LocalGovCamp is back for 2014


LocalGovCamp – Flickr by #ashroplad – https://www.flickr.com/photos/47624301@N06/

Just a quick post to highlight that LocalGovCamp will be back this year and will be organised by LocalGov Digital.

LocalGovCamp will take place in Birmingham on Saturday 21 June 2014.

The camp will be part of a two day event run by the LocalGov Digital network, with Friday (20 June 2014) activities focused on the network’s work streams including a LocalGov Digital Makers event.

More information will be released shortly – follow the LocalGovCamp Twitter account for the latest updates.

If you are interested in sponsoring or helping out then get in touch on Twitter via @localgovcamp or @localgovdigital, or contact Sarah Lay, as work stream lead organising the event.

My Reflections – 3 days of learning


This week I attended a 3 day residential as part of the strategic leadership programme I blogged about previously.

The 3 days were fun, intense, emotional, challenging, tiring and jam packed with valuable insights about myself, my peers (which also taugh me about myself) and my current perceived limitations.

As I sit here looking at the sketched notes during the 3 days there are some interesting themes which emerge and I’d like to share those here.

Innovation in a vacuum

This was probably one of the most interesting and surprise insights across the 3 days. The phrase was coined by a fellow participant. How i’ve taken this is that sometimes people/teams/services or anyone really who innovates in isolation and disconnected to real things can still create amazing things but they are less valuable unless they have a clear purpose and are trying to solve real tangible issues…it basically becomes misguided. Although the result is still valuable learning of course.

Don’t make assumptions

I’ve blogged about this before and it is actually really hard to surface the assumptions you are making at any given time unless you provide some kind of internal process for capturing them.

In saying all of that when you end up doing things and you are under pressure, we all found we kept making assumptions which were counter productive to us achieving the goals of any given task…we naturally all became more aware and got much better at stating them but how often do we support each other to help identify the assumptions we are making as we make decisions.


As existing leaders and as future leaders we need to be more responsible and take more responsibility around all the things we do.  We also need to take responsibility for coaching and nurturing other people to become effective leaders.

Now is the time

After a couple of days of reflection I think one of the biggest things I learnt is that now is the time, tomorrow won’t do and isn’t good enough. Why aren’t I creating a sense of greater urgency for action, why aren’t I challenging the counter productive behaviours I see now, why aren’t I simply stepping up and becoming a more effective leader. People aren’t necessarily going to come and ask me to do something so I need to be more proactive, take responsibility and really “lead”. That means to me, helping to create a vision, helping others to connect and understand that, allowing ownership of that to spread and to openly invite and encourage ideas and solutions around that vision. I need to stop thinking that I’m fighting a solo battle…I’m not.  I also need to really step back and understand how my strengths can be used to involve others and how those strengths can be used effectively and constructively moving forward. This may sound overly critical, but it isn’t. It is simply an honest reflection of where I’ve been this week. My challenge is how I reconcile this and become a better person.

Personal and relevant feedback is very powerful

I’ve always believed this but there does come a point when you get such intense and relevant feedback and literally straight after completing a task that it becomes a very powerful tool for personal learning.

We received a mix of feedback, so we had things we did well and things we could improve upon…and also lots of observations about behaviours and styles which is really interesting.

We should really encourage people to provide feedback and it should form a healthy part of effective teams.

The other aspect of personal and relevant feedback is the stuff you do yourself. The reflections and moments when you consider your own performance. This was enhanced as we were introduced to some really effective coaching techniques. We explored this in pairs on the first day which was really powerful and given that we didn’t really know each other that well, the groups positive views of the experience indicated they all felt as energised from the process as I did. Another example of this was on the final day when we had some rapid 10 minute coaching slots and within minutes of being coached I was really nudged into considering and focusing on the key questions which will help me grow moving forward. I’ve taken some key actions away about my behaviour and some actions around my leadership style as well as how I engage others.

Final reflections

Truly understanding your strengths and the strengths of others isn’t an easy process but an essential one and we should spend more time reflecting and having opportunities to coach and be coached.

Echo Chambers


Some of you may feel I’ve turned a strange corner on my blog recently, either publishing continually about a digital framework or (for some) moaning or sounding downhearted about the lack of real change and challenge across the sector.

Well this brings me to a post I read earlier this week and the introduction simply summed up what I think has been missing in the sector and is fundamentally critical if we are to bring about a level of societal change which supports health and well-being and local growth.

The introduction in question is from HBR – Every Leader Needs a Challenger in Chief:

We are drawn to those who echo what it is we already believe. We get a dopamine rush when we are presented with confirming data similar to what we get when we eat chocolate or fall in love. On Facebook we defriend those with different political views to our own. On Twitter we follow people just like us.

