Government Digital Service Podcast Episode #5 - an interview with Kit Collingwood

January 30, 2019
00:0000:00

In this episode, we talk to former DWP Deputy Director and OneTeamGov co-founder Kit Collingwood about her time in government. 

A full transcript of the episode follows:

Angus Montgomery:
Hello and welcome to the Government Digital Service podcast, my name’s Angus Montgomery, I’m a senior writer at GDS and I’m very pleased to be joined today by Kit Collingwood, currently at DWP but recently announced soon to be leaving and getting an exciting new job in agency-world, so we’ll be talking to Kit about her time in government and looking back over some of the things that she’s done, so thankyou for joining us Kit

Kit Collingwood:
Thanks for having me.

Angus Montgomery:
So Kit, just to kick things off could you tell me a little bit about your role at DWP, your current role, and some of the things that you do there?

Kit Collingwood:
Sure. So my role is head of data transformation for the Department for Work and Pensions, so what my teams do is we work in the intersection between data, digital and technology to improve services and improve decision-making.

Angus Montgomery:
And how did you end up there? What’s your career path been so far? Because you’ve been around- well, I think it’s fair to say you’re a well-known figure in digital government. You’ve been around digital government for a while. What’s that journey entailed?

Kit Collingwood:
Well, it’s a huge cosmic accident actually. I worked actually in the engineering sector for five years after I graduated. I was a proof-reader and a translator for five years and then I decided that I wanted to be in the public service in some capacity. So I in 2009 joined the civil service fast-stream. I was a policy maker for three years working on different areas of justice policy, and I worked in parliament for a while putting a bill through parliament.

When I came from the end of that experience, I almost left the civil service because the ways that I thought that policy making and parliamentary work were happening were so antiquated and so out of touch with the average person’s experience that I’d really sort of lost faith with a lot of government ways of working and I was really saddened by a lot of what I’d seen. There was really no empathy or contact with people on the outside of Whitehall and I felt myself really distanced from average human experience.

At the same time, I fell into a delivery manager job at a place called the Office of the Public Guardian, which is one of the executive agencies of the Ministry of Justice. I applied for it as a fast-stream role, so it was just one of the regular rotation roles. I didn’t know what a delivery manager was. I didn’t really know how the internet worked, and I knew nothing about agile or about technology. I applied for this role called delivery manager which looked quite fun, and it turned out to be the delivery manager for the lasting power of attorney service, which was one of the first exemplars in the GDS transformation programme.

So this was coming towards the end of 2012, which is why I’ve been around for a long time because the beginning of digital government I suppose was around that time in the way that we know it now. GDS was about a year old really.

I had an induction that was hilarious in hindsight where my boss sat me down on my first day and she said, “Here’s your induction. I’ve just quit.” So my boss quit on my first day, and she was head of the transformation programme for the Office of Public Guardian. I, being the cheeky youngster that I was, went to her boss and said, “Can I have her job please on a temporary promotion?” And he was foolish enough to give it to me, and that’s how I came into digital government.

Angus Montgomery:
Oh wow.

Kit Collingwood:
So I was the accidental head of a transformation programme that I had no idea how to lead, but I did have some ideas about how I thought the place could be better run. So at that point, I was working with a guy called Chris Mitchell from GDS who was one of the very first sort of transformation partners which GDS would place with departments to help them understand how to do digital. He and I got on very well and I also got on very well with Mark O’Neill who was the other person sort of in place at the Ministry of Justice, where OPG was.

So they began to teach me the ropes about what this thing called digital was because I didn’t have a clue. I didn’t know what a software developer did. I had no idea about how all of this works, and really the first six months of that were just me learning and learning and learning. Very quickly I met a few people who would completely transform how I thought about government. Tom Loosemore, Mike Bracken, Richard Pope, Tim Paul and a few others, so I would go to the old buildings in Holborn and that’s how I learned what digital government was, was from those people. They really taught me the basics of why this thing was necessary, what transformation meant, and they inspired me to stay in public service.

