Weeknotes S9 Ep9: SDinGov

Guacamole [1]

[Gif] A chef pounds up tens of avocados in a steel bowl using a huge masher. It doesn’t feel melodramatic to say that this is how my head has been feeling for the past few days.

Hello, it’s Sunday and for the first time in a long time I am writing weeknotes on the weekend. That’s because it’s been a busy week and, despite having a lot of thoughts in my head, I’ve been too tired to write.

I’m not sure where to begin, so I’ll share my weekly trello board for you: https://trello.com/b/BBJ726mr/progress-bookmarks

A screenshot of my weekly Trello board.

There are quite a few good articles this week so I hope you enjoy them.

I think there are maybe three themes this week with a number of sub-themes that are currently mashing together (like guacamole) in my head. Perhaps defining those is a good starting point…

  • SDinGov / stories / reflection / weeknotes / power and privilege
  • SDinGov / tiredness / spoons / presenteeism / feeling sick on trains
  • SDinGov / Vulnerability hangovers [2] / loneliness / the Clance Impostor scale / tiredness again perhaps?
[Gif] a stop motion of guacamole being made. Mash those ideas together brain. You can do it.

Now that I’ve laid those thoughts out, perhaps the themes look more like this…

  • What I learned at SDinGov
  • What I’ve learned about travelling for work
  • What I’ve been feeling this week

…and when I write them down like this I see that I’ve missed out a very important thing:

  • People; because it’s been a very people-y week in a very good way

So maybe that shows that I’ve been living in my head a bit and hopefully these weeknotes will help to snap me out of that. So let’s go, onwards!

[Gif] A sloth having a yawn

What I learned at SDinGov

(aka. SDinGov / stories / reflection / weeknotes / power and privilege)

I went to a lot of different talks at SDinGov this week:

  • Carrie Bishop’s opening Keynote about fixing the plumbing / organisational basket weaving, marathon mindsets, federated organisations and how to get things done.
  • Emily Bazalgette talking about how to prototype your operating model (featuring spaghetti) and how to run small tests on your organisational culture.
  • Dan’s talk about Cake As Work
  • Dawn and Aoife Spengeman’s talk about using design to embed ethics at the Wellcome Trust Data Lab
  • Cassie’s brilliant keynote on day two which featured a call for us to return to our imaginations and really start to visualise what our future might look like.
  • Clara Teoh and Sonia Turcotte’s workshop about Power and Privilege
  • I also had a sneak preview of Audree’s presentation titled “The designer’s ego and how it will prevent us from saving the world” which was excellent and about how we need to be humble if we are going to do the right thing.

I obviously also attended my own presentation with Hattie, Katy and Rahma about storytelling and why we think it’s important. We talked about a number of areas but I totally, wholeheartedly believe in the power of personal stories and how they will ripple out, I really hope that people got that message.

If you’re interested in what we spoke about you’ll find the slides here:

I was really struck by how personal each of these sessions were, and not in a self-interested “hey, I’m here to make myself look good” kinda way. But in a humble, vulnerable, “hello, here I am, and here is something I’ve learned” kind of way. Personal. As the second wave feminists would say:

“The Personal is Political”

I really felt this year that those individual, personal and “small” stories were adding up to something. That the conference was pushing it’s boundaries and not just thinking about service design, but thinking about the future of our world and what utopia or dystopia we are expecting.

Yeah I know, speakers were talking about getting rid of ego, being humble, and here I am bumbling on about utopian visions. Designer as saviour much? Well I’m not a designer, I just sometimes get involved in designing, so just bear with me alright?

It really felt to me that there was a strong link between our individual sense of reflection, the telling of personal stories and sharing of experience in order to be of service to something much bigger than ourselves.

Dawn and Aoife’s presentation talked about embedding ethics, it talked about definitions of “fairness” and how we take our perceptions and understand biases. They spoke about the governance required to hold themselves to account for checking fairness whenever an algorithm or product is changed.

Notes from Dawn and Aoife’s session “Using design to embed ethics”

Emily talked about how she had worked at the Children’s Society to help them improve work life balance, and about how the things that happened were small experiments (like changing your email footer to tell people you work flexibly) and to open the line of communication that says “this is how I work, you do what’s best for you” [3] in order to change the wider culture. Something I’ve seen from my own experiments and from One Team Gov microactions but it was good to hear it being said aloud to a room full of people.

