Weeknotes #1 & 2 (29th May — 4th June)

Emma McGowan
5 min readJun 8, 2021


The newbie edition — what am I doing now?

Two weeks ago I started a new job at Hackney Council as Head of Digital for Social Care. Many of you will know that in Oct last year, Hackney was the subject of a fairly vicious cyber attack. Gov colleagues, if you haven’t made time to watch Matthew Cain’s reflections on the cyber attack and lessons to learn going forward I suggest you watch here. There’s an incredible amount of resilience in the organisation (more on that later) and amazingly the team saw the cyber attack as a potential opportunity to ‘build back better’.

That’s what attracted me to the role. Rarely in government is there a blank sheet of paper. It feels important to say that whilst this blank sheet of paper is an incredible opportunity to redesign and rethink, right now staff need stability from their IT and access to recovered data. My immediate priority is working with social care colleagues to provide this.

Personally, I felt like I had some unfinished business with social care after leaving FutureGov part way through the Family Story programme with Tri-Borough. It had felt a bit like my baby, but I had to leave to go and have my actual baby :) My remit within Hackney is heading up a programme of recovery and redesign across Social Care. Essentially that means working with colleagues and suppliers to recover the data that was lost in the attack but also creating the space to think about how we might better design the digital tools for social care to better meet the needs of practitioners and residents in the future. My future weeknotes will be focussed on this complex programme of change and sharing lessons learned along the way.

I know myself well enough not to set an expectation that I’ll write as regularly as some (hence combined first and second week reflections in one note) but I want to do more writing as a way of reflecting. Lingjing Yin, my brilliant previous colleague and SE London buddy inspired me to put pen to paper and share some thoughts. But she also made me think about the purpose of writing and why it’s helpful. I’ve done a lot of journaling through personal therapy work over the years however I’ve not got into a regular rhythm for doing this for work. So here’s my first stab at it. Be kind folks ;)

First Reflections

Firstly, joining an organisation remotely is weird. But made a thousand times easier by Hackney being a google org (goodbye teams 👋🏻). I’ve noticed people jump straight into work chat on calls and it’s left little room for us to get to know each other as people so this week we’re coming together as a team (with Covid secure social distancing) to reflect and get to know one another a bit better.

Lots of people have challenged me over the past few years to say the tools aren’t important and collaboration can happen across lots of different platforms. Yes, it can and culture plays a big part, but I’ve not seen digital collaboration happen like this is any other local authority. People use google docs super well. Everyone from the CEO to apprentices. I’ve been so impressed with how things are documented and reviewed together. And I’m not just talking in HackIT; Hackney’s IT team. It’s all across the Council. It also appears to make things quicker. I’ll share a doc and within a few minutes people are commenting or suggesting — it’s really great.

The second takeaway, connected to digital tools, is ways of working. In some ways it feels like I’m back working at a digital agency. Its pacey, super responsive and rhythms are articulated well. Stand ups happen across the whole organisation. Show and shares are a regular part of life at Hackney. It makes me wonder how we’ll come out of two crises (covid then cyber) and start to slow things down. People very much are still in emergency response mode. I’ve been talking a lot about sustainable ways of working going forward rather than mentioning resilience. I think that word can sometimes reinforce a rhetoric of keeping going, rather than thinking about the long road ahead. The age old cliche of this being a marathon not a sprint but the organisation (esp IT) has been in sprint mode for quite some time. I’m glad some of the team are taking a well deserved break next week.

Thirdly, I’ve been enjoying the opportunity to have an area of focus. At Camden I was spread very thinly across the whole org. Sometimes a day would cover parking permits, housing repairs, covid response, vaccine hesitancy, customer services — the list goes on. I can’t remember the last time I had the chance to focus on one area. As directorates go it’s pretty big and of course Social Care isn’t one homogeneous service but I’m really enjoying the focus. I genuinely love working with social workers and people that work with people. The Hackney Social Care teams have been extremely welcoming and lovely. I honestly don’t know how they are still standing and smiling after all the organisation has been through. Says a lot about the culture.

Highlights of my week(s)

Meeting Cate McClaurin (Hackney’s Head of Delivery) for IRL coffee and lunch at a fabulously overpriced Hackney hangout.

Generally being in an office a whopping 3 times. The excitement of working physically with people. The confusion of booking meeting rooms. The disappointment of there being no milk in the fridge. It’s SO good to be back.

A brilliant Hackney IT senior management session with Rob, Cate, Matthew, Henry and Bertie. We’re thinking about how HackIT needs to continue to evolve to support the Council in the coming years. Exciting stuff.

Having a post work pint and dinner (still thinking about those potatoes) with Zoe Tyndall — Hackney’s Change Support Manager and sharing stories on covid response and all things early help.

Having a cupcake at Violet with Lucy and Felix who are working on the Social Care programme. This was my old hangout when I lived in Hackney. Can you see how much money I’m now spending on coffees and cakes?

My first cycle to work in quite some time with Rob, my new manager. He’s also a SE London dweller. I even bought myself a new bike a few months ago.

Things I’m reading / listening to

No work stuff here I’m afraid. I need downtime and some escapism. But if you’ve not read Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi its phenomenal.

The Missing continues to a daily podcast obsession. Only 30 minute episodes and I usually listen on the way back from the school run. The storytelling is great and I’m always left feeling bereft for the families of those that are missing.

The Lazarus Heist podcast. BBC Sounds really rocks this type of journalism and it’s right up my street. A hacking ring from North Korea and an attempt to steal a billion dollars from Sony.



Emma McGowan

Design, digital and policy in government. Part time masters student studying public value and the role of the state at IIPP. Solo parent. Proud mamma.