Shifting Digital Sands

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An edited version of this has also been published on the Guardian Public Leaders Network Blog

The landscape of digital is constantly changing and being redefined with every new development, technology breakthrough, success and failure. We need digital public sector leaders who can properly navigate this environment, and ensure that they are connected to outcomes and not traditional organisation objectives.

Here are three guidelines to get your started…(i’ll follow these with more in the next post).

1. Champion open data
We need leaders who can ensure that information and data is open by default, and secure when absolutely required. Too often councils commission digital programmes only to find the data generated does not easily integrate with other systems, or that data is not council-owned and can only be accessed at further cost.

2. Don’t get distracted by flashy products
Leaders must adopt an agnostic approach to technology, and not get seduced by the ever-increasing number of digital technologies and lose sight of real user and business needs.

3. Learn from research and practice
Tales of misplaced IT investments plague the public sector, and senior leaders are understandably hesitant when considering future investments. To avoid causing even more disruption, we should learn from each other and research findings from across the digital landscape.

Making the decision to properly invest in digital leadership will not just improve decision making about digital solutions and strategies. It will also bring in the knowledge needed to navigate the complex security requirements that surround public-sector IT. And it will ensure that practices honed in the digital environment become embedded in the council more generally.

In Devon, for example, we are making sure all the public information and services we offer online are based on the experience and behaviour of users – not an easy shift but its the hard work we should do if we want to make things better. This has led service teams to refocus on the needs of citizens rather than those of the organisation, a subtle cultural shift and we are now starting to see some positive responses from within services. And our experiences of future proofing, agility and responsiveness are informing service design throughout the council.

So what is holding us back?

Across local government there is still a fragmented approach to collaboration, although this is starting to improve and I hope that LocalGov Digital can be a part of shifting the perceived value of informal collaboration away from unprofessional outputs. In central government, the Government Digital Service is charged with providing the right environment for change across all government departments. However, in local government, digital leaders often work alone without a unifying strategy across the sector. It is important to understand and recognise that the Government Digital Service is more than just a team pushing and promoting digital in central government: they are the future of central government, attempting to transform everything – transform how government works as a system.

Initiatives such as LocalGov Digital, NLGN Shaping the Digital Agenda, O2’s Local Government Digital Fund, the DCLG/LGA local digital alliance and the Guardian’s many public sector forums and networks are all helping to push forward debate, spread good practice and build a sense of urgent optimism around the local government digital agenda. But at present there is no equivalent to the unified force of the Government Digital Service.

Local Digital leadership can provide an alternative approach to a centralised local government digital service, after all this is exactly what LocaGov Digital is doing. But do we really want to or can we rely on it alone?

My Reflections – 3 days of learning

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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.

Responsibility

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

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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.

 

 

The Local GDS question – again…

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Last Friday evening conversation started on twitter about a local GDS, the why, what, how, who, where etc.

Now I didn’t have too much time to get involved in the conversation on twitter, although I did post a comment on Ben Proctors blog post on Friday evening – I would have contributed more but was actually at karate with my son and then had quite a busy weekend which included a 1 day kayaking course (which I can highly recommend).   The one thing I did tweet was that I’d be better off writing a blog post about this as it will certainly take more than 140 characters.

When I previously wrote about over on the GDS blog back in March this year I started the post with this statement:

Does local government need a local government digital service? – The easy answer to the title question would be No…but I don’t like easy answers and I believe that No is fundamentally the wrong answer.

I mentioned the types of things that I felt were and still are needed to help move this forward e.g.

  • Leadership and vision
  • Skills development
  • Connecting
  • Standards / toolkits / frameworks
  • Setting the bar high
  • Greater engagement and collaboration between local and central

Also things we should avoid doing

  • measuring / monitoring from a central place
  • force it
  • focus on technology
  • create and acknowledge artificial barriers

I’d recommend reading the post for the comments alone which were really fascinating as are the comments on Ben’s blog

I think I need to clarify things before we can move forward.

First: saying we need a local GDS does not mean that it is a physical team based anywhere in the UK and has paid staff < I’m sure many people would jump at the chance at this kind of thing but in my personal view it isn’t sustainable.

Second: saying that we need a local GDS does not mean that it is restricted to just local government people / staff < events and movements like govcamp demonstrate that a collection of people passionate about solving problems is all you need to make wonderful things happen.

Third: lets not forget that 400(ish) local councils are not easy to co-ordinate and are very different in terms of politics, but that shouldn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything.

Fourth:  there is no silver bullet to what people may perceive to be a local GDS.

