Stop writing to sound clever and start writing with purpose

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I was having a conversation with a colleague the other day and asking for feedback on a draft document I had produced.

Now it is worth stating that this particular colleague (Sara Cretney) is also my coaching buddy and we have a very dynamic approach to coaching in that is pretty much forms part of every conversation we have.

The benefit of this is that we have developed a very open and honest relationship and can challenge each others thinking even when we don’t understand what each other is saying.

Anyway, coming back to the conversation i referred to above about this particular document, Sara asked me some questions about the documents and was also honest enough to say that she understood some of it but not all of it, so wondered what I was trying to achieve as it all sounded very clever.

In the conversation I tried to explain what i meant which was a helpful exercise in itself but during this I realised that I need to stop writing to sound clever – I’m not sure if this is a conscious thing or something which the organisation expects and therefore is a learnt behaviour.

Anyway I said that I need to stop writing to sound clever and start writing with purpose.

This blog is my place where i can start testing this, although this blog is also my space where I intend to share half baked ideas and thinking, but my intention now is to be clearer about those and to be clear in my writing about the purpose.

I’d would welcome any comments and feedback moving forward if I am not writing with purpose and am trying to sound clever…

Thanks in advance :)

More Local GDS thoughts

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I think the reason so many people are talking about a local GDS either for or against or in some cases hybrid models is that everyone cares about local services. That is a good thing and we mustn’t lose that fact as we continue to discuss and debate various options and opportunities.

This also means that everyone will have an opinion and in some cases more than one opinion…that is ok too, but at some point we need to do something…prove the arguments wrong or prove them right…we actually have to shift away from saying we think it will and won’t work to proving it…yes that is risky and yes that requires resource and effort…but nothing will change unless we move forward.

Dave Briggs posted some thoughts earlier, this was a good post and Dave highlights some key aspects around ownership, quality, doing and sharing and this was sparked by Ben Proctors piece in the guardian. I liked Ben’s post and it provided a very good analysis of some of the issues for and against. I made a comment on twitter that it was leading me to take sides, in that we can no longer sit back and do nothing as the worse thing that could happen is that someone somewhere decides what needs to happen in isolation to the outcomes people are working for.

So I’m going to use this post to do two things
1) share my thoughts and they are only thoughts (half baked as usual)
2) commit to actually doing something to move forward – it might not be perfect but I’m tired of the talking and want to shift myself away from falling into traditional behaviours to actually doing something and I hope the more people who engage the doing might actually deliver some value…

1) My Thoughts
For every for and against argument there is a counter argument so we should shift away from pondering what the impact or issues might be and start proving it.

I know that on face value localgov is 400+ independent bodies all accountable locally…but who wouldn’t want to think the unthinkable given the current financial climate and if you were a local politician and you could potentially safeguard some frontline services by letting go of some of the issues around platforms, content and branding then would you consider it.
I’m not suggesting any of this would be easy because it won’t be…it isn’t easy now watching as local services get cut back and in some cases disappear…it isn’t easy watching colleagues lose jobs and communities suffer from the cumulative effect of a reduction in spending…
So let’s do the hard stuff because that will be worth it.

As a starting point I started to think about what some of the component parts of what a local GDS might or could do and consider how this might be progressed. This isn’t a comprehensive list of things but it would no doubt include the following:
1 content platform (public information, advice and guidance)
2 transactional platform (online services and self service)
3 capacity and skills development
4 quality standards
5 assisted access/digital
6 open data / linked data
7 democracy and transparency
8 sustainability

What I think would be helpful is to work out how we would begs achieve these things and then do it.

Other people have more informed views on the first two but in my view it is less about a shared single platform and more about improving the quality of provision all round which links to four. It isn’t a bad idea or a good idea, what I do think is that this is probably one of the harder tasks to navigate so let’s focus our efforts on early value whilst we continue to work through those issues. I’ve personally been involved in attempted shared service arrangements around front end web and it failed due to lack of local political support and the perception someone else was always going to do something for free…this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try again as the context has changed and at least we have lots of learning

Number Five is a no brainer in terms of working across sectors in a unified way and the digital inclusion strategy has provided a good foundation for this and the work Go On are doing is a good example. The impacts of the Care Act mean that we really need to address this if we want a chance of creating sustainable options locally given the Act is quite prescriptive about what is expected.

Number Six is linked into one, two and seven and as I said others have better views. However this should not be seen in isolation and can help bridge gaps whilst we address the issues of one and two as well.

So it leaves number three and eight and I think these are linked not exclusively but in ways which I’ll explain.

2) what am I going to so
Well along with colleagues at the council here and a wider range of collaborators I’m committing to making the Change Academy happen in some form or another…this to me underpins all of the above and provides a level of sustainability which can reach out into our communities and have longer term benefits.

I also believe that this is one area where a single approach and a unified model would actually work and deliver value but is also creates local flexibility in terms of provision…so creates a model for some of the other components also.

