Weeknote 1

It’s time to continue what I started last week – an experiment with “readerless” weeknote blogging. I know it has been done before. But will it work for me? 


The full version:

I published the first ever weeknote on Sunday late afternoon. On Monday morning, I walked into the office and got instant, in-person feedback (thanks!). What have I done? Aren’t weeknotes readerless? Have I broken the system already?

Luckily in the office was Mr Civil Service Weeknote himself. We talked for a while. He told me about the history of weeknotes, the Government Digital Service, and digital services in the Civil Service. I couldn’t share what I learned in that conversation in a single post, even if I tried. But that’s beside the point. It was the first indication that writing reflections in public as if nobody will ever read them can spark unplanned but valuable interactions. 

That chat, thank you, Mr Weeknote, was what we are yet to replace in the new “hybrid” and “remote” world. Of course, we can schedule calls and virtual meetings, but how do we create opportunities for such spontaneous exchanges of ideas. Writing weeknotes is probably not the answer I’m looking for, but it could help. 

Enough of this meta-writing. Let’s start weeknote 1 proper… 

How much should we listen to the user “needs”?

Last week I missed a few things in my first weeknote as I decided to go and do some community first responding for a few hours. I published what I had and booked on just after 20:00. I wanted to be home by midnight as I had to be in the office early in the morning. It wasn’t to be. As soon as I logged into the system, I was sent to a 90-year-old male who’s fallen and couldn’t get up. He’s been waiting for help since 15:00. The plan (or hope) was to get him up and into his bed. One less patient for the ambulance proper. Not this time! He couldn’t be safely lifted or left as he was, so I kept an eye on him until a professional crew relieved me just after 03:00.

What has it got to do with users and their needs? The initial hour of a response can be busy. There are checks to make, techniques to perform, and things to discuss. But once that is all done, then there is the wait. Then, there is time to think, interrupted by more and more impatient questions, “how long until the ambulance arrives?” 

My “users” want to know when an ambulance will arrive. That’s their “need”. They and their families want to know how long the wait will be here and then at the emergency department. And I must admit, by 01:00, I was with them on that! I had been there already for four hours, and now I had only 5 hours left until my alarm clock went off. Unlike them, I knew nobody was coming just yet. And so a thought was born. Couldn’t we build a digital service that shows current ambulance waits? Couldn’t we apply some machine learning doodah to predict the delay? Couldn’t we show the patient and their family exactly how hopeless their situation is? 

Of course, we could! But should we? Our users want this. We could confirm this with user research, but I was in the field listening to the question for six hours. I felt the urge too. By 03:00 I was half asleep, but my head was full of ideas about how such a system could be built. And then it dawned on me! We all want to know when the help will come, not because it is important to us or it matters in any real sense. We just want the help to be there now. Wouldn’t it be better to fix the service, so the ambulance arrived before this question crossed anybody’s mind? 

I know. I’m opening myself up for criticism that I don’t understand the User Centric Design gospel. A good User Researcher would realise that the need is superficial and uncover the actual “ask”. We could address it with a beautifully designed service by a skilled Service Designer… and so on. But before you get on your high horse, can you honestly say that things like that never happened? How many services are there to address symptoms of some form of pathology? How many digital services have been built to plaster over a gaping hole, lack of this or failure of that? Why?

Things I will not write about

So… yes, I do think about user-centric design and delivery of digital services when treating patients in my volunteering roles. But I also think about the very agile and cross-functional ways of working I see in emergency services when I’m back in my day role. I find it beneficial and inspiring. I have been thinking about ways to write about it for quite some time. I still haven’t figured out how to do it, but I hope to write about it one day. 

It’s just that it takes time. It is Tuesday night, and I’m trying to finish last week’s weeknote! I will stop here, but I wanted to list things I thought a lot about last week which I won’t write about just yet. 