Angus Montgomery:
I’m interested in- because you sort of described in your early career you were becoming frustrated at the lack of human-centeredness or lack of humanness of governments, but you didn’t know what digital meant. So you kind of obviously had a lot of empathy and you understood that government needed to be more user-centred, but at what stage or how did you realise that digital was a way or the way to do this? Or is digital the way to do this?

Kit Collingwood:
No, I don’t think digital in itself is the way to do it, but it’s one of the tools that we need to be able to do it. So the ability for technology to bring services into people’s homes and everyday lives is part of the way that government should re-approach human connection. I’m fairly convinced about that, but it’s only a subset I think. We, I think, need fundamental retraining in empathy skills, or training not retraining. Fundamental training in empathy skills in order that we can approach the people we serve with compassion.

That’s not sort of pure cuddly thinking. There’s a huge economic benefit to understanding end users better, because if you understand the impact of your ideas and your policies on the average person then you can more effectively implement those policies. That to me just stands to reason, so to me high empathy has financial gains for government as well and it frustrates me that people don’t often see that.

But to put that aside, to answer your original question, the way that I sort of connected this idea of human connection and digital government was through user research, the kind of doggedness of user research. And quite quickly coming into- I think I inherited a team of sort of two or three people at the OPG and they were bolstered by some GDS folk. I mean, it’s a dream to have somebody like Richard Pope being able to effectively just consult on your ideas with, and that’s kind of an incredible privilege to have had. But there was also this cohort of user researchers, and I didn’t know what one of those was.

So just observing them at close quarters, this idea of iterating on your ideas, not doing a massive big bang thing and then just sort of hoping it works, which was- that is the way that government has and had done things. Suddenly there was this cohort of people who would do something small and then test it, see if it worked, and then do something else and then test it to see if it worked.
I saw the potential for that outside of technology, so I could see the application of that in policy-making very easily.

I could see the application of that even in law-making, which is more controversial, but I can see that. And in fact law-making is iterative actually. It goes through both houses several times, but to me the connection to end users is still lacking, and it’s got huge application for customer service as well, iterating in your ideas. None of the things I’ve just said are remotely original. They all happen now, but at the time it was quite revolutionary. So this idea of getting in a room with people who would be on the receiving end of your stuff, that was huge to me and that really reinvigorated my faith in public service.

Angus Montgomery:
And can you describe for people who weren’t around, say, back then, it wasn’t that long ago, but in 2012 when the exemplars programme was running, what was the exemplars programme? How did it function and what was the purpose of it?

Kit Collingwood:
Well, it was 25 high volume services that had a huge potential to be transformational, so it was things- so lasting power of attorney was one and that’s the ability to give somebody the power to act on your behalf if you lose mental health. There were things like carers’ allowance, which is part of my current department, Department for Work and Pensions, and also some less emotive but high volume stuff, so a lot of the DVLA’s digital services, a couple of them fell into that transformation programme as well.

So these were high volume services that would show the potential for digital government, and they were acknowledged as being the starting line really. It was to get 25 of them into beta within a certain timescale to show the pace that was potentially there. And for me to begin to develop the skills that government would need to be able to be digital for the future, one of the things which has really dragged, it’s a lot better now, but one of the things that really dragged was this acknowledgement from government that we need this massive cohort of skills to be able to be sustainable in digital beyond something that was a programme, you know, beyond something finite.
So I used that exemplar programme to build up a lot of trust and support in what I was doing so I could hire the right kind of people because I could see that this wasn’t going to go away.

Angus Montgomery:
Yes, yes. How did that actually function day to day, and what was the kind of relationship between- because exemplars is very much run by GDS with these departments. How did that work in practical terms? Was there a sort of mixed GDS/MOJ team? How did that work?

Kit Collingwood:
Yes, there was initially, yes, and then GDS slowly peeled off. I’m wary that I’m speaking entirely from my own experience. I know that I have an overwhelmingly positive experience of it. Other departments I know felt almost affronted that GDS were coming in and sort of telling them how to do their own services effectively, and I know that there was tension there.

