Thursday 27 September 2012

Totally civically cool

The following post contains: swearing, passion, grenade throwing and fire. You have been warned.

Yesterday, while out smoking, someone said 'it doesn't sit well with my civic heart' and thumped their chest. They weren't wearing a suit. As it happens, they were wearing jeans and trainers. But they own a suit. Do a quite a nice line in them as it happens. But yesterday he was wearing a hoody though the day before he was talking to a minister. In jeans. Wasn't a suit wearing occasion.

He's the coolest person I know. He's flipping epic at his job, totally dedicated, when needed pulls hours that would make most cry, has a whole tonne of shit going on no one ever sees or hears about and every single little wriggle he knows to save money, he uses it. He's civil service right down to the bone and he doesn't care who knows it. He's not embarrassed or ashamed of it. He simply is and that is the end of that.

This is going to embarrass him. I don't care. This needs saying.

I am not cool either. I write some words, and I do social media and I work at GDS, possibly the coolest bit of government there ever was or ever will be. I am not cool. I lob grenades at things I think are wrong, I say some challenging stuff, both on Twitter and here - challenging for the people it's aimed at, even if not challenging for the majority of my readership. I am relentless in my determination to make government better because I believe in something.

Police protect and serve the citizens of this country. Nurses fix the breaks in the citizens of this country. Firemen quench the flames for the citizens of this country.

So what the hell do I do? I faint at the sight of blood, am terrified of fire and sharp things and I have a finely honed sense of when a crowd is about to kick off which I use to always be miles away when it finally does. So instead I choose to be government. I choose to work inside machinery I used to find difficult and intimidating. I walk through the doors, and I say good morning to the ex-ghurka on security and I swipe through the gates and wait for the lift.

That spot, in that building, is a million miles from where I grew up and a million miles from the street where my boyfriend still lives. It couldn't be further, quite frankly, unless I lived in a tower block on a tenement estate. So I stand waiting for the lift in a place far from home where I have few friends, not because it's cool. Not because I expect respect for what I do and not because it's cool.

I do it because it is the only way I know how to make a difference, no matter how small. I fiercely, passionately believe that there is a value to the things that I do. That somewhere, in some unforeseen and unknown  future, someone will be equipped to speak on behalf of the people I live next to in one of the most deprived Wards in this country because they will have heard their voice. They will have had those conversations and they will have understood the view from that street, from the terrace out of the window on a cold, misty and bleak Northern Monday morning.

I have lobbed grenades. I have used words as weapons, initially accidentally, and progressively more consciously as time has passed, as I have discovered that words have power, knowledge is power, I have it and I want to pass it on.

So what do I do? I just serve. I serve people who are democratically elected by the people who lived next door to me back home. They choose people. I don't care any more what 'colour' those people might politically be. All I see is a service which needs some help and some little places where I might be able to give some of that help. When it's appropriate, when it's asked for, where it's needed most. That is not cool, it's not big, and it's clever.

It's what I choose to do. I work for government. It's about the uncoolest thing you can admit to doing and I don't care. I'm proud of what I do and where I work. I work with some kick ass people. Some of them are in GDS. But not all of them. Some of them wear jeans. But not all of them. Some of them feel as fiercely as I do about serving something, someone. But not all of them.

GDS is hiring right now. But so is the rest of government, in places. So if you want to be part of something that's not cool, go take a look. Stop asking me whether there are jobs in GDS. Instead ask yourself something else.

Do I care about being cool? Do I care about citizens? Do I want to make a difference, one that's not immediately visible, that's not plastered across the front page, but that's real, intrinsic, persistent and bankable?

Answer the question. Answer it honestly. It matters. And I don't care any more that knowing it matters is not cool.


  1. Damn, you make me want to go back to working in something that *means* something. Nice post.

    // @_elj

  2. @_elj Good. Going home exhausted but knowing you achieved something is about the best feeling in the entire world. Yeah so it doesn't pay big beans. Like that's going to help me sleep at night or put a smile on my face. Can't buy smiles.

  3. This worries me. I understand it, I think. If I didn't understand, I might worry less. But I understand nurses, and police. I have them in my family. Firemen make sense. And I thought I understood you.

    But, based on what you say here, I don't. I thought I understood what GDS was about. Seems not. I don't understand 'colour'. I don't understand 'grenades' . The Civil Service is not Afghanistan, and I didn't realise that GDS was waging a war.

    But perhaps it is. To you, perhaps it's exactly what's happening. And people have to be saved, so their society must have grenades thrown at it, and when it has burned, it can be built anew. Hooray: Whitehall, Year Zero.

    I will keep watching, and listening. And from now, worrying.

  4. Good for you! I'm glad you've found a role where your passion and gumption are real assets :-)

    I'd be interested myself if I had a functional brain/body at the moment.

  5. Ok, this is going to sound a bit snarky, but I don't mean it that way. It sounds like what you're describing is "having a job". I mean, most people aren't cool. Most people turn up, work long hours, sometimes get carried away with what they're doing and other times just wish they could do something, anything else, for a little while at least. Most people work with people they respect and admire, in different ways.

    Fact is, most people *can't* work for the government (and I'm not sure we'd want to live somewhere where most people *do* work for the government). Making the world a better place has to be something we all do in small and large ways. Government workers aren't the only people who do this.

    What bothers me is that I don't really care about how great the *people* are, or how *proud* they are of GDS and their colleagues. I care, as a citizen, about what GDS *does*, and weirdly that isn't mentioned so much. I hope you really are making a difference, and I'd like to hear about the projects you're doing, the people you're helping, and less about the grenades and the chest-swelling moments of pride, and the epicness, and the jeans-wearing.

  6. Rob,

    GDS are quite noisy about what we do. We have a Blog and everything...


  7. Hi Gordon. You're not, perhaps, quite used to the experience of eye rolling when you mention where you work in circles containing 'cool' people. I wont say where they work or who they are, no fair ball. But this is quite a visceral reaction to those conversations.

    Hi Wordgeek. Wait for the broken to pass (it does). There's always time, it's just sometimes the time just aint right now.

    Hi Rob. I save the work do for the blog Sam mentioned. 'Finding your digital stakeholders' is part of a long long piece of work - it's the visible tip of the iceberg I'm still mining my way through but there's more coming.
    This is my personal blog. It contains personal viewpoints and perspectives. Some of them relate to work, some don't. Right channel for right content, right?

  8. Sam. Thank you. :O)

    All. Keep an eye on that blog, it's about to get a whole hell of a lot noisier.

  9. GDS is ultra-cool! How could it not be?? It's about doing something that should be default in public websites - making things elegantly simple for the people using the services.
    I never once felt it was uncool to work in a public service when I was working in one (even if it was the shabby-chic end of public services ;-)