  • Cross-governmental communities of practice and how anaemic, frail and small they tend to be despite people who are assigned “leads”. It is a real problem for me as I’m thinking of starting such a community myself and the only thing that stops me is this image of… I don’t even know what to call it. 
  • The “Future Ways of Working” and how much more we have to figure out there. And that the communication has to be bi-directional. And that wellbeing is essential to consider. 
  • Throughout the week, I also considered and discussed the need for CPD. Why don’t we do it in our professions? Should this be done in the open?
  • I missed my graduation and failed to pick up some award.
  • I remembered the Jolie language and how it could revolutionise how we build our applications. I’d like to try it again soon.
  • We had a Christmas party, dinner and associated meetings, something we hadn’t done in a few years.
  • I have also learnt about the Law of Stretched (cognitive) systems.
  • I have watched an interesting “intellectual riffing” between Matthew Skelton (Team Topologies) and Dave Farley (Continues Delivery). 
  • I have read a fascinating article by Robin Sloan – A Year of New Avenues
  • And the Agile Baristas slowly start to be helpful, perhaps going back to the original point about writing things out in the open. 

Weeknote 0 (zero)

For a few years, I have regularly practised writing notes to summarise weeks for my teams or reflect on my work. In addition, to maintain “current” in my first aid roles, I often write reflective notes as part of my Continuous Professional Development (CPD). I am very open about my source code and convinced about working in the open. Yet, I have only recently noticed the #weeknotes community and practice. 

There is so much content produced! But who has the time to read it all? And without readership, how useful is blogging? Well… let’s try. 

But first, a small disclaimer. I have tried blogging before. A few times. But I always found it challenging to stay within only one area of my diverse interests. I always thought sticking to one subject would make it easier to read and more “useful”. But the fact is, all those elements influence one another. So, if I am to try “weeknoting” it will have to be about all of it: work, civil service, tech, data, people and process. It will include first aid, volunteering, languages, music and continuous education. Will there be anybody who can get through it, let alone find any value in it? I probably wouldn’t!


  • Burnout is a thing and we talked about it this week.
  • Porembela, working in hybrid/remote way, played in Galicia for the first time.
  • I have to make a move on establishing the cross-government linked data community.
  • GDS, and CDDO are interesting, but CDPS is even more so!
  • We dropped out from the Data Challenge in the semi-finals – but plan to continue the work regardless. Somehow.
  • While waiting for 999 calls, I had to experience why there is a need for the CDPS in Wales. They have plenty to do.

The full version:

My last week (and a bit) started the Wednesday before last. I got up early, and by 7am I was already sitting on a train to London, working through my inbox. It was going to be a long day and a long week involving a lot of travel to the extent I hadn’t experienced in six or seven years. Before then, I wouldn’t even think twice about it, but now going away for eight days? Is it necessary? Can I even do it? 

Hour after hour, meeting after meeting, task after task, I went through the day. By 17:00, I started getting messages from local pubs where colleagues were gathering – pre-meetings for our big Digital, Data and Technology (DDaT) Fest day tomorrow. But I wasn’t quite ready for it yet. So I kept working, and by 19:00, after 12 hours of working, I realised I still hadn’t prepared for the “burnout” presentation I was to co-present the next day! 

If this is autoironic, I don’t know what is! I spent my thirteenth working hour of the day preparing to talk to people about the importance of looking after themselves and not working too much!

DDaT Fest the next day was good. I joined the Department for International Trade 16 months earlier, and this was the first time I got to see how big our wider team is. Most people there I hadn’t seen in person before. There were many good discussions started, and many ideas were exchanged. But the “burnout” session’s success was a surprise. We had a few times more people there than we expected. It was one of the break-out sessions, but It looked as if everyone was there. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. After all, a lot of recent research shows more or less 1 in 2 of us show symptoms of it from time to time. The World Health Organisation upgraded it from a “workplace phenomenon” to an “illness” earlier this year. But it was a surprise to see the interest, to hear many people sharing their experiences in group discussions, and even more approaching us later to talk about it. This deserves a write-up of its own!

After DDaT Fest, I took a day off but not to go home and recover! Instead, I went to Galicia (north-west Spain) to continue experiments in hybrid ways of working. I play in a really badly timed folk duo. We published our first mini album on the 1st of March 2020, during the only festival we got to play that year. After a restart in 2022, Gerardo – the other half of the duo – moved from Wales to Galicia. But we enjoy playing together, and we are both experienced in remote working (IT style). Still, we are trying to find ways for Porembela to continue despite the 2,000km between us. It was an experiment, and it went well. We successfully tested the logistics and played two good concerts on Friday and Saturday. We have a short list of improvements to try in the next iteration, but definitely, there will be the next iteration, and we will make it work. The best part was that we got to play one of my xotas in Galicia. A traditional Galician xota (a folk dance) composed by a Pole in Wales was well received in its natural habitat. 

