Further reflections from LocalGovCamp and about LocalGovDigital

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As you can tell I’m all for imaginative blog post titles :)


Anyway what I would like to reflect on is how I believe LocalGovDigital became more real, more present, more about the network and collaboration as opposed to the steering group at LocalGovCamp and how through the conversations at the open steering group I realised we had finally achieved what we needed to in order to make real and lasting progress.

Let me explain…

For me and for others LocalGovDigital as an unnamed network started at the very first LocalGovCamp and what made that so successful was it created new connections, new collaborations, new discussions etc but what we didn’t really focus on back then was creating collaborative outputs (OK, some were created and some people tried) but nothing has really appeared that has transformed a service.

When LocalGovDigital formally came together nearly 2 years ago now, we came together through a shared vision, shared values, shared aspirations and I guess at the time and more importantly shared frustrations.

We all wanted to see something change, we wanted to think different and do different…so we tried a few things as a small group of people and called ourselves the steering group and it started to do stuff.

However one of the issues for me and others was that the capacity of those within the steering group was limited and therefore we decided (rightly or wrongly) to focus on small outputs, manageable and extensions of the “day job” as we were and still are all voluntary.

As time progressed more and more people recognised the value of the network and the collective voice and action of practitioners. We were a “Thing”, we were seen as formal when we weren’t. We needed and have started to understand what all of this really means and how we can make change happen.

LocalGovDigital has never been about the steering group, it has always been about the network, the people who do stuff, make stuff, change stuff, design stuff and share stuff.

The steering groups role was merely an attempt to do the following:

  • Mobilise the existing network, not grow a new one
  • Amplify the voice of practitioners, not simply share it
  • Make and do things instead of just talking and meeting
  • Be networked and collaborative instead of simply networking with each other

So the change I saw at LocalGovCamp this year was that people recognised they were the network, that we are all the network and if we collectively want to see things change we all need to help and give some time to make and do things differently. The steering groups role needs to change and adapt and that has to be about doing those things above and creating the spaces for people to come together to collaborate, to make, to do and share.

We also need to clarify our focus and that has to be about outcomes and not about specific products. I wouldn’t want to get into a situation where we are recommending specific platforms and saying implement that and you will see change as we all know that doesn’t work. However what we do want to do is support good stuff.

My colleague Martin Howitt summed it up very nicely recently, he said:

LocalGovDigital aims to support and collaborate with everyone in and around the sector. We want to focus on outcomes rather than specific groups or people.

That is to say that if someone builds or creates something brilliant and someone else does something similar then that’s brilliant too because we can all learn from it. It’s the learning that is important and not the product or the organisation that produces it.

So my final reflection is about my contribution – what is it I can do to help?

One of the biggest issues for me is the skills and capacity of those in the sector to make change happen…that isn’t to say there isn’t any capacity and skills, but it just isn’t always well-developed, doing the right things or focused on the right outcomes…so my focus is to look at how that can be solved in practical ways.

#LocalGovDigital – A day with @GDSTeam

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Me, Mike Bracken, Tom Loosemore chatting at GDS – part of the LocalGov Digital Visit

On Thursday 10th April a small group of the LocalGov Digital Steering Group visited the GDS offices to share our journey, share our outputs, ideas and challenges and start a conversation around how we might be able to work effectively together moving forward.  We wanted it to be an open and honest conversation which I believe it was, we were very open about our strengths and vulnerabilities and also learnt and discovered new strengths and vulnerabilities through the day.

For some of the steering group it was their first visit so we had to take the tour and get the plotted history and detail about the journey not just of GOV.UK but of the Government Digital Service itself. It helped us all move away from just seeing GDS as a website and I think we all knew it was more but getting the low down on what they do helped us understand and see that they are changing and transforming government and that isn’t always easy and straightforward but it is possible. This resonated with the group as it is something we aspire to within a local government context.

I had put together a rough agenda to help focus the day but what was good was that it was far more conversational and discussion led then simply us “showing our stuff” and asking “so what do you think?”. I think it was a really good opportunity for us to share some of the ideas we have, some of the outputs we have created as well as some of the challenges we face. The conversations were always constructive, positive and focused on moving beyond the reason why we can’t to seeking opportunities around how we can.

We were also lucky to be able to grab some of Nicola Gill’s time and she shared some updates around digital inclusion which we feel is a really important area that we can work on and is something we feel we have missed out of our workstreams so we have agreed that we should have a workstream to look at how we can work effectively on this area.

