Busting the hype cycle: 5 questions to ask about any new technology

When new technologies arrive, they usually claim to be offering compelling solutions. But all too often, the clarity of the solution is not matched by the clarity of understanding of the problem it is claimed to solve. Despite the listicle headline, this is an excellent post setting out five tests for distinguishing the genuine new opportunities from the hype.

Eddie Copeland – NESTA

Future of work

A History and Future of the Rise of the Robots

The automation of work is not a new phenomenon, it has been ineluctably growing for centuries. It’s why watches have second hands and our time is not our own. This essay on the history and future of work from the perspective of an organisational sociologist brings out very clearly both that that future is about social and economic relationships at least as much as it is about technological change and that as the range of activities for which humans are an essential part of production continues to shrink, we are going to have to find different ways of spending and valuing time.

R David Dixon Jr – Hackernoon

Future of work Service design

Why Don’t More UIs Use Accelerometers?

Easing the friction which gets in the way of people interacting with machines will be an important strand of the trend to automation. The keyboard was optimised for the technology of the nineteenth century and still has its uses, but in many circumstances it’s not a sensible way of interacting. Voice is one obvious option, but it’s not the only one. This short post argues that just tilting a phone and adopting techniques from game design might be another. And it’s still a little bit disappointing that Dasher never made it to the mainstream.

Mark Wilson – Co.Design

Data and AI

Governments are recklessly putting their heads in the sand about automation

Is the sudden surge of interest in automation a sign that we are on the cusp of major change, or is it another fad which will blow over, leaving everything pretty much unchanged? There are some good reasons for thinking it’s more the former than the latter, but we can’t know for sure. This is partly an argument that people slip too easily into the less threatening assumption, but perhaps more importantly is about the need to plan for uncertainty rather than assuming it away.

Martin Bryant – Medium

One Team Government Service design

Don’t bring policy and delivery closer together – make them the same thing

The desire to close the gap between policy and delivery is not exactly a new one. This post is both an account of what happens when a policy lead is embedded in a delivery team and an argument that moving towards a ‘one team’ approach gets better and cheaper results. Whether it’s helpful to describe the starting point as government being an ‘inexperienced customer’ is arguable, as is the assertion that only delivery people understand user needs, but that doesn’t stop the trajectory being an important one.


James Reeve – Skills Funding Agency

Organisational change

In defence of hierarchy

The word ‘bureaucrat’ was once a descriptive term, it is now a word used primarily as abuse. ‘Hierarchy’ – one of the characteristics of bureaucracy – gets a similarly poor press. Confucius, who was a hierarchical bureaucrat has done rather better, but at the price of having his name largely decoupled from what he thought. A group of philosophers attempt to rescue the high calling of hierarchy and bureaucracy as critical elements of a modern state, though find it easier to do that for an ideal form of hierarchy than one visible in the real world.

Stephen Angle et al – Aeon

Future of work

Digital Transformation is Failing. Why?

Work – particularly office based work – is an inefficient mess, depending on tools, such as email and meetings which are inefficient and out of date. The thing that’s getting in the way of that changing is less to do with technology than is often thought (though the adoption of better technology is certainly necessary, even if it isn’t sufficient), and more to do with leadership. A characteristically short, sharp blog post from a writer who is always worth reading.

Paul Taylor

Data and AI Service design

Baidu’s Artificial Intelligence Lab Unveils Synthetic Speech System

Communicating with computers by natural speech is a dream which goes back to Star Trek and 2001 (and well beyond, but this is not a history of science fiction). Recently, there have been clear advances in how computers understand humans – Alexa, Siri and their friends, as well as the new levels of call centre hell. But computers speaking to humans still sound robotic, because they are chaining words together and the intonation never sounds quite right. But now that’s changing too, with speech being constructed on the computationally intensive fly. And that may be important not just in its own right but as a step towards more fundamental changes in how people and machines interact with each other.

MIT Technology Review

Organisational change

Blend small changes with large changes


Transforming everything at once doesn’t work, so it’s important to be both continuous and incremental and discontinuous and dramatic.

