A month of god kaffe



Oslo was excellent. I spent two weeks with first-year MA students, on a brief called ‘Talking with People’. Their task was to do some speculative public service redesign thinking/prototyping (I didn’t much mind what they looked into or what form it took) and present their final projects with reference to how research with people shaped their process. The “work” was a McGuffin. I wanted to see people in presentations, hear some stories from outside the classroom, and hear about students talking to people outside of their cohort.

The brief came out of discussions Mosse and I had after my second time being an external censor there. Project after project were presented as if they’d sprouted from the minds of isolated geniuses tucked in a corner. In most cases that wasn’t true – they’d improved precisely because there had been testing and research to improve a project – but the student weren’t very good at showing that. I wanted that front and centre in this project, and the students did some really excellent stuff in response.

As part of the couple of weeks I also did some speaking for the local IxDA chapter. Nice bunch of people with some fascinating questions, and a really nice opportunity to put the last few years at GDS in a new context.


Their interim site is up, which starts road-testing some of the messaging I’ve been working on with them. The last month was about refining a few of the core phrases and sentences them before a concentrated burst on that this month. They’re a really excellent team, and I’m really enjoying working with them.


I also went on my first holiday. I have to say, the anxiety of leaving jobs open/unfinished got under my skin a bit – I can only hope I’ll get better at that – but walking up a mountain through clouds was about as far from typing at home as can be. More of that sort of thing.


A month of new things


That’s the new setup. Freelancing’s treating me well so far – two clients, and a bunch of interesting things going on that made the transition out of GDS last month really easy.

The only setback was damaging my mac last week (coffee spill, like an idiot). GDS got me into good habits though, so no work was lost – just a few hours of configuring a new (and pricey) machine. C’est la vie!


My first big project is two weeks of teaching at AHO in April. Planning for that is going really well: I’ve got a solid brief for the students and it’s making me draw out very explicit lessons about product communications from my time at GDS (and Last.fm actually) that have started coming in use elsewhere too.

I’ve also got a couple of talks lined up out there for organisations sponsoring the trip. Again, that’s been a really nice prompt for thinking about the last few years and pinning particular stories and approaches down.


Started some work for IF too, helping them pin down how they talk about their work. It’s been extremely interesting to hear about the world adjacent to – and sometimes of – the civic tech/tech policy/worthy projects world GDS inhabits…


…which was something I didn’t think about at all during GDC.*

Hanging out with the One Life Left team was reminder of how much work goes into getting that show out. During GDC they recorded a show every day (one hour of prep, one and a half hours of recording, two hours of editing) and ran two epic Marioke parties. If I join them next year though I am absolutely tacking a holiday to the end of it – the event was brilliant and exhausting.


It’s also nice to be with my partner while she’s in a professional headspace, a reminder that she’s an excellent producer and showrunner.

Other stuff

I dropped into Labour Digital a couple of times, finished up my first hobby project, and continued my run of excellent coffees. I also said goodbye to GDS – I miss the team’s slackbot already – and to Phonogram.


* Except to the extent that the wealth gap is so screamingly visible there. Projects like Code For America feel like extremely natural responses to that context. I am stunned it isn’t larger… until I remember than the city’s actually relatively small.

A month of coffees

(Or, How chatting to people made it easier to set up a company)

I’m going freelance. Writing and strategy development. From the end of March I’ll be helping people work out what they want to do next and how they’re going to tell people about it.

I’ve spent a bit of time over the last month talking to people about how that works (the generalities of being a freelancer, how accounting processes work, how to talk about myself… the works). Putting in the work now so I’m better prepared when I bill my first client.

I’m gonna scribble some of the most important bits here, partly so I remember them and partly so I can come back to this later…

Be clear about what I do

In the past I’ve defaulted to saying ‘Eh, I do a bunch of things’. That’s not going to help new people hire me. Interestingly, Richard Pope went through a similar thing on Twitter last night.

The advice I had from people got me this: a lack of specificity might help when you know people or you’re already part of an organisation, but it doesn’t help a new client justify hiring you. Giving them specific lines to share with someone in, say, accounts means the go can be given that little bit quicker.

Crucially, this doesn’t mean that description can’t change over time (more below).

Be a company

Andrew and Emily in particular were unequivocal about this: having a limited company will make it easier for some organisations to hire you, especially in the public sector.

Right now, I don’t think it’ll be anything other than a vehicle to invoice through. But Rachel suggested some interesting questions to ask myself over the next few months. That’s got me thinking about what kind of scale I might like to work at, if I’ll need a parter down the line, what other kinds of work will be valuable to do. Again, not to address now… but something to tick away as I start to find my footing. I’d like to try to do this for a few years, so it’s worth thinking about a bit.

Do different things

I’m not going freelance to do the same things I’ve been doing at GDS. In my first month I have teaching lined up in Oslo, which is a ways away from writing speeches for an event like Sprint 16. That’s a good thing.

