We won an award last night. Which was nice.
And I met an old advertising friend the other day and he said, so what is GDS? So I thought I should try and explain. This can then be one of those blog posts I can point at when people are asking.
GDS is the Government Digital Service, we're part of a group within the Cabinet Office called ERG. ERG's job is - basically - to save money and make services better. GDS is the digital bit of that, we - basically - save money by making services better.
GDS is about 150 people - a mix of developers, designers, writers, policy people, comms people, operations people, all sorts. What you'd get if you took a small government department and added a web development shop and a small creative agency. It makes for a fascinating cultural mix. We've been going in one form or another for about 18 months. We were set up as a result of a report written by Martha Lane Fox - the government's Digital Champion. You should read it, it's short and very readable. If you work for a large organisation that didn't grow up on the web you're likely to need to do some of what it says.
My second favourite bit about the report? It's called "Revolution, Not Evolution". That's the story, right there. This is not gradual, modest or incremental. It's radical and bold. It has to be.
My favourite bit? The Cabinet Office Minister (Francis Maude) basically, said, OK, yes, we'll do that and Martha's report turned into our mission.
Our first big job was / is GOV.UK - a single site for government. The idea is that there'll be a single, consistent, user-focused website containing all the information you might need from Central Government. In the first instance this meant closing Directgov and Business Link and re-addressing the needs those sites were designed to meet. That went live in October.
We're also helping move all central government departments onto GOV.UK, that's a massive job, that's happening now.
And we're starting the real heavy lifting of working with departments and agencies to make government services and transactions effective, efficient and user-focused. In essence, good.
We're also thinking about how we help people who can't access digital services, about the policy implications of all this digital stuff and about how we help the rest of the Civil Service get better at digital. And lots of other things.
When I start telling advertising/marketing people about this stuff the same themes seem to come up. So let's address those:
This is not about a bunch of private sector digital experts parachuting in to save the day. (Although we might sometimes behave like that, which is bad.) I'm not sure of the metaphor but we're somewhere between a catalyst, the tip of the iceberg and in the right place at the right time. We've certainly been very lucky. We are civil servants, most of us long-time civil servants. We are building on years of work from fellow civil servants who haven't had the benefit of our mandate. And we're working with huge numbers of colleagues across government who are as talented, driven and imaginative as we are, they've just been stuck in systems that don't let that flourish. Part of our job is to help shift those systems.
This is not about comms. We're not the new COI. We don't spend money on marketing, even digital marketing. Personally I think GOV.UK will soon be a great example of a new way of thinking about that stuff ('the product is the service is the marketing') but that's a post for another day. When we do use traditional 'agency-type' comms and design skills (which we do ourselves) it's to help the service/product communicate about itself. (That probably doesn't make sense yet, I've still not found a way to explain that properly.)
There is no 'client'. This really messes with agency people's heads. Obviously we're accountable if we screw up, the website falls over, the facts are wrong or the site's unusable. But it's not an agency-type relationship where someone distant and important has to 'approve' everything. This is mostly because our chief responsibility is to our users - they approve our decisions by using or not using the services we offer them. Or by complaining about them, which they sometimes do. Also, because you just can't do Agile with a traditional client-approval methodology. That's going to be a thing agencies are going to have to deal with.
But, what does this mean for BRANDS!!?
Well, maybe a bit. Iain was kind enough, the other day, to point back at a post I wrote about working at W+K. I think there's a similar post brewing after a year and a bit of GDS. I have learnt an incredible amount here and I think there are some obvious lessons for agencies and their clients in what we've been up to.
As a tantalising teaser I'd say they are:
1. The Unit of Delivery is The Team
2. The Product Is The Service Is The Marketing
3. Digital is Not Comms, And It's Not IT, It's Your Business
And a bunch of others to be named later.
Anyway. I'll try and come up with something useful.