Barry Quirk -Twitter

Data and AI

How to Hypnotise an Artificial Intelligence

This is fiction. Sort of. One of the problems with artifical intelligence is that if it is trained on real world human data, it will reflect the prejudices, foibles and distortions of real world humans. And if it isn’t trained that way, it’s usefulness in the real world will be pretty limited. But what if that training could be deliberately gamed?

Terence Eden

Universal basic income

Basic income and the new universalism

Universal basic income is often talked about as just another form of social welfare, a sort of universal credit without the tapers. But it can also be seen as a much more radical political and social shift.

This essay digs deep into those issues in a very readable way, ranging from philosophical underpinnings through to links to the fear of automation, a fear that is itself perhaps becoming more universal as automation spreads into white collar work.

Roope Mokka and Katariina Rantanen – Demos Helsinki

Data and AI

A Hippocratic Oath for AI developers? It may only be a matter of time

Developing artifical intelligence is often seen as essentially a technical problem. But it also raises difficult ethical issues about accoutability, transparency, discrimination and privacy. Does that mean that the developers of such systems should be subject to some form of hippocratic oath?  That seems both to be an important question and a rather naive one. In the month where we learned that Uber deployed software to evade regulatory oversight, it’s clear that this is about organisations and their culture and about social norms and expectations as much as it is about the behaviour of individual developers.

Benedict Dellot – RSA

Organisational change

How can we stop reinventing policies? 

Click on the image to see the full infographic published with the report

A new report from the Institute for Government on policy churn – the perennial question of why government policy seems to be replaced and reinvented with what is sometimes extraordinary rapidity. There are some sensible ideas on how to do this better, though the idea that strengthening the centre will slow down the churn, rather than accelerate it, might be seen as rather optimistic by some. But it’s essentially looking at the symptoms rather than offering ways of addressing the underlying causes, with little obvious reason to expect much to change.

Emma Norris and Robert Adam – Institute for Government

Social and economic change

Improving Opportunities for Economic Mobility: New Evidence and Policy Lessons

Interesting short paper on economic mobility, based on US data, covering both the geography of upward mobility and the factors which seem to account for that variability. The factors are not very surprising in themselves; but the strength of their association with place is very striking – every year of childhood spent in a more upwardly mobile place makes the child more likely to be upwardly mobile. So the policy solution could be to move all the children. Or it could be to address the underlying issues without moving the children at all.

Raj Chetty – Stanford

Innovation Organisational change

Towards an experimental culture in government: reflections on and from practice 

Click on the image to see it as a large pdf
Governments have not generally been places of experimentation, but there are increasing numbers of experiments across the world in how to do experimentation, many of them referred to through this post. The last and perhaps most important of the reflections is on the culture of orgainsations which allows experimentation to flourish, including the principles summarised in the graphic.

Jesper Christiansen, Bas Leurs and Giulio Quaggiotto – NESTA

Service design

Adventures in policy land

A digital strategist and service designer casts an almost anthropological eye on how things get done in government. Drawing on experience in the NHS and DWP, there are some particularly good insights into why the early formative stages of policy making should be agile but definitely not Agile and (towards the end) into the relationship between policy and service design.

Sophie Dennis

Data and AI Service design

Data and service design

A great set of slides  on the need for data-driven service design – a set of pithy one liners, but adding up to a powerful manifesto for doing things differently.

Kit Collingwood – Service Design in Government

Innovation Organisational change

Innovation in the public sector: Is risk aversion a cause or a symptom?

Is government organised so as to make innovation difficult? That’s not a new question (to put it mildly), but this post approaches the question through the lens of organisational debt, which produces some slightly newer answers. Not surprisingly, though, there is nothing very surprising about those answers: large, cumbersome organisations with a conservative approach to change need more than just simple ambition to become something else.

Eoin McFadden – NESTA

Organisational change

How to eliminate organizational debt

Aaron Dignan – The Ready

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.


Government digital strategy – more politics needed

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