We were also keen to understand and get some context around the Electoral Role as this is an area which links nicely with our focus on local democracy. Pete Herlihy kindly gave up some time to the group and also some additional time to some of the group who wanted to pick his brains about some specifics.

For me personally the whole day was a turning point for the group and I’d like to share my personal reflections

  1. We seemed to start the day slightly nervous and lacking in confidence and ended feeling energised and empowered even more to push forward transformation in local government. A challenge is how do we get others to feel as equally motivated whilst they are busy doing the day jobs…
  2. Thinking is no longer the barrier, doing different is the barrier and that requires strategic and political leadership to provide the focus and momentum locally in councils which has clearly been a success for GDS. We need to share stories of how people have worked around this to deliver success on the ground
  3. We should not underestimate the challenge ahead but we should allow ourselves to  get paralysed by it either. There are plenty of people who really want to help local government. We just need to start asking around and working better together to allow this happen and quickly.
  4. As a group we need to celebrate our informal strengths and understand and acknowledge the vulnerabilities more so we can be clear about who, how and why we need help from others.
  5. Influence is something that happens in conversations and we need to have more conversations
  6. Lets not get hung up on the website debate, transformation is so much more than a website. We need to as digital leaders take the conversation to the strategic leaders in our councils and get the conversation focused on transformation.
  7. We need to stop feeling like we are the poor cousins in this space. We should stand up and be proud of who we are and that we work in local government and we should expect to be treated equally and been seen as peers (even if some people think we are just practitioners) Tom tweeted this on Thursday evening and i think this sums up why I think we should be proud.

So what next…

The main action is that we agreed to continue the conversation in an open and honest way to develop trust between both groups. We also identified some areas initially where we thought we could both add value. We’re starting this by becoming one of the partner organisation’s to the Digital Inclusion Charter launched today (Monday 14th April). One of the areas we are looking at in the short term is some basic skills development for practitioners – basically a show and tell for localgov practitioners to learn some of the key issues and skills around topics like analytics, user stories and service manager training.

Overall I’m feeling really positive about continuing an active conversation with GDS and finding ways we can support each other to support local government through digital transformation, collaborate on tools to support practitioners day-to-day and for LocalGov Digital as a network to provide its knowledge to what they’re doing; a real two-way partnership of peer groups.

I’d like to finish by thanking Tom Loosemore and Benjamin Welby for looking after us during the day and being our hosts. Thanks also to Mike Bracken, Nicola Gill, Pete Herlihy and Joshua Marshall who gave their time to share what they were doing and to answer our questions and more importantly challenged us back.

Learning Journey

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Yesterday I started a strategic leadership development programme at the council and wanted to share some reflections and learning from the day.

Firstly though I’ll explain a bit more about what the programme is about. The programme is called “Leading through Engagement” and is Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) accredited to level level 7.

On the ILM website they explain what the level means through the “knowing – being – doing framework” and it states the following – This made my eyebrows raise and gave me a realisation that I’ve been included alongside very senior managers in the council and now is the time I need to stand up and be counted alongside them:

ILM membership grade: Fellow
Qualification level (QCF): 7
Academic equivalent: Post-graduate degree

Knowing –key competencies:
Advanced and effective leadership, critical thinking and research skills, builds commitment to the corporate vision and values; ability to make hard decisions and solve problems, understands the key strategic issues in function-specific areas (HR, Marketing, Finance, Operations, R&D).

Doing – able to:

  • Lead senior management team; provide vision and direction for the organisation.
  • Provide organisational leadership. Develop corporate policy and strategy, lead change, optimise organisational capacity, develop excellence and a customer-focused approach; ensure long-term financial stability and growth.

Being – demonstrated by:
Leaders and senior executives who deliver business success through living the values of the organisation. They consistently demonstrate high ethical standards and personal integrity.

The day itself was focused on introducing the programme, getting to know the other candidates and also exploring some of the tools such as StrengthScope. Part of this exploration meant that we spoke a lot about strengths, natural abilities and developing and harnessing those as opposed to focusing and identifying people’s weaknesses.

We went through a few exercises and explored what things meant to us and I had a key reflection around why it is that I have a really good balance in my life at the current time (despite the apparent chaos and uncertainty all around)

One of the exercises asked us to think about what we do which makes us feel “energised” and when we feel we “do our best work”

One of the key features of the programme is to encourage all participants to write a journal, so I’ve now got an additional focus for this blog as it will feature a range of posts which are reflections driven out of the programme as well as everyday reflections which are now becoming a common feature of this blog.