Angus Montgomery:
Why do you think your experience was positive in that sense? Because GDS was still coming in and kind of telling you or showing you a way of doing something. Why do you think that worked when it might not have worked elsewhere?

Kit Collingwood:
I never felt that I was being told anything. Maybe it’s because I was so keen to listen, so I felt very humbled by being in this new role, so part of it undoubtedly will be how willing I was to listen to them. I was in a new executive agency, so the OPG was new to me. The Office of the Public Guardian was new, so I was learning the professional domain I was in. I was learning the technical domain and I was learning about digital government so I felt extraordinarily empty-headed. But I’m a really good leader, so I knew I could lead the things. I knew I’d have the right ideas, but I had so much to learn and probably me being so open to learning helped us move that path. If I’d have had slightly more emotional and professional capital invested in what had already gone before, maybe it would have gone less smoothly. That was definitely part of it.

The other thing is I recruit curious people, so the team that I brought in to work with me in the OPG were secondees from operational centres, people from policy-making, some external hires. I always promoted a culture of partnership with GDS, so for me they were friends from the beginning. I had no reason not to have that attitude and other people did.

Angus Montgomery:
Yes. And I suppose the other kind of truism that’s spoken about the exemplars is that they were really, really difficult to work on and that there was burnout and that there were people working incredibly hard but getting incredibly frustrated, and was that something you experienced as well?

Kit Collingwood:
I didn’t burn out. I found it hugely energising, and again I think my teams were protected by the fact that we did have such a positive relationship. I’m quite keen on sustainable mental health so we never were a team that would work until midnight. We never thought that was cool. We never thought there was anything cool about that, so it never felt very tense in our office. It never- and also you have to embrace a bit of humility in what you’re doing. You’re doing something great and we had a great sense of pride about that, but it’s not brain surgery. Nobody was going to die if we all knocked off at 6:00pm instead of 10:00pm. We took it incredibly seriously but not too seriously, so we never did burnout.

We were extraordinarily focused. We basically did one thing for nine months and then we did a second thing for another nine months, so sustainability was always on my mind. And I found very quickly, because I got promoted quite quickly  at that time, I was in danger at the end of my time of OPG of losing visibility of individual products being delivered, so I always had this awareness that you can reach a tipping point where people will start to feel out of focus, and I’d known that from my own experience. So I always tried to have empathy with my teams and make sure that they could work at a pace that suited them.

Angus Montgomery:
Yes. And they understood- because the other thing about working in that sort of environment is you’re delivering so quickly, you kind of need to- I don’t know. This is just me positing, I suppose. You kind of need to step back and look at what you’ve achieved as well and if you’re delivering really quickly that can be quite hard to do.

Kit Collingwood:
Yes, it was a whirlwind. It always felt like a happy whirlwind, and a lot of the- we had like the lowest turnover of the whole place, you know, really high engagement, and there were people still working in that digital team that have been there now for five or six years, so it was a good place to be, but the pace was high. I remember a year in we looked back at what we’d done and we’d done one service from scratch to public beta, an additional service from scratch into alpha. We’d done the first digital strategy. We’d quadrupled the team size. We’d redrawn how we did recruitment. We’d changed the pay scales. We’d redone our commercial contract so that we were outside of big IT contracts, and what else had we done? There was something else as well. Oh, we’d redesigned the governance as well so we could do our governance.

And we’d sort of looked back after a year and we were like, “Holy.” We did a lot, and a lot of it was- there was a real lack of self-importance to that team. We knew we were doing good stuff, but when we wrote our strategy it was like eight pages so we did it in about three weeks, so there was a real lack of fanfare in a good way. You know, it was just heads down and crack on and try not to show off too much.

