The first signs of autumn and looking ahead


As I’ve been cycling to work this week, I really noticed the colour of the leaves had changed and some trees had such vibrant colours that it warmed my soul on such a chilly morning commute. Its moments like that which you remember…I must take a photo before it changes too much.

I know that I’ve not blogged as regularly as I used to and I’ve been thinking about how I can start to rediscover or rethink my approach, until then, the sporadic nature will continue.

I wanted to share some thoughts and reflections around what has happened since coming back to work from a refreshing summer break.

I wanted to just share some of the activities that have stuck with me the most and things that have happened since returning from summer…it isn’t comprehensive – didn’t have time to pull that list together :)

  • The main change is that one of our organisation change team (Julie) is working with me to better define the digital transformation picture for the county council…that has provided some really helpful support in a range of things.
  • I’ve started Digital Coaching sessions with one of our Cabinet members (Cllr Barry Parsons), which simply formalises an informal catch up session approach we previously had been doing over the early part of the year. We spoke about making the conversations more visible to the organisation and making them more relevant and strategic so that is how it started – simple really. The first conversation started well with some really productive discussion around digital operating models, government as a platform, Buurtzorg and the Simon Wardley Value Chain
  • I’m also working with procurement colleagues to start to engage suppliers around our digital direction and strategy. I’ve been invited to a provider marketplace day in November which will provide an opportunity to share some of our thinking and direction.
  • I’m working with our Social Care colleagues to work-up the details of a strategic Digital session where we can explore what digital means and the opportunity across social care.
  • We had a visit from colleagues at Suffolk County Council to share digital transformation lessons and will be exploring further opportunities for collaboration
  • Mike Bracken came down and spoke to our Corporate Leadership Team and Heads of Service around Digital and the approach of the Government Digital Service around change and transformation. That visit triggered a range of responses internally (all positive) and has unblocked some minor barriers and opened up new conversations which is great.
  •   I had a couple of visits to London for discussions with Local CIO Council, Socitm and other colleagues including some fellow localgovdigital folks (Dave Briggs, Paul Brewer, Ben Cheetham and Phil Rumens) around Place as a Platform. It was a fascinating session and we still have quite a way to go before we really avoid putting technology first in our discussions about Digital…the example from Adur and Worthing by Dave and Paul demonstrated that it is all about rethinking the fundamental operating model of the council.
  • A visit to the treasury with some other colleagues to have discussions and explore the technical architecture of a digital platform approach to Libraries working  – this was something which our Head Libraries (Ciara Eastell) had asked if I could support as she is the current President of SCL (Society of Chief Librarians)
  • I managed to fit in two coaching/mentoring sessions with my Chief Executive and Mike Bracken..I’m finding the coaching/mentoring sessions really productive and helpful and they are having such a positive impact on how I see myself and it has improved my confidence and I believe (although others may disagree) my outputs as well.
  • A fascinating and insightful provider perspective day as part of the Far South West Commissioning Academy – This process really highlighted to me the challenges of procurement and commissioning and the impact on relationships and trust in this process. I’d always suspected as much but to hear the details and insights from providers really validated that.
  • Further mind-boggling fun with the Design Council and in particular an awesome master class from Becky Rowe from ESRO – we shared our thoughts and reflections on the design council blog here
  • Following the design council session we (myself, Kevin Gillick and Jo Prince-White) ran a couple of prototype user insight sessions for around 30 colleagues from across the council – it was a fascinating process to rapidly pull the workshop together and the feedback from the participants was great so we plan to run some more plus other workshops as we continue our learning through the programme.
  • Outside of work – this week I was Elected Chair of Governors at my local primary school. I’m really proud to have this role and it is an exciting time for the school, we recently had a OFSTED inspection and were graded a solid Good and the report outlines some outstanding aspects which we are very proud of as a school. I now look forward to continuing to work with the other governors and the school and most importantly the children to improve outcomes.  I’ve been fascinated by the work of primary schools in particular for a while now and the work they do is such a great insight into how organisations can approach change as well as. In the last few years I’ve witnessed more design thinking in a primary school than in the wider public sector. I suspect the autonomy and relentless focus on children’s outcomes is a great place to start. In a recent conversation with the Head Teacher she outlined an approach to a piece of work around well-being with staff and every step matched the Design Councils principles of “Human centred” > “Being Visual” > “Iterative and collaborative”. It really is fascinating to see this in a different context. OR maybe my connection to design thinking is helping me see the wonder in everyday decision making of good and outstanding leaders.

