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Digital Strategy, Marketing & Culture

We are moving the cheese

I was delighted to speak about our learnings so far building something from nothing through empowerment, agile and responsive methods, whilst on our journey towards better public services.

With information spread across 160+ organisations, 480+ websites and over 6 million content items - the scale is staggering.

With 6 million content items, we actually have more content items than people

Think about putting yourself in the shoes of a user. What does this landscape looks like to traverse? It will likely start at Google and get muddy from there on.

Our work towards a central point of access is shaped upon user research and performance analysis, but it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

So, what are our learnings so far?

  • Understand the benefit of multigenerational organisations, explore tensions and build bridges
  • Adapt and tailor principles that are a good fit for your team and environment
  • Get together regularly - in person. It will increase visibility, reduce tensions, create connections and deliver better solutions
  • Empowerment ≠ direction. Remove blockers, empower teams to make decisions and be clear on the direction of travel
  • Mind the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) - it might just be you
  • It’s amazing how much free feedback you get online, from very clever people. Increase transparency and overcome your fear of criticism

I was keen to make the point that we truely are on the brink of something special in the public sector. We have the opportunity to transform our enviroments and the way deliver services.

In regards to the books I mentioned:

The slides are available on Speakerdeck - 'We are moving the cheese'.

Search centric, informational experiences for public services

People have been looking to search engines to answers their questions for the best part of ten years now. Searching is now baked into our DNA. Got a question? Google it.

We also know that the majority of people who visit public sector websites come from search engines. Think of search as the modern homepage of the web, where once AOL dominated search engines now rein.

There is huge demand. Information from the public sector is helping to answer a portion of approx 40,000 searches a second worldwide.

These searches commonly provide an insight into behaviour, helping us create better products and services for people.

You can read more on how Google provides it’s results through their “how search works” guide.

Search is changing however and we should change our approach with it.

Moving toward conversational interactions

Conversational search, or natural language search, is a series of features made available within UK search engines from 2013.

Conversational search allows for us to interact much like we do when conversing with a friend, through an ability to comprehend natural language.

  • Unnatural, ill-formed search queries are common on desktop. Think “David Cameron age” and “age David Cameron”

  • Natural, well formed queries are now growing massively on mobile - “What is David Cameron’s age?” and “How old is David Cameron?”

Conversational search is connecting search queries together as well. You don’t have to think about how you fit everything into one query, as you can refine results over multiple searches.

  1. “Who is the prime minister?” Response “David Cameron”

  2. “How old is he?” Response “48 years (October 9, 1966)”

You don’t have to provide the name twice. Search engines pick up the person in the first search and the reference "he" in the second.

This is made possible through both data from knowledge bases like Wikidata and Google Knowledge Graph. Or, from indexed information from websites such as GOV.UK.

Conversational search and knowledge graph results are making waves, and I've no doubt the public sector is next.

Answers are returned directly within search results. It has real potential to shake up how information is presented. It's a real shift towards search centric, informational experiences

I want to apply for a basic disclosure

Basic disclosure is a transactional service provided by Disclosure Scotland. Information about the service and the ability to apply is available online.

Using this example, we can take a look at a possible future state.

  1. “OK Google” (launches Android search box)

  2. “What is a basic disclosure? Response “A basic disclosure is a document containing information about you that can be used by employers to make safer recruitment decisions”

  3. “How much does it cost?” Response “A basic disclosure costs £25”

  4. “Can I use a credit card to pay” Response “You can pay for a basic disclosure using a credit or debit card”

  5. “How do I apply?” Response “You can apply for a basic disclosure online or by post” (link to apply online)

We already hold data about Scottish public services through the Scottish Services list and the Scottish Government services review.

With both Freebase and Wikidata offering the ability to input data about public services, there is potential to adopt a common vocabulary and link all this up, going some way to realising our example.

Google mobile image


We should accept that we won’t always control the experience for users. The future will likely be search centric, informational experiences that won't neccessarily result in a visit to public sector websites.

We have an opportunity to provide the data and information needed to support such innovation. An opportunity that helps to support various Scottish Government strategies, including the Government Economic Strategy for 2015.

