S01E01: Thank you COVID for my weeknote!

A black woman wearing a yellow dress and sun hat leaps for joy on a beach with the sea behind her.
Photo by Medsile via Iwaria

Designing remote-preferred, digital-native, and data/evidence-led organisations, data governance and design patterns.

Weeknotes eh? I’ve hemmed and hawed about writing them for many reasons but finally, we’re here. I’m writing a weeknote that very possibly, highly likely, I’ll publish.

Why weeknotes?

Folks have their own reasons for sharing weeknotes: to keep others informed, journal in the open, celebrate victories, commiserate losses.

For me, it’s about connection and threads.

Firstly, there’s a lot on my mind at the moment. Maybe too much but I’m an ambitious juggler of interconnected threads that feed each other. In sharing my weeknotes I’m hoping to connect with people who are excited about the same things.

Secondly, it’s about casting my threads out into the ether so they’re not just in my head. There’s something about writing that’s cathartic and concrete. So here’s what’s on my mind — I promise they are connected.

Designing a remote-preferred, digital-native, mobile-ready, data & evidence-led organisation

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Ever since I challenged the idea that you could add remote-working on top of your existing organisation structure and profit. I also summarised on LinkedIn.

This week I caught up with Diane Barlow, Interim Chief Information Officer at Food Standards Agency, about their innovations in organisation design.

We unearthed interesting angles about how a decision to work remotely affects everything you do, from how you organise your buildings to how you support your people. There’s more to unpack and more lessons to learn here. I’m so grateful for her time and insight.

Data governance as a service

This brings me neatly to the next thread. From a data perspective, organisation design is interesting for the effect it has on data governance.

Data governance is about control — literally changing how people behave with data so you can use that asset to deliver goals, not get fined to hell or look incompetent.

Both data governance and organisation design really centre on people, so these threads sit nicely together in my brain. I’m interested in how we can change data governance from the image of stuffy, slow moving, ineffective and old-fashioned boards to a more agile, responsive mechanism that truly supports an organisation in their mission.

This week I completed and shared comprehensive terms of reference for a data governance board. My role at the Department for International Development is quite broad but specific: to make data an effective, valued, trusted asset. In a large, devolved, matrix organisation with people worldwide there are lots of moving parts. Data governance is more than a nice to have.

Design patterns for data and analytics

Now one way to deliver better quality products relies heavily on how your organisation works — its culture and design. Data governance helps, as do patterns.

Now, in data we already have data standards which are like cookie cutters for data. The idea is they save you time so you don’t have to cut every cookie by hand (for cookie, read data).

They might reduce the need for bespoke ‘cutting’ (pardon the stretch of the analogy) but they don’t take away the need for good cookie dough (I’m done I promise!) If it’s not clear, by cookie dough, I mean solid research, analysis and synthesis to make sure the standard or design pattern is right for your particular situation.

I’ve been thinking lately, could we go furhter than data standards? Could we produce design systems that include basic but necessary analysis and quality controls built in?

Tim Paul, Head of Interaction Design at GDS has interesting things to say about design systems. This week he’s been immensely generous in listening to my excitement around evolving this concept for data.

I started thinking about this again when I was turning over the idea of data governance as a service. Sadly, COVID derailed that particular train of thought.

COVID Annus horribilis

I’ve spoken at work and tweeted extensively on how COVID has affected my family. From shielding, to being ill (and getting stronger every day) to losing one of the best men I know — my father-in-law, Robin.

I won’t repeat that here. Let’s put it this way, post-COVID, I’m carpe-ing all over that diem. So, thanks COVID (I guess) for finally writing some weeknotes.

That’s all folks, see you same time next week?

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