Weeknotes 2-6 March 2020

This week started quieter than many of the ones over the last few months, although ‘quiet’ is a relative term in the Defra Strategy Unit! The activities that I was surged into Defra are largely done, the re-shuffle has been and gone and the departmental stocktake has run its course, so I spent Monday and Tuesday largely filing emails and copying documents into Sharepoint.

Thursday was our awayday, we went to Woodberry Wetlands, near Finsbury Park. Woodberry is an old reservoir in the middle of London’s northern sprawl. Until the early 1990s it was an active reservoir and the water was treated with chlorine and phosphates. Thames Water tried to sell the land off then, but a local campaign stopped it being drained and filled in for housing. Shortly after treatment stopped wildlife started to use the wetlands, however it wasn’t until 2016 that the London Wildlife Trust started managing it. They’ve planted reeds round the lake, and also other plants that attract wildlife. When I walked round on Thursday there was a great selection of birds to be seen, more than at the local lake near my house. The only real downside was that the rain was torrential, so I didn’t get my phone out to take any pictures!

This Week

Things I’ve read

Not an exhaustive list, but a handful of links to interesting articles.

What I’ve done

This week I have mostly:

  • Helped sort out the sessions for the Strategy Unit Awayday on Thursday. In particular I shared some of the methods used at OneTeamGov events to help be more inclusive, like 1-2-4. I was a bit too slow off the mark to organise it as an unconference like the last two away days I’ve run.
  • Ruthlessly edited a note on the potential for a machinery of government change so that it was absolutely clear what we thought about the proposal.
  • Had a chat about my loan, which ends on 31 March, with my Defra Director, and also with my DWP line manager. We came to the shared agreement that I’m going to stay in Defra for another three months, and in the meantime I’ll help lead the setting up of a new programme from within the Strategy Directorate. Need to agree the handover date for my current role, but probably in the next week or two.
  • Cleared and filed my inbox. Hundreds of emails were filed where I can potentially find them again if needed to show what we did last time or explain something. On departing on Tuesday evening there were 21 emails in my inbox, with 18 flagged for follow-up action. That’s the lowest its been since the day I was given the Defra laptop. (It’s crept back up to 103 since, with 32 needing action/reading, and I’ve filed most of today’s 84 emails).
  • Attended the SU Awayday on Thursday, when I managed not to get involved in emails, and also tried very hard just to listen (even in the bits I was supposed to be speaking). I don’t think I quite stayed quiet enough, but I hope my contributions helped others. I signed up to the anti-bullying pledge and share my experiences in dealing with people who were bullying others (a couple where I line managed them, and a couple where I was line managed by them, sadly not all came to satisfying conclusions despite my best efforts).
  • Friday was quite busy. We had some follow-up from the awayday and a general thing about ensuring our business continuity arrangements were as up to date as they could be. We had a spot of confusion early on about who was doing what, but a couple of conversations sorted it out. A bit of a team discussion gave some helpful suggestions about strengthening our resilience, notably
    • Using WhatsApp groups at a team level to enable rapid sharing of information in a reliable and secure way.
    • Getting spare chargers and ancilliaries for laptops etc so that people can have one at home and one at the office to minimise the weight they carry back and forth.
    • Saving everything in shared storage (so others can find it if you aren’t around for any reason)

Thanks to…

This week’s thanks go to:

  •  Nick for his work on making our SU Awayday happen, especially when our DD was off and he had a committee of G6s to get direction from!
  • Murry & Catherine for just getting on with things, and meaning that I had time to clear my inbox at the beginning of the week.

Outside Work

My recent highlight is that I’ve been confirmed in my appointment as a Scout Leader for a new scout troop that is starting on 23rd April. This means that I will be moving on from cubs to be in charge of my own section. I had a development planning session last night with the Group Scout Leader to look at what I need to do to be effective in the new role. It’s not as huge a transition as it could have been because I spent the summer term last year helping with our existing scout troop and have been dropping in when they need extra leaders, including a couple of camps and their planning sessions. So I’ve already got used to the differences from the older age group (they’re almost 11 when they start, and leave for Explorers when they turn 14).

World Book Day 2020 taster books that I bought to share with my cub pack (photo: James Kemp)

My current cub pack did their Reading Badge on Thursday seeing as it was World Book Day yesterday. I got a load of the taster books to give them all a book each. They all came dressed up as their favourite characters, there was a heavy Harry Potter theme going on, and they made bookmarks and book covers as well as telling everyone about their favourite books and how to look after them.

I’m also looking forward to the weekend. My daughter has a brownies sleepover tonight, and a beavers sleepover tomorrow night. So there ought to be an opportunity to watch some of the DVDs that have piled up.

Next Week

I’m working from home on Monday because I’ve got a physio appointment in the morning and I’m chairing the Finance & Staffing Committee at Furzefield School in the evening where I’m a school governor. Other than that my diary is suspiciously empty all week, apart from a cross-Whitehall Strategy Unit coffee on Friday afternoon when I’m meeting someone from another department for us both to share more about what we do.

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