I’m not sure I can stretch myself to writing something every week, so I’m setting myself a slightly less onerous goal of a note every month instead.

So - January 2024 - can’t quite believe we’ve reached that stage already?!


I’m still settling into my role as Chief Technology Officer for Public Digital’s consulting practice and making the adjustment from contracting back to employee.

January is always busy as people get back from the Christmas/New Year break, new projects get going and the inevitable rush towards the new financial year in April begins. But this month it’s been busier than usual as I’ve had a couple of colleagues needing to take time out.

I’ve kicked off several new pieces of work, including some programme reviews and digital maturity work in Ontario and British Columbia, some digital strategy work for Kyiv, and a new phase of work for the Registry of Motor Vehicles in Nova Scotia.

I’ve also spent a fair amount of time talking about and discussing the Post Office Horizon scandal. I wrote a blog post about some of the systemic issues, and also helped with PD’s own thinking and newsletter.


In my health world, it’s been an equally busy month, with some difficult conversations and decisions being made - in particular around finances and operating sustainable services.

My role as an Independent Member of the Health Board brings it’s own challenges - providing scrutiny and challenge to those decisions, but also guiding and supporting the work of the Executive and their teams.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking and talking about challenges we’re facing with the delivery of a bunch of national IT systems. These are still too focussed on technology, and not enough focus on users/outcomes, which means many of these projects aren’t achieving the improvements we expect and need.

There’s a lack of understanding about digital, in particular the tools, culture processes that distinguishes it from more traditional IT. Most of what is considered digital work in Wales is actually just IT, and we’re a long way from user-centred design and iterative delivery being common practice.

Part of my role this year is to chair the development of a new long term strategy for Aneurin Bevan UHB - looking forward over the next 10+ years. A part of that is encouraging a culture of “share early, share often”.

The small win this month has been the development (and approval) of a set of design principles for the strategy. These got shared at our Public Board meeting this week. They’re not perfect - but I think they’re a great declaration of the direction we want to go in.

Importantly, the teams working on the detail have embraced the idea of the principles and are starting to use them in their day to day work. It’s a great example of a different way of working.

For people who worked on the original GDS Design Principles and the NHS England Design Principles, these might look and sound a little familiar.

  1. People at the heart of everything we do
  2. Design with data
  3. Prevention is best
  4. Act with focus to improve outcomes
  5. Make it simple
  6. Make things open, it makes things better
  7. Continuous feedback
  8. Make use of what we have
  9. Be consistent not uniform
  10. This is just the start

I’ve been thinking about…


I’ve spent lots of time this month storytelling - particularly talking about the history of digital transformation in UK government, and why we made some of the decisions we did.

As we move further and further away from those decision points, the nuance of why we made some of them is getting lost. And we’re in danger of repeating the same mistakes.

They’re still really important in terms of helping people understand why we did things, but blog posts and “official histories” don’t quite do well enough to record them.

I’m not sure how we preserve these stories for the future.

Digital is done

There’s a growing narrative in England/Westminster that the first phase of digital is done: we’ve won the battle for user-centred design and iterative approaches; we can step back from some of the controls GDS put into place 10 years ago.

I’m not convinced this is true - I’ve had so many conversations and read so many things that have me convinced that people have just adopted the GDS language, but have missed the true meaning.

There’s probably a blog post here which I should write soon.

Digital vs IT change

Partly related to the above - a huge amount of what is being called digital work that’s actually just IT change. Rather than starting from user needs and focussing on the outcome, it’s replacing a system with a more modern version. There is too much waterfall, too many programmes, and still too much failure (as I said in my Horizon blog post).

What we would have called digital back in 2011/12 has been co-opted to mean anything involving technology, and the vast majority of work is still the old/traditional tech-led waterfall system delivery.

There’s another blog post here I might get round to writing soon.


I’ve spent a bit of time playing around with alternatives for Wordpress. I’ve used Wordpress for years, but it just feels increasingly bloated and difficult to look after.

I’ve switched this site over to Hugo - a static site generator, and I’m hosting it in AWS S3 with Cloudfront. I’ve got a CI/CD pipeline that rebuilds the site whenever I push new content to GitHub and automatically flushes the CDN cache.

It’s not perfect, and I still need to migrate content from my old blog - but it’s working better for me than Wordpress.

Ann is trying out Ghost for her blog, which is a very different experience.

Things I’ve read

I’ve not had any time (or brain capacity) to make any progress through my fiction to-read pile this month.

But, I’m currently re-reading Giles’ Agile Comms Handbook - it’s a great book to give to out to people, so I’m reminding myself of the best bits.

I’ve also read a booklet produced by my old professor - Harold Thimbleby. It’s a short version of his previous books, bringing together stories about how tech can affect patient safety in hospitals. I don’t agree with all of his conclusions/recommendations, but it’s worth reading.

I want to share this fantastic blog post from Nia Campbell at MOJ Digital. It’s a great example of user-centred design applied to multi-language services.

It’s not good enough to just directly translate services - doing that can lead to services that don’t make sense, or are overly formal. Nia talks about an approach pioneered by Heledd at Natural Resources Wales - trio-writing using a content designer, translator, and subject expert designing content together in English and Welsh at the same time. They’ve also been trying bilingual usability-testing, which is a great step forward.

And finally, a blog post from my colleague Dave Rogers that’s worth reading - User Centred IT: Why ‘best practice’ isn’t good enough

Things I’m cooking

I’m not the most confident cook - so I’m trying to get a bit better and cook more often. I’m going to try and put at least one thing I’ve cooked in my month notes.

I’m finding that there are some really simple recipes on Instagram that I’m enjoying - this is one from January that stood out: Crispy Sesame Salmon.

Crispy Sesame Salmon

Photo of the month

View from our bedroom window - frosty fields in -8 degrees on 19 Jan.

Frosty fields