Yet a vast body of research now points to the import of contemplating diverse, dissenting views. Not just in terms of making us more rounded individuals but in terms of making us smarter decision-makers.

I want to take this moment to share a short piece of my personal journey over the last 5 years – namely the tipping point and the point at which I think and believe my professional life changed.

On the 10th June 2008 I created my twitter account – it has been an interesting time with twitter over the years but it has something which has radically and fundamentally changed my professional life – it has directly contributed to my career path and my thinking and my attitude to listening to other views

On the 11th June 2008 I wrote my first blog post on this blog  and I can’t imagine not having the blog there to share a thought, a random idea or a personal story…it has simply become part of how I reflect and develop my thoughts. I looked back at my very first post which was somewhat random and innocent but this sentence sums up for me one of the key benefits of why I continue to do this.

I firmly believe that we can learn something from everyone we meet, this blog gives me an opportunity to reach further than my normal social network.

I didn’t realise at the time but by joining twitter and starting a blog I changed my perspective – opened my eyes, my ears and allowed myself to immerse in a huge diversity of opinion and contrasting views. I naturally agreed and disagreed with some of those and I blogged about how I thought about those things but it all helped shape me and it all fundamentally challenged who I was at the time.

Before 2008 I was in a bubble an echo chamber, where the views I had and were exposed to were from those people around me…I’m not suggesting I didn’t or couldn’t think for myself but I ‘m saying it is hard to develop different ideas when the ones you want to challenge are so strongly supported by everyone around you. It is more than simply a cultural issue…it is deep rooted in people’s personal beliefs and behaviours – so isn’t something you can easily change.

I guess what I see now is lots of bubbles and lots of echo chambers around the sector and they all need breaking down in my personal opinion and I have to ask myself “What can I do to help that process?” at the moment I don’t know…but wanted to share this challenge with you as you might have some thoughts  – I also think and believe that having all these bubbles and echo chambers is a bad thing and a very unhealthy situation to be in.

I had a conversation recently with George Julian about this very topic and have found the conversations with her are exactly what I need to bring into my thinking right now…George isn’t just someone I respect a huge amount and often agree with – she is someone who challenges my thinking and challenges how I think about things…. Generally speaking I’m a person who works from instincts and feelings – although I’ve never been afraid to admit if an idea or view I held for a time was wrong or needed changing…it isn’t easy to do but it is an essential part of growing and contributes hugely to my personal well-being – we should all do this more often…we would all be healthier and happier.

There are many people who actually provide valuable challenge to my thinking and I will make every effort to thank them and acknowledge them when i see them as I think it has to be a face to face acknowledgement.

I’m shortly going to be starting a strategic leadership programme here at the council and I want to make every effort to ensure that I keep my mind open to what everyone has to say and use the process to help make better decisions and to provide better and more effective leadership to those around me and beyond.



If you’ve got Airplane mode, why not Holiday mode!


I recently returned from a holiday in Cornwall where for the most part I had a forced exclusion from the internet due to staying in a beautiful location a few miles from anywhere.

What this got me thinking about was the individual choice about being disconnected from the internet and that it wasn’t my decision to be disconnected but simply a by-product of where I was staying.

Thinking about the future as I often do and the fact that ubiquitous access to the internet will be a reality then how do you or how will someone manage that disconnection as I believe it is healthy to disconnect occasionally just like it is healthy to take a holiday from work.

One of the features on my iPhone is Airplane Mode and this basically disconnects the phone from any connectivity but still allows you to use the device to perhaps, do some offline stuff, write documents, watch some videos, play music or even play some games whatever you choose to do but you are not connected to the internet even though if you switched airplane mode off you would be connected again.

So why not develop a few other modes and give the user greater control and personalisation of the device they are using.

The obvious one is Holiday mode.

I’d imagine it working something like this:

I switch on Holiday mode for the first time and it presents a number of options – for other iPhone users I’m thinking it’s a hybrid solution between settings and notification centre – where the user decides the how each application interacts, sends and receives data.

So for example I can keep google maps running, web browser and perhaps sending and receiving calls and text messages to a selected group of people (based on how I’ve classified them – personal, professional, business, etc)

This would also allow me to make an on the spot request to applications if I wanted to share something interesting such as photo or status update but instead of having the application working all the time, I simply make a call to that app within holiday mode to share the photo or update.

In fact it doesn’t have to be called Holiday mode, it could simply be a personalised version of the phone and how you interact with it – this could also be used in the context of where devices are shared so you could create a mode which was “family” and this would allow your family members to use the device without accessing specific – it goes beyond “profiles” in my view and really creates a personalised version of the device to suit your needs in any given situation. 

Personally I would really like to see greater personalisation in devices that allow me and give me the choice to disconnect when it suits me and not having to reply on connectivity black spots which will reduce and disappear in time.

June is a month for breaking down barriers


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.


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.