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.

Content, Stories, Networks, Relationships and Trust

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I’ve been thinking and reflecting a lot lately around the future of local government (a recent post here) and the “inevitable doom and gloom” [PDF Warning ] that awaits us all in the coming years. It really isn’t healthy to maintain focus on that future for too long, but It has made me think about what I’m doing and more importantly why I am doing what I do.

I’ve also been thinking and reflecting a lot about content, not just the traditional content you find on local authority websites but compelling content, content that provokes ideas, ideas that are contagious and then become stories, which in turn contributes to changing behaviours and transforms local services.

In my work at Public-i I’ve been thinking and reflecting a lot about networks and networks of networks and the power and potential of networks to help connect and reconnect people online and offline

In various situations I’ve been thinking and reflecting about relationships and the importance of trust. As people and organisations everything we say and do is a representation of who we are and it is only when we create relationships built on this authenticity that we can attract others and foster the bonds that will empower us to achieve truly great things.

In this post I’m going to try to bring this thinking together as it is very much all part of the same picture in my mind…

Content and Stories

Last week whilst in Brighton I spoke to Matt Bond (Cornwall Council) about stories and related things and he pointed me in the direction of Coca Cola’s new content excellence programme and the excellent videos they’ve produced which explain what they mean…

What struck me was the focus on stories, provocative stories as way to affect change. I recommend watching the videos yourself to gain your own insights but I’ve included some of mine below

Part 1

Part 2

Some of the key points for me are below, although the whole thing is very useful in a number of situations…however in the context of this post the following stood out…

  • stories provoke conversations
  • we need to act and react to conversations
  • technology can enable brilliant creativity
  • exploit existing community behaviours
  • story telling is at the heart of families and communities
  • we need provocations that will lead to bigger transformational actions
  • data is key to this and will become the soil of which ideas will grow
So our challenge is to not only transform our content around our services to make it easier for people to interact digitally, but also to transform our content so that we can provoke conversations, connect people with data and trigger bigger transformational action.

Networks

In relation to networks I think about Citizenscape as a platform, it is aiming to address the heart of these issues, in the projects where it is used, it is really about fostering empowerment within communities and networks online and offline. I recently blogged about my views on this here. A particular quote which comes to mind in the context of this post is:

So when you consider this and then what Citizenscape states its value is, the value isn’t directly in the technology itself (although without it, it would be pretty empty) but in the connections, the networks, the communities that are now able to come together and share learning, to reconnect at a civic level to address local issues and problems. The key role for the platform (Citizenscape) is to facilitate those connections, without it those networks may not get the chance to reconnect.

So our challenge is to understand what networks and what networks of networks exist with our areas and to connect them with each other but to also connect them with the content around our services to make it easier for them to interact digitally, but to also connect them with content and stories so that we can provoke conversations, connect people with data and trigger bigger transformational action.

Relationships and Trust

When I focus on relationships and trust, I think about an example that I was fortunate to see last friday at the DCCSMF (Social Media Forum), where a couple of local PCSO’s (Police Community Support Officers) came and shared their learning around connecting with communities. One explained how his use of social technologies as well as physically meeting people face to face helped build a relationship and trust within his community.
Devon Social Media Forum 2012

The another PCSO shared his experience which wasn’t about technology but in understanding where the networks were and simply connecting with them…In his case it was simply going to the local primary school at the beginning and end of each day to connect with the local parents. This approach has started to build relationships and trust.

The reality is and this is really obvious, but it takes time and more importantly effort to build relationships and trust and if we want to seriously address the challenges facing us over the next 8-10 years we need to start building new relationships, networks and fostering trust now to begin to have a chance.

I’ve said it before that it is all about people and that comes through explicitly in this great video by Simon Sinek called if you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business.

So our challenge is to develop those relationships and levels of trust and to connect them to the networks and networks of networks within our areas and to connect them with each other but to also connect them with the content around our services to make it easier for them to interact digitally, but to also connect them with content and stories so that we can provoke conversations, connect people with data and trigger bigger transformational action.

