Looking to the future – A 30 year prediction

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Back in December the LGiU published an interesting document looking at how local government might look in 2043 to coincide with their 30 year anniversary titled “The Future Town Hall“. It is full of very interesting predictions, hopes and aspirations for the future and I’d recommend reading it.

I thought I would write my very own prediction here as a virtual contributor to the publication.

In 2043 I’ll be 67 and most likely still working, probably still sharing random nonsense and I’ll probably have some kind of internet connection built into my body or at least on my body, integrated into my clothing providing me with up to the second information about my health, wellbeing, finances, activity, my appointments, work, and my friends and family’s activities.

My kids already grow impatient when the playstation, Wii, or laptop shows a “loading” sign…the ever increasing expectations, always on, multi-device, multi-connected world we already inhabit is likely to change the way we live, work and see ourselves to such a point that we will have to revisit what it means to receive and fund local services

If the demands and expectations of my kids are anything to go by, then these predictions are not far fetched or even radical enough to meet the potential demands in the future, when I was a kid I grew up waiting over 90 minutes for manic miner to load on a ZX spectrum and was in awe of the 8bit world even though it didn’t always load or work – As a citizen of 2014 I simply want something that works and is reliable…in 2043 I will demand more (rightly or wrongly), I’ll want something very personalised, very responsive and always on…I will want to decide when I switch off and most of all I will want ownership of my data.

I say this because all these things will have a profound impact on local services and local governance as the one thing I will say is that if local government is to have a future it needs to stay connected with local people and local places to stay relevant, even if this means reinventing itself.

First and foremost I see the purpose of local government being about one thing and one thing only. The Health and Wellbeing of people in its communities. Everything else is secondary and an added value.

I’m going to consider the future in relation to the following three areas of local government as I see it.
1) local government (local services and commissioning)
2) local authority (planning and strategic influence)
3) local council (accountability and decision making)

1) When it comes to local government and local public services, the data that I’m collecting will be mine and available only to those I choose. I will give permission to local providers of services to access relevant data sets to help me make informed choices around the services to ensure I stay active, healthy and in work. I will see the service providers as partners, enabling and supporting me and my family.

2) In relation to strategic influence and planning in the local area I live and the communities of interest I participate and belong to. The local authority will have a key role in ensuring that key infrastructure projects are pushed forward, that the area I live is championed on a National, European and Global scale, however I don’t see the same structures existing, I suspect and hope that this will be a mix of hyper local and sub regional activity as local places redefine their strengths and explore the global potential of the social capital that exists to support health and Wellbeing.

3) From a local council and a democratic perspective the ever connected citizen will demand more and more openness and transparency and will want more of a say on a range of issues. This would likely be facilitated through some kind of online micro participation / engagement platform where I connect my identity and choose to associate a range of personas and identities to allow me to vote, contribute or debate Local, National, European or International issues.

June is a month for breaking down barriers

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On the back of the Guardian article today, I thought iId share this slightly longer explanation and summary around Create / Innovate.

June is a month for breaking down barriers – First and foremost Create and Innovate  is about thinking differently it will be about experimentation, discovery, play, learning and reflection.

One of the reasons for holding Create / Innovate is to respond to a recent Council report to our Corporate Leadership Team in relation to the Barriers to Digital Innovation. The key findings of that report stated that we had a diverse set of reasons why digital innovation specifically was difficult and they were different across the organisation and in different service areas, however across the council it was a combination of one or more of the following barriers:

  • The attitude to risk across different service areas, some were naturally more relaxed than others

  • The cultural challenges and associated issues

  • Policy constraints and issues arising from a few conflicting policies

  • Technical barriers and issues – these were not just about ICT access as information security concerns were also affecting usage

  • Resource issues and perceptions that the “flood gates” would open and we would struggle to manage the multiple channels effectively

Corporate Leadership Team supported the report and tasked Corporate Communications in collaboration across the council with a series of actions which would start to unpick and address the barriers. The actions which have helped trigger Create / Innovate are listed below:

  1. approve the review and rationalisation of relevant policies and guidelines and re-present to staff

  2. approve a continued programme of staff engagement, awareness raising and training delivered in creative and innovative ways;

  3. support digital and social media pilots/prototypes and the establishment of digital leaders across service areas

So why Create / Innovate?

There were three things really, which led to the idea of Create / Innovate being a month long series of events and activities, although originally it was only planned for one week as it seemed more realistic to fill one week with activities.