Angus Montgomery:
It’s interesting you say that because that’s one of the things, because I joined GDS in 2016 because I’d been a journalist before so I’d been a sort of observer of digital government and one of the things that really struck me about what GDS and what people working in digital were doing was that they were delivering stuff. GDS in particular was really vocal about the work that it was doing, but it was showing the work. It wasn’t talking about abstract things or concepts or strategies. It was like, “Here’s a thing that we’ve done. Here’s how it works,” and that was really inspiring as someone outside this.

Kit Collingwood:
The phrase of strategy as delivery is banded around by everybody now, and it’s almost had its hay-day. People have almost stopped saying it in some circles, but I can’t describe how powerful that was to somebody like me who’d come out of the most bureaucratic part of Whitehall, you know, the middle of a policy team, a kind of strategic policy team, and I’d come out of- I’d worked for all three main political parties by that point, so I’d joined the government in 2009 and I’d worked for the coalition government which I was working for at that time.

So working with a lot of different ministers doing things like ministerial handover, loads of briefings, lots of policy documents, lots of consultation, very slow, sluggish pace. Great work being done but sluggish, and suddenly this idea that we could be released from writing constant documents to prove the worth of what we were doing was just ridiculously revolutionary, and I can’t  exactly describe why. It’s so obvious that you could get on with the work rather than spend a million years doing a 100-page business case, but to me that was like, “Oh, Christ, I can do this so differently.” And that’s why our strategy took three weeks and it was eight pages, and our business case was like ten pages.

The hidden bit about that was a lot of me putting my neck on the line saying, “No, no, no, I’m going to write this short. It’s going to be really short, really simple,” trying to simplify everything, and that’s where the effort went. It’s a funny analogy actually because it’s the same way that the design plans went as well. Government websites are massively overdesigned. Then GDS comes out with something that’s basically a white page with a green button in the middle with a bit of highlighting on it and everyone is like, “Oh. That’s how we’re going to design things now,” and they were like, “Yes, yes. We just basically don’t put much on the page.” Everyone is like, “Oh, right,” and it’s a really analogous approach to what I took to everything after, business cases, documentation, recruitment processes, governance. Everything went the same way. You don’t need to clutter it with all of that noise.

Angus Montgomery:
Yes. It’s just so incredibly powerful because you were in government while this was happening, but I was reporting on the private sector and the private sector organisations weren’t doing this. It took an organisation within government or a group of people within government to drive this kind of simplicity home. And working in government now and understanding the complexities of it, it’s just unbelievable almost that that happened.

Kit Collingwood:
Yes, and of course it peed people off. Of course it did. Everybody who had ever built one of those websites would be peed off because that’s your work being rubbished by these people, all of whom were pretty young. They were highly paid because they’d come from the private sector. They were off, siphoned off from Whitehall. They were other, and they were consistent. GDS were consistently othered by a lot of big government departments, and still are frankly. I don’t think you can be a rebel of that magnitude without peeing off a hell a lot of people.

What I took as my task was to try and- I’d been in a policy-making community that thought that digital government were a load of jeans-wearing hipsters. Now I was in a digital community that thought that policy-makers were a load of 50-year-old white fuddy-duddies, and elements of both of those things are true. You know, there are jeans wearing hipsters in digital government and there are white middle-aged fuddy-duddies in policy making but that doesn’t mean that we’re not trying to do the right thing.

So from that point, my mission was just trying  to connect people so that- you can’t do anything without trust so it’s just trying to increase the level of trust between the different communities that I was operating in.

Angus Montgomery:
Yes. And how did you- because I guess we’ve talked a lot about the exemplars and the rapid pace of what was happening, the rapid pace of change, and touched on things like the controversies around that. But you’ve been in government for a long time and carried on that work, and how did you make it sustainable? How did you take that kind of environment and that thinking and sustain it into another department, into another role, into new teams?