The questions ?

All of this brings me back to the future of local government and local public services.

  • Can we create content and share stories which provoke conversations that will lead to bigger transformational actions?
  • Are we actually capable of engaging with the content and stories as consumers and have conversations which trigger bigger transformational action?
  • We need to ask ourselves – even if we can identify networks and networks of networks and we can connect them, as members of those networks ourselves, are we prepared to engage in the challenges and are we capable of acting creatively?
  • As individuals and as professional people we will continue to develop relationships and trust – are we prepared to use it to change and influence the way our communities and networks operate, grow, develop and respond to the challenges facing us over the next few years?

Finally…

This isn’t a political question, this is question for every one of all ages.

I am personally reflecting on what these questions mean to me as an individual, as a parent, a husband, a friend and as a professional person – It isn’t easy, but it isn’t supposed to be, it will be hard, we need to prepare for this and stand up to the challenge.

The alternative simply isn’t worth considering, we must imagine and create a sustainable future.

Exploring the Citizenscape

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Earlier this week Public-i launched a new brand and a lovely new design for their product suite . I’m not going to get into the details of relaunch as Catherine has already provided a post on that.

In my role at Public-i I’m focused on the product Citizenscape, It has got a bit of a facelift, which I personally feel brings it to a stage where the design will start to match the capability it provides. If you aren’t aware of what Citizenscape is or does the product webpage states:

We see Citizenscape as a new way to work with your users, citizens or stakeholders – harnessing the power of the social web. In the world of the social web, where everyone has the means to publish themselves, the days when you could build a website and expect people to visit and to use it are gone. Instead, Citizenscape is a dynamic online engagement platform that enables you to connect with your citizens, stakeholders and partners in a way that supports the work you are already doing together and is in keeping with the way they are already communicating. With Citizenscape you can build shared civic spaces and networks that support, encourage and enable the people you want to connect with to find new ways of collaborating and co-creating.

Now what I think is hard to get across is the actual power this product has in connecting people and networks…The technology underneath is actually really clever but it isn’t really that which creates the value. Obviously it is valuable and does what is required at the moment but let me explain what I mean a bit further.

I read with great interest this blog post from TEDGlobal 12 about Rachel Botsman where it talks about trust in strangers and reputation and provides examples of websites and platforms which facilitate connection between people and also help validate aspects of that trust through sharing others experiences. The examples referenced in the post are TaskRabbit and Airbnb, which are good examples of how trust develops and can be fostered. Rachel says:

The amazing thing, is how fast our ability to trust online has evolved. But with her optimism, there is a note of caution about how this will work in practice: “How do we mimic the way trust is built face-to-face online?

When I think about Citizenscape as a platform, it is aiming to address the heart of these issues, in the projects where it is used, it is really about fostering empowerment within communities and networks online and offline. Rachel also refers to empowerment as a key outcome of platforms like TaskRabbit and Airbnb – I’d almost go as far to say that her description of them matches my view of  Citizenscape, she says:

At its core, it’s about empowerment. Empowering people to make meaningful connections, connections that are enabling us to rediscover a humanness we’ve lost along the way.

So when you consider this and then what Citizenscape states its value is, the value isn’t directly in the technology itself (although without it, it would be pretty empty) but in the connections, the networks, the communities that are now able to come together and share learning, to reconnect at a civic level to address local issues and problems. The key role for the platform (Citizenscape) is to facilitate those connections, without it those networks may not get the chance to reconnect.

When I look back and reflect on how I thought this role would develop, how I thought the product would develop and find its place, how it would differentiate itself from the free social media monitor tools out there. This is what I said back in February:

The CitizenScape pages  state a set of assumptions which I feel are a good starting point to focus my thinking around the product – are these assumptions still correct for example.

