Episode One Hundred and Sixty Nine: Thinking In Public; Writing In Public 

by danhon

0.0 Sitrep

10:03am just after the beginning of Frances Berriman’s talk about the Government Digital Service Design Principles at the Code for America Summit, thinking about what makes sense to be used in a different country, but trying to achieve the same end-user aims.

1.0 Thinking in Public

A bunch of people outside the screen and inside it have asked me what, exactly, I’ll be doing as a Content Director at Code for America. So in an effort to start doing my job before I actually start on Monday, here’s me trying to do the hard work to describe it simply.This is what Code for America believes: we believe that good government in the 21st century is inseparable from digital services. That we can not only save money in providing government services to citizens, but also provide better services. That this transition to digital services is an opportunity to rebuild trust in government, too.

America, though, is really big. So every time we succeed in building better government (working through fellowships, directly with government or with companies), designing and launching new services, we need to make those services, and the processes involved in designing and launching those services, repeatable.

That doesn’t just mean making the code available on github.

It means documenting the process. It means, just like the way the Patent Office requires you to submit a filing so that when your monopoly runs out, anyone can implement your invention, we must do the same thing.

So, this is the working, internal description of my job that I have: making everything that Code for America learns, across everything that it does, as accessible, understandable, and as easy to repeat, as possible.

That’s how I and my team will be helping to show that government can work for the people, by the people, in the 21st century.

2.0 Writing in Public

When I started writing this newsletter, I didn’t really have any aims for it other than to try to start a habit or a practice of writing every day. I think I like writing. That’s not to say that some days it feels like a chore, but more often than not, I feel better after having done it. 169 episodes in, this is a rough list of what I’ve gotten out of it:

– It’s both a practice and practice. Sometimes the writing doesn’t take very long. Sometimes it takes a while. But I like having the discipline. It’s taken me a good thirty-four odd years (and the first ten or so of those didn’t really count) to realise that I do most of my thinking verbally. Writing is a substitute to just sitting in silence, trying to think.

– It’s a way for figuring out what I’m interested in and what I might want to do. I started the year knowing that I was unhappy at Wieden and that things weren’t quite working out. And in all the times that I had tried to interrogate “what it is that I want to do”, I hadn’t had much success. So perhaps I needed to come at it from another direction, and almost surprise it. Writing about what I found interesting seemed to work, and now I have a body of one hundred and sixty nine stream-of-consciousness type artifacts that allow me to interrogate my own thinking. It almost, I suppose, like flying and learning how to miss hitting the ground.

– It’s a way for people to understand me, and how my brain works. This isn’t an attribute of newsletters, more of an attribute of how I choose to write mine. Most of the productive conversations and interviews that I’ve had since the Great Laying Off have been purely as a result of this newsletter. I’ll try and explain it this way: because I’m doing this unedited, it’s a way for people to find out how my brain works and how I think through concepts and ideas. It’s a pretty good way of getting to know me, without actually having to spend time with me (unless, of course, you count spending the time of reading a thousand-odd words every day as time spent getting to know me). But, unless I’m lying (and I don’t think I am), the stuff that I’m writing here is pretty much the truth. Or *a* truth, at least. This is how I think. If you’re interested in how I think, or if you think how I think might be applicable to what you do, then it’s much easier to reach out. It is not a coincidence that I found myself on the receiving end of an email from Code for America because of what I had written about GDS.

That said, I’ve also learned, painfully, about the downsides. I used to take it as a strength – or at least, assumed that it was *good* that I wrote this unvarnished and unedited. But it so happens that writing that way also exposes hidden biases and ways in which I view and deal with the world that don’t reflect how I *consciously* want to view and deal with the world. And, like Justin Hall explained at XOXO a week or so ago, I’ve had to re-examine the rather naive idea that anyone who interacts with me is fair game for this newsletter. That, I’ve learned, was a manifest lesson in consent, power and privilege, and not one that was pleasant to learn.

Net, net, though, I still think this has been a good thing. It’s helped me become more aware of myself, and it’s helped expose me to a whole bunch of interesting people. It has, in the best way that the internet has always done, connected me with people. This isn’t an inherent benefit of the medium: it’s a result of the way I’ve chosen to use it, I believe.

And even still, now, I don’t think I’d go back to blogging. This works for me.

11:31pm. I shied away from Code for America Summit Ignite Talks tonight, my brain stuffed full, like some sort of super-saturated solution or sponge that’s at carrying capacity, and any extra stimulation just wouldn’t help all the background processing that needs to get done. Still a little bit of simmering rage and resentment at having to spend more than zero time today on basic sysadmin to fix my phone after the botched iOS 8.01 over-the-air upgrade. And whilst forgetting to go to a friend’s leaving party, accidentally ending up at the same leaving party, and being able to see a whole bunch of other super close friends.

And I got scared. And then less scared. And had some really great tacos. And it’s not even Taco Tuesday.

Send notes, as ever.