What I learnt working at Public-i

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Warning this is a reasonably long blog post…

Last friday marked the last day of my six month contract with the folks at Public-i.

It has been a great experience and one which has provided me with many learning opportunities and chances to challenge myself and be challenged – I actually feel like I’ve grown in so many different ways, especially in confidence…I don’t think I realised how much my confidence had been affected by the restructure process that had pretty much been my life for the previous 2 years before moving into the Digital Communications arena in the council and then having this opportunity with Public-i.

As I look back over the 6 months and reflect on what I’ve learnt, what I’ve achieved and where I go next. I can’t help but look at what I wrote after the first month.

It was a really exciting learning curve and one which enabled me to learn a lot about myself, I wrote:

What I’ve learnt about myself

I need to give myself more time overall to reflect on things that are happening around me. In a work context I need to give myself time to think and make sure that what i am doing is right, fits with a vision and makes progress.

I need to be more organised, I’m trying to work out how I can manage my calendars for all the things I do without them all being loaded with the same information…It simply isn’t appropriate…I’m trying some things out, and only time will tell.

I should have more awareness of the skills and value I can bring to situations. I really need to complete the Business Model for myself to help me with this.

I really love what I’m doing but maybe I need to focus on one thing and do it really well instead of spreading myself so thinly…Sometimes I think I am actually being counter productive by only dedicating a proportion of my time.

I do actually trust those people around me to help fill the gaps, although I need to be more explicit with people in relation to the help I actually need. (I’m unaware that mind reading is a universal skill yet).

I actually set very high expectations of myself and I get frustrated when I’m not meeting them, this is an internal process but is something that I need to work through

I could work at a higher level than I am now if I simply believed in myself more.

I’m was never fond of train journeys but they do create time for thinking, especially if you have music or audio books to help you gather your thoughts.

Clarity of vision and pragmatic in delivery is a very useful tactic.

These are still very important lessons for me and some of them I’m still getting to grips with like being more organised, although I’ve learnt that having less time actually made me focus on only the really important things, which is good, but also meant that some of the things I should also be doing (although slightly less important) didn’t get done. So I’m not sure if I’m looking forward to getting that time back :).

One of the biggest things that I’ve learnt is that having a change of scenery if for a short time like 6 months is great to get new thinking, new ideas and also new energy for what you love doing.

With the recent discussions going on about Local GDS, greater collaboration, co-operation and knowledge sharing, I can’t help but think that actually spending time in a different plan / organisation even if for a short time and only in a part-time situation can only benefit individuals and councils.

I have been thinking about people I know in local councils who could and would  (whether they wanted to or not is a different thing) benefit from this exact thing and the organisations they worked with – perhaps Public-i would offer this to others again or even FutureGov, Learning Pool, Kind of Digital, there are many organisations who in their own way are already doing this and would gain a huge amount purely by having those amazing people working with them on a common goal or challenge even for a short period or on a project.

You maybe reading this thinking I mean you, well I do mean you, YES YOU – It would allow you to spread your wings and be able to use that incredible thinking you have demonstrated and challenge things in new and different ways. Seriously I can’t recommend this type of opportunity enough.

I know my council has now got an even more motivated person than before, someone who is more confident, better able to challenge and consider views from more angles than before. In the current context, why wouldn’t councils encourage this short-term skills and talent development approach. Local Government as a whole can only benefit.

So moving away from the personal learning as that is something that is actually an added benefit of what I was employed to do  - looking back on the first post this was the challenge:

First and foremost I’ll be working with the development team and the rest of the good folk at Public I on helping them improve the overall user experience and focus of the Citizenscape product.

I’ll be providing constructive disruption and challenge and hopefully help make it a solution which helps the democratic process evolve

Now my take on whether I achieved those will naturally be slightly one-sided, but I’m going to take a pragmatic view on what I think my impact was.

  • I think one of the things I enabled was for Catherine who was previously pushing the product forward to take a step back and trust me to unpick and question the current purpose and vision for the product and to provide an alternative.  I believe I did this, I was lucky enough to be involved in previous versions and to have had many conversations with Catherine about this idea from the start, so the overarching concept wasn’t in question, however the current purpose and opportunity was a bit lost.
  • I also believe that I allowed people to be brutally honest with me about what they thought the current issues were without any issue that what they thought was even right or wrong…I’m not saying there wasn’t an open feedback policy at Public-i because there is – however someone new allows people to perhaps share their concerns which they never felt were important or were dismissed, so I think I allowed people to resurface some past concerns which were also very useful.
  • Overall I think I achieved a new clarity and purpose with the product, I think that by the end of my six months nearly everyone understood what is was and how it needs to develop in the short-term. The longer term ambitions will naturally differ and will also be driven by market forces and opportunities.

