More Tea Vicar


More Tea Vicar is a brand name for the occasional unconference-style facilitation work that I do. More Tea Vicar has been in suspended animation for a while. (Other distractions.) But, I've been nudged several times lately about doing more with it and facilitated the Digital Women Unconference with Digital Leaders in October 2016. So I may change this page; but for now, here's what I wrote about More Tea Vicar in 2014...

I have been running some meetings of people involved with changing government IT. It started from a conversation between me and Colin Campbell in summer 2013. Since then a mix of 200 or so people from both government and SME supplier organisations have been coming along. The first session, in June 2013, was an unconference-style workshop - held over tea (and cake) in the offices of Colin's firm - Digi2al - at More London Riverside, hence the 'More Tea Vicar' name. We have even had a vicar come along.

To get an idea of a typical More Tea session take a look at these events: Gubbins Tea Party and Er... what is 'Digital'?. These were held at the National Audit Office (thanks NAO) and were attended by 50-60 people.

These were all opportunities to meet with people we would normally not come into contact with and to have relaxed conversations - free of the encumbrance of an agenda - to get to know, to understand and to share ideas.

Some of the discussions have already turned into action: a group of SMEs who didn't know each other beforehand got together and formed a syndicate to bid for one of the Digital Transformation exemplar projects. I sense enthusiasm: perhaps there are the beginnings of a useful network here - a knot around which a crystal might grow.

What the group is about is emerging - but here is a stab at a strap-line...

More Tea Vicar is a network of people working for the greater good to change both the technology and mindset of government IT.

Here's more detail about what each bit of this means... "...people working..." Means anyone spending a significant proportion of their work lives striving to change government IT. "...for the greater good..." Every organisation involved with government IT, inside and outside government, has its own interests to look after and is hence constrained. Individuals are much freer to work for the greater good. I do come across people who do seem to be able to reconcile (without getting sacked) the things they are being paid to do and things they would like to see happen. These are people who have something of Steve Jobs' Crazy Ones about them. "change the technology" If the group is to work then there must be a shared purpose. It needs a simple view of what the change in government IT will look like. This video, that I made last year, might help...


Paul Downey produced this (great) picture to symbolise what the video was about...


People like Stephen Kelly, Mike Bracken and Liam Maxwell have been enthusiastic about the video and the model in it (see this Storify), but do the ideas work for you? "change ... the mindset" The technology change described in the video is a substantial one that will need an even more substantial shift in mindset to bring about. There is usually a strong inclination to focus on technology because it is tangible; but changing mindset/behaviours/culture is harder and arguably more important. Creating new organisations with the right culture is one thing; changing existing ones is absolutely another.

If you accept the model in the video then there are some significant implications. One of the group pointed out the need for strong cross-government coordination particularly in developing common services ('Common Gubbins' in the video). The federated nature of government departments, differing schedules for renewal of IT and the interests of incumbent suppliers are likely to make this coordination impossibly complex; at least using formal mechanisms. There simply isn't enough natural impetus to collaborate.

I'd say many people have the right mindset already - I seem to bump into loads of them - it's just that they are spread out and constrained by an established and powerful system that runs on quite different rails. I am pretty sure that the sort of change in mindset needed will not spread easily by action from the centre exerted through that same system. I think it needs help from informal self-organised coalitions of the willing of the sort we hope this group might become.

There will be more sessions (always in the afternoon or evening of the last Thursday of the month). These will be participative with no presenting, pitching or powerpointing.

If you are bemused, enthused or otherwise interested contact me.

Mark Foden