“The assumptions behind Citizenscape are simple:

Council’s should not be building social networking sites themselves – there is already a lot of activity online. Local Authorities need to connect to that rather than starting from scratch

You need tools that reach out and exist on the sites that people are already visiting – not waste your time trying to get them to visit you

The social web encourages co-creation and participation – this makes it the right place to start to engage people in democratic debate”

…On the whole they are still valid..but how does this actually translate into real life…

It is important for me to state up front that the product doesn’t quite work yet, I mean it does work technically, but in terms of the real opportunities I think it has some way to go.

The current version does make me think whether or not I could achieve perhaps 70-80% of the output within some free products like pageflakes or netvibes…that isn’t to say the existing product is poorly made or developed because it isn’t but the challenge is trying to build or create something that is actually still hard to articulate and explain even with the assumptions listed above.

Now whilst the redesign provides opportunities to simply make it look more engaging and to ensure that the responsive design allows it to be delivered across multiple devices. It has now come to a point where the value is easier to understand and communicate. The challenge is no longer about “what the product is” but do public services understand and recognise the value of providing spaces, opportunities and platforms for networks to come together and reconnect online and offline.

My take on this is that some are and some already do in various ways but the future of public services pretty much requires it. It will be at the core of the re-imagining and re-designing of public services. It won’t be an easy journey for many people as the budgetary situation in local government will only get worse and the past few years don’t even represent the real reductions in budgets across local government…so the only option has to be to open up to a more co-operative and collaborative future with networks and networks of networks being at the core and heart of local change.

The power of reflective thinking…

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Reflection, Imitation, Experience

Reflection, Imitation, Experience By Rickydavid on Flickr

I’ve not blogged as much as I used to, partly because I’ve been really busy (or lazy) and my draft posts and rough reflections don’t get finished like they used to (again lazy), but also because sometimes it is worth just taking stock and reflecting on what has happened, what is happening and what needs to happen.

Last year I started a personal journey of reflection which has developed into more of a regular and critical part of my personal learning and development. Going through two restructure processes last year helps you think about what you believe your key strengths are and what you actually want to do and more importantly who you want to be…Part of this story of reflection has already been told, so won’t dwell on it further here, other than to say, focusing on your strengths and understanding them, I mean really understanding what they are is a very powerful and enlightening experience – a process which was supported in a blog post by Kate Hughes on strengths 2.0, where she managed to conduct some kind of online questionnaire to explore some of her strengths. She states…

This approach immediately resonated with me. A weakness I’ve carried through my career is my lack of attention to detail (something necessary in my field). I’ve developed techniques to manage it; re-reading with a fresh pair of eyes, using spell check and asking colleagues to proof read documents I’ve produced. But it always feels uncomfortable for me and no matter how much I kick myself when I make mistakes, I don’t seem to be able to overcome my weakness.
Once I’d identified my strengths (through an online questionnaire that you access through a code in the book) I could see that detail was never going to be my thing and it would make more sense to focus on what I’m good at. According to the questionnaire, my strengths were: Futuristic, Ideation, Strategic, Activator and Significance. I think it summed me up to a tee.

Back in January at #UKGC12 on the second day, I suggested and then spent pretty much most of the day attending a session on “reflective practice”. Initially it was suggested because there was a spare room and I had a bit of a hangover if I’m honest, so the quiet space seemed an ideal opportunity to simply “recover” – the silence, the space, the time was truly valuable.

I remember reading a blog post after UKGC12 by IceRunner which summarised the session held by Lloyd Davis on new kinds of conversations and the value of silence… I really like this quote…

One of the themes that kept recurring was that of ‘nothing’. How the natural pauses became less awkward as time went on, how we strip pauses and filler noises such as ‘um’ and ‘err’ out of a conversation when transcribing it. How ‘efficient’ communication makes no place for gaps, and how much information is contained in the gaps between words; how silence in a song can add an undefinable quality; to what extent our self-image is defined by others’ opinions of us, creating a space within which our self-image exists.