The first was a conversation with colleagues at the Met Office in Exeter who recently held a similar event. In conversations I explained my aspiration to hold a similar event somehow at the council and mentioned that our Corporate Leadership Team were really supportive, so they offered a room at the Met Office for our Corporate Leadership Team to hold their first meeting in June. After a further conversation with our Chief Executive and his Executive Assistant about the practicality, they agreed that they would give it a go and try it to see how using different spaces helps change the dynamics of the conversations and decisions. So on Monday 3rd June, the councils Corporate Leadership Team will be holding their meeting in the Met Office, they will be using digital devices and smartphones and it will be reported live to staff via the councils yammer network.

The second thing was a conversation with a local Service Design Agency Redfront Service Design (Simon Gough and Phillippa Rose) who organised the recent Service Jam event in Exeter back in March (XJam) and there was an opportunity to host and get involved in supporting a specific Service Jam for the public sector in June (GovJam), which locally we have called XJamGov www.xjamgov.co.uk – this takes place between 4-6 June.

xjam_3Mar_017

Photo by Paul Clarke (from XJam photo set on Flickr)

The idea of GovJam is to work around a common theme, small Teams meet at multiple locations, working for 48 hours on building innovative approaches and solutions towards challenges faced by the public sector.

GovJams are especially relevant to local government and public sector professionals, and will give us the opportunity to grow collaborations  - exchanging techniques, insights and ideas with colleagues near and far, while working on concrete projects addressing key issues inspired by the common Theme.

35 locations around the world are currently hosting an event including: LA, San Francisco, Barcelona, Warsaw, Eindhoven, Bologna, Mumbai, Berlin, Helsinki, Santiago, Montreal, Toronto, Perth, Canberra and Melbourne – In the UK only Exeter and Dundee are currently hosting events.

The third opportunity also came up through a twitter conversation with the Local DirectGov Team which added more scope to a months long event, was to host a Really Useful Day at County Hall – it is in so many ways similar to the Jam experience although we know the topic in advance.

The purpose of the day is to learn about and explore customer user journeys. It aims to map existing user journeys and take people through a process so that participants are more aware of how the real user journey can be improved – the following challenge is then taking that back into the work place and implementing it.

The great thing about both of these events is that they aren’t exclusively for staff at the council and will be attended by a diverse group of people from across the region which helps us to build new connections and collaborations.

Encouraging a culture change

Like most people the real challenge is trying to change a culture from the edges and this won’t happen in June alone. Culture change is a complex thing to make happen and we are fortunate here in Devon that we are in a climate where the whole organisation is starting to shift and there is more awareness of a new culture emerging.

The council has also spent the last twelve months exploring the next 5-10 years under the heading “Future Landscape” which has provided a lot of internal momentum and has engaged around 300 staff across all services and at all levels in thinking differently, so we won’t be starting from scratch in terms of engaging people in opportunities to think differently and challenging existing cultures.

My aspiration is that if we can nudge or disrupt people forward by 5 steps and then in July they take 4 steps backwards, at least we would have moved. The greater challenge will be in sustaining the momentum from some of the staff and amplify that and make it more visible.

Adding value and the wider benefits

We’ve also looked at how some of what we do can involve the wider public and although the primary focus is to challenge the internal culture of the organisation, we have an opportunity through some of our public facing services to involve and engage the public in helping us to think differently as well as challenging them to think differently around how our services are provided.

One of the most active service areas is Libraries, where we have adopted a more public image called “Time to Make and Play” which we hope will help people engage in small scale activities in some of the libraries to help them explore how the spaces can be used and how collaborative approaches within communities can use those spaces more effectively as well.

Some examples of the activities happening in libraries are, Raspberry Pi Jam, Gadget Days, Free to Play tables, Musical drop in sessions, Smartphone advice and make a noise in libraries.

Lessons so far…

  • Involve people:
    Working collaboratively with a wide group of people from different orgs requires you to be flexible in the tools you use and how you communicate with people.

  • Sell the idea
    Don’t sell a programme of completely fixed events, although start with something to build around, do sell an idea and ask people to help fill the programme with activities and events they believe will help challenge thinking and provide opportunities to do things differently – this allows you to capture all the variations of events and activities that people feel are required, from the more formal events like XJamGov to simply having a social media surgery so people can understand how to use smartphone more effectively.

  • Be patient, keep focused and relax
    There were times that I didn’t think this would happen, I was initially getting concerned by the lack of progress in setting things up and sorting the logistics etc, but being patient, staying focused and involving people means you can relax a little and things do and will happen.

  • Be flexible and prototype
    An absolute must, no matter what you originally thought would happen and wanted to happen, you need to be flexible and be prepared to change plans, adapt to other peoples ideas and timescales and most of all, let go of any notion of a formal plan…after all the whole month is a prototype of how we can engage people in different things.