Rachel talked a bit about steering between levels of comfort. Using different gigs to test my competencies, rather than being defined by roles. A hard line to walk, but one worth playing with.

Understand my rates

Two pieces of great advice.

One; have a sliding scale. Three tiers, probably, with an understanding of what the compromises of those tiers mean (trading financial reward for flexibility, etc).

Two; plan for 100 days of work a year. It’s a good way of benchmarking where I’m at each month and what needs to come in, as well as building in flexibility in case there are dry patches (for instance, the consistent anecdote about how quiet August and January are).

Juggling those with what I need to bring through and what I hope to bring through has given me a good start on a rate card. Again, that’s going to evolve a lot as I find my footing.

Talk to more people

Obviously I’ve been talking to potential clients too – the next few months is going to be super-interesting. As well as doing more of that I’d like to keep chatting to people who have done/are doing this sort of thing. The last time I was “freelance” I had few clients outside of GDS, so there’s a new bunch of habits I need to train myself into. For the next little bit, a broad range of advice can only be a good thing.

Huge thanks to Nat, Beeker, Jonty, Rachel, Andrew, Emily and Deb for talking to me. Hearts and emoji to all of you.


Shortly after I resigned from Last.fm, Russell asked if I wanted to help out at GDS for a few weeks. 198 weeks later, it’s time to move on.

Next month I’ll be leaving GDS to do freelance writing and strategy development. Exciting!

Since 2012 I’ve been part of a team that set new cultural habits and behaviours across government and around the world. I helped define how GDS talked about work and strategy. And it’s been great, I love that work. But to get better at it I need exposure to more cultures, more ways of working, more projects, more people… more of everything. So that’s what I’m going to do.

I’m not too fussed about whether it’s for big companies, new companies, public sector or private sector… just interesting projects for interesting clients. I have a few clients lined up over the next couple of months, but if you’re interested in working with me (or just having a coffee) drop me a line: matthew.sheret@gmail.com.

Meanwhile, colleagues, thank you. It has been a proper privilege to work with good people doing good things. I’ll miss you. Best of luck!

matt at GDS



For the last four years GDS has put on Sprint, a gathering of digital transformation folk from across government. Sprint 16 was yesterday.

The first one, in 2013, was a semi-improvised scramble to make the best of a snowy QE2 centre; excellent fun and really exhausting.

This year was slicker and more professional than pretty much any conference I’ve ever been to. We gave the demos and show and tells space to breathe, and helped people who know how to transform government share what they’ve learned.

Sprint demands the best of everyone in the creative team. For me, that means helping people tell stories. Helping write and delete and rehearse and improve talks every day for the last couple of weeks. Helping people decide what they want to say – occasionally deciding for them – and making it all as clear as possible. I really like that work. I’m very good at it.


Here’s a thing though…

When I see someone give a talk I’ve helped write, I get the same flood of adrenaline and performance anxiety that I get when I give talks myself. The difference is I don’t get the resolution that comes from actually performing the thing.

Yesterday I felt like my guts were in knots for about five hours, and I didn’t really sleep after. It’s exhausting. Also, worth it; when you help someone find their voice and watch them carry the note it’s an incredible feeling.


Mostly though I’m typing this so that, in public, I can say ‘Thanks GDS Creative – you’re the best team I’ve ever worked with’.

First image nicked from Giles. Second one nicked from Daz.

2015: Birdwatching, Walking, Love, Home

As with last year, a hard one to write about. I don’t think Ann or I expected our relationship to be such a central part of the year, but it was, for reasons both deeply sad and completely fabulous. The result is we’ve travelled loads, started projects, been to a thousand weddings and made a home together. On balance, for me, it’s been amazing.

The year included A barrow by a beaconStudy Group, Hipsterhammer, The Bureau of Small Observation, and a plenty of work at GDS. It’s been busy, but I’d like to have done at least one meatier thing. I start 2016 knowing I need to pull focus onto my work a bit more… I’m good with that.

I sort of came into myself over the last twelve months, and I’m more comfortable in my own skin. As a result the photos that best sum 2015 up are ones other people took of me… but that’s not what this post is for.

(Previously: 2014, 2013)

01 Richmond02 Bewl03 Winchester04 Whitstable05 Malmo06 Copenhagen07 Brixton08 Amsterdam09 South Downs10 Hyde Park11 Hyde Park12 Eastleigh13 Mersea Island14 Mersea Island15 Golden Lane16 GDS17 Rome18 Stockwell19 Tokyo20 Naoshima21 Naoshima22 Kyoto23 Kyoto24 Kew

Deleting things

Just read Warren’s musing on deleting tweets (and noticed, on clicking for that link, that we use the same WordPress theme). I did that. Got my 16000+ tweet archive, hooked up tweetdelete, got on with life.

I spent far longer than I thought I’d have to removing tweets from my timeline. I did about a third of them manually, which was a thing. Eventually I found a script (and the confidence to implement it) and got through them without affecting my follower list.

It feels fine.