Kit Collingwood:
I think it was a series of steps really. There were some mechanistic steps such as I began quite early to realise that government funding isn’t set up for digital. It is a bit better now, but at that point you did project works. You’re funded for a blob of thing and when the thing ended you weren’t funded for the thing anymore. Well, that was never going to work with things like CICD, so the continuous delivery of technology doesn’t work with that funding model. I blessedly realised that quite early and I started to work very closely with finance and commercial business partners to smooth out that path so that things like- this is so boring, but this was what got it done. CapEx versus OpEx was well-known and well chartered, so I didn’t want to have a drop in the team that was sharp between this thing called build and this thing called run. For me that’s still a false divide. Well, anybody who works in a DevOps way, that’s a false divide.

So I plotted with them to go from a full team size- say your team size is 10. Over time I would look to retain 4 of that team and I would build that into a bigger business case and I’d have like a slide down from one to the other. And putting in the groundwork with those people who are naturally mistrusting of something where it looks like you’re trying to game an existing process and just getting them to see what I was doing and these services- if you run these services while in perpetuity, you don’t have to then have this change request of £1m a year down the line.

Angus Montgomery:
Yes, that comes in, yes, yes.

Kit Collingwood:
Because you’re continuously enhancing what you’re doing, but you can enhance it with a smaller team and it wasn’t always cheaper actually or it didn’t always look cheaper, but I knew that you’d then five years down the line wouldn’t have to buy the thing again because you’d have built it in-house. So it was a lot of donkey work of redrawing everything about how we do finance and commercial work and commercial partnering and governance and all that kind of stuff, so that was part of it.

Part of it was government catching up, so digital became not weird while I was a couple of years in, call it 2014, digital government was then effectively becoming sustainable in its own right. I had to fight a lot less hard to get the basics that I wanted to get done done. In the early days I had to have Mike Bracken come and advocate for the things I wanted to get done. It was that ridiculous. I didn’t need that by 2014, and at that point I moved to Ministry of Justice digital, the central digital team, and that had people like Dave Rogers in it who’s still there. He was great, and you kind of move from sensible support people to sensible support people.

Angus Montgomery:
Yes. How do you kind of- well, it might sound a stupid question, but how do you identify and how do you end up working with people like that? How do you find allies?

Kit Collingwood:
How do I find allies?

Angus Montgomery:
Because I do get the sense there’s kind of a network of people in different departments now, and the names are probably well known of people who are doing good things who-

Kit Collingwood:
Yes. How did we all find each other? Sort of thing.

Angus Montgomery:
How did you all find each other? Yes.

Kit Collingwood:
I think we were all curious. So this community of- they’re well known on digital government Twitter. That community of people. You know, there’s probably a couple of hundred of us who’ve been around for- call it five years or more. Dave Rogers is one of them. All of the original GDSs are in there as well, although many of us have gone our separate ways.

For the ones who weren’t the real inception, so the Mikes and Toms, I think curiosity was a big bit of it. A lot of us found each other from being mutually introduced by well-networked people, so people like Tom would introduce us sometimes. Emer Coleman was another one for doing that. Kathy Settle. There were these people who knew people and they’d say, “Oh, so and so,” and then people would make some kind of connection between us and we’d almost invariably get on, so that was part of it.

Those of us who came out of Whitehall as opposed to being external hires found a natural empathy with each other because we’d been so frustrated by where we’d been and we were generally known as being pains in the bum basically where we are and we were quite grateful- I always think if you, in any meeting room, say you’ve got 12 people in a meeting room, you’re the one that feels really outré and the radical one. You’re just in the wrong room, and suddenly you’re in the right room and it’s just this huge comfort.

Angus Montgomery:
Yes, that was going to be my next question is kind of, what are you looking for in these people? Because it sounds like a mix of sort of bravery in a sense of they’re willing to take a risk with something. They’ve got convictions, but also they have empathy.

Kit Collingwood:
Yes. Well, I probably can’t swear in this podcast, can I?

Angus Montgomery:
I think you maybe could.

