Coding girls: in their own words

This post is about coding/geekery and girls. Yes, that much-hectored subject that we love and loathe to discuss. I would like to share four short videos with you from our YouTube channel that I think contain some very simple facts about learning programming, to help inform those who are focusing on bringing more girls into this field. They were all filmed at this year’s Young Rewired State: Festival of Code and our first Young Rewired State event in New York City; they are only a few snatched minutes, but the girls (of varying ages) are consistent in their message.

At the end of this post I have listed what I took from these, but obviously you are free to draw your own conclusions and I hope that by getting this stuff on camera, it helps raise awareness and understanding of what really matters.

Here is 16 year old Emma Corlett, this is her second year at the Festival of Code:

Introducing Nadine Shaalan, NYC, aged 15

Amy Marshall aged 11 shares her thoughts and a small dance…

Finally the lovely Jenny Lea (16) I dare you not to be at least smiling by the end of this video…

Here are the highlights for me from what they are saying:

  • it’s a useful skill for future jobs, even if not in tech
  • it is more a life skill/interesting skill to have
  • the community is the best thing about being with other kids who are discovering coding
  • the other kids are not weird
  • it’s free to learn and peer-to-peer is an effective way to get to know whatever you might choose to learn
  • it’s not a MASSIVE thing, but it is fun so why not?

“Why not?” is the persistent message, but keeping it social is important too.

These interviews are available thanks to the inspiration of Gemma Cocker from Rosy Cheeks Productions, our forever champion and a great film-maker, who roamed free and asked some great questions of the young people we had at the Festival. 


I seem to have written that as the subject line of a great many emails today! So why not a post?

On Thursday, 4th December 2008 – midday, I am hosting a meeting, wrong handle…, hosting a ‘thing’, about how departments will consult policy online and how we might help policy groups choose the most effective channels available (in light of transformational government) to engage/inform (gulp).

The background to why this event is happening is:

  • that online communication has moved on at a speed that organisations/public sector would struggle to keep up with
  • adoption of social media as a communication tool in the digital world has been aggressively successful
  • transformational government: website rationalisation

The problems we are looking to address are:

  • how can those involved in developing policy in this democracy ensure that they can engage effectively online with those people either affected by or interested in that policy
  • what are the most effective channels for digital engagement in the ‘website rationalised’ world

This started as a very small discussion amongst those I knew in the public and private sector who were great at this kind of thinking, an informal chat that would offer up some interesting grist for our overworked mill. I blagged favours and felt rather chuffed that I had so many great people agree to come.

It has grown into much more than that, as obviously there is much interest in this, and it is a huge opportunity not to be wasted: having so many stonkingly brilliant people together in the same room for two hours.

Why am I posting? Why do I want help? Well, I thought that those of you who read this blog are obviously also interested in this kind of stuff and thought that it would be a bit rude not to include you.

So, two things, send me, by email or post here:

1. Questions/thoughts that you think we need to address in such a meeting

2. Ideas/links to innovative ideas you have on consulting policy online

Special thanks to Sarah Goulbourne and Will Jones from Tom Watson‘s office for helping at the last minute with a suitable venue; Oli Barrett for an invaluable telephone conversation about tips on getting the most value out of this session; Steve Moore for offering his facilitation skills; Mitch Sava for agreeing to present and Tiffany St James for focusing my mind (as ever).

The new Foreign and Commonwealth website

As you all know, I have been involved in the development of the new Foreign and Commonwealth (FCO) website – – looking pretty lovely right now.

Many of you have asked me why I have not blogged the ‘launch’, or switch over, from the old to new site… well, because actually my role had little to do with it. Not that I am not proud of what has been achieved, rather it is not right for me to lay any claim to it at all!

I did do last minute frantic CMS work for a week; however, I was hired to ensure that the 220 posts around the world knew what we were doing, understood what they had to do and felt as if they were a part of this big change.

This does not warrant me doing a big HAZZAH!! when the new site goes live

It is not me being myopic, I just do not feel as if it is exactly my place.

However, the e-media team at the FCO have given blood, sweat and tears to make this happen, and they deserve the plaudits.

Go say something nice 🙂 there were many 1am moments in producing this site


Customer retention: update 3

For this to make sense you do really need to read my last two posts on customer retention… or you can just not and read on here but it might be a bit muddling… quick update:

We know about the 301 and 410 redirects and switching these on permanently is sensible. Hansard and The National Archives (TNA) are being superstars in a) accepting our proposed solution for parliamentary questions that contain answers which link to the current FCO site and b) harvesting the whole of our site before we cut-over – to sit forever behind TNA wall and remain available in perpetuity should any queries arise.

Next question was about the blogs. Obviously we need to keep the stuff that we have and we need to ensure that RSS feed readers will obey 301 and 410 redirects. I am assured that this is the case – relief all round!

So far so simple.