By Sunday night, I was back in London, ready for meetings starting early on Monday morning, all refreshed by the landscape change over the weekend, both geographical and mental. 

During my Monday visit to the Government Digital Service (GDS) office, I met with Charles – the Head of Data Architecture in the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO). I wanted to discuss ways to progress my linked data and services ideas and how to start a cross-government community of practice (or interest). My talks and presentations over the summer and during DataConnect22 on the subject were very popular, and I have promised a few people to start a forum to progress it. But how? I know I could just do it, create a new slack channel or even a whole workspace. Still, there are already so many, and it seems the discussions are not getting us in any specific direction. So rather than starting from scratch, I’m trying to find a way to use what already exists, get some central support, and perhaps to help re-invigorate the work done there in the past. The details? I won’t share them here just yet, but I will be moving quickly now. I have spent a year convincing and influencing, preparing the ground. But in a proper Civil Service style, it seems my window of opportunity is closing. I have to act, or I will have to start the convincing and influencing all over again!

The same day, while in the GDS office, I discovered the Centre for Digital Public Services (CDPS). On the surface, this Welsh Government’s arms-length body appears to be a Welsh GDS copy. It got me interested straight away. I am a big fan of the GDS ideas (even if not always of their implementations) and the digital public service revolution they started. I have spent my time in the Civil Service trying to figure out how it works and why it doesn’t. Why are digital services so different here in my adopted home country – Wales? Why do local authorities appear to ignore it all, and why… too many questions to list here.

The point is: the idea of the Welsh GDS sparked my interest. Since then, I have spoken to a few people over the week – thank you for your time – and I was wrong. The Centre for Digital Public Services is very different from GDS and CDDO. The mission appears to be more pointed, the ambition more focused, and the drive to deliver fresher. The challenge in front of them is enormous, and a lot is at stake, but they are on a journey I will want to watch closely. 

Eventually, I got to Wednesday – my eighth day away from home, the day of the Data Challenge semi-finals. Since September, I have been working in a cross-functional, cross-departmental team to prepare our submission. We are trying to reduce the time it takes to transfer security clearances by looking at the data differently – as a personal, not an organisational asset. In addition, we think this would open many other possibilities to do with things like Disclosure Barring Service (DBS), qualifications, mobility of NHS staff between nations and many others. We have a great idea. We thought the presentation went well. And then we dropped out. We are still waiting for feedback more detailed than “Your presentation was great, the idea sound, but it was a very tough competition and we took a very long time to make a difficult decision”. 

But this is not the end. It could be a blog post of its own. Over the last three months, we have formed a solid team of people who really want to make it happen, and currently, the team spirit is “we show them judges!” and get it done anyway. For me, a relative newcomer, it has been a fantastic opportunity to understand better how the Civil Service works and get to know people in a few of the bigger departments. 

This wasn’t enough for the week. On Thursday my attention had to quickly switch to a recruitment campaign I’m helping with as a panel member. We are recruiting for a Structured Content Designer. Who that is? Well, in the public sector is a surprisingly unknown role and so it took some doing to think about the interviews which we held on Friday. They were very successful. We have seen some good candidates. We unanimously agreed on who was the best, so all that is left to hope the person will accept the offer. 

I spent last night volunteering as a first aider at our local Help Point in Swansea to relax after all of the above. It was a strange night: cold and quiet but with a lot of blood and three victims of violent assaults. I will leave the reflection on the graphic specifics in my private CPD folder. Still, there was something that night that brought Monday’s discovery of CDPS back. In between the calls, I watched our doctor and our operations manager struggling and cursing multiple local digital services they were trying to use. Wales seems to need to catch up to the wider UK’s digital service experience. It’s not good. Especially when it impacts things like 999 service provision. But it’s great that an organisation is committed to changing it for us all. 

There was more I could reflect on here in the open from just this last week, but it seems the week isn’t done yet. I have just had a call for any volunteers available to pick up some stacking 999 calls. So instead, I’ll quickly publish what I have, put on my green uniform and go out into the night. The new work week doesn’t start for another 12 hours! That’s plenty of time.