Kit Collingwood:
I’ll put it the opposite way. I only work with lovely people, that’s my rule, so three is something about being kind and warm that is at the core of the kind of person I would look to work with. But there’s something about- the way I put it is we want to reform the machine without breaking it, so all of those people are massively inpatient with the way the government works, massively frustrated, want to beat their heads against the wall but basically love the place, and if they leave they’ll always come back. They are either civil servants through and through in their DNA or you know that you’ll see them again in some point in the future, and it’s those people who care deeply about public service, it gives them that lovely balance of wanting to do the right thing by end users but without completely breaking the machine that they’re working in, and it’s a really hard balance to strike. But when you find it, it’s like gold dust. They’re the best people.

Angus Montgomery:
Right, okay. And the other thing I wanted to talk to you about was One Team Gov as well because you were one of the- were you one of the founders of One Team Gov? Is that right?

Kit Collingwood:
I was.

Angus Montgomery:
Yes. Well, first of tell me why it was set up and what the purpose if it is.

Kit Collingwood:
One Team Gov was born out of my frustration at the lack of empathy between government professions, so it’s the ultimate realisation of my experience leaving policy-making and going into digital government really. And having observed and then worked in such a tribal system where if you weren’t us, you were them and you weren’t to be trusted. Well, id’ belonged to two tribes and I was like,  “Well, where’s the ‘us’ in the middle of all this ‘them’ then if everybody is ‘them’?”

So I spoke at a conference in March 2017 about- I gave a talk about data as it happens. That’s what I’m working on at the moment, and I was advised to go and see a guy speak after me called James Reeve who works at the Department for Education. I’d been told he was a great speaker and I listened to him and I spoke to him afterwards and we got on really well, and he was also coming out of policy making and going into a digital role, so the same thing that I’d done, what, five years previously he was now doing.

We talked about the experience of how policy-makers don’t get on with digital people in mutual mistrust, and we’d said we’d both been to professional events. We’d been to policy-making events and digital events, but there was no rebel event just for- where are all your generic rebels regardless of background? Where is anybody welcome?

Angus Montgomery:
This is how you find each other, was it?

Kit Collingwood:
Yes, exactly. And the tagline we often use for One Team Gov is if you’re tired of waiting for the revolution, start one yourself, not that we aim to start a revolution. That’s really self-important, but we did want to have an event where you would be welcomed as a reformer regardless of your background. You didn’t have to be some whizzy fast-streamer. You didn’t have to be anything really, and we just had a single event.

As we were coming up to the event we realised that we wanted to make it a community, so we, classic bit of partnership, Joe Lanman who works here as a designer designed us some branding and we built a little website and we got some regular meet-ups in which are still going now 18 months down the line. All we aimed to do was just to give a safe space to rebels, that’s all. So those people who don’t want to trash the machine but want to make it better, we just wanted to be the people that they could go to, and that was it. It was and is super simple really. [00:35:30] It’s based mainly on networks, on connections and on honest conversations with people. But the heartbeat of it is our meet-ups that we have in London, Cardiff, in the north, Scotland, Stockholm, Ottawa.

Angus Montgomery:
Internationally now.

Kit Collingwood:
Yes. So it spreads internationally through those same networks of those positive rebels, and, yes, I’m really proud of it. It gives such a safe space to those people who are just sitting in the wrong meeting room being that single person. They just need to find the right meeting room and we’ve given them that.

Angus Montgomery:
Yes. One of the things that strikes me having talked about your time working in digital government is you’ve gone from, and this is kind of, I suppose, illustrative of digital government as a whole. You’ve gone from working on an exemplar, so a single service or a single digital touchpoint, to working in an area where you’re bringing together people from across different professions to look at kind of the much wider picture, and that to me kind of illustrates the broadening of digital government, how we think about it from kind of these single touch points to suddenly these whole services or these whole kind of policies. Is that kind of how you see your career having developed? Do you think it has kind of gone like that?

