It’s been a big few days. But let’s not lose perspective.
Those who’ve recently left GDS will be sorely missed – by their colleagues, and by many others outside GDS as well. But five years is a long time to be in the machine. On reflection, it’s perhaps more of a surprise that so many people have been at GDS for so long than it is that people are now moving on. What GDS have been trying to achieve is bigger than any individual, no matter how talented. It’s a movement.
For me, a core principle of this movement is to work in the open. With some notable exceptions, not enough of what GDS has been doing of late has happened in the open. I am certain that this is part of its current predicament.
Openness breeds trust, and lack of it breeds suspicion. Suspicion, once established, is hard to shake. And when it’s there, it turns small problems into big ones. Minor differences into dysfunctional relationships. Well-meaning efforts to help into arrogance. Sensible changes of policy and technology into empire-building centrism. It’s much harder to assume good faith when people are moving in the shadows.
I hope this will change. And while I’m sure that the next few months of adjustment will be painful, I’m also sure that responding to change is another of the core principles that GDS has helped to establish. Responding to change was, after all, the raison d’être for the whole thing.
GDS has largely achieved in 5 years what 20 years of initiatives have failed to do: establish a set of consistent, good digital services, and a reliable blueprint for future delivery. Change the conversation. Reimagine digital services from the perspective of the user. But this is not a legacy. It’s a prelude. The changing winds of the civil service might be about to blow in the wrong direction for a bit. But not forever.
The goal – to make government an organisation of the Internet era – is the same now as it always was. And it will ultimately be met, because it is an imperative.
What makes GDS different from the 20 years of failure that preceded it is not the idea. There’s not much difference in ambition between gov.uk and open.gov.uk, really. And it’s not the process, either. It’s the mindset. It’s the principles. And many principles which were once hotly contested are now established, shared, and vested in talented people are working all over government and the wider public sector.
There’s lots more to do, but those who’ve recently decided to move on couldn’t possibly have done more to set the stage. And while their achievements are extraordinary, they’re also the result of a shared endeavour, undertaken by a strong and dedicated community, inside GDS and out. People who’ve worked, thought, blogged, done, devved and delivered.
And mostly, people who are still doing exactly that.