I don’t claim that this is the right answer or even a good one, but I want to do something and this is what I feel I can contribute to the most at this point in time.

I am of course interested in the wider debate and discussion and I hope that this adds something to it.

Unpicking the barriers to change – changing through experience

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i wish someone would do something about this

Photo by Phillirose – Flickr https://flic.kr/p/nV5A1y

I was in a conversation with Sara Cretney (Organisational Change Manager) and some senior colleagues recently about change and the question came up about barriers and what is stopping the people who are thinking differently from doing different?

I’m not entirely sure there is a single answer to this but one of the reasons I believe this is the case here is that given the climate we are in and the context and scale of change we have to embark upon the actual practical act of changing (not just yourself, but services) is really hard, especially if you haven’t experienced radical or transformation change before and lets face it most of us haven’t.

I’m not making excuses just highlighting a fact, so the conversation got into what we could do to resolve those barriers.

Sara and I used some personal experiences of attending practical events like XJamGov where the intense nature of the process challenges you within a very short time frame and introduces you to a range of tools and techniques which you can explore in practical situations and not in abstract and also test and develop new tools.

The more people we can encourage and nudge to attend and participate in these types of things to help them gain practical exposure and experience of new thinking and the doing of that new thinking the better in my opinion.

So what can we do about that?

Well it just so happens that Sara and I had already being doing some thinking around this with colleagues internally and externally – people like Martin Howitt, Lucy Knight, Dave Briggs, Andrea Siodmok and colleagues from Cornwall Council, Devon & Cornwall Police and a few others. We have also looked at work already done by others around this such as the work by Cornwall, Monmouthshire and the Policy Lab.

The idea is to create something which helps individuals discover and explore through experience. Actually shifting people from Thinking Different to Doing Different.

Sounds easier said than done of course – but we thought that there was almost an emerging range of experiences which could be built upon and developed further so it doesn’t feel like we would be starting from a blank piece of paper.

The early thinking is to look at how we can create a Change Academy – this would provide and facilitate an engaging experience around the following headings and themes to develop and grow people’s talents.

The Change Academy

Focus on Need
Key message: User Needs, not (Local) government needs
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Service Design
  • Service Blueprinting
  • User Journey Mapping
  • Personas
  • Ethnography
  • User Research
  • Service Jams

Whole Person, Whole Place, Whole System
Key Message: Focus on what matters
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Understanding and mapping demand
  • Tackling system conditions
  • Identify value and eliminate waste
  • Impact and measurement
  • Measures VS targets

Agile Projects
Key Message: Doing and Showing
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Rapid prototyping
  • Minimum Viable Product
  • Doing not Talking
  • User testing
  • Lean Start-up

Data and Experience Driven
Key Message: Solving the Right Problems
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Data Stories
  • User Stories
  • Storyboarding
  • First hand Experience
  • Hackathons

Reflective Practice
Key Message: Coaching, mentoring and reflection
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Reflective practice framework (satori lab)
  • Coaching
  • Strengths and impact on others
  • Giving and receiving feedback

Enterprise
Key Message: Making change sustainable
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Social Investment
  • Crowdfunding
  • Co-opetition
  • Business models / business model canvas
  • Law, Finance, HR – Navigating through, not compliance to
  • Negotiating and selling
  • Marketing and Communications

Networked and Collaborative
Key Message: Better Together
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Digital Skills
  • Co-opetition
  • Relationships
  • Understanding networks and channels
  • Online and offline
  • Unconferences

Open by Default
Key Message: Open is better
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Data skills / literacy
  • Transparency
  • Data Frame
  • Privacy and Confidentiality
  • Reputation

Digital by Design
Key Message: This will happen / this is happening
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Digital Skills
  • Digital Infrastructure
  • Market Awareness
  • Opportunity
  • Prototyping
  • Experience

Now as I mentioned this is early thinking and we would welcome views and comments.

One of the aspirations I have is to link the Change Academy to the LocalGov Digital skills development workstream and this become a natural part of what we do and support through LocalGov Digital.

 

Further reflections from LocalGovCamp and about LocalGovDigital

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As you can tell I’m all for imaginative blog post titles :)


Anyway what I would like to reflect on is how I believe LocalGovDigital became more real, more present, more about the network and collaboration as opposed to the steering group at LocalGovCamp and how through the conversations at the open steering group I realised we had finally achieved what we needed to in order to make real and lasting progress.

Let me explain…

For me and for others LocalGovDigital as an unnamed network started at the very first LocalGovCamp and what made that so successful was it created new connections, new collaborations, new discussions etc but what we didn’t really focus on back then was creating collaborative outputs (OK, some were created and some people tried) but nothing has really appeared that has transformed a service.

When LocalGovDigital formally came together nearly 2 years ago now, we came together through a shared vision, shared values, shared aspirations and I guess at the time and more importantly shared frustrations.

