At the start of the month I went out to Sebastopol, California, for Foo Camp. It was a feast of good conversations; a great opportunity to share and get feedback on the work we're doing at GDS, and to talk with makers from many different backgrounds about ideas, tools and projects relevant for our work.
Foo Camp is an "unconference" (and the inspiration for many similar events) where the attendees design the agenda at the event. Topics ranged wildly, from big data to synthetic biology. Amongst all of that three of us from GDS talked about our work.
We knew going in that many of the attendees would be familiar with our work on GOV.UK, so we used our session to explain that work in its broader context. We talked about transformation, policy, the IT strategy and many of the other strands of GDS' work.
The broad range of content makes for unexpected connections, which is really the aim of the event. It was exciting to see how many of the attendees had heard of our work and hopefully some of what we were able to talk about was useful; we certainly benefitted from the questions and conversation.
Back in SF
After the event I headed back to San Francisco where I visited Code for America and the Mayor's Office for Innovation. I was joined by Frances Berriman, the former front end lead at GDS who recently left us for a new life in California.
We did a talk for a group of fellows and staff at Code for America, chatting afterwards about how we might be able to support each others' projects a little more. Some of Code for America's work in cities in the US overlaps with what we're working on, and it was particularly interesting to think about how the approaches we're taking on the transformation projects might better enable the sort of focussed innovative projects the Code for America fellows take on.
A good example is a project in New York which helps charities who run schemes focussed on offenders to identify the right candidates for those schemes. That service is made possible by the fact that the city's judicial system is entirely digital, and has the right interfaces to allow new projects to search the data and take it to the people who need it.
In the Mayor's Office for Innovation (http://innovatesf.com/) we spent some time with Jay Nath, Chief Innovation Officer for San Francisco, and Rodrigo Davies an ex-pat Brit working with them over the summer. They've got a wide range of work under their remit, from helping the city open its data, to helping the city connect better with its tech community, to finding projects that will improve the city. They're starting out by making some simple tools which help citizens navigate changes to the healthcare system and interact with public space in the city better. Small projects that solve clear user needs and begin to establish some new capabilities and delivery.
Getting back from a few days away it's easy to get buried in the mountain of email that has built up, but with that mostly under control there's also new enthusiasm to plough back in and new connections to contribute.
I'm particularly looking forward to continuing conversations with Code for America about how the new infrastructure our transformation projects we're putting in place could support projects like those they're involved in, as well as sharing some of the San Francisco team's code with the GOV.UK team so we can think about the next steps for some of our tools.