Kit Collingwood:
Yes. Yes, I think it has. It started off as a blob. We were almost a carbuncle in the beginning and seen by some as a carbuncle as well, and the world to make digital governments sustainable- well, you know, they say that it’ll be sustainable when we stop saying digital, but we’re not there yet. And to my mind, you’ll still need specialist technologists in government so you’ll always have a thing called a technology team or a digital team or something, so it’s not quite the ambition to never say digital ever again but it should evolve in meaning, I think, to encompass not just technologists but people who are interested in internet-enabled reform, which is kind of how I would characterise it.

So, yes, it’s definitely evolved from being something where you’re a heavily specialist team relatively separated from the rest of the organisation to something where every profession is welcome. One of the things that- I get a bit [00:40:26] twitchy talking about things that I’ve done that I’m proud of because I get self-conscious, but there are a few and of them there’s somebody called Kaz Hufton who was- she worked for the Office of Public Guardian and she worked in our call centre. She’s one of our operational people and we found her and she was an exceptionally good and is an exceptionally good product manager.

We found her in operations, and she proved very quickly that she was going to be better at this job than anybody else we could find and we made her a product manager, and I had to propose and then stand behind that decision. She needed to be promoted about three times because the grade difference between operations and digital was quite tricky at that point, but we did that and it proved something. It proved that if you’re this thing called operations, you don’t have to stay there forever just as I hadn’t in policy. You can transition your career actually, and people come into digital and learn how to do product development. You don’t need a million years to learn how to do it. You need a lot of smarts, a lot of empathy, very open ears, and then professional skills that you learn down the line.

I was so glad that we gave her that break, and that’s something that I’ve done consistently ever since is not assume that if somebody is a policy-maker that they can never be a digital person or vice versa. It’s the same reason I started One Team Gov is it’s kind of this you don’t have to stay in that tribe actually. You can go and work across, and I suppose where I am now working in data is a natural extension of that because to my mind, there needs to be a data leap for government in the same way that there was a digital leap for government from 2011 onwards.

Data people are still a little bit off in a silo in a corner being nerds. They’re even siphoned off from product teams, so one of the missions that I’ve had in DWP is to work intersectionally between digital data and technology so that we blur those professional boundaries. Somebody like a data scientist is a classic- you know, if you call them sort of a coder analyst, they’re already a technologist and a data professional, so why do they have to sit over in that corner? Why can’t they come and be in this product team? And embedding data scientists into product teams has been one of the things that we’ve done in DWP to absolutely great effect.

So again it’s trying to fight the good fight every day for people, dropping their assumptions about what somebody can and can’t do.

Angus Montgomery:
Yes, yes, yes. And just before we finish off, I’d like to ask you, I suppose potentially at the risk of making you feel uncomfortable, a couple of questions about you and how you operate, I suppose. You said earlier in this conversation that when you’re taking about going on the exemplar you didn’t know much about digital but you knew how to lead, and you are one of the people in this world who’s seen, I suppose, as a role model, as a leader. What sort of behaviours do you hope that you’re showing, that you hope that people kind of pick up? What do you hope that you’re role modelling that people will pick up from you?

Kit Collingwood:
I’m kind to people.

Angus Montgomery:
That’s the best behaviour.

Kit Collingwood:
You can never have too much kindness in the world, I think, and I think I’m pretty consistently kind. I will say that about myself. I’m very willing to re-examine what is a yes and what’s a no because I’m very dogged in the pursuit of what I believe to be right, and I think that’s a good role model for the bit of government I’m in because you have to be fairly persistent to get things done and I’ve never taken a no to be a final no. I’ve always been able to chase down what I believe to be the right answer. I don’t know if that’s- maybe I’m ideological, but I’ve always tried to fight for the right thing.

I hope that I am seen as being passionate about diversion and inclusion because I am. Although I’m a woman in technology and a gay woman in technology and a gay woman parent in technology, my interests do go beyond that and I would hope that I have given other people space to progress where they thought they might not have that space. So inclusiveness with age, grade boundary, professional boundary, colour, disability, I hope that I’m not deluding myself, that that is something I’m known for.

