Reflecting on thinking and doing

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Think DifferentRecently I’ve let myself down by not blogging as much as i feel i need to. The benefit i get from writing a post is actually a process of reflective practice which helps me manage the variety of thoughts going on in my head and i really do need to continue my personal commitment to write regularly as i simply don’t feel effective without having that process help clarify my thoughts.

Some of the things that have been preoccupying my head space (other than the detail of the day to day work which is extremely interesting and busy and the financial challenges which face all services) is around thinking different and doing different.

Do Different

It has been a personal target of mine since before Christmas, triggered from a coaching session I had that i need to make more efforts to understand the relevance of things like digital in relation to the councils services than i had previously been doing and also moving away from simply encouraging people to think differently about digital to actually doing different things with or without digital.

The last couple of weeks have really helped galvanise and challenge some of the thoughts in my head and really challenged my thinking and my approach to thinking (if that makes sense)

The week before last I was inspired by a video which was shared by Dr Andrea Siodmok at our Corporate Leadership team event – The video was Piano Stairs

Also last week I was part of a 3 day systems thinking orientation session with our Highways colleagues and gained a huge insight into the world of highways (more than i expected) but It was an interesting and fun three days.

These two things plus a range of smaller, somewhat random things have made me identify some important lessons…some are super obvious and probably everyone will say…”what you didn’t know that – duh!!

Lesson Number 1:  Don’t over evangelise.

What I mean by this is don’t push stuff down peoples throats – I would probably say I used to do this and some people may say I still do – But I’ve tried hard to change that without losing the things people have said they value (energy, fun, enthusiasm) But unmanaged you can end up putting people off and disconnecting them from the potential benefits of even the most simple of steps and actions.

This is also one of the reasons I wanted to focus on relevance as opposed to simply saying “digital is awesome, we should do digital, heh, lets put some digital in and everything will be cool”…”oh and have you seen this awesome thing, it is soooo cool, you should try this, i find it really easy, you will too” I hope I don’t sound like this but appreciate and acknowledge that I may have done in the past.

Lesson Number 2: Give people space to digest change

When people see a change, it can be difficult to digest the scale of what is required, especially if the scale of change is radical. Give them space and support them, don’t force your thinking on to them as they will need to discover the new paradigm for themselves. It is more powerful and lasting this way.

Lesson Number 3 : Relevance is about conversations

You can’t see or identify relevance in isolation from what is happening. You have to talk with people, understand what is happening, where things are going, the opportunities, the challenges and then make sense of this before throwing random ideas in a conversation to seem clever.

Lesson Number 4: Influence is about conversations

Most of the influence I’ve had on the organisation has been through having conversations with the right people and the right time. When those conversations happen with more and more senior people the influence expands and grows. We should try harder to have the right conversations with the right people and we can “hope” it is the right time.

Lesson Number 5: Listening is about being silent

This is something that I’ve learned more and more as part of my leadership course and coaching sessions. The power of being silent and allow people the time and space to reflect in the moment is very powerful. It is sometimes hard to resist simply not jumping in with an idea, an answer or a solution. Allowing someone the space to find the solution/answer them self is a far richer experience.

 

 

A space to think

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I’m planning on looking at and reflecting on the principles I previously suggested here and writing a blog post for each one using my own personal circumstances and requirements to help me understand what applying the principles would mean in practice.

My previous post “the ‘right’ environment” essentially looked at the principle “Enabling communities and environments” so that has now become the first in the series.

This post will look at “Create Space for reflective practice”

I’ve blogged before on the power of reflective thinking here and here but this post will be slightly different.

Firstly let’s be clear about what I am talking about  – Reflective practice is “the capacity to reflect on action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning”.

The concept of reflective practice centres around the idea of lifelong learning where a person analyses experiences in order to learn from them.

So why is all this important in the concept of the future of communities, people and places?

Regardless of what political views you have and whether or not you think local government will disappear or simply change a bit, the reality that needs to exist is that people in communities need the capacity to reflect on their own community in order to be in a better position to help shape it. One current problem I see is that communities don’t really have any “memory” or “capacity to remember” so that over longer periods of time people within communities have the ability to call on past experiences and actively reflect in order to shape future decisions.

In my personal opinion the only experiences which are shared are personal and not community based so they are biased and those people who might have influence push those biases into decision-making and therefore the outcomes and decisions could be inadvertently affected in a negative way.

Looking at my personal life and my personal situation I’m a school governor (Vice Chair of Governing Body and Chair of Resources Committee) and one of the key roles as a governing body is that we reflect as a body on the experiences we have gone through. However I am not able to understand any learning from the period of time before I joined as the practice was not formally recorded or even actively encouraged at that point.

We are fortunate that the current Chair is promoting this practice (not overtly referring to the words and term) and we have reasonably regular governor forum days where we reflect on where we have been and what we need to focus on moving forward as well as learning about new stuff and this is all set in the context of school improvement.

In my personal opinion it is an essential part and role of the governing body to demonstrate reflective practice as this is a key part of showing leadership within the school and wider community. Reflective Practice provides a tremendous development opportunity for those in leadership positions. It can provide leaders with an opportunity to critically review what has been successful in the past and where improvement can be made. (I’m sure Ofsted would love to see this :) )

So what do we need to do moving forward?

Firstly and foremost we need to create that space and time for ourselves to be reflective. Without this we wouldn’t be able to be effective in other situations. How you do this is up to you, but I originally found it hard to do in a semi structured way until I spent time at UKGC12.

What I learnt about the process is that I personally needed four ingredients to make that process work, which are:

  1. The right environment – the space has to be inspiring or at least not clinical in nature…I can’t sit in a boring room with nothing to look at, although if I have to I absolutely need ingredient 2.
  2. The right people – simply spending time with other people who are reflective (and also those who aren’t) is empowering and also uplifting, it can also be awkward and uncomfortable to start with – but you can’t beat a great group discussion.
  3. A place to share – I use my blog as a tool for reflective practice and others uses diaries or journals of some kind but capturing stuff and being able to look back and share that with people is very powerful.
  4. Feedback – what would life be like if no one ever gave you feedback on anything you did…I’m not sure I can really imagine that…but I know that every day we all receive feedback directly or indirectly on actions we take and for those who reflect future decisions change because of that feedback.

So are these things available to you in your community and are you doing this in a way which will help your community?

 

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.