Year note, 2018


2018 was busy.

We visited 25 different cities in 14 different countries, covering 5 continents and one third of the world’s population.

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Keeping track of Public Digital travels on the office wall

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Mike with former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

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Emily and Angie with Jonas from UN DESA in Panama City

Mike, Angie and I spent a week in Panama in November. We spent the first few days working with the Government of Panama, in partnership with the digital government division within the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

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Mike with some of our colleagues in the UN and the Government of Panama

Towards the end of the week, we attended the Red GEALC conference – a gathering of ministers and government officials from all across Latin America and the Caribbean. There, we met presidents, ministers and heads of state from all over Latin America and the Caribbean. We talked to them about digital leadership, service design, and setting up transformative digital institutions.

As Angie wrote here, it was inspiring to experience the camaraderie and collaboration between different countries in the region. Mike focused his speech at the event on building digital teams – and we’re looking forward to helping more governments in this part of the world to build excellent digital teams in 2019.

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Boxes found! Here’s Angie unpacking our books at the conference in Panama City. 

Teams, teams, teams

We’ve long believed in the importance of building digital teams — so this year we were delighted to work with brilliant teams from all over the world, in public bodies and private companies. Some of them taught us new words, others improved on old favourites.

We co-hosted the 2018 Digital Services Convening with digitalHKS at Harvard, a gathering of 9 digital government teams from around the world. We made lots of videos while we there, to showcase their inspirational work and advice. They include: the importance of believing in the mission in the United States, picking your battles and user needs trumping government needs in Peru, what digital culture looks like in Mexico, and why the strategy is delivery in Argentina.

We also contributed to a Harvard report on the convening: I wrote about sustainability and political succession, Tom reflected on working with political leaders, and Emma wrote about single domains, spending controls and service standards.

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Brilliant teams at the Digital Services Convening at Harvard, June 2018

Partnerships…

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James, Ben and Simon outside various IDEO offices

This year we set up two partnerships—with BCG and IDEO—and through them met scores of smart, motivated and insightful new colleagues and clients.

We visited eight of IDEO’s offices around the world; Tokyo is the only one we didn’t get to. A highlight was the the Palo Alto studio which is famous for being the place IDEO designed a mouse for Apple’s Lisa computer. Effectively the first mass produced usable mouse, a little piece of computing history.

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Early concepts of Apple’s Lisa mouse designed by IDEO

Also in IDEO’s Palo Alto office is a secret workshop where IDEO invents, prototypes and makes toys. They’ve called it Toy Lab. It’s so secret that Ben was only allowed to take one picture:

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The only picture Ben was allowed to take in Toy Lab

We co-hosted two events with IDEO, called Make Change. Mike spoke at one in London, and Ben spoke at another in Munich.

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Mike at IDEO’s Make Change event in London

And of course we worked with IDEO clients all over the world, but more about that next year.

… and publications

We published two books: Digital Transformation at Scale and Signals. You can buy a copy of the first one online. If you want a copy of Signals, we’re giving them away. If you see one of us around, we might have a spare copy.

We started a regular newsletter to provide a tea-break friendly scan of news about internet-era ways of working we find from from around the world. One reader said it was “always a highlight in the inbox”, and you don’t hear that about many newsletters. It’s already got well over 900 subscribers – perhaps you could be the 1,000th.

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Andrew with Francis Maude and the PD book

We also published blog posts on internet-era ways of working, government as a platform, and an ongoing series for Chief Technology Officers.

We’ve had the privilege of working with the United Nations and the Inter-American Development Bank, and have written reports for them on digital transformation in government.

Growing our team

In the spring, we moved into a new office — but 4 months later, we had to move upstairs to get more space.

Public Digital has grown from a handful of people, some of them part-time, to a full-time team of 12 — and we’re still growing. We even got almost the whole team in the same city and the same room at the same time, on at least one occasion. We don’t expect that to happen very often.

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The Public Digital team

Looking back and looking forward

However cheesy it might be to say it, we have loved every moment of 2018. We get to work with people who believe the internet can still be a force for good, and who want to build, run and operate things with real responsibility and real impact. Even better, many of those people are new faces to us, bringing new ideas, missions and problems to solve.

We have big plans for 2019, which is shaping up to be even busier. We can’t wait to get started. Our office is closed from Friday 21 December, re-opening on Monday 7 January. See you then.

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