The one thing I feel I’ve done very little of though is broader LocalGov Digital stuff, However my thinking around this is that unless you have a focus on local delivery and change you can’t effectively engage on a broader level as you end up disconnecting on both levels.  This is all part of the system leadership challenges we all face.  But my aim over the next few weeks and months is to properly re-engage with colleagues in that space as I missed LocalGovCamp which I was gutted about.

But I’m even more passionate and committed to providing support and leadership where I can to help Devon and the whole sector transform.

I’ve said it before in my last post but it is worth repeating here….

The primary purpose of public services is to improve people’s lives not to effectively manage the money, that is an enabler much like digital is, information is, data is and of course the people in and around the system are enablers.


People come and go all the time but


I was surprised as many were to the resignation of a group of people at GDS (Mike, Tom, Leisa, Russell, Ben and others) – I provided a comment here on Mike’s departure and then went on holiday to sunny Cornwall.

The great thing about disconnecting yourself is that you give yourself the space and time to really reflect.

I thought a lot about what I can and can’t do in Devon, my role and what that actually means to me, my impact or lack of impact, whether or not I’m pushing hard enough or too hard, whether I’m too tolerant of some behaviours and not tolerant enough of others. Basically an all round reflection – probably triggered by my previous post. I’m content and happy with what conclusions I made and I’m clearer about what I need to be doing and what I need to be saying and showing.

I also thought a bit about why when things get really hard, I mean really, really, really hard – some people just give up…I’ve done it before and I now know my reasons why I did it at certain points in my life and I have promised myself that I won’t do that again.

I didn’t intend to reflect on what the departure of those people would mean and will mean to Digital Transformation but as you surf the waves of Cornwall your mind tends to bounce from here to there and I started to think about the implications and lessons for local government.

I then read this post on Tom’s blog and in particular this bit resonated with me:

The first government to reinvent its institutions such that their role and values are native to the Internet era will find that it can transform both the efficiency and empathy of public services, whilst creating new digital infrastructure offering the private sector a global competitive advantage. And that’s even before we get onto the potential positive impact on trust, data security and democracy

and then I read this interview with Mike on why he left Government – the whole interview is very interesting but for some reason this particular bit stuck with me.

It’s the wrong mentality to ask: how big is my department? We should be focused on the user need as that always results in reduced cost and better services. We need to say, as public administrators, that we need to work differently and more collaboratively in a system that is not set up to do that.”

So bringing together my reflections from my time in the sea in Cornwall and reflecting on recent posts I want to say the following…

  • Will the fact that these people (Mike, Tom, Ben etc) are leaving GDS change the direction of digital transformation across public services. I’d like to say no of course not – why would a few people leaving a job make such a difference – its worth stating that many people have started and left at GDS and of course even more have come and gone from local government before now without anyone going into meltdown about the future of digital transformation or local services. but unfortunately many people believe it will… Personally I won’t accept it and I don’t want to let that happen
  • The internet as a culture, as a business model, as an enabler is still so far from being fully understood in public services – it isn’t an evolutionary process into the internet – it has to be and must be a radical shift into the internet.
  • Mandates and support are critical if you really want to affect change – but in the absence of those mandates and support can we give ourselves the mandate and how can we quickly build momentum to show something different?
  • It’s time to step up and be loud and continually demand a the fundamental shift that is required to improve services OR we allow the status quo to continue and we know where that ends up…do we really want to see that!!
  • People will always come and go, it’s the lessons and inspiration they bring that truly matters – but how do we maintain momentum without clear figureheads to help drive and push things forward. Where are the local government leaders who are capable of doing this and how can we collectively mobilise them?
  • We need leadership to guide us to a completely new future – one which we need faith in, not to guide us through variations on the past.
  • I hope we haven’t spent the last 5-7 years telling a great story about digital to only step back and let the opportunity pass us by to radically reform services because it is hard and or because we ALL allow decision makers to be driven by the wrong motivations.
  • If we really want to see change, a range of people (I include myself in that) will have to let go, swallow some pride and start to really collaborate and DO things NOW and SHOW something is CHANGING.  If we don’t the dominant financial narrative will continue (its important of course but its the context not the purpose)
  • The primary purpose of public services is to improve people’s lives not to effectively manage the money, that is an enabler much like digital is, information is, data is and of course the people in and around the system are enablers.