Now it is my turn to tackle the comms. I got hold of a Nedstats report of our top 1000 referrers – but anyone can get this info from Google reverse linking – and:

1. Deleted everything after the first 150 referrers (this was because when I looked, there were so many dupes after the first 150 it was silly)

2. Deleted all search engine referrals (we are handling them with redirects and xml sitemap)

3. De-duped the remaining sites

4. Categorised them into: (a) those that we owned, (b) those that we are associated with (in this case domains) and finally (c) private sector sites such as Expedia etc

5. Stopped to admire beautiful and small list of key referrers

6. Created key messages for each group


Now all I have to do is:

  • create a standard by which the success of customer retention can be measured
  • talk to the Press Office about all offline comms/printed matter and assess the size of the task there – do we need to reprint anything?
  • Wrap up all that I have done these last two weeks and precis it, with detail of whom I have spoken to and what we need to do next in each case

I feel strangely inadequate. What started as a dramatic and scary task has broken down into something beautifully simple. I shall update you all at the end of my fortnight.

Update on customer retention

After writing about how to retain customers, I was duly summoned by the FCO (my employers at the time) to put my theory into practice and go ahead to make it happen. I am half way through my fortnight of doing so, but thought it might be useful to update you all with how this translates in reality – with some incredibly brilliant help from Adam Burr from Logica.

Disclaimer: my boss, the wonderful Tracy Green (head of the e-media team in FCO) knows that I share this information, it is within the bounds of public sector knowledge share, and full accreditation is given where it is due.

The FCO web project is Prince 2 certified (I am assured there is a Prince 1 by the fabulous Dave Briggs, but cannot remember what it supposedly did) . Anyone who is either Prince 2 certified, or has worked on a Prince 2 project will realise that there is a requirement for minutising your work – which in this case is rather handy for blogging! My project manager, Darren Roberts from PA Consulting, insisted that I turned my musings into a set of deliverables over two weeks. This helped focus the mind…

In between writing the original blog post and the FCO asking me to make this real, I spoke to a contact in Logica, who could answer the technology questions for me – as it had become obvious that there was a relationship between technology and comms, and the money needed to be spent in one or other area. I learned so much and clarified the problems we were facing as follows:

1. Not annoying those who regularly use the site

2. Retaining the support and authority of key ‘linkers’

3. Checking that all Parliamentary Questions held at The House – containing answers referring to FCO web pages, would continue to point to the relevant information (pretty key)

4. Doing the decent thing with the thousands of people/companies reliant on regular updates from the FCO and associated sites

Adam read through my suggestions and proceeded to talk in a succession of numbers. After two meetings, several emails and a document, I think that I can explain what he suggests we do (from a technology/automated point of view). It is beautifully simple – so simple that I am sure it is the perfect answer.

Bear with me whilst I explain.

Glossary first, before I go on you need to know these two things:

Error 301: this code means that an old url which contains content that has moved, will be discreetly redirected to the new url – however, it sends some silent message to search engines that will ‘accelerate the correction on the search egine indices’ (quote Adam Burr). I suggest that you explore this further off your own bat if you need a full explanation.

Error 410: this a code that works better than a usual 404, because it explains that a page has moved permamently rather than being temporarily out of action. It also enables you to tailor redirects. Once again, this explanation could do with more research, do go off and look it up of your own accord.

Right, now you are ready for the beautifully simple automated solution.

We have identified two problems: Finding:

1. Content that has migrated to a new home on the beautiful new FCO website

2. Content that has not been migrated to a new home on the beautiful new FCO website

There are differing sets of reasons for why we need to ensure that all content is re-findable, but who cares? If we can solve the two redirects – we are winning.

So, the decision that we are musing over most seriously is for:

Problem 1: Content that has migrated – we put an error 301 ‘page moved’ notice on. This will help our readers, and the search engines.

Problem 2: Content that has been archived – we put an error 410 on, giving the reader a splash page with the opportunity to go to the new page and find updated information, go to the new website search page to hunt down what you need, or go to the old page that has been stored in The National Archives (this is a whole other story I am not so sure you readers will want to hear about, but if you do… yell)

How beautifully simple is that?

Now all that is required is a dissemination of the stakeholders, linkers and subscribers, and three tailored messages for each.

I will update you next week on how we handle the comms around this, and the other brilliant stuff that Adam Burr has un-earthed that might be even MORE useful!

Social media and democracy

I was at a conference today during which much was made about how social media – well it was tabbed as ‘The Internet’ but I think they meant social media – is changing the way democratic societies across the globe govern themselves.  The assumption is that those in power will be forced to listen to the voices of those they represent, and be accountable. In this vein, it was mooted that China will have democracy forced upon them, and there is nothing they will be able to do about it. Hmmm…

Well, OK, you can see how social media, or The Internet, gives many fora for opinion/discussion and can act as an effective lobbying/rallying tool. You can even see that there is little any government or ruling party could do to silence those voices – take China and its efforts to block access to YouTube – this is clearly a losing battle.

However, it is just another way for people to speak – it does not enable listening! Yes it can create a two-way conversation, yes you can feel as if you are speaking directly to the person – rather than through convoluted channels that might dilute your message… but who is listening? What assumptions are they making about you?