My notes from Emily’s session “How to prototype your operating model”

Cassie talked about stress and how it shrinks the part of our brain that enables us to imagine. So if we are stressed and anxious we are less able to imagine the future, and if we can’t imagine the future then we can’t build it. She also took us through a couple of guided “mass imaginings” which you could tell people really found deeply resonant.

Notes from Cassie’s session.

This is something that I’ve been thinking about for a while, I saw it when I was pulling together the Radical Visions work. Initially I coined some questions asking people to imagine themselves at work in 10 years time, where they are, how their role has changed, the work they would be doing.

But asking people to imagine their work and their lives in 10 years seemed an impossible task for all of the people I spoke to, so we pivoted the question. When I had all of the information together I wanted to do something imaginative with it; creating a description of working in Whitehall in 2030, a time when One Team Gov has been subsumed into the centre and no longer exists, where people are working in new roles and on projects that we haven’t forseen yet. Where everyone’s job description explicitly states their responsibility for the environmental impact of their work.

But we fell back on delivering a report because it felt a bit safer — some of the themes were a little bit close to being political and this was being published by us as civil servants who need to uphold the Civil Service Code. Also, it was easier to deliver within the timeframes (perennial eye roll, please someone pay us to do One Team Gov stuff already).

[Gif] Gru from Despicable Me has a nacho hat full of guacamole, he breaks off a piece, dips it in the hat and eats it.

I felt like I missed an opportunity and when I saw the work that was included in the book, like SRG Bennett, Cat Drew, Liv Bargman and Phoebe Ridgway’s awesome Bracknell Forest project, I felt like I should have pushed it further [4]. You’ll find all of the Radical Visions here (and the project above is on page 113)


I’ve also been thinking about this a lot in relation to the climate crisis. As humans if we are stressed and anxious then we fall back to convenience; I don’t have the mental energy to go to a supermarket let alone work out what I need to take to the zero waste store, cart it all there, fill it up, work out how much it costs and drag it home — and then have to go to the supermarket anyway because it doesn’t stock everything I need.

When we fall back to convenience we make decisions that impact the planet. As such the personal, our mental health, is a hugely important factor in thinking about the political, the future of the planet.

I felt like this groundswell of stories was leading us to something much bigger, and I felt really pleased to be playing whatever small part I can in that. Sessions like Cassie, Clara and Sonia’s and Audree’s also spoke to me — if we’re going to tell stories, and if so many of us are going to start, then we need to be damn sure we are doing it in a humble way and knowing that each of our stories is exactly that, our own, nobody else’s and consider how narratives and dominant voices can silence others.

I’ve wittered on for probably long enough on this now, but I also wanted to share this quote from a link that Emily put on Twitter after the conference.

“Reflection is often seen as a ‘soft’ activity, in which people self indulgently speak about their thoughts and emotions, or worse: navel gaze. But when done effectively, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Holding a metaphorical mirror up to yourself (or your organisation) is difficult.

Interrogating what you’ve done, why and how to improve on it is by no means the easy option. Doing things exactly the same as before and hoping it works next time? That’s the easy choice.”

The above quote is from: https://states-of-change.org/stories/making-the-case-and-space-for-reflection

Sometimes when I’m writing these weeknotes, the imposter on my shoulder is whispering in my ear “Who do you think you are? Who do you think is actually reading this? What could anyone possibly get from this?”

But the above, and the quote, and the tile below (via my instagram feed this morning) have made me think that maybe, just maybe, this is all going to add up to something bigger after all.

A quote that showed up in my Instagram feed, it says “A feminist is any woman who tells the truth about her life — Virginia Woolf”

What I’ve learned about travelling for work

(aka. SDinGov / tiredness / spoons / presenteeism / feeling sick on trains)

I never sleep well when I’m away from home. A combination of being on my own, taking longer to get to sleep, strange hotel noises and weird air-con. Add to that being social, having a drink or two, eating badly, getting dehydrated…

People with chronic illnesses talk about spoons, and I’ve always hesitated to use the analogy because I don’t have a chronic illness, however I do find that I’m constantly thinking about my energy, whether I have it, how I might keep it, and how it’s being depleted.

[Gif] A little white bunny is sat at a desk, it’s eyes close and it falls over backwards, asleep.

I need 7–8 hours of unbroken sleep to function like a regular human being. Lack of sleep is the one sure thing that is going to derail my anxiety and sap my energy. As a result, it was pretty much all I could do to get through the days at the conference, and I felt very consciously like I wasn’t “working” even though I was working and learning throughout, while battling constant low level anxiety about what might be happening in my inbox. Presenteeism.