Final thoughts

My aim has been to ensure that Create / Innovate is a creative and fun approach to addressing barriers to digital innovation and a key objective is to start to build sustained awareness and understanding of the opportunities for staff to be more creative and innovative within the council.

We are trying to disrupt people in fun and creative ways and we also hope to inspire people to try new things…the whole idea is really a prototype, so some things may not work out as we expect but that is ok so long as we learn.

Networked decision makers

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I make no apologies that probably the majority of my future posts will be linked to explaining and exploring in more detail the Digital Framework for Local Public Services.

So this post is focusing on some of the middle area of the picture…in particular the box around leadership and decision-making. This part of the journey is critical not just in a wider context of leadership and decision-making but in ensuring that we have open and transparent local decision-making as well as a clear accountability in terms of local representation.

Digital Climate for Local Public Services Framework v2

To recap I previously explained this area in this way:

Leadership/Decision Making
We require strong visible leadership to enable transformation and strong decisions that ensure that we all contribute to creating a climate for growth and wellbeing. The leadership can also come from anywhere not just local public service providers
Capacity Building / Networks and Networks of Networks
Stimulating local action and identifying and connecting with networks and networks of networks to generate and create new opportunities and markets.
These connections can and will come from anywhere, this is not solely down to the council or local authority – this is about people and places.

Now all this is easy to write and even easier to say, but the practical implications of this are slightly more complicated and require a shift in thinking about what we should expect of our future leaders and decision makers and how we help those people become networked and connected.

Now the great thing about the internet is that you can always find and connect to people who are in a far better position to dig deeper into the thinking and that is exactly what Catherine Howe has done in relation to the Networked Councillors project. It came out of two things:

  • If we are going to have more networked and digital citizens we are going to need politicians with the right skills – we will need networked councillors but we have not yet really explored what that means

  • Just showing people how to use twitter doesn’t solve the problem

I’m really pleased that Catherine has shared this work as I personally think it validates the wider framework and also adds a layer of detail which I was obviously lacking (on purpose of course)

The report on the website is well worth a read and is easy to digest.

I want to pick out another quote form the report which to me helps to proactively link this to the wider framework and the language of the framework which is:

The qualities that the Networked Councillor should embody are found in the way in which Next Generation Users are approaching and using technology. We suggest that the following qualities, which can already be evidenced online, will be inherent:

  • Open by default: This is open not just in terms of information but also in terms of thinking and decision-making

  • Digitally native: Networked Councillors will be native in or comfortable with the online space, not in terms of age but in terms of the individual adopting the behaviours and social norms of the digital culture

  • Co–productive: Co-production is a way of describing the relationship between Citizen and State which brings with it an expectation that everyone in the conversation has power to act and the potential to be active in the outcome as well as the decision-making process

  • Networked: A Networked Councillor will be able to be effective via networked as well as hierarchical power as a leader

This is obviously one part of a wider complex environment and although this report is focused on councillors specifically it also applies itself to future leaders and decisions makers whether a local councillor or not….however for me this is a fantastic start to the discussion and conversation.

How about some principles…

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I’ve been wondering for a while now what actually needs to start happening or what would need to happen in order for communities and local government to start addressing the predicted financial meltdown.

I guess I’ve been looking for a checklist or some kind of “how to guide” that I could look at to help me and others I speak to outside of work better understand how we can start to move forward.  As a parent governor at my local school I’ve been intrigued by the early years foundation stage principles (PDF warning) and how the approach taken there is a lesson which can and should be reused and adapted to help guide us moving forward – perhaps this is too simplistic, but for me it has helped.

So I’ve decided to do just that and create a set of principles which could be applied to organisations or even communities themselves – I’d very much welcome comments as I’m sure I’ve missed things.

People and communities are unique

  • Design “with” not “for” people and communities
  • Design for Inclusion and accessibility
  • Enable independence
  • Foster health and wellbeing

Positive relationships and networks

  • Respect diversity of opinions
  • Connect people and connect networks
  • Co-operate and collaborate
  • Open by default

Enabling communities and environments

  • Evidence based research and decision-making
  • Support everyone to achieve
  • Think Local and Global
  • Digital infrastructure for smart communities/cities

Learning and development

  • Learn, discover and explore though experience
  • Create space for reflective practice
  • Foster creative and divergent thinking
  • Enable sustained learning

A little thought experiment

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As usual I’ve been thinking…

Instead of writing and sharing my random thoughts I’m keen to know what others think about the future.

So the basic experiment is this.

Assume ALL #localgov services are using digital tools (and people are actually using them) what do people see the biggest challenges being then?

I tweeted a version of this earlier…hence I included “people using them” as well.

So what do you think?