Anyone who works in an e-media team in the public sector, will tell you how difficult it is to champion the use of any social media tool to any great effect. And, other than responding to the perennial cry: ‘I want a blog’ – which never, ever really means I want a blog (Miliband excepted of course) there is little or no interest. This could be due to the fact that there is a great nervousness around it: mis-information and wild assumptions all ultimately culled by risk aversion/avoidance. Sure, there are some great examples of its effective use: Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Number Ten’s e-petition site and the Ministry of Justice Governance of Britain site are all great examples of effective and supported use of social media tools – however, these are the exceptions and hardly about to start affecting the political philosophy behind democracy – or even give those who govern our country too much to be concerned about.

I remember being impressed by the Wispa campaign, where a Facebook group successfully nagged Cadbury’s to bring back their favourite 80s chocolate bar; I can’t see how nagging will ever enforce an EU referendum, for example, or change policy, or get you out of your tax liabilities.

Yet I keep hearing how these voices cannot, will not and should not be silenced… and a true democratic society would utilise the opportunity afforded by social media. My feeling is that there is nowt you can do to lower the noise level, but to enable real change, or the change that is suggested could be afforded by social media, a fundamental shift needs to take place in the way people listen. Until then, nagging/lobbying/campaigning through social media tools will have very little effect.

That is my view on social media and democratic change. HOWEVER, there is a great opportunity for any ruling nation to use social media tools to consult, deliver messages and perhaps better understand society’s concerns, but that is another conversation – and one that I know can be answered by members of public sector e-media teams across the globe.

Two-way conversation anyone?

Just had a rather crazy day… but much time to think about the conversations that are happening online. As you know, I am struggling to find the value in Twitter – not that I hate it on principle, I am just waiting for the problem that Twitter will solve.

You know what I would really like? The opportunity to have a two-way conversation with a person of my choice – who exists in the world-wide social media space – where I am not a part of the white noise… I could list a hundred people off the top of my head right now with whom I would like a dedicated ten minute conversation with – some of whom I know (but never get their full attention – Briggsy?!!)

All of you super-clever people out there building social media platforms for mass discussion… can someone create the perfect dinner party – where my dream social media guests will actually be there? Even if it is only for ten minutes of one-to-one conversation.

I would pay for that…

Social media caution

In our GovBarCamp group on Google there has been some discussion about the latest e-petition – where one of our members was directed to a broken url

It highlights the need for these social and accessible tools to be managed and thought through in some way. However easy these apps are to use/create, thought has to be applied at some point, and must be applied if they are going to be used in a professional capacity. The dawn has come, IT can be cut out as a debilitator – now we need to deal with the human desire to reach out and communicate. This requires rigorous management (especially if publishing is devolved) and ruthless editing – in the true sense – are the words spelt properly? Are the urls correct? Proof reading 101 should once more become the quintessential skill of all social media operators.

Another thing to consider is the real life impact of your use of social media. There will be communities established wherever you choose to converse – they may be people you don’t know, or people you know very well. You need to find your niche and try not to be put off by perceived slights, or even real ones! The conversation has started and let it live – you do have to have a thick skin and please don’t be risk averse 🙂

Oh goody I thought of a social media bent on EA!!!

One of the problems that has to be managed and taken very seriously whenever an organisational change/review is rolling out – is comms. People are understandably nervous about the effect on their lives, livelihoods and career plans. Best way to reassure them? Conversation and information – right up the street of social media communication. Perfect – so long as all the other stuff is there to support it too: informed managers, stakeholder support, champions in the organisation and face to face ‘surgeries’ for explicit concerns or for information drives.

It is also a very easy tool to keep everyone informed of progress…


Enterprise architecture (EA) – does it help?

I have been asked to put together some information on how the Home Office would benefit from enterprise architecture. This is far removed from social media, but communicating it need not be! To help me I am just bashing down some thoughts here – any input from any of you wise ones out there would be welcomed.

If you do not know what EA is there is a very good description on Wikipedia. Essentially, it is a root and branch review of all business processes, practice and strategy of an organisation, with a planned way forward that addresses weaknesses highlighted. Most people associate it with IT, this is essentially because it was ‘invented when IT people started thinking out of the box’ (thanks Paul Clarke) – and certainly the IT infrastructure forms a vital part of the review, and enables successful change (as a part of the building up stage of EA).

I think any organisation would benefit from putting itself under the microscope like this, whether to streamline work processes, save money, be more efficient – or simply check that you are doing what you said you would be doing when you started out; and government is no exception (even though departments do like to navel gaze at regular intervals).

In theory, EA should:

  • reduce business risk
  • boost staff morale
  • develop a more democratic working environment
  • end silo working
  • create core reference point for decision-making
  • ultimately save money

However, in order to do this it must:

  • have the buy-in of all management levels
  • be positioned at the heart of the organisation and not just directions from SCS/Board
  • be properly communicated with stakeholders and members of staff
  • have a simple consultation method that enables democratic conversation
  • be recognised as a technology enabled change programme and treated as such

Thoughts welcomed