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Come on baby, light my #firebreak

Posted by: and , Posted on: - Categories: Defra digital, Open data

We spent 12 months trying to publish 8000 new open datasets which was fun and stressful. We had decided whatever the outcome, we would set aside time to reflect and re-energise – a 'firebreak'.

This was also a chance to unpick things we could do better and think about what next.

Firebreak =

#Teamhack =

Interview between David Buck and James Cattell:

David: What did the firebreak feel like for you?

James: Relaxed, collaborative, democratic, creative, initially focused then very unfocused

David: What do you think the firebreak was like for others in the team?

James: There was a lack of understanding as to what a firebreak was and how to do it, which was weird, because we’d done all that upfront discussion and work the day before it started.

David: Was there a clear owner?

James: No

David: What was the highlight for you?

James: Clare Moriarty coming to the inception meeting and giving input and advice

David: What was the low light for you?

James: Lack of understanding

David: What was the key learning point?

James: We need a better understanding of agile and roles, ie product owner and delivery manager

David: What do you do differently now as a result?

James: We now do sprint planning for our work in #teamhack

Kanban board
Lots of things for us to do!

David: How does #teamhack fit into the Defra Data Programme?

James: We listen to users and colleagues interested in our data and how we publish it

David: Will all of the Defra Data Programme be using agile?

James: I hope so, but that’s not a good answer. Some of us are used to waterfall project management techniques. It feels like there is a natural resistance especially from colleagues who self-identify as “long term civil servants”. But perhaps that is my perception to change, as in the long term, that equals knowledge and understanding that the rest of us should aspire to.

David: Now you have time to reflect, would you recommend a target such as 8,000 new datasets in 12 months?

James: So, what you’ve done is very naughty. You’re a very naughty boy [I had no idea I had commissioned a Gonzo journalism piece here – Ed., Aka Stefan]. Okay, but seriously, we had a very good meeting with open data colleagues [#DefraSelfie] from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) the other day in which I said I was 50/50 on this. It's nice to have a well-defined target, and the Defra Data Programme has certainly proved that it can be made to work. With the mandate from the Secretary of State and senior civil servants, we were able to quickly set up an accelerator project and a peer group. Then just rock up at different parts of the Defra group and shout, “Show me the data!”. This led to us finding a lot of stuff, some of which of colleagues weren’t using anymore and some of which got published. I’m 50/50, because there is a strong case for doing user research upfront with people who know what they want from us and people who don’t know.

David: So what now? Has the fire gone out?

James: I defer to Sophia (-: We did a lot of hectic work between June 2015 and July 2016. Firebreak was a good opportunity to “take it down a down a notch or two”. If we’d had carried on at the pace we were at in May and June 2016, people would have started to burnout, get unwell and possibly leave the programme. So although the board shows we didn’t deliver much as part of the firebreak, it certainly feels like people had a chance to do “business as usual” stuff and think about the future. And no the fire definitely hasn’t gone out, we just didn’t pour any petrol on it during July 2016.

David: Who is Sophia?

James: Sophia Oliver is the new deputy director of the Defra data programme. I worked with Sophia in the Cabinet Office Government Digital Service (GDS) and I was impressed by her knowledge, energy and commitment. When Mike told me Sophia had got the job my reaction was, “Woah. Oh yeah, she’s good”. Sophia has had individual meetings with everyone in the programme. Mine felt like “Cabinet Office at its best” –  cracking discussion, exchange of ideas and agreement on what next.

David: So what is next?

James: I’ll ask you a question: what can we do better?

David: Be a bit less London-centric, get out, speak to people and share what we find. But in all of that, don’t raise expectations.

James: Speak to people or…?

David: I’m better with people than machines.

James: Cool. How would you sum up the future in a doodle?

David: I defer to Mike’s latest doodle.

James: Nice (-:

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