To launch our new Digital Heroes series; a quick chat with people doing interesting digital work in government, I couldn’t think of anyone better to start with than Christian Storstein, Digital Engagement Manager at The Scottish Government. We’ve got quite a lot of clients these days and, whilst we appreciate them all equally, Christian is one of those people who everyone in Delib seems to be aware of. And for good reason – we’ve worked closely with the Scottish Government on several high profile consultations including the indy ref, and more importantly, he’s a very funny man. Therefore, and with much enthusiasm, let’s learn a little more about the great Scot.

1. What’s your name and where are you from?
My name is Christian Storstein and I was born in Glasgow. My father is Norwegian, hence my name which means ‘Big Stone’. Very apt considering my size and weight…

2. What do you do for a living?
I work on the Scottish Government Digital Comms Team. My title is Digital Engagement Manager, but work on a whole range of digital projects as we are a small team.

3. Favourite band and/ or artist?
I think my favourite band would have to be a toss-up between Galaxie 500 and Bob Hund. My favourite artists… so many, so many. Here’s a few (they will be different next week): Peter Doig, Ray Johnson, William Eggleston.

4. Android or iPhone?

5. PC or Mac?

6. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
I’m a pretty disorganised person by nature, so would like to think of myself as a maverick thinker, but a straw poll of my colleagues, friends and family would surmise that I was tediously predictable in all things.

7. Your house is on fire, what do you save?
I am very lucky to have an artistic family so would save my grandfather’s, brother’s and mother’s paintings as well as my sister’s tapestries. Everything else can be replaced. I am assuming, of course, that my two young children are safe – standing in the street with their mother, shivering in their jammies, the orange glow of the fire lighting up their perfect faces…

8. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?
Don’t eat a lot of biscuits but would tend towards an orange Club. Dunking an orange Club would be barbaric.

9. Best project you’ve worked on at SG and why?
I would hark back to 2001 when I joined the Scottish Government (Scottish Executive as it was then) and we got to redesign the website. We didn’t really know what we were doing – everything was a huge learning experience. There wasn’t a ton of best practice or knowledge that you could tap into – and it was liberating. Still is to a certain extent. It is the defining development of our lifetimes, the internet, and it has been exciting to work in its relative infancy. The timing of it reminds me of this post (I was born in 1971):

In more recent times we created an internal dashboard of widgets that allow you to view RSS feeds, the canteen menu, your Outlook appointments, or use our flexi system, and many, many more. The real work was done by a couple of our development team, but it was great to work on a project with a small team that iterated quickly, and where we got so much great feedback. And from the beginning we knew we had to compete with anything out there (Netvibes, Google, etc.), and I think we pulled it off.

10. 1 year on, what’s your feeling about the #indyref consultation – the good, the bad and the ugly?
It was challenging to get something up and running in such a short time, particularly considering the press attention and importance to the administration. And we did a lot of work to promote it and were very happy with the amount and variety of responses we got. The good? It worked well, and we are indebted to Delib for helping us to turn it around so quickly. The bad? It would have been better if we had had more time to work on it, had more experience with Citizen Space before trying it out on such a big project. The ugly? If we had had more time we could have tweaked the design, included more visual elements.

11. Where do you hope SG will be (indy ref aside) in 10 years in terms of public consultation/ digital democracy? Opportunities and pitfalls?
Digital technology is so powerful in bringing people together that it has set the agenda for citizen participation in many ways. I would like to see us harness these tools more, and bring policymaking closer to the citizen. I think that this will present all sorts of new challenges, not least in what the role of a civil servant is in this bright new future. Opportunities? To open up policymaking to more people and all that entails; while I think the pitfalls include focusing on the technology rather than the outcomes, and not realising quite how much resource in times of man hours it will take to do it effectively. In terms of digital teams like ours, I think there will be big changes as digital capabilities are more mainstreamed across the civil service.

12. Best government site you’ve seen and why?
I’m a big fan of Nasa’s site and have enjoyed following the progress of the Curiosity rover. Closer to home – I really like Scotland’s Places, which is a great resource on this wonderful country of ours (I would just like to point out that I was no way involved in it – this is not a plug for my own work).

And it goes without saying, that all us gov webbies have been watching the progress of GOV.UK avidly and have been greatly impressed by (and jealous of) their recent successes.

So there you have it, twelve questions answered by the first Digital Hero* Chrisitian Storstein. I think it’s interesting that he mentioned the GDS given that his own team has approximately 1% of their resources but, despite this, they’ve achieved things that it’s worth having a look at. Notable consultations aside, sites like Direct Scot, a prototype that aggregates useful information from across local government and SG itself, demonstrates the ambition and scale of the work being done north of the border. If you want to talk to the man, Twitter isn’t a bad place to start. Oh, and Christian gave me two photos to choose from, the one on his own and the one with Lester from The Wire…

*H/T to Steph Gray of Helpful Digital for the concept, title and proven inception of ‘Digital Heroes’.