The effects of tiredness are definitely physical. I felt it in my muscles and in my bones. I certainly felt it in my (fuzzy) brain. I wanted to catch up on work. I stared at the screen after each day at the conference, but I managed very little. On Friday I got up early and worked from 7.30am on the train. That made me feel a little better, but also didn’t because I felt sick again and staring at a screen didn’t help.

The cumulative impact of travel, poor sleep for three nights, two big days and then travel home again meant that by the time I got back on Friday I was no good to anybody. I had a little cry at my son’s speech therapist and was in bed by 8pm.

On Saturday my little boy also decided to wake up super early, 3.30am, and I was utterly ruined. A quick “nap” turned into three hours in the afternoon, and I went to bed at 10pm and slept through to 6am. This is the epitome of terrible work/life balance isn’t it? Surely? In that when you travel for work there is very little life involved. When we go to conferences we think that they aren’t work because people we know will be there and there is a social element, but (sorry in advance for this) fuck me, is it work. And, work on top of work.

A picture of the back of a t-shirt that reads “Women need more sleep than men because fighting the patriarchy is exhausting”

What I’ve been feeling this week

Anyway, what’s the point in telling you this? Well, lack of sleep for two nights meant that on Thursday (the second day) at the conference I was already starting to feel pretty awful. The sleep affected my anxiety and my anxiety fed into, and was fed by, my vulnerability hangover.

While I was proud to have done our talk and so sure of Hattie, Katy and Rahma’s brilliance at speaking in front of such a big crowd, my mind is a total blank about my own performance. I can’t really remember what I said, beyond what is there in the slides. I felt like the key points I wanted to make weren’t landing, I felt like I hadn’t prepared enough. I felt like I couldn’t really see the people to my left because of where the lectern was positioned. I felt like I spoke mainly to two people sat in the front row because I was so nervous.

I felt like what I had been trying to say, because the points didn’t land, felt inconsequential. Insignificant. “Too high level”. This is the kind of imposter spiral that it’s hard to get a handle on when you are tired, and if you’re already predisposed to feeling like an imposter anyway…

Despite people coming to tell me that they enjoyed the talk this feeling pervades, and that’s something I’m going to have to work through.

People are ace aren’t they?

So in order to pull this weeknote back from what at the moment feels like a huge amount of moaning I want to just mention how many awesome people I met this week, how much people’s kind words meant to me, how much I enjoyed interesting conversations with Hattie, Katy, Alice, Dan, Robin, Jukesie, Trilly, Andy and many more.

To people who came up to me and introduced themselves; thank you, I am shy and you made it loads easier.

Thank you also for the general silliness and fun:

Finally, on Thursday morning Sharon, Jane, Kim, Heather, Katy and Misaki got together to catch up and say hello while eating a variety of breakfast foods. I enjoyed this so much. Kim, Jane and Heather all messaged me to see if I would have time to get together and I suggested that we all meet up instead. It’s such a joyful thing to feel like you’ve brought people together and get to hang out even for a short time with other truly brilliant women.


And thats probably enough for today, right? Yeah, too right.

Thank you for reading this far, sorry for babbling. Writing on a Sunday is distracting and hard!

[1] References to guacamole may not make any sense unless you click this link.

[2] A term stolen from Brené Brown: https://www.romankrznaric.com/outrospection/2012/10/16/1729

[3] As a side point I’ve had a line in my email footer for a while now about working flexibly but not expecting replies to emails outside of working hours, and, after my recent Apolitical workshop about having better meetings, my latest personal experiment has been to create a set of meeting commitments, so that when I send an invite it includes the following.

Please feel free to steal:

“I am committed to making meetings as accessible as possible. I commit to:

  • Finding the right environment to hold this meeting. Based on your needs, please let me know where you would like to hold this meeting. For example if you have hearing difficulties we won’t hold this somewhere noisy. I prefer informal meetings in breakout spaces,
  • Always providing an agenda for a meeting over 30 minutes.
  • Making it clear what will be expected of you and how much time you might need to prepare.
  • Being available after any meetings to follow up, receive feedback or clarify anything that was discussed”

[4] I say this but I am still immensely proud of what we achieved, over and above our day jobs with people from around the world. This is not a criticism, but designed to be an example of what Cassie was saying. It’s incredibly hard to imagine our lives in 10 years, let alone more than that, and we need to make time to imagine.

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