Your Charming Chairman

Almost a month ago, I attended the inaugural Public Sector Web Management group (PSWMG) at Edgbaston cricket ground in Birmingham.

I’d been invited to attend by PSF, who were organising the event, I think partly because I’m keen on the idea on opportunities for grass-roots webbies across the public sector to share knowledge and experience and generate something of a voice together, partly because I’d already offered up by thoughts (and indeed my doubts) relating to the PSWMG on the PSWMG forum, and also partly I think because Ian secretly fancies me (well, he’s only human). Although I might be wrong about that last one.

Him fancying me, I mean. I’m fairly certain he’s human.

Anyway, I turned up and contributed to a panel discussing what made up the perfect council website — in my opinion the perfect council website is the one that makes it the easiest for me to manage to do whatever task I’ve gone to that website for, whether that’s paying something, making contact about something, or simply finding out information. Of course there were a variety of ideas about different things council sites should offer — including promotional materials — but one of the key things was that we didn’t really believe that there was such a thing as a “perfect template” as what was ideally suited for one area may not be appropriate to the residents and businesses of another.

Then there was what, for me, was going to be the most eagerly awaited event of the day: the first of two discussions about how the Public Sector Web Management Group should be set out and run. Well, the most eagerly awaited formal event anyway: I always like the personal bits — catching up with Paul, Dan, Ian and the rest of the crew — at least as much.

There had been a number of initial thoughts on this: was it for public sector web managers, or for everyone who worked with the web in the public sector? Who, precisely, would be members? Would individuals be members in their own right, or would people be speaking on behalf of the councils and public bodies that they worked for?

As it was quickly realised that unless the group was to be made up of people at director level and above, people would generally not have the authority to speak for their organisation, that path became clearer; it also appeared that the majority of the attendees didn’t feel that being a “manager” was necessary: after all, if we were representing ourselves as individuals, it would be up to us to decide what was and what wasn’t important.

There was then an appeal for people who would be willing to act as part of an initial board (at least until such time as the group managed to draft itself a proper constitution and elect a board), with Dan and Ian asking people to approach them over lunch if they were interested.

Was I interested? Damn right I was. I enjoy being in the thick of things, particularly where I feel I can usefully contribute to making things better.

The only slight reservation I had was that I know I’m outspoken; I know I’ll come forward at these sorts of events, and I’m not exactly shy so the conversation will tend to be dominated by me and others like me, and I didn’t want to be on the “panel” simply because I shout the loudest: but on the other hand if people actually thought I could do a good job, I’d be delighted to take part and help out.

But as someone who had already expressed several opinions about it, I also thought I’d better be prepared to put my metaphorical money where my actual mouth was and help out.

But when they asked for a volunteer to be chair, I wasn’t going to volunteer for that. No, sir. For one thing, it sounded like bloody hard work, and for another I didn’t want to be the swot in the corner sticking his hand up shouting “me, sir!”. I’d done that quite enough at school, thank you.

I did open my big mouth again (as usual), suggesting that maybe it would be better to find out who wanted to take an active role in the group, and then choose a chair from those people instead of expecting someone just to volunteer to be chair.

So we did that: we decided who was going to be on the initial board (including me) and then we looked for a volunteer to be chair.

After a moment of tumbleweed wafting across the room, someone in front of me stood up and said that I should be chair. I think I looked somewhere between undecided and terrified at this point, because Ian then kindly decided to do an impression of the look on my face for the benefit of everyone else in the room.

Thanks Ian. I’ll remember that.

Someone else then said “go on”, or words to that effect, and not wishing to disappoint my adoring public (or at both of them who’d suggested me) I assented to become interim Chair of the PSWMG (at least until such point as we’ve got a proper constitution and actually elect people to do things –- at which point everyone then has the opportunity to get rid of me if they think I’m rubbish!)

And there you have it.

So now that I’m chair of the PSWMG, what exactly do I intend to do with it? Am I looking to try and get the PSWMG to work with other public sector organisations to improve the state of the web in the public sector across the UK? Or is it just the first step on the road to me being a crazed megalomaniac with a secret base inside an extinct volcano on a Pacific island? Heh heh.

Well, it’s probably too early to say for sure, but I’ve written A Few Words From The Chair over on the PSWMG site if you want to know what my plans are…

2 Responses to “Your Charming Chairman”

  1. Karl responds:

    Congratulations Jack, in the formative stage of anything being organised you need people with passion - and you definitely have that mate. I’m glad that PSWMG is (no longer?) overly worried about a member being a “manager” - I’m a grassroots grade 5 worker bee at the moment and if I’m unlucky enough to still be in the public sector come January then I may look at PSWMG closer.

  2. Andy Mabbett responds:

    I’m sure they couldn’t find a more gullible idiot^W^W^W better person for the job.

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