BUT I ended up learning a lot from the silence, the time, the space, the company (although conversation was sporadic and random) it all helped reflect on learning and also a range of other things.

So continuing the theme of reflection – readers of this blog will be aware that I also work part-time with Public-i – This has provided me with a lot of learning and also further reflection and has also helped me understand and prove to myself the strengths that I thought I had are actually real and can be of benefit to other people and organisations…that is a reassuring process which I’m lucky to be able to get.

The double-edged sword of working with Public-i is that on one side I get to be involved in some really fascinating projects which are generally in and around the Brighton area and also meet some very inspiring people in the process…what isn’t to love about this opportunity…on the other hand however for me this has simply inspired me to think about my own local community and how I can and should be doing more to improve it, connect people together and take forward and extending other people’s ideas into my local area. One example project which i believe has huge potential in my community as well as linking with my local school is Casserole (a futuregov project).

I’m hoping we can incorporate this thinking with the school and children’s centre, as we have starting talking about a community kitchen and garden project…I’ve no idea exactly how this will turn out, but we have some ideas, some assets, some resources and importantly some passion to at least see what can happen with it…It is this type of thing that I feel I want to do more of…These kinds of projects which make a real difference on local people. Now I know i can do that with Public-i but not in my local area and that is something which is important to me…It may take longer, it may be more frustrating but if successful my family will benefit directly from it which is why it is worth taking forward.

At this point in time I’m reminded of a great quote from Martin Howitt’s blog on being awesome

I don’t want to be chasing my own dreams on my own. I don’t want to stand out and be awesome.

If I have to sit in meetings all day nudging things forward inch by painful inch rather than being the swashbuckling, disruptive Lone Ranger to make that happen? Ok then.

What I love about Martin’s quote is that he simply wants to make things better, he isn’t after personal glory, he is more interested in being part of a team, chipping away at a wider challenge and pushing things forward, one day at a time…I really admire this viewpoint.

I’ve come to realise, more so in the last year than at any other time in my 16 years working for local government that I really love working for local government – I really do – you’d think that I would have already had that view, I mean 16 years is a long time working for one organisation, but I don’t think i really appreciated what opportunities you actually have to make a difference to other people’s lives.

It couldn’t be a more challenging time to work in local government, it couldn’t be a more financially challenging time, but yet within this context, I am meeting and seeing more and more great people – passionate about doing things differently, thinking differently and full of energy – It is very reassuring and something I thought wouldn’t happen as you see and read about lots of really amazing people leaving the sector and moving on to new challenges.

I’ve also learnt that (and i think this has become more pronounced since becoming a parent) getting involved in voluntary work in my community – I have developed a stronger and deeper passion for my local area and how it can be improved. I feel like I’ve become more of an active citizen and experiencing the projects with Public-i have brought these things into perspective more as I’ve seen and heard from people who are doing exactly that in their community.

The next few years will not be about doing more for less, the same for less or even less for less, it has to and must be about doing things differently. I for one want to be part of the journey and am grateful that I have that opportunity in Devon and in my local community.

Behind the scenes of Open Space South West #OpenSSW

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With the Open Space South West website going live earlier this week, I thought I’d share some thoughts about how Open Space South West came about, who is involved, as well as share some personal thoughts about what I’d like to see happen and what I hope will be achieved (managing my own expectations).

The first thing to say is that Open Space South West is a real collaborative effort between Public-i and Devon County Council – helped by the multiple other organisations and people who are contributing time and money.  In fact all CityCamp, GovCamp and similar events are collaborative efforts and that in itself is a great testament to people’s individual passion as well the passion and commitment of private sector organisations to help support the public sector around innovation and service design.

I’d like to acknowledge the work being done by Public-i colleagues (primarily Tanya Harris) in helping to organise the event as I’m not really a detail person and Tanya has had experience of this through helping to organise the first City Camp Brighton Event as well as various other events and activities. As well as my team in Devon who built the website as I don’t have those types of skills :)

You can read more about the event and the programme on the website www.openspacesouthwest.info.

