, Jennifer Riach, Matt Young, Julie Harris, Judy Caley and Sue Windley.

ok, I’m done. If you met me and you’re not on the list, let me know! I need to curate my social life much better ;-)

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