in Blog, Featured

Hearing voices

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Photo credit: hiddesdevries on Flickr

Last night, as I was flicking through tweets and Google Reader items, I found myself realising a strange co-incidence. I wasn’t just reading social media news or the usual (excellent) fare from government digerati blogging in their spare time. I was clicking from post to post of voices of civil servants, in their day jobs, blogging more or less officially about their work. The challenges and frustrations they faced. The ideas that had occurred to them. Some of the stories. The human impact they’d had that day.

There was Alistair Morgan, Director of Trade and Investment for UK Trade & Investment in China, talking about a stroll through the Beijing suburbs:

At weekends I like to walk.  Walk and, if I can manage it, reflect.  Yesterday I headed north and east beyond Beijing’s fourth ring road, walking beside canals, through well-landscaped districts of new apartment blocks and through other places where the city is ramshackle and half formed, sometimes even derelict.  There was the usual clanging and industriousness on the construction sites. A less common sight was two blacksmiths with a portable, coal-fired forge on a piece of open ground, beating out scrap iron into meat-cleavers.  This even drew a crowd.

I thought a bit, as I walked, about statistics and how to make sense of them.  For the first five months of this year, metalliferous ores and scrap metal was the UK’s largest export to China, up 6% on the same period last year.  Clearly the two blacksmiths I saw were not the only two people at work in China’s iron and steel industry.

Then I peeked into a day in the life of Neil Barry, a humanitarian specialist at DFID, who I’ve probably queued with for a coffee on Victoria St, but will probably never meet:

5.00 am
As usual, mug of tea in hand, I am just logging onto my computer at home.  It’s still dark outside and wonderfully quiet here in rural Kent.  My laptop hums and clicks while I wait for the first email messages of the day from Katy, my colleague in Sri Lanka.  By time zone, she is four and half hours ahead of me and her day will be already in full swing – meetings with the UN and NGOs, field visits to plan, proposals to write and DFID-funded programmes to monitor. This is all part of the £12.5 million humanitarian programme we work on, for a population affected by the recent conflict in the north of the country.  Sure enough, a volley of emails arrives in my inbox and I set to work on them.

Then some Twitter discussion pointed me to Sam Sharps in my own Department, talking frankly about where the policy he is working on is going next, and asking for feedback (16 comments at the last count):

The  business of government is never quick enough for some, but always too rushed and hasty for others. To get a new fund up and running just takes time and there are various administrative hoops to get through. That is what we are working on now.

But perhaps my favourite civil service blogger discovery is someone you’d fear would be a bit dry, but turns out to have a warm and funny written voice – the UK Government’s Chief Information Officer, John Suffolk:

As an industry we have come a very long way but there is still more to do to make the technology we produce “human proof”. But all is not lost, technology is hugely sophisticated. I found this as proof, clearly a true story.

“At a recent Sacramento PC User’s Group meeting, a company was demonstrating its latest speech-recognition software. A representative from the company was just about ready to start the demonstration and asked everyone in the room to quiet down. Just then someone in the back of the room yelled, “Format C: Return.”. Someone else chimed in: “Yes, return!”

Unfortunately, the software worked.

I hope these are the pioneers of a movement that will flourish into a vibrant From Our Own Correspondent from the deepest cogs of the government machine. In uncertain times with conflicting pressures, there are such interesting and insightful stories to tell, I hope the courage and desire to tell them wins through.

  1. think I may be a thorn in the side of your department. sorry. I have been following you and yours for a while, and it is great to know the human side of you all. We are after all working for the greater good aren’t we? Who would have thought it a few years ago, when civil servants were a mystery body we had no contact with or input to. I agree with your post. We are ALL hearing voices. We are all listening. We all have a voice now. Somehow the speaking and listening will gel, and working together we will come to agreement. (not sure me and Sam will but at least we are Trying) 😉

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