The idea of ‘technical debt’ has been around for a long time. It’s all the things you should have done to write clean code and clear documentation, to have tested everything in combination with everything else – but never quite got round to doing. The thing you built may well work, but at some point somebody is going to have to clear up the mess – so you have a debt until the time and cost of doing that have been met. There’s a clear parallel with organisations: the way they do things has all too often got disconnected from what the organisation wants and needs to get done.. So there’s a constant drag on delivery until the organisation can get itself better aligned to its current needs. That’s organisational debt – and it isn’t cheap or easy to pay it off.
Two bonus Dilbert cartoons included which make the point all too clearly.
Aaron Dignan – The Ready
A commentary on the newly published government digital strategy, interesting less for what it says about the substance, and more for what it says about how to create strategies in a political context. Without strong political (and democratic) foundations and a clear route to delivery, a strategy will fail, however strong its analysis and conclusions.
Matthew Cain – RSA
An excellent talk by the chief executive of the Open Data Institute, reflecting on how to increase our safeguards against algorithmic bias in big data applications.
Jeni Tennison – ODI Fridays
A global study of future trends in jobs, based on survey evidence from senior HR people around the world. There is a fairly detailed microsite with supporting analysis of various kinds, as well as the main report itself.
World Economic Forum
A telling example of the kinds of work automation is now reaching: automated interpretation of complex legal documents removing the need for skilled human scrutiny. Also interesting on the focus on technology innovation – high levels of investment and explicit recognition that some initiatives will fail.
Hugh Son – Bloomberg
Socratic dialogue on Radio 4, exploring the ethical issues around the automation of work. In a world where so much social, as well as economic, value comes from work, what happens if the humans aren’t needed any more? And would that be an improvement (and if so, for whom)?
Michael Sandel – The Public Philosopher
A good summary of the people and methods bringing design thinking into government, with mini case studies of where it’s starting to make a difference. The provocative question in the title never quite gets answered, but there is a bit of a flavour that while there’s been a lot of progress in some areas, the vacuum cleaner of government itself hasn’t moved far beyond version 1.0.
John Lapping – Pieria
Does paying for things by card (and phone and watch and…) represent liberation from the need to carry coins around and enable faster, simpler transactions? Or is it a dangerous slide towards the privatisation of money and the advent of universal financial surveillance? And, most importantly it seems, can you get a coke from a machine when you want one?
Brett Scott – Aeon
Zeynep Tufekci is a computer programmer turned sociologist, whose book Twitter and Tear Gas is coming out in a couple of months. This TED talk is the video parallel of Cathy O’Neil’s book, Weapons of Math Destruction. The core point is the same – that machines we don’t understand, trained on imperfect data, are as likely to be amplifying human biases as to be emobodying objectivity.
Zeynep Tufekci – TED
Most advice about presentations (and powerpoint) assumes you are standing between a large audience and a big screen, recounting a single narrative with a beginning middle and end. This post is about when you are having a conversation with a small group, when it’s faciliation as much as presentation.
Lots of good advice, including most critically, when powerpoint is just the wrong medium. Now where’s the overhead projector and a chinagraph pencil when you really need them…?
There is both growing concern among economists about the potential speed and extent of the disruption caused by automation and also a temptation to draw conclusions from previous industrial revolutions, when apparently similar concerns about apparently similar risks proved unfounded. The not very illuminating conclusion is that it would be a mistake to dismiss the risks too lightly.
Mauricio Armellini and Tim Pike – Bank of England
A polemic against the misuse of big data models by a reformed hedge fund quant – the book’s subtitle, ‘how big data increases inequality and threatens democracy’, is a pretty good indicator of what is to come. Using examples from policing to insurance and teacher evaluation, she shows that the underlying models often encode and reinforce prejudices, rather than being the embodiment of objectivity often claimed for them. It’s very US focused, both in its examples and in its style (a half way decent copy editor could easily make it a third shorter), but it’s a good, simple and readable introduction to some important issues.
Cathy O’Neil – Weapons of Math Destruction
An academic case study of the first year of the Cabinet Office Policy Lab, reflecting on how civil servants see design thinking and the emergence of a design culture for policy. That leads to some interesting reflections on the traditonal model (and culture) of policy making, the power of words (particularly when elegantly assembled), and the difficulty of introducing what may appear to be frivolity to the policy making process.
Jocelyn Bailey and Peter Lloyd – Uscreates/University of Brighton
Public services should be designed around the needs of users and to make best use of technology. The result will be improved productivity, the opportunity to break away from traditonal mindsets – and a quarter of a million fewer administrative jobs.
Kate Laycock, Emilie Sundorph and Alexander Hitchcock – Reform
Or, what should you do to remain gainfully employed? A question answered in ways optimised for slightly anxious readers of the Harvard Business Review, which essentially comes down to collaboration between machines and knowledge workers.
Thomas Davenport and Julia Kirby – Harvard Business Review
Automation will lead to mass redeployment, not mass unemployment. A large proportion of tasks are susceptible to automation, but a much smaller proportion of jobs. And the changes will play out over decades, not years.
James Manyika, Michael Chui, Mehdi Miremadi, Jacques Bughin, Katy George, Paul Willmott, and Martin Dewhurst – McKinsey
A dissection of the ‘automation argument’ for a basic income – interesting not so much for arguing that automation won’t lead to a life of well-rewarded idleness as for suggesting that a basic income is an inadequate, and ultimately very conservative, approach to the problems automation might bring. Also notable for including a reference to the shoe event horizon.
Katharina Nieswandt – World Economic Forum
A new compendium of clear and simple guidance on doing presentations well. Very much within the GDS philosophy of a small number of big words, where slides and presenter are interdependent – not suprisingly since the people behind the site helped form that philosophy.
Universal basic income – examined not in Scandinavia but in rural Kenya. This is either Silicon Valley on a very long distance guilt trip or a radical approach to extreme poverty. Are there implications for rich countries?
And despite the title, this isn’t really about not working at all – all the stories are about people being liberated to work smarter once given the margin which allows them to make the change.
Annie Lowrey – New York Times