Deeper reflections from coaching and mentoring


“The battle and balancing between the old and new power will be a defining feature of society and business in the coming years”
Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms

So around last christmas I started coaching/mentoring conversations with Phil Norrey (Devon County Council’s Chief Executive) and Mike Bracken (Cabinet Office Executive Director for Digital and Chief Data Officer)

I’ve previously written about some early reflections here and here but wanted to dig a little deeper in how the process is challenging my practice and helping me to develop as a practitioner and hopefully as a leader.

Some key insights and learning from the last 8 months…thanks go to Phil and Mike who have and are continuing to support me on this journey

  • Balancing thought leadership with doing leadership
    I’ve started to see this more as “how to do system leadership effectively” – One of the things I gained the most from this process is having a mirror displayed in front of me and being able to see and understand the value I offer from different perspectives and sometimes the value I create is not what I thought it was…I’ve always been keen to share my thinking and whether that makes me someone who offers thought leadership is perhaps for others to decide but It is also the doing leadership which is where I had most insight as I always thought I wasn’t doing this very well…I know more about how I can better balance this and have a clearer understanding as to my role in Devon and wider. This doesn’t remove the barriers of course but it does create clarity around direction and focus.
  • Creating a pathway from the edge to the centre
    When your work makes you work on the edges of your organisation you often feel isolated or frustrated that people don’t listen or you feel annoyed that projects never scale – a previous view of mine was to pull the organisation to the edges and hope for a disruptive impact…that didn’t exactly work – through this process I’ve learnt not explicitly but implicitly that I have to focus more and work harder to push the change towards the centre of the organisation and change the fundamental and underlying structures and systems we work in for sustained change. Again all of this is probably obvious but I hadn’t realised or given myself the time to be challenged or challenge my own thinking in this space.
  • Letting go so I can move on
    Before I started this process I didn’t think too much about the stuff I had to let go off in order to allow myself to move forward. One of the most simple things I did was forgetting my Job Title as the label by which i am defined…obvious to some perhaps, but the job titles we have are labels or boxes by which we constrain and limit ourselves. This was in response to the first session with Phil, when I asked him what value he sees from what I do and none of it was around digital – which was great to hear but equally hard to hear as I thought that was my niche!
    I also realised that letting go of ideas, thoughts, preconceptions was a healthy process and one which allowed me to rediscover ideas in new ways, gaining new insights and new vantage points.
  • Better understanding and harnessing the people around me and in the network
    This is linked to the system leadership question which has and does underpin most of my self discovery. Again and no surprise my insight here was and is such a simple one, but you can’t be a system leader unless you make a commitment to positive change, connect and collaborate with others, influence and mobilise peers and coalitions of people, accept and encourage feedback and having confidence in yourself.
    None of this happens without the people around you, the people whoa re directly and indirectly connected…creating lasting and positive change requires  bravery, courage and a willingness to build and sustain networks and relationships.
    I always thought I was pretty good at networking but that alone does nothing, the challenge is how we can all collectively create impact. It is also about knowing when you need to step back and let go and allow others to lead.
  • My role in supporting othersJust as I have asked for help, I realised very early on that I needed to be open to offering and being asked for help by others. A really good example of that process is Sarah Lay’s journey over the last 6 months
  • My personal ambition
    Before this process started my personal ambition was very much on the emergent side of things – a lets see what happens and take it from there point of view…all of this was reflected in my previous appraisals where you capture what your want to do moving forward…mine read like this – “Carl is happy and content exploring new avenues and will assess opportunities when they arrive, Carl does not currently aspire to be a head of Service or a Chief Executive”  I don’t know why I limited my own ambition or set limits…I guess it kept things safe and comfortable and this was one way I coped with the uncertainty of the future.

