Leaving government

Steve Foreshew
Aug 1, 2016 · 4 min read

Earlier today I told John Manzoni, my boss, that I’m leaving government. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the most talented people inside government over the last few years and I wanted to take a moment to pause and thank everyone for their hard work, courage and support over that time.

I have to start with Mike Bracken who brought me into government and let me join, and later lead, an amazing group of people he had assembled at the heart of government in GDS. You were my guide to the Whitehall system and showed me what services that weren’t built for people, but for government processes, really looked like. It was clear from the outset that this dedicated, brilliant and passionate group were doing something really special — not just inside government, not just in the UK, but anywhere in the world. I feel incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to be a part of that.

Thank you to Francis Maude who set all of this all in motion. Without your sense of vision, purpose and urgency, there would have been no GDS.

Thanks also to Martha Lane Fox, James Bilefield, Matthew Trimming, Chris Chant and (more recently) the various members of the GDS Advisory Board, who were there every time I needed advice or help to keep doing the hard things that make it easy for the rest of government to embrace the internet era and potential of digital disruption.

I feel honoured to have been a part of that. Making government simpler. Making government work. Making government better.

I have often commented that those in GDS were standing on the shoulders of giants, and I personally have enjoyed the support of an amazing bunch of folks upon whose shoulders I have stood. Russell Davies, Ben Terrett, Kathy Settle, Tom Loosemore, James Thornett, Michael Beavan, and Tony Singleton. Together you had helped to create the environment and a culture that brought people like me, those with the skills of the internet era and the desire to make a difference, into government. And individually you set the example of how to challenge the status quo and by your example, show (not tell) it was possible that users hearts shouldn’t sink whey they needed to do something that meant dealing with government; that government services could be simple, could be clear, and could be fast.

There has been even more tremendous work going on all the way across government. The members of our Digital, Tech and Data Leadership networks, the hundreds of skilled digital professionals we’ve helped to hire and bring into government, the operations staff and policy professionals who’ve engaged openly and honestly with a transformation that is changing not only what they do but why and how too. More often than not, I was pushing on an open door and I thank you for your open minds and hearts.

I’ve also been fortunate to have the generosity and support of colleagues from around the world who are leading on the transformation in their governments, building on momentum we have started in the UK: The Digital Transformation Office in Australia and USDS and 18F in the United States. I’d like to thank them for their support and advice, and the best of luck in their continued mission. Particularly, thanks to Aaron Snow from 18F who joined us at Sprint16 this year and reminded us all we’re not out to transform services just to have shiny, new services. What we really mean is that we want to transform people’s lives. And to transform the services that improve people’s lives, we have to transform some entrenched government practices. And we can only really do that in a lasting way by transforming the culture of service delivery.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to be the Cabinet Office LGBT* champion, promoting and encouraging those that are striving to make the Civil Service the most diverse and inclusive Civil Service in the world. We don’t have the luxury in government of segmenting our users into those we wish to serve and those we don’t. We have a responsibility to build services for everyone, and to do that we need to represent everyone. As my friend Kit Collingwood-Richardson of the DWP once said: “Diversity is the lifeblood of a civil service which represents wider humanity.” It is, and I thank Daniel Abell, Amy Saunders and John Peart who are doing the hard work to make it easy for LGBT* civil servants to be their authentic selves when they come to work in the Cabinet Office. Seeing 3 Permanent Secretaries of the Civil Service lead the Civil Service contingent at London Pride this year was amazing.

My predecessor said it, and I’ve said it too: the unit of delivery is the team.

Leadership is not a role or a job. Leadership is a privilege that is earned not given. And leaders can only succeed with the permission, trust and support of the team. Without a doubt, and without hesitation, the team in GDS is the best, most talented, most courageous and most creative bunch of digital professionals anywhere in the world. I have enjoyed every moment of every day working with them, and there are no words to describe how much I will miss them all. Individually they are passionate, committed, skilled and fun; collectively they are the best shot we have to transform government for the internet era. And we all need them to do that.

I’m confident that I’m leaving a strong team of capable leaders in GDS to see the job through. The leadership team in Alex Holmes, Wendy Coello, Chris Ferguson, Janet Hughes, Iain Patterson, Olivia Neal, Andy Beale, Susana Burlevy and Paul Maltby are the right team to continue to mission of transforming government. I’m incredibly proud to see this team of leaders emerge and step up to the plate. And I’m particularly proud of the number of women in that list. Our strategy and our plans are focused. Everyone in the digital profession — right the way across government — is getting on with the job. I wish them all the very best.

Be Bold.

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