We all wanted to see something change, we wanted to think different and do different…so we tried a few things as a small group of people and called ourselves the steering group and it started to do stuff.

However one of the issues for me and others was that the capacity of those within the steering group was limited and therefore we decided (rightly or wrongly) to focus on small outputs, manageable and extensions of the “day job” as we were and still are all voluntary.

As time progressed more and more people recognised the value of the network and the collective voice and action of practitioners. We were a “Thing”, we were seen as formal when we weren’t. We needed and have started to understand what all of this really means and how we can make change happen.

LocalGovDigital has never been about the steering group, it has always been about the network, the people who do stuff, make stuff, change stuff, design stuff and share stuff.

The steering groups role was merely an attempt to do the following:

  • Mobilise the existing network, not grow a new one
  • Amplify the voice of practitioners, not simply share it
  • Make and do things instead of just talking and meeting
  • Be networked and collaborative instead of simply networking with each other

So the change I saw at LocalGovCamp this year was that people recognised they were the network, that we are all the network and if we collectively want to see things change we all need to help and give some time to make and do things differently. The steering groups role needs to change and adapt and that has to be about doing those things above and creating the spaces for people to come together to collaborate, to make, to do and share.

We also need to clarify our focus and that has to be about outcomes and not about specific products. I wouldn’t want to get into a situation where we are recommending specific platforms and saying implement that and you will see change as we all know that doesn’t work. However what we do want to do is support good stuff.

My colleague Martin Howitt summed it up very nicely recently, he said:

LocalGovDigital aims to support and collaborate with everyone in and around the sector. We want to focus on outcomes rather than specific groups or people.

That is to say that if someone builds or creates something brilliant and someone else does something similar then that’s brilliant too because we can all learn from it. It’s the learning that is important and not the product or the organisation that produces it.

So my final reflection is about my contribution – what is it I can do to help?

One of the biggest issues for me is the skills and capacity of those in the sector to make change happen…that isn’t to say there isn’t any capacity and skills, but it just isn’t always well-developed, doing the right things or focused on the right outcomes…so my focus is to look at how that can be solved in practical ways.

Reflecting on LocalGovCamp 2014 – Did that really just happen…

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I wanted to post a set of reflections after attending this years LocalGovCamp and fringe events which happened last week (20/21 June).

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Firstly I want to acknowledge the effort and hard work of Sarah Lay – given all of her work in the day job and outside I’m in total admiration for how she managed to make this happen.

Other folk who need acknowledging for there hard work, skills and all round goodness are:
Jon Foster
Phil Rumens
Sarah Jennings
Nick Hill

So back to the event and my reflections and in no particular order

Surprisingly a two day event actually worked, having the practical makers day and leaders summit on the Friday created a focus and energy which carried over to the Saturday even though the people were different

A major realisation that LocalGovDigital has always existed ever since the first LocalGovCamp – the continued support network, the peer to peer sharing, help, advice and collaboration has always been there since 2009, but not as formalised as we are now – we simply made it visible and opened it up.

It never ceases to amaze me how inspired I get from going to these events, there was a time when I felt like the sessions didn’t offer value to me personally so I often just floated around talking (reflecting) I essentially continued attending for the people and conversations – And this year it recaptured the energy, newness and enthusiasm of the very first event back in 2009 – I found the sessions were more stimulating and focused on what can happen now, not what might at some point in the future (in an ideal world) which shows that there is a shift towards a greater clarity of focus…however this was not always the case but you have to let conversations flow

There were more people who hadn’t attended than had previously attended which was one of the things we wanted to achieve. So I’m not sure exactly how we managed to do that but it certainly contributed to the energy and excitement. We also had councillors attending which was also a great success. We need more but we have found a way in which it worked and it feels like we can build on this momentum quickly as well

LocalGov Digital really came to life at this event, it felt like the network was active, present and greater than the sum of its parts. However we still need to effectively harness that and provide stronger leadership as a collective group of people. As Glen Ocsko stated in the open steering group meeting – “we need to grow some digital balls” – that to me means we have to find the confidence to really demand a new relationship, to state our expectations, to share our values and principles and state loudly that “We want, demand and can build something better”. I’m under no illusion that we will need help, but at least we can be honest about that.

Localgovcamp is really about people and places and it just so happens that there is an overt leaning towards technology and some even stated that they felt it was a technology event…we need to address this before we lose people…
For me though I see localgovdigital as being the change makers who can support and help enable a transformation around people and places to create value:

Our focus should be the whole person, whole system and whole place…

By.

- focusing on need
– being open by default
– adopting digital by design
– being networked and collaborative
– by doing and showing
– being evidence and data driven

All of this is underpinned by the democratic accountability which is one of our strengths.

Finally I had one of the best pork pies I think I have ever eaten in the old manor pub – Dave Briggs also had one and can testify to it’s incredible taste, it could only have been improved by adding a good strong cheddar and a quality pickle.