Five highlights from chatting about culture and collaboration at ResponsiveOrg London

In the not so distant past I put together some thoughts on ResponsiveOrg, it’s purpose and the manifesto that underpins the movement.

The idea is that something isn’t quite right about the operating system of our organisations. There is a real opportunity to move towards clearer purpose and better collaboration.

I decided to pop along to learn more and chat with the community at Responsiveorg London. So, here are my five highlights.

1) The justification for change is clear (and visually appealing!)

As Matthew Partovi welcomed everyone, attendees were lucky enough to have sketch notes on tap visualising why this movement matters.

Great way to show a clear message and vision from #responsiveorg @PinipaApp, April 27, 2015

2) Focus your efforts on the yellow dots

Engaging people who show no interest in discussing change can be tough. A controversial suggestion is to focus on the people who can be influenced, not the people who can’t.

  • Green dots are people in your network who are energised and engaged
  • Yellow dots are influenable
  • Red dots are blockers

If you focus your time and effort on people who are considered to be the yellow dots in your network - the hope is that they engage with red dots further down the line.

3) Transparency can be transformational

During the event there was a share by @karlwilding, from NCVO, about the opportunity for openness and transparency into board meetings.

There is a great quote tucked away in there:

“transparency can be transformational”

4) Encourage people to get together

I loved the idea of the instant camera photos and the opportunity for people to tell others their interests. It’s great for finding people who want to talk about similar things.

Food after the workshops; before the unconference - big discussions on what we'vve learned! David Terrar (@DT) April 27, 2015

5) Don't forgot individuals Spoilt for choice during the workshops, I opted for a more individual focused session titled “Responsive You”.

The workshop was based upon Very Clear Ideas by Charles Davies and involved asking a series of questions that would help you begin to explore your purpose in life.

I soon realised my responses were work centric, so when Tom proposed the final question as being our own to ask - I focused on this.

It provided an opportunity for people to think about their purpose, isolated from the opinion of others.

There is another write up that would be worth reading “Why we need the ResponsiveOrg movement by Silvia Cambie

Seeking health information on Google

Unless your settings are a little off and you are currently making use of, then this change will have passed you by.

When you do a Google search on for health related queries, you will likely be presented a unique knowledge graph result right there on the page.

Search for breast cancer on

Giving you information on symptoms, treatments and commonality - it really is everything you would expect from a quick introduction to a condition.

The mobile design sees the information presented above the results, whereas tablet / desktop is on the right.

Where does this come from? Surely it cannot be a pure algorithmic approach to discovering, understanding and presenting information on health back to users?

We use a combination of algorithms and medical professionals to create this medical information. First, our algorithms find and analyze health-related information from high-quality sites across the web. Then, teams of doctors carefully review and refine the information and licensed medical illustrators create the visuals.

Interesting. Depending upon whether you are in the public or private sector, your view on this might differ massively.

Find out more about health results on Google.

Starting a journey towards better collaboration

Changing the way you work is tough, as is changing Government.

We began back in 2013 with an ambitious aim of changing the way Government works, but I gave little regard to the I worked prior to arrival and what this would mean. Coming from a waterfall background and having a passion for all things ‘agile’ - I found adopting a new you isn’t easy. It’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it.

We have been through various efforts to reshape how we deliver and collaborate with each other over the last year. There have been highs and lows but one thing is clear - without passionate, motivated people the possible becomes impossible. is a community of people with a mission and a passion to do things differently.

Reading their manifesto is a refreshing experience.

“..most organizations still rely on a way of working designed over 100 years ago for the challenges and opportunities of the industrial age”

I chose to put pen to paper in a personal capacity to begin to move towards their manifesto principles. I feel this has the potential to benefit me and the people around me.


  • People over profit
  • Empowering over controlling
  • Emergence over planning
  • Networks over hierarchies
  • Adaptivity over efficiency
  • Transparency over privacy

Interested? Read the manifesto over on the website. Recommended reading includes The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age (my copy is on the way).

I’ll let you know how it goes.