Local GDS already exists…so lets move on…

Can we just all accept that Local GDS is already here and has been for years, we just simply haven’t called it that.  I’d say that localgovcamp is probably the best physical manifestation of what this looks like and it meets outside of London.

If I go back to what a Local GDS should do and ask myself has localgovcamp done this then this is what you get….

  • Leadership and vision  < YES
  • Skills development < YES
  • Connecting < YES
  • Standards / toolkits / frameworks < YES
  • Setting the bar high < YES
  • Greater engagement and collaboration between local and central < YES

plus the things it shouldn’t do…

  • measuring / monitoring from a central place < AGAIN YES
  • force it < AGAIN YES
  • focus on technology < AGAIN YES
  • create and acknowledge artificial barriers < AGAIN YES

So if we can accept this, then how do we make it better, scale it, get more recognition and also make the sharing of outputs easier regardless of the local council environment < YES this means we have to accept that some councils work on old systems and we have a responsibility to help those just as much as we have a responsibility to innovate for the rest.

The main issue is that there are a large number of councils who have still had no contact or even heard of  localgovcamp which does concern me as the whole sector needs to transform not just those who are connected.

I personally believe that those people who really want to move this forward should all work together on working out how we achieve the following:

  • better co-ordination and information sharing across all local councils including town and parish
  • a bit of consolidation and rationalisation on the many standards and frameworks which are out there some of which conflict and are legacy from eGovernment days.

There are more things but solving these two would go a long way to making things better.

Just so people are aware, I’ve already spoken with the LGA and a group of people are talking towards the end of September early October on how to move some of this forward.

It isn’t an exclusive group of people and I’m not concerned or precious about this and if other people want to move this forward in different directions then please do – however I want to make a plea that whatever happens – it needs to be practical, thought through and realistic as well as inclusive for all councils to engage with. That will mean kicking some up the backside in order to get them engaged of course.

I am keen on seeing this get resolved as I’m looking to the future of the sector and I’m worried that we will simply disappear and I’d at least want the knowledge to be available to those who needed it.

 

 

 

 

 

A new view of Corporate Web Management – The Competencies

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In a previous post about the potential shift around the role of a Corporate Web Manager, I want to look at the type of competencies that this new role might be expected to perform in the (very near) future.

Just to recap I identified two different roles:

1) A “Strategic” Web Commissioner – This would in effect be the person who wrote the strategy, understood and documented the organisational needs and specified at a high level the requirements by which a commissioning exercise could take place – they would also be responsible for monitoring the value and ensuring it delivered the outputs specified. This role would also need to set and outline the standards as part of the requirements

2) An “Operational” Web Delivery Manager – This would essentially be the person(s)  responsible for the delivery of the platform. In the scenario above this could be an external organisation or a partners ICT department.

So the following represents a first draft of what I feel would be required for the Strategic Web Commissioner Role, it is divided into 5 main areas, I have also not added the additional details of what each bullet point relates to at this stage either.

You will notice that very little relates directly to the web itself. I do however feel that there needs to be a recognition that such a role would need a very good understanding of the web and social web in order to be truly effective. However I think that these kinds of things would be picked up in a person specification, which supported the following competencies.

Anyway it is very much work in progress, so I’d welcome comments and feedback.

Leadership

  • Direction setting – why are we using the web, what benefits does it offer the organisation etc
  • Influencing/ persuading – evangelising the use of the web
  • Horizon scanning  – what technology or business trends do we need to be aware of, complexity of organisational environment etc.
  • Decision making – getting things done

Planning and Programme Management

  • Requirements analysis – what we are delivering a web site for and what functions should it offer
  • Process analysis – which processes require changing for transactional delivery
  • Solutions design – what is the solution architecture
  • Programme and project management
  • Change Management and Benefits Realisation

Engagement

  • Stakeholder analysis  – understanding the aims and objectives of your key stakeholders
  • Customer/Citizen engagement – how can the web meet local needs
  • Service engagement – how can the web delivery service improvement and cost reduction

Procurement

  • Procurement Strategy – ensuring supplier independence, understanding market capability and aligning with organisational strategy
  • Delivery Analysis – internal vs external vs partnership vs shared service
  • Procurement management
    • Sourcing
    • Contracts and contract management
    • Performance Management

Monitor and Manage

  • Overall service performance management
  • Service management analysis – including feedback and co-design of services
  • Value Analysis – are we getting value

I think this is a big shift away from current web manager roles, although bits of it will be done – I believe the biggest aspect fo this will be in understanding the ever-increasing complexity of the delivery model which Councils will be moving toward in order to create a seamless and coordinated interface into the transactions and information.