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29 October 2021 #62

Hello, welcome. 👋🏽👋🏻👋🏾

We recently published our fourth book of essays, Signals. This time we’ve focused on how the pandemic accelerated trends in digital transformation that were already unstoppable. Use this form if you’d like us to send you a copy. There are more details on the essays and contributors in the last section of this newsletter, but we’ll publish the content alongside our past collections of Signals soon.


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Ways of working

✨  The agile comms handbook is finally here! This book, written by our network member Giles Turnbull, is the best guide we’ve read about working in the open. It’s for teams who are delivering stuff in tricky, hierarchical organisations (so, most organisations). Buy it here. Tip your hat here. Personal highlight: chapter 5, ‘show how you make the humbugs’🍬  

✅  Excellent blog post from Avon and Somerset Police: Why we are not using chatbots for our citizens. It argues that “adding a chatbot is putting a sticking plaster on top of your content, at the expense of the customer experience” – i.e. it is not fixing the problem. They mention chatbots in the same breath as frequently asked questions which – as mentioned by many a content designer before – are rarely the answer you’ve been looking for

💡  Practitioner in residence at MIT GOV/LAB, Luke Jordan, wrote A Guide for Practitioners in Civic Tech which aims to help you avoid bad projects. TL;DR: “If you have to build it, hire a CTO. Ship early, and mature long… Draw on a trusted crew. Build lean and fast. Quickly get close to and build with your users.” But essentially: If you can avoid building it, don’t build it. 

💙  The Co-op Digital team put together a guide for inclusive meetings to encourage collaboration from all. Very well received. Includes good-looking posters you can download.

👍🏽  UK-based homeless charity Shelter has brought together and published the principles, practices and guidance they use to align their digital delivery teams. It includes a glossary (having shared, jargon-free language is so important for inclusivity) and loads of content guides. An ace example of setting standards and working in the open. 

  How to simplify the online experience by content designer Ben Skelton at EE is perfect for teams who are neck-deep in masses of published content with few user needs and little strategy or maintenance behind them. Ben takes us from content audit to iteration to measuring impact with a case study that looks at the EE customer benefits experience.

💭  And, not tech-related but the thinking is transferable, here’s a Twitter thread about bottlenecks in operations. This bit about negative feedback loops is good, also this: “When you're designing an operation you must choose your bottleneck. If the bottleneck appears somewhere that you didn't [want it to be], you aren't running an operation. It's running you.”

State of technology


😱 3 social media-related horror stories 😱

1▪️ So many stories on the 11 million documents leaked by ex-Facebook product manager Frances Haugen which, TL;DR, depict a company undermining democracy, knowingly putting its users at risk and denying the scale of the problem despite its employees screaming at bosses that the problems are not being addressed fast enough. Thankfully, Vice has compiled an ‘all you need to know’ with links to stories from the big hitters (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Wired, The Atlantic). The Facebook Papers reveal staggering failures in the Global South is a terrifying piece which breaks down how Facebook’s neglect put millions at risk, picking out examples from various countries including India, Israel and Palestine. Whistleblower has listed a set of demands from FB. Good. But how did we ever get to this point?

2▪️ In other ‘social media is bad for humanity’ news, here’s how money launderers are picking up young ‘money mules’ through Snapchat and Instagram. There were 26,000 cases in the UK last year involving 14 to 30-year-olds. Many of those thought it was risk-free but ended up in debt to criminal gangs. More big questions around what platforms could be doing to validate users and regulate content.

3▪️ A new study from Plan International shows the devastating effect of online misinformation on the physical and mental wellbeing of young women. This piece from Coda Story zooms in on the social media health myths that are destroying the lives of young women.

🤔  Digital Public Infrastructure, Platforms and Public Finance from think tank Overseas Development Institute (ODI) looks at how the digital public infrastructure agenda links to public financial management reform, and what that might mean for finance ministries in low and middle income countries.

😶  Another warning about the danger of favouring algorithms over human decision making in this sarcastically named piece: Who’s homeless enough for housing? For homeless people in San Francisco, their chance of getting off the streets comes down to a single number, generated by an algorithm which is meant to assess each person’s ‘unique’ vulnerabilities and allocate support accordingly.

Digital government

🇺🇸  The California Department of Technology has published the source code for its covid-19 vaccination status service on GitHub. The state’s CTO Rick Klau says in his blog post that any state wanting to deploy their own service can use the code to connect their own immunisation registry back-end and create a digital, mobile record.

👤  Single sign-on: what we learned during our identity alpha from product manager Richard Walker at the UK Government Digital Service is a nice, transparent summary of what the team has learnt. Tricky topic: “Identity is complicated, but proving your identity shouldn’t be.”

🇵🇹  The Portuguese Council of Ministers has approved a new strategy for the digital transformation of its public administration for the next 5 years. Director for Digital Innovation in Government, Carlos Santiso, confirmed it includes a 2-year action plan with a budget of 643 million euros. Here’s a very brief piece on Portugal’s digital mission so far.

🌏  Montenegro is the latest country to announce plans for a ‘digital nomad visa’ launching early next year. After worldwide lockdowns, many countries have jumped at making these visas available – often alongside tax-free incentives – to encourage people to visit, stay and spend. This is good on how the new visas could help save Spanish ghost towns by Graham Keeley. Try reading this list of countries that currently (or soon will) offer digital nomad visas without getting itchy feet.

News from Public Digital

Here are the essays included in the latest Signals book:

▪️ Stay focused on people, not technology by Susan Schuman  ▪️  Communicating data in the age of covid-19 by Gavin Freeguard  ▪️  Cyber security: the year it was impossible to plan for by Ahana Datta  ▪️  The importance of user research during a pandemic by Rochelle Gold  ▪️  How the pandemic could bring procurement practices into the internet era by David Kershaw  ▪️  Stop budgeting, and start funding teams by Dave Rogers  ▪️  Bringing the magic of serendipity into distributed working by Emily Webber.

Thank you again to our contributors.

On the Public Digital blog

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