The Isolation 9 Weeknotes S08E05 06/06/2020

Work stuff

We took an uneasy decision this week to pause the Direct Debit pilot on GOV.UK Pay. As a payment type we don’t yet offer a few of the features which make switching to Pay a viable option for service teams. And building out those features would eat up time and people we don’t have spare at the moment. So we’ll need to take stock and look at how we make it MVP in future.

That’s why they call it minimum viable product. You can’t just offer a small feature set, it needs to be good enough to work for users too. So, all in all, I think it was the right decision. We also met with our economist to work out whether Pay could survive by not offering Direct Debit, and we’re good for the next year, so we have some runway at least.

Highlight of the week was the Game Day, a chance to practice your response to incidents. Using tabletop roleplaying as the game mechanic, we split off into teams of ~6 people and were given a scenario. For example, there’s a new XSS vulnerability that can be invoked with the 💩 emoji. Then we start investigating, assigning roles according to our incident response procedure, and we work through the problem. When a developer needs to check something, like looking at logs, they message the game-master describing their action and the GM responds with the outcome.

It was really, really fun and gave me a chance to play the comms lead and escalation point roles, which I’m more likely to need to do at Pay. Turns out that apart from not really knowing exactly what to do, I did keep calm so that’s a plus. Really want to practice a few more times though, work up the muscle memory.

One thing I must be better at next week is planning out my daily work. I’ve got a Trello board full of actions I need to take, describing my work, and I haven’t been moving things through the board this week. I’m worried there’s stuff I’m saying I’ll do but haven’t recorded, so it goes undone.

I’m still learning how things work and answering enquiries from users is helping with that. I thought about this when I joined GOV.UK but it seems sensible for all new PM recruits to spend time on user support in their first few months, to learn how everything works.

I presented my work on personalisation to the UCL MPA for Innovation students that have joined GOV.UK to research personalisation. Coincidentally, some students from the course were talking to Pay in December/January and Katie passed me their details, so I dropped them a line to see if they were interested. GOV.UK SMT invited them in a few weeks ago, which is really good – this work needs academic rigour! They’re taking the angle of how personalisation can generate public value too, which is glorious to see.

They were really inspired by the work, which was validating, and we’ve put in some more time to chat things through. I’m really interested in their course too, I do wonder what it could offer me. Moving to Pay is helping me get properly involved in disruptive innovation, I’m so happy about it! Maybe the course is a good place to continue that enthusiasm.

Not-work stuff

Lockdown life has taken its toll and my waistband is growing bigger. That ain’t good, so this week I started using the Couch to 5K from Public Health England (others exist but, come on, I’m a civil servant! I need to use that one). I’ve got flat feet so I overpronate when I run, and I’m a little worried about my joints and ankles, but there hasn’t been a problem so far. It’s a really good programme, so simple and I’m sleeping better as a result of the exercise. Let’s see if I’m ever able to run 5 kilometres non-stop!

Been using a high-intensity interval training app too, doing upper body strength exercises on the rest days from running. It gets your heart rate up but doesn’t burn too many calories, so I may need to combine upper body workouts with some full body sessions.

All of that has been a good distraction from the fact the world is on fire. But it’s really hard to miss what’s happening in North Amerikkka. And to not acknowledge that the USA is structurally racist because of Britain would be ignoring the obvious.

I grew up in a working class family, in the Industrial heartlands of the West Midlands, yet I’ve never had to struggle because of the colour of my skin. I’ve known racism but I’ve never been subject to it. My ascendancy hasn’t been as smooth as those more privileged than me, but it has been relatively easy compared to non-whites.

I’ve also spent much of my life enjoying the products of West Indian and Afro-Caribbean cultures, specifically the branches that grew in Britain amid the din of racial hatred. Jungle, drum ‘n’ bass, house, garage, 2-step, grime, dubstep: British bass music is a direct descendant of Caribbean soundsystem culture, an arm of the Afrofuturist diaspora with a mission to overcome oppression.

And so I owe a debt to the black community, having profited emotionally on the outputs of black culture. It is an indelible part of my identity. It is necessary for me to read the books and articles being suggested, I’ll increase my anti-racist efforts, and work out what more I need to do to support my peers.