April 15, 2022

Blogging in Service of Publics

Admiring The Government Digital Service in the UK

Yesterday, the UK Government website gov.uk published two blog posts. One on What it’s like working as a prison caterer and one on why Importing unauthorised veterinary medicines is criminal.

These are just two of the 4,834 blog posts on gov.uk. And I think you can trace the history of blogging inside the UK government back to the Government Digital Service (GDS). A team that’s been around since 2010. The early team created a culture of blogging and working in public that has left a deep legacy on the web and on me personally.

The GDS started about the same time I moved away from the UK to live in NYC. But somehow it’s still managed to have a big influence on me.

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Meanwhile, earlier today the MTA in NYC just launched a blog. Here’s a blog post on service changes for the weekend ahead. Lovely. We live in a golden age of blogging.

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If blogging is a tool for working in public, then blogging and public services are a great fit! The GDS in the UK feels like it really helped pioneer what public service blogging can and should look like. 4,834 blog posts!

Some of my favorite GDS blog posts:

It’s mainly the old guard of GDS that I follow, many of which have spread around the web - many who are still blogging:

There’s Russell Davies who was the Director of Digital Strategy at GDS.

There’s Matthew Sheret who has done some fun digital walking things.

There’s Alice Bartlett who is now at the FT doing interesting things.

There’s Mark Hurrell the ex head of design at GDS with a lovely personal site.

There’s a whole crew of ex-GDS folks at Public.digital - and of course they’re blogging.

I think I’m equally impressed that so many ex-GDS folks have continued blogging themselves as I am that the legacy of the GDS has created this extreme culture of blogging inside the UK government that lives on to this day.

I’m sure there’s plenty of current and former GDS folks blogging that I don’t know about! I’d love to follow more so send me your blogs!

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There’s something about blogging, the web and civic projects that appeals to me. After all, the Helsinki Design Lab influenced my approach to strategy consulting.

There’s folks like Dark Matter Labs too, blogging about trees as infrastructure.

Recently the Public.digital folks published there research agenda for the year ahead focusing on 6 themes:

One of the challenges we’ve found is that there are almost too many interesting topics to explore. So to help focus our effort, we’ve published a research agenda. This agenda sets out the 6 topics we want to dig into over the next year or two. The topics are:

  • Digital public goods

  • Funding models and economic growth

  • Identity

  • Sustainability

  • Inclusivity, equity and social impact

  • Welfare systems

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There’s something odd about the juxtaposition of blogging and government. We think of blogging as light, frivolous, transient and personal. While we think of government as enduring, slow, faceless and serious.

But I’ve been blogging for 10-15 years now. Will I be blogging for my whole life? Quite how enduring and long lasting are these web projects anyway? Recently I’ve begun to think about questions like “how do I archive my blog for my daughter to read when she grows up” and “what does the next decade of my blogging look like?”

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Cities are a great intersection of private and public infrastructure and systems. A dense network, deeply intertwined between government and commercial interests.

I’ve been a big fan of the Urban Technology newsletter by Bryan Boyer. It’s the newsletter of the Urban Technology program at University of Michigan, but also just a great working in public log of building a university program and an easy to consume source for thinking about cities and technology. Start here for a deep dive on design for urban technology

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I’ve not got a lot else to say except to marvel at the culture of blogging that the GDS has built and to express an interest for this strange world of cities, government, infrastructure and digital experiences.


This blog is written by Tom Critchlow, an independent strategy consultant living and working in Brooklyn, NY. If you like what you read please leave a comment below in disqus or sign up for my Tinyletter.