There was as time when those working in digital comms in government liked to think of themselves as pioneers, dogooders, renegades, jeans wearing, pizza eating innovators; disruptors with a start up mentality.
Is this still the case? Here are some reflections…
What is the evidence?
Govcamp the annual get together was initially a very low key event and the first couple held at the Ministry of Justice had a very last minute, free flowing atmosphere. Contrast that with this year when it was held in the shiny headquarters of the Greater London Authority with all the paraphernalia that this entailed. Queues for security checks, lots of corporate sponsors and a large organising team. (I was one of them). There was an article in a IT journal which said the event had ‘come of age’ – it was meant as a compliment.
Teacamp another freewheeling event has to some extent become more regular and organised by someone from the Government Digital Service – who, by the way, does a great job.
Government Twitter accounts are becoming more ‘regulated’. There are more messages circulating across government asking for x or y message to be retweeted. One in particular used the same wording that I spotted later in the evening on the news ticker on TV. I noticed a department talking about one of their campaigns and calling it ‘exciting’. I even saw that GDS (the Government Digital Service) getting in on the act and retweeted an NHS Choices message. How long before there is only one government Twitter account? After all who cares about Departments – surely it is the topic or campaign?
The Government Digital Service (GDS) clearly had a start up mentality. When I went to visit the first time the team were seated in the corner of a small room and I recognised many of them from earlier hack events. Now GDS has several hundred staff and a number of the original ‘pioneers’ have now moved on. There are a number of aspects where GDS is now mirroring some of the functions carried out by the old COI (Central Office of Information) such as the recent guidance on domain name registration. Dare one say that it has ‘gone corporate’?
Well there is another aspect to this as with the gov.uk site taking over all government publishing everything is starting to look very similar in a standard format. Topics are being coordinated across government and clear messages are being given out. This also relates to the renamed Government Communications Service (GCS) which is starting to regulate and standardise training and steer more things centrally.
So we have Govcamp; the Government Digital Service; the Government Communications Service.
Has everything over time just become more mature and organised or is innovation being squeezed out? Will staff become interchangeable commodities as GCS starts to build on the idea of a pool of staff (as the old GICS did). Will the innovators or renegades move out to the private sector? There was a time when social media in government had an aspect of being a ‘force for good’ – has it now become a force for corporate messages…?
Have hack events also been tamed with them being a standard ‘to do’ on a tick list for which one chooses the usual candidates to organise them? Will the next step be a Government Hack Service?
Will government digital become unrecognisable from the private sector with staff moving freely between the two working on Government Campaigns? Will there be a logical progression to outsource some campaigns to benchmark what government does?
Overall is this good or bad?
What do you think?
Nick Halliday is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.