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.

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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.

Social Technology and Lessons from Pixar

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The other night I watched a documentary on BBC 3 about 25 years of Pixar Animation and it got me thinking about technology and in particular social technology. (UK folk should still be able to view this on BBC iPlayer)

I’m not talking about how Pixar run social media campaigns, to be honest I don’t know if they do (I suppose I’d know if they did :) ), however what struck me from the programme was a comment by Chief Creative Officer – John Lasseter. He referred to his first pitch to Disney for a fully CGI animation and his boss (or similar position) replied – “how much is this going to cost?” Lasseter replied “the same as a normal film!”. He was then released from Disney shortly afterwards.

Now the lesson I learned and if you have watched any Pixar film you will know they are utterly amazing and will blow you away with how realistic the animation is – Water in the Incredibles and Finding Nemo, Complex environments in Wall-E, Finding Nemo, Cars and A Bugs Life, Body Hair in Monster’s Inc, 25,000 balloons in Up!!, the list really does go on….. They really have pushed animation forward and in my opinion film making in general.

Anyway on to my lesson….(can you tell I’m a big Pixar fan)

Just because they used advanced technology techniques and embraced innovation and creativity, it didn’t mean that they could cut corners or deliver things faster, because what mattered was the output – in this case Excellence in Animation.

Now I know the current climate in Public Sector won’t really support this kind of approach, however my issue is that in order to deliver the changes and culture we need to move toward a more efficient public service, we need “time” and social technology will NOT fast track us to this end game, just like animation it requires hard work, knowledgeable people who can multi-task and the biggest thing a strong commitment from all parts of the organisation that you are doing what is right – not just for the business, but for your customers, service users etc.

Pixar has in my humble opinion never released a bad film, I’ve watched all their movies with my kids and on my own…Pixar’s key focus is to NOT separate the Adults from the Kids when making films. This focus on the audience and user is critical and is another lesson the public service could learn from.

I know life is probably simpler in Pixar and it is far more complicated in the Public Service, but the lessons are there – we just need to look for them.

How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity – HBR.org

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I am a massive fan of Pixar Animation studios, i love all the films they make as it brings out the big kid in me.  My kids also love the movies and we (i mean me) can’t wait for Cars 2 and Toy Story 3.

Why am i telling you this well i manged to link through to an article on Harvard Business Review about “How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity”

The article is written by Ed Catmull  – co-founder of Pixar and the president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios.

Ed write’s

Pixar is a community in the true sense of the word. We think that lasting relationships matter, and we share some basic beliefs: Talent is rare. Management’s job is not to prevent risk but to build the capability to recover when failures occur. It must be safe to tell the truth. We must constantly challenge all of our assumptions and search for the flaws that could destroy our culture

If we could adopt this approach in the public sector, it would be an even better place to work.

The statement rings true to me in so many ways, we are a community and we are striving for lasting relationships with customers, residents and partners etc. However we are risk adverse and this stifles creativity. But we can and must change and i believe that we are on the journey now.

Gartner – Innovation and change in the public sector?

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A colleague Martin Howitt who blogs over at the Devon Enterprise Architects Blog spotted this post by Gartner

The views and position it highlights in the post is one of the reasons why i enjoy doing my job as it essentially challenges this position and tries to encourage the organisation to understand risk better and to become more creative and innovative.

The work i have been doing over the last 9 months i believe has been challenging the risk adverse culture that exists.

However i feel the tide is shifting faster than i had anticipated, I was having lunch on Wednesday when a colleague from a Directorate who was in the audience of one of my awareness sessions told me that the problem they have now is managing expectation as to what people can do and how that can be managed in terms of resources and capacity. Great result but it now identifies a new challenge, which is understanding and promoting good use as well as progressing the online participation and social media policy. The other challenge is making sure people are using the right tools for the right job and are not just jumping in any tool expecting an audience or customer base to be there.

No doubt i’ll post more on how we tackle this but it almost feels like we have overcome the hard part and are now moving toward a wave of adoption. Or i maybe over optimistic…

Being “creative” with Social Media

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I happened upon this blog post by Stef Lewandowski via a tweet or retweet or two.

The rules or general approach that Stef highlights are brilliant, however i thought i would try and add to or even compliment them with perhaps some overlap, which i make no apology for.

  1. Start thinking
    Probably the hardest thing to do really whilst seeming like the easiest. Henry Ford said “thinking is the hardest job there is which is probably why so few people do it”
    The challenge is to try and find conditions which make thinking easier to do. This is something you will need to ask yourself. I find walking and being in water, either a bath, shower, swimming or surfing as long as i am water a great place to think.
    So get out an about and try new things and find out what conditions enable you think clearly.
  2. Use and recognise laziness as an asset
    Now i don’t mean the traits that make people fat and overweight, i mean the desire people have to achieve more by doing less. I wouldn’t say i was lazy as such, but there are certain task that i dread doing and therefore have a lazy attitude towards them, but in recent times social media tools have enabled me to reduce the burden of these tasks, researching online and looking at other websites, RSS saved me huge amounts of time.
    Laziness should be harnessed, i have often wanted to get a project going but felt other people would be better at doing it than me so adopted the cuckoo approach (which lays its eggs in other nests for them to manage) this approach not only gets an idea developed but also allows others to take credit for ideas and innovation so increases their willingness to support other new and exciting ideas in the future.
  3. Accept what you’ve got and get on with it
    We always hear people complain about lack of this and lack of that, we need to accept what we have and prioritise, and make the best use of the skills and resources we do have. Nearly everyone else is in the same position but yet they deliver innovation.
    Social media tools are a great opportunity here, we could do so much without doing anything more than what is already there, now why aren’t more things being done?
  4. Bend the rules to breaking point or cheat
    Understand the rules of the game we all play and push the boundaries until they nearly break and if they do, so what you may well have invented a new game.  Many successful companies broke rules or did things outside of the rules and found new niche markets to explore and benefit from. Low cost airlines are a classic example

But the biggest thing i agree with in Stef’s post is allowing yourself to fail and fail yourself to success.

Now with these rules or guidelines, i will start to approach social media opportunities in the same way and see where it gets me, it seems that this is a lower cost strategy because the cost to set up, trial and fail is so low. After all, we won’t get it right every time but a t least i won’t be wasting huge amounts of pubic money on the process.

I think i was doing this to some degree but now i have a framework which i have accepted it may make it easier.

Please share your experiences and or failures so others can benefit from your learning.