Now it’s different – I think differently about my ambition…I feel I want to become a “Head” of something, a “Director” of something or a “Chief Executive” of something – the what, well that will no doubt emerge or be created in response to things I help make happen. But I’ve now set that direction and that has changed how I see myself as a leader and a practitioner and most importantly how I see the opportunities and possibilities in front of me.


Belated reflections from Beyond the Smart City


Over a month ago now I had a privileged position of being able to chair and oversee a fantastic event at the Met Office in Exeter and since then sat in my To-Do list has been a task to write some reflections…so here they are.

The event: Beyond the Smart City – took place on Friday 26th June and was organised by ODI Devon

A post event review can be found here for those who want to read about the full three days

My reflections:

Firstly as MC (or chair) I had intended to listen harder to make sure that I could pull out the key messages and key points, but the flow of day and the speakers and participants made that role easy as it all just seemed to work.

The quality of speakers was fantastic and I personally found all the speakers resonated with where my thinking is right now. So for me the event was perfectly pitched and really reaffirmed and challenged my thinking which helped.

Here are a number of key reflection points triggered and sparked from the day which I think need further exploration and discussion as well as some experimentation as we move forward.

  1. Above everything else we need smart people to make any investment in smart places truly flourish
  2. As we shift to a more digital world we at least need a recognition that a significant inclusion focus has to be around data itself, especially if we are all supposed to be self resilient people, highly empowered with ‘oodles’ of data around us…without understanding what it means we simply end up relying on corporate organisations to provide interpretation and that might not be in our best interests
  3. The democratisation of the internet goes hand in hand with the above points – the fundamental proposition of the internet as a platform is that it is open to us all. Our collective challenge is how we help make that a reality to everyone.
  4. The focus on open data as an end point is unhelpful, when bad quality data exists within a system that sees no benefit from that data. We must (in local government at least) improve the quality of our data, use our own data and then decide whether to apply an open data licence to it.
  5. Local Authorities as strategic commissioning organisations are fundamentally data rich organisations and we have yet to see any real shifts in infrastructure, leadership and understanding to support this shift…whilst the focus remains on transactional transformation we miss the opportunity for more widespread system change – this has to happen soon or we may end up being driven by the transactional services agenda.
  6. The Internet of things is an interesting area for local services, but we must move beyond simply thinking of it as an investment in sensors and think about it as an investment in connectedness, network flow and demand led transformation.

It is never too late to say a big well done to those who organised the event. So well done to Simon, Martin and Lucy also known as ODI Devon

The slides from the day are available here


Truly Connected Cities – Exeter and the Internet of Things #IoTCities


We (Devon County Council) think and believe this is an exciting opportunity for the city and wider region. I would encourage anyone who is interested and has the same ambition to register to help make this an exciting and truly collaborative bid.

Truly Connected Cities

  • Do you have a product or service that makes cities work better?
  • Are you ready to see how this works in a truly connected city?
  • Are you developing a strategy, project, product or service related to the Internet of Things?

Exeter City Council and its partners are developing a bold strategy to accelerate local innovation.  We want to grow Exeter’s economy, safeguard its natural resources, and make life better for residents and businesses, through pioneering technology and innovative use of data.  By being at the cutting-edge of technology we can make Exeter an exemplar that shows other cities what is possible when partners collaborate.

Innovate UK have recently launched a competition with £10M of funding available for just such a demonstrator.  Funding of 50% to 70% of project costs are available for each commercial partner and we are looking for innovative businesses to collaborate in this Exeter based venture.

We are looking for consortium partners of all sizes (SME’s to large multinationals) with a specialism in any of the following areas:

Enabling Technologies

  • Wireless Communications, Wireless Sensor Networks, M2M Communications, Tracking technologies
  • Security, middleware, data infrastructure and storage
  • Analytics
  • User interface, digital, media and data visualisation

Sector Verticals

  • Health monitoring & analytics
  • Energy/Smart Grids/BEMS
  • Intelligent Mobility
  • Waste
  • Water

For more information and to register your capabilities and interest, please visit