This month I’m listening to Gene Kranz’s memoir Failure Is Not An Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 And Beyond.
This is the third lens in recent years from which I’ve approached understanding the NASA missions. A few years back, Sophie Dennis first introduced me to the masterful Kennedy strategy behind ‘getting a man to the moon’ as unpicked in Richard Rumelt’s superb Good Strategy, Bad Strategy . Then, in Guy Adams and Adam Belfour’s chilling but important Masking Administrative Evil, I read about some of the concerning power dynamics that both helped the programme(the early pardoning of Nazi scientists) and undid it (the later political mechanisations that led to the Challenger disaster). However, this third book is the first time I’ve read a first hand account. Kranz takes us to the heart of the early space race, a crucible the nail-biting risk and people writing the rules of space flight as they went.
It reminds me of other technology books such as Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of A New Machine, or, to look to the history of my own government department, Ivan Fallon’s documenting of DSS digitisation The Paper Chase. All have the overwhelming message that ground breaking innovation is messy and difficult.
This month in digital government and design
- I’ve been doing a lot in recent months to help people understand the history of digital government. In particular, I’ve been trawling through blogs and journals to help people understand the evolution of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the standards that department use for their services. I’m still working on this but I’ve found it helpful in helping people understand why services that were seen as exemplars in the past may not meet standards now.
- “On average, it took me about 30 minutes to make a digital form and five weeks to meet with, earn the trust of, and get buy-in from the employees who would use it.” Josh Gee’s 2018 ‘What I learned in two years of moving government forms online’ is a must read for anyone involved with digital transformation.
- The MCHLG Digital Skills Training Offer is a nice complication of existing free or affordable training (and I’m not just saying this since one of my tweets shows up in the blog post!)
- Is “lived experience” just seen as a way of writing off people as poor? Similarly, are you thinking about power plays into design?
- I recently discovered the concept of ‘leaky abstractions’ as coined by Joel Spolsky back in 2002. This sort of caution against oversimplification is discussed in a government context.
- Need another example of why UI design is important? Try Citibank mistakenly overpaying tens-of-millions of dollars in interest.
- What’s low literacy? Caroline Jarrett explains that it’s more than just not being good at reading and gives some eye popping statistics.
- How to start working for government. (Another one I’m mentioned in but again this doesn’t affect me sharing it!)
- I’ve been telling people for years about Erin Meyer’s book The Culture Map and how it can help people understand working across cultures. However now is an even better time to investigate her work as she’s released some interactive tools with low-cost limited access. She’s also appeared on some podcasts if you’d like to hear more in her own voice.
- This month began with snow, which for the UK meant the return of gritters with pun-tactic names
- What’s better than a video of a panda sliding in the snow? A video of a panda sliding in the snow set to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights
Is there a meme going around? Measure its progress on the Fenton Curve
Until next month,