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6 May 2021 #58

Hello, hola, salut. 👋🏽👋🏻👋🏾

Serious eye rolls at yesterday's headlines: "Social media platform's decision to suspend ex-President is upheld (for now❓❗) by an advisory board created by said same social media platform which – to avoid appearing partisan – also slapped the platform on the wrist for violating its own rules.” 

What a damp mess. It does not inspire much confidence that Facebook can – or should – regulate itself.

Thankfully, there's loads of positive digital and tech news from the US too. Read on.

Also, we’re hiring again. Come join us.


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Ways of working

👠 James Timson (CEO of UK high street shoe repairs chain) reminds businesses to ask “...but what are we actually trying to understand?” before splurging on complex tech-driven solutions. Timpson deems a fancy ‘electronic point of sale’ system unnecessary for his business and instead asks colleagues for daily sales data through an online form. Policy makers take note: data will only get you so far. The latest in a series of measured, sensible Sunday Times columns. See shorter not-behind-a-pay-wall version

🚮 Ubisoft product manager Chantal Donaldson-Foyer’s post on what to do when you’re new to a team who are just about to launch a product you’re struggling to understand the value of. “It doesn’t feel right… but then you don’t know your users yet.” The post explains the steps Chantal took to figure out if her role as PM was to manage this product, or kill it. Got a feeling this will resonate with many...

✒️ Nice commentary by content designer Helen Lawson on the principles that guide the online content and communications at the UK’s biggest funeral provider. “ is the online voice of our funeral directors,” she says, whilst acknowledging the nuances that contribute to meaning and understanding of the spoken and written word. 

✅ A masterclass in how you talk about a digital and technology strategy from the Department for Education. Using human language, it gives context, sets out priorities and breaks down how they intend to get there. And speaking of strategies, Craig Abbott, Head of Accessibility at the Department for Work and Pensions explains how to build a sustainable accessibility strategy. Thorough and sensible.

👍🏿 How a group of non-brand experts used a Google Ventures brand sprint to kick start the reinvention of their design system (led by Matt Tyas and James Rice). Also, great piece of work to help stakeholders understand, appreciate and use a system originally seen as belonging to the digital part of an organisation.

Subscribe, read, listen

▪️ Big Bets newsletter – compiled by Alice Newton-Rex, Director of Product at Whatsapp – looks at how reasonably established companies build and launch new products. She chats to Public Digital’s Tom Loosemore about BBC iPlayer here. 

▪️ Making tech better podcast – by Made Tech brings positive content from all over the world on how to improve software delivery. Public Digital expert Dave Rogers talks about how people often work around toxic technology rather than fix it. He highlights the causes that can lead to wrong solutions and bad support structures. Related posts here.

State of technology

💔 Dan Kaminsky has died. We owe so much of our digital safety to him. In 2008, he found a way that thieves could manipulate Domain Name System traffic so that a person typing the website for a bank would instead be redirected to an impostor site that could steal their security details. This thoughtful obituary in The New York Times talks of his motivation for doing the right thing over financial gain, his remarkable intelligence, and his fierce mother, Trudy Maurer.

😵 Big Brother is the tale most often linked with institutions collecting data but back in 2001, law professor Daniel Solove wrote Computer databases and metaphors for information privacy which draws links between Kafka’s The Trial. Interesting and still frighteningly relevant – “a court has apparently scrutinized a man’s life and assembled a dossier on him… but the court is clandestine, and court records are inaccessible.” Thanks for unearthing, Jennifer Pahlka.

🇮🇳 From unethical data collection, to inaccurate collection. Quartz India reports that “India’s statistical machinery has been deliberately weakened to protect various governments’ false claims and image.” speaks to 3 experts who explain the consequences of data gaps for India’s pandemic response. Watch the interview, or read the interview

🌏 Interesting to see how development organisation Spark Blue is linking the digital and climate agendas. Here’s an invite to join a ‘multi-stakeholder community of change makers and practitioners that seek to collaborate in accelerating a digital planet for sustainability.’

Digital government

🇺🇸 Lots of change at the top in the US Federal Government, where Joe Biden has made federal IT modernisation and cyber security top priorities, with a lot of $$ behind it. 💰

👋 We have been following the work of Robin Carnahan for some time (including the brilliant guides to de-risking government IT projects published with 18F), so we're delighted to see her nominated as administrator of the General Services Administration

🔥 Clare Martorana has been appointed as Chief Information Officer for the United States. A former USDS lead in the Department of Veteran Affairs, she brings strong credentials in delivering citizen-centred services. First priority? Administering the $1 billion Technology Modernization Fund. Impressive progress so far, with an interesting approach to distributing the funds.

🏆 Meanwhile we say goodbye to Matt Cutts, who has continued to deliver better digital services for those who need them in his 4+ year stint at the top of USDS. Thank you Matt. 💪💻🇺🇸 His successor has not yet been named.

🇨🇦  Permanent funding for the Canadian Digital Service (CDS) has been confirmed. Compare these tweets about funding in 2017 and 2021 by Ryan Androsoff, now Director of Digital Leadership at Institute on Governance. Nothing like a pandemic to highlight the value of investing in digital teams. Read more about the CDS team’s good work

🇲🇽  Last month, Mexico passed a law that requires citizens registering SIM cards to provide biometric data – speculated to be fingerprints and iris scans. Companies now have 2 years to collect the data and make it accessible to the government and those who refuse will lose access to their phone lines. Creepy and draconian but not the only country to do this.

🇺🇸  What happened when the US Government tried to make the immigration system digital is a great write-up of a string of bad decisions which “assumed a process that was different from how government colleagues actually did the work.” Reminds me of our own Anna Hirschfeld’s 7 reflections on California’s report into its unemployment benefits system.

🇫🇷  As Etalab, which develops and manages the french open data platform, celebrates its 10-year anniversary, Director Laure Lucchesi looks back on the last decade of opening up public data.

🇧🇷, the website for the Federal Government of Brazil, now has 100 million registered users. Back in January, this report said 3,900 of Brazil’s services for citizens (63%) were available online through a single login. However, more than 20 million households in Brazil are still digitally excluded.

News from Public Digital


On the Public Digital blog
Our session on digital maturity assessments at the Global Digital Development Forum, by Claire Bedou

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