During the day I made a variety of scribbled notes on my iPad and this helped me reflect as we went through the day and also to make connections to others things visually. The following illustrates how the things that make me feel energised and  when I’m at my best fit into my wider life.

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The three things that I stated were:

  • solving problems – which is generally met by work and voluntary work
  • playing games – which is generally met through my family
  • having a space to think  – which is generally met by cycling along Devon’s country lanes.

These three things actually happen in all aspects of my life but in a general sense they fitted broadly speaking against how I live my life…probably a simple conclusion but sometimes you don’t get to appreciate these simple things until you focus on them in this way.

The programme itself is focusing on three areas

  1. Strategic Development
  2. Engagement
  3. Inspiration

We went through an exercise in groups where we discussed in an informal “cafe style” way some challenging questions around those three areas and were asked to doodle and capture key words and to simply let the conversation flow.

We then fed back and shared those conversations with others and this naturally developed the conversation and discussion further and it was very reassuring to hear similar views and perspectives from the others around the challenges and issues and also some of the opportunities moving forward.

Our Chief Executive – Phil Norrey – came and sat down with us and shared his views and thoughts on the programme, why it is important to develop and nurture capacity and leadership – he also shared a very insightful perspective and his thoughts on the local government landscape. It isn’t often you get a chance to simply sit down with the Chief Executive and have an open discussion and conversation about these challenges issues without any worry about feeling there is an expectation for an answer to pop out of it.  Phil has a clear vision around the future and how that might play out and this came across, although he acknowledged that there are no easy answers and collectively we all need to rethink, reframe and reinvent engagement to better meet the challenges ahead.

So what does this all mean to me and how will I benefit from this process – well that is something only I can really decide, the process really supports and rewards those who put hard work and effort in. Where it takes me I don’t know, it does however allow me to test myself, push myself, to be brave and to stand up and become a more effective leader within the council to help the people around me and others during what is a very challenging and tough time.

Given the circumstances I’m really excited to be starting this and I look forward to the journey.

A quick personal reflection on @XJamGov and #ggovjam

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So this week I participated in XJamGov, which was part of the international Global Service Jam and was focused on the public sector/government.

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My three things – photo from flickr, by Phillippa Rose

First and foremost it was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had in a long time…I didn’t expect to learn so much in such a short time. It sort of felt like the first time I attended a govcamp event – I was nervous, anxious, intrigued and fascinated by the whole thing.

As the picture shows I wanted to:

  • Learn – new things and learn about people
  • Make – cool things
  • Be inspired – to change the world

It met each on of these (although I think i was probably motivated to change the world beforehand).

So what did I get from this event?

Well it wasn’t all easy and free-flowing, I found parts of it hard to engage with and the fast pace meant that you couldn’t really hang around and reflect on stuff.

The first kick off session starting on Tuesday by receiving the secret theme and then capturing ideas, this was straight forward as a concept but the approach was refreshing so made it feel new. The next bit was straight into developing ideas and that became strangely hard as it didn’t seem to create any tangible ideas i could connect with so I was at risk of disconnecting with the process right at the beginning. However I trusted the organisers (Simon Gough and Phillippa Rose) so went with it. About 15 minutes before we finished I was part of a conversation with a couple of other participants and we started formalising an idea and it started to make sense and we quickly became more and more focused on that and then it all started making sense.

On Wednesday morning the sun was shining and I had managed to reflect on the ideas we were talking and discussing yesterday and when I caught up with the others who then became fellow team members we started to recap on where we thought we were and we quickly started to develop the idea and was then tasked with creating a concept to show the other teams. Our team was called “Team Troubadour”….

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The basic concept we developed was that stories and storytelling can change the world and help people and communities grow…we put together a Lego model and some sketches which outlined the concept and were then tasked with sharing this with others for constructive challenge.

After the challenge session we had to do some more formal work around business models and used the business model canvas to help us flesh out what our service actually was, who it was for and how we would create it.

I really enjoyed this session and found the process of only picking one customer segment very challenging but it was a critical step in helping us define a minimum viable product.

Our customer segment was schools and our idea was that a school would sign up and be tasked to gather stories from within their community and then be responsible for how these stories are shared. We also had the idea that each school would need to find a global partner school and they would challenge the school to also gather stories from within their community and each would share the results with each other via our platform.

So we ended up with a proposition and description which was this:

We want to help reconnect people to each other and to their communities through the power of story telling.