What are you personal expectations?

At  basic level I simply hope that the event is a success, in that people come, participate, feel inspired, are challenged and go away thinking about new opportunities and a new network of people who can help or share their learning. Not much to ask I know :)

I’m actually nervous about the event and I feel anxious about it. I’ve organised a couple of internal social media forums and they went well, so I don’t really know why I feel that way…I guess it might be because this is bigger, has a wider audience, is more public and will be compared in some ways to other similar events…But I need not fear as there is the added bonus of actually working with Public-i who have experience with these kinds of events

What is it like collaborating with Public-i?

To be honest this is the easy part, It does help that I’m actually employed by them for 2 days a week, but even without that advantage it would be the same. I’ve known the folks at Public-i for quite a while and I really like the way they work, how they think and most of all they are all great people. So working with them collaboratively has been easy.

How do you manage working for both private and public sector organisations? 

I’m not sure I do to be perfectly honest, I’m actually pretty hard on myself, so I actually currently believe that I’m not doing very well for either public-i or the council (i know that it isn’t actually true) but i do push myself to do better all the time.

Actually it is managing my time that I find the hardest, as it requires me to be far more organised than I’m used to as well as comfortable with if I’m honest. But that also involves my voluntary work as well as my family, both of which have suffered a little and my outlook is that i work to live, not live to work.

The contract was only for six months and there will be decisions to be made about what happens next (but that is another blog post for another day).

What does Public-i gain from you working with them?

Catherine Howe would be best to answer that, but from my point of view I’d like to think it was the way I look and think about things. I wouldn’t say I was especially different in skill sets, I mean probably worse off – I’m not that creative, I can’t code, I’m not a designer, I’m not especially good at sales, I’m not really an expert in any area – but it is in the “general” and the “overview” where i think my value comes from…connecting ideas, having ideas, pushing ideas forward, working with people to make things happen…I’m sure other people have various views on my skills and you are welcome to share them openly here if you wish…nothing like 360 feedback :) or as Carrie Bishop called it 3D feedback

Personally my view on myself is that I’m not a cog in a wheel, or a critical member of the team, but when I’m around different ideas are considered, perhaps new ideas, people feel challenged, maybe even inspired…I do believe however I can sell an idea.

What does Devon gain from you working with Public-i?

In a number of ways and this also makes me think that actually this whole opportunity should be more widely available to other public sector folk…what i mean from this is that I think people and organisations on both sides would benefit if those people who wished to seek new challenges and experiences were allowed to temporarily take development opportunities with a private sector organisations. You see and read all too often now that there is a massive brain drain happening within the sector and all the best people are leaving…yes some great people are leaving, but lets not forget and lets not underestimate the huge amount of latent talent that remains, waiting to be unlocked and let free…this is where events like open space south west come in for me, opening up new connections and opportunities for new people to be the leaders.

In my situation, I believe the council gains from my personal learning and development as well as from the new experiences and different ways of working. It financial gains of course for a short period of time from my reduction in hours and lets not kid ourselves that these are really good motivations for allowing this in the current climate.

It also benefits because it allows me personally to experience new opportunities, new challenges that I’d perhaps not get access to in my organisation. It can also benefit from my experience of new projects in advance of when the council may choose to move forward, so the organisational learning is reduced.  This was and still is the motivation behind my voluntary work and involvement, however voluntary work can be limited in terms of quite in-depth experience in some places.

There are a wide range of benefits all round and if more people in the sector were given these short-term opportunities and then welcomed back into their councils, then local government would be better off for it.  After all the sector as a whole needs to think differently about how we manage people, how we retain quality people and inspire a new generation of local government and public sector workers.

What are you looking forward to most?

Listening to the speakers and being inspired, meeting new people and making new connections – after all It is people who really make the difference.