And as I said, I do try and give my time to try and make the place a bit better, so things like One Team Gov and mentoring people, that kind of thing. If I were to leave an impression of myself, I hope that that would be in it.

Angus Montgomery:
And who do you look to as a role model or who inspires you at the moment? Either within this world or outside it, I suppose.

Kit Collingwood:
Am I allowed a few?

Angus Montgomery:
Of course. Just like a dinner party thing.

Kit Collingwood:
My girlfriend would have to go on that list. One of the most amazing product people I’ve ever observed and the kindest person.

Angus Montgomery:
Just for the sake- who’s your girlfriend?

Kit Collingwood:
Kylie Havelock.

Angus Montgomery:
Kylie Havelock.

Kit Collingwood:
Yes. Yes, she’s taught me a lot about kindness and about diversion and inclusion as well and a million other things. My kids inspire me all the time. They’re not constrained by what anybody expects of them, and I love that about them. I try and learn from them and try and- they’ve made me challenge a lot of my assumptions about myself and about the world.

And then professionally, I’d always say Lara Sampson who works at the DWP who is the most consummately brilliant civil servant I have ever worked with and has remained that to this day. She wins the prize. She is incredible and inspirational.

I would always say Tom Loosemore as well who’s effectively very quietly, without anybody knowing it, mentored me for about six years without ever asking for anything in return and has quietly been responsible for several of my career moves without ever taking credit for it or asking for anything back. So given that this will be public, I’ll say publically thank you to him. He’s done a lot for me without anybody ever knowing that, so I’ll always be grateful.

Angus Montgomery:
And just finally, if there’s one piece of advice you could give to someone, so say there’s someone in your situation now going back, what was it, six years ago, kind of in a role. You were in a policy role were you were kind of thinking, “This isn’t really what I’m interested in. This isn’t giving me the empathy, the satisfaction that I want.” What advice would you give to that person that you've learned over the last seven or eight years?

Kit Collingwood:
Wow. I’d say find a hero. It’s always good to have somebody to look up to think, you know, what would so-and-so do in this situation? I think it’s always good to see a perspective that isn’t your own.

I’d say a good dose of sort of mindfulness for want of a better word, so realising where you are on the frustration versus action scale. There can be a feeling amongst some civil servants in particular that they’re so frustrated the only thing they can do is leave, and I’ve seen many people go their way and it’s not a bad thing to do at all. It’s the only thing to do for a lot of people, but there’s this tipping point and if you’re on this tipping point of, “Oh my God, I want the world to be better but I want to stay and make it better,” I’d always say contact One Team Gov because you’ll find some likeminded people as well.

But I’d also say to them, if any of those people are listening, you’re not alone. So many civil servants are frustrated. The civil service is frustrating. It will always be, but it’s the best place in the world, my belief is, and if you’re on that tipping point where you’re incredibly frustrated but believe you can do something better, it’s not just you. And again if you’re that one person in a room of 12 who’s just in the wrong room, go and find a different room and you can start to feel more normal, and there are so many lateral moves you can make to get that done and you might just start to be reinvigorated like I was.

Angus Montgomery:
And those rebels are easier to find now.

Kit Collingwood:
Very easy to find now. Yes, so Clare Moriarty is one of them and she’s got one of the toughest jobs going in government at the moment. Jeremy Heywood was one as well. He was one of the people who gave me advice, again when he didn’t have to. A very tough time for him that showed me that truly he was on the side of the revolutionaries. He wanted to see reform as well, so you can move up the pay scale and up the ladder and be a rebel as well. You can do that.

Angus Montgomery:
Yes. Kit Collingwood, thank you very much for joining us.

Kit Collingwood:
Thank you for your time.

Angus Montgomery:
Thank you. Thank you very much for joining us for that episode of the GDS podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. If you want to listen to any more of what we’re doing, then please go to wherever it is that you listen to or download your podcasts and subscribe to the GDS podcast because we’ve got lots more exciting stuff coming up this year, so we hope you’ll join us again soon. Thank you very much.