By sharing stories we open ourselves up, enable learning in unexpected ways, and ultimately provide opportunities to increase community cohesion, social understanding and general well-being.

We provide a ‘Troubadour’ story telling pack, which includes story guides, story prompts, story wheels and a variety of other educational resources which invite people to have the courage to share.

Troubadour also provides an online service which enables groups to open up their projects for sharing and collaboration with other groups.

Some of the challenge we identified were that stories are often hard to tell, sometimes hard to uncover, so we wanted to create a set of tools which helped facilitate that process…We then started prototyping and we were talking about the products and services we needed to create…one of the first prototypes we created was a story wheel.  We did some curriculum mapping, customer personas, resource development, website wire-framing and researched other websites and platforms around how they worked and operated.

XJamGov #ggovjam

XJamGov #ggovjam

We were able to road test the concept using our own team and some of the pirates who come in to constructively challenge your ideas…

The whole process was intense, inspiring and also fun, I don’t recall having this much fun whilst being so productive…I’ve learnt a huge amount around this aspect specifically that I spent some time this afternoon chatting on google plus with one of my team about how we can learn from and adopt some of the techniques and approaches to get more from what we do.

Thursday was mainly focused on finalising our prototypes and creating our presentation to upload to the govjam website for it to be shared.

It was fast paced and fully of funny moments as well as some challenging conversations…however we managed to create a presentation and upload it, as well as uploading and linking to a number of the resources etc we had done.

Most of the teams work can be found here http://www.govjam.org/project/21993

The other teams results are available here http://www.govjam.org/govjam13/jamsite/21663/projects

This is the video we created…

So would I do this again…without a doubt and I would HIGHLY recommend these events to anyone and everyone…It truly was an inspiring few days.

Managing a team, even a small one

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It is that time of year when the much-anticipated and eagerly awaited appraisals are held…I had my appraisal a few weeks ago and enjoyed it – Yes I really did enjoy it…I’m not being sarcastic here, I actually found it a really useful and valuable process and it helped me form the basis of my recent post about reflective thinking.

After my appraisal I obviously have to arrange and conduct the appraisals for my team (I manage 5 people) which has been happening over the last few weeks now – Whilst as a team we talk often (or least when I’m in the office we talk a lot, I suspect they are grateful for my days when i work for Public-i at the moment ) I always find this a good time to set aside focused discussion on an individual and reflecting on their learning over the past year, discussing what they think has gone well and not so well, what they are proud of in terms of achievements and we agree and talk through a series of targets – I assign my targets as team targets and then each member of the team may have some specific individual targets to focus on as well.

The whole process for me is refreshing as I have those conversations with individuals that are not often had in open, getting into their real motivations and listening and seeing the passion come through. As a manager you have such responsibility to ensure that the people you are employed to support and manage fulfill their potential and feel valued and empowered to get the work done.

Over the last 16 years of working in local government I’ve had such a diverse range of managers all with great qualities in different areas – I’m sure they had their own opinions of me too which I dare say were not all positive, but I’d like to think I’ve changed for the better and have listened and learned from them. Obviously I had and have my favourites (rightly or wrongly) but they all taught me about managing people and about leadership.

The one common factor they all shared in my experience was in allowing me as a person to grow, to challenge myself, to challenge others, to question why things are done, to be the awkward voice sometimes and for that I thank them…but it is this quality I need to replicate with my team.

I see the core purpose of my role to ensure that my team can do what they need to do – when all is said and done, I’ll not be the one who actually makes the changes, who builds the things people use and interact with, who codes some clever plugin to solve a problem…I’ll be the one going wow that looks awesome, how did you do that!

I guess I’m like a conductor of an orchestra, to most people I’ll simply be waving my hands about in random directions with my back to people, but people are not really interested in what I do, they are interested in the outcomes of the team.

This is one of the reasons why I’m encouraging my team [ and hopefully others from across the wider communications team ] to contribute to a team blog and to share their learning, their experiences, their thinking, their ideas.  The blog is called [ Re: Work Digital ] and we soft launched it last week, Matt in the team was the first to write something and went live with his post “A new pair of trousers“, we’ll no doubt get more things into the blog once we get things a bit more organised however it is a learning curve for the whole team so please be gentle and if possible,  encourage them with constructive feedback.

You’ll soon be in a similar position to me, learning about my team, listening to their motivations and passions, hearing about the challenges we have and how they might be solved. That is pretty powerful.