To create a sense of balance to this review I asked Ady Coles, who was my line manager whilst working at Public-i to provide me with a short quote:

Carl has brought a tremendous amount to Public-i. He gave his expert, third-party view of our products and services, sometimes strengthening our thoughts and at other times, questioning them. In particular, his role as CitizenScape Product Manager has provided new ways to view the platform and – in his enthusiastic questioning and eagerness to learn – enabled us all to understand it better.
Both Carl and Public-i have gained a lot from the last 6 months and I would have loved for Carl’s tenure with us to continue.
Ok, So that wasn’t really balancing out the post :) But heh, it is great to share positive feedback and positive experiences with a wider audience and I’m proud of what I achieved in those six months.
I hope to be able to continue in some capacity my input and involvement with Public-i, after all, in those six months, people went from being “folks at public-i” to “friends at public-i”. That is probably one of my best reflections.

7 thoughts on “What I learnt working at Public-i

  1. Hi Carl,

    I’ll write up some thoughts on this on my blog as well as its been brilliant having you as part of the team. You have added loads to my thinking on Citizenscape in particular and brought a real clarity on it to the rest of the team in a way I was often failing to do!!

    I think as you say one of the best bits of welcoming someone else in is the way in which it brings a completely fresh perspective – and I agree that I think all organisations can benefit from this. We got a lot out of this and are definitely interested in doing it again.

    But I wanted to say a public thank you for all your work and thinking – and please come and visit again soon!

    C.

  2. martinhowitt

    Feel I need to say something here from a “home” perspective. It won’t be anything too controversial!

    I am obviously not your line manager and I guess he would have his own view (really? Tony has views? Who knew? :) ), but as a reasonably close colleague and friend I have to say I noticed a positive change in you pretty quickly. Most of this just reinforces what you say above.

    Clearly it’s difficult to do two jobs. That sort of deal isn’t for everyone, especially if you (as you do) have a young family. But it gave you an extra weight in meetings, which was kind of the opposite of what I was expecting. And that was vital because you didn’t have time to be circumspect and do the sort of shuttle diplomacy that is the stock-in-trade of local government change agents.

    That means making changes happen (like the content strategy, which IIRC came about during your tenure) relied on things like top level support and a network of people who understood what you were trying to do and could advocate for it in your absence.

    These kinds of collaboration need to be carefully managed for all sorts of reasons. I think it worked because you made it work and had the emotional competencies to do it.

    • Thanks Martin, your comments are very much appreciated and it is interesting to hear a local view.

      I think you highlight something which I hadn’t appreciated or reflected upon, but what the reduced hours made me do was to ensure that a network of competent and very aware people who could push forward the agenda in my absence which fostered trust and respect quickly.

      I was also lucky to have a line manager who understood and totally supported me in doing this as well as supporting and pushing the agenda forward so that it quickly became a wider agenda and not mine…

      I’ll ask Tony to comment if he feels he can.

      Thanks again for your support as well Martin.

  3. Loved your account of your time at Public-i DCC is much better served as a result of your experience. This is exactly the type of arrangement we must promote. Great comments from all who have benefited from your opportunity.

    • Hi Jan,

      It was a great experience and something which many others across the council would and could benefit from given the opportunity.

      The promotion of it as a learning opportunity would need to be worked on as I think it is fair to say that not all managers would be as supportive or understanding and would see it as a negative not a positive.

      If I hadn’t been given the reassurances of returning to DCC full time, I think it may have been a case of what next and I doubt I’d have immersed myself so much in the work.

      Our policies don’t actually reinforce this approach but as you say the council has benefitted in so many ways and the time is right to review and look forward.

      Thank you for your support during this experience as well, there are many people who have helped me during this time and have allowed me to do this.

  4. Fascinating insights into this really brave “job share” across two organisations, especially in this climate. Just reading your post makes me think that while we always talk about needing time to reflect & take a step back, we might learn more doing this on other people’s projects…and by doing so be able to reflect on our own projects and work.

    I did a job exchange with the social startup School of Everything, and it was great getting “under the skin” of how it worked and gave me ideas on how to better develop a sense of purpose in my team, something which is critical for startups to succeed. I recently worked developing and managing partnership projects with people from other councils and have always found these to be more productive than internal projects. I’ve always wondered why – maybe because you need to make the team want to work together, before making the project work.

    I don’t know what other social startups (or indeed organisations who would benefit from working with localgov) would think of work shadowing or skills exchanges with local authorities – on areas of mutual interest (whether it’s grappling with an issue like channel shift or learning service design)?

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