- increasingly isolation of people and organisations
- a lack of clarity and understanding as to why public services exist
- an acceptance or even tolerance that things are the way they are and can’t or even won’t change.
When LocalGov Digital started as a practitioner network back in 2012 I remember the passion, commitment and energy in the room. We were a group of practitioners who had faith that we could collectively collaborate to help make local government better for the people in our communities – It really did feel like we could change the world.
We were brought together through our shared frustration, shared purpose and shared values. We have continually evolved from an initial network which was supported directly by the LGA to a network now which is self-directing and independent but rooted in the role of the practitioner. Whilst we were aligned to LGA we received a huge amount of support from individuals that helped us develop new relationships and how to use some of the influence we had started to grow. But I think we were still seen as something created by the LGA as opposed to something that grew out of the sector itself – A true grassroots movement of practitioners wanting and needing to make a difference.
As our journey continued we started to wrestle with some of the “governance” issues surrounding a network and I think we made mistakes in trying to create structures where none needed to be created. Instead what happened was individuals within the network simply made stuff happen, in response to user needs and in response to gaps in the market so to speak. This was a shift which has helped move the network forward and grow its influence more and allow us to respond quickly to the needs of practitioners as the network created the space for practitioners to simply make things happen. Some examples of this include #NotWestminster, Pipeline, The Service Standard, UnMentoring, The Content Standard and the Web Usability Dashboard – all these things were made by and with people in the sector for the sector and we also took over the running of LocalGovCamp
The network now has a level of momentum which previously wasn’t there but one of the challenges we have always had is “how do I know if I’m part of the network?” Until we resolve that we won’t get a sustainable network which continues to provide value into the sector and beyond.
So we have now approached a time in the life of the network where we either accept the informality and the risks associated with that or we look to create something more tangible building on and strengthening the things which have been successful, learning from the things that failed.
So as a network we want to consider plans to become a community co-operative, and want to design this with people who work in and around the sector. Our initial ideas sound very similar to how other cooperatives work, a membership fee, an AGM, membership types etc. We think that some of the things we already have might be able to play a key role in helping to grow the network and the participation such as UnMentoring, LocalGovCamp and Makers etc. We know we need to think about how those individual things work and run so that we can support the wider aspirations of the network. BUT The key thing to remember is this initial consultation is only about the future of the network itself. But if you ahve ideas and views on those other things then please do share them.
The important thing for me personally is shaping something around shared values and principles and ensure that we continue to generate value and continually evolve the network and adapt it to meet the needs of the practitioners and essentially improve services for citizens.
The co-operative model really resonated as I believe the principles and values of the co-operative match the aspirations of the network and the ambition to grow around these values also make sense. It is interesting to read that a number of former GDS staff are now working for the Coop and I suspect apart from all of the interesting work that needs to be done, one of the main drivers for those people joining were the principles and values.
We know that in moving in this direction it will create challenges and will inevitably mean more work initially, but we also believe that the benefits of doing so are such that it is worth the investment of time and energy in the short and long term.
We know that we currently, we have only engaged a small group of people who have validated our thinking but that isn’t good enough and is often a dangerous place to be, so we are really keen to hear from people who think this is a waste of time, a bad idea – but importantly why you think or believe this. Only through a new understanding of what people think can we be informed in our thinking to make a decision about the future of LocalGov Digital.
I hope that you are able to share your thoughts and reflections and also if possible get involved in making this a reality.
The link to the consultation news item and proposal is on LocalGov Digital.
As I do – I think about my work, wider society and the world and wonder why the problems we collectively create that no one wants to see? This post is meant to be a little playful and fun…
Tackling this problem is at the heart of a course I’m currently part of called Theory U which is an online edX environment provided by MIT. Highly recommend the course if you’ve not heard of it before…
In a conversation today with some colleagues, I was reminded of the children’s story about the Enormous Turnip and why collective and collaborative action is required to tackle the big problems facing us today.
If you know or remember the story you might know where I’m going with this but for anyone who doesn’t let me explain.
Let’s say the farmer who planted some seeds represents our historic design of public services. He planted them on good soil, cared for them, watered them and soon they began to grow. Much like our public service landscape
After a while things get out of hand and take over…in this case the turnip was enormous much like how we see the problems of public services today…it isn’t what we designed or intended but it is a direct result of the things we fed it and maintained over time.
Much like the farmer our problem is one of bringing people together, he can’t possibly solve this problem on his own, he could if he thought about it harder, start cutting the turnip whilst it is in the soil, but this would leave the roots and it would inevitably grow back still leaving an enormous turnip in the soil. So he starts to ask for help, he realises that he needs the strengths of other people to help solve this problem, to actually pull the turnip out of the ground altogether, including the roots. Much like our public sector landscape we are not sharing our problems, we are in fact trying to cut the turnip whilst it is still rooted in the ground. We have yet to invite the collective efforts of people around us to directly address the problem head on…and we know it will be hard work. Now the farmer manages to pull off some impressive things, he manages to get people you wouldn’t expect to work together to come together all for a greater and common cause…the dog, the cat and mouse !!
It is only when everyone comes together and puts their collective efforts to task that the problem is addressed…it required the resilience of everyone and a recognition of the common problem and to bring them together and be successful…
When are we going to come together and start pulling the turnip out of the ground…as I’m looking forward to sharing a delicious supper with everyone 🙂
During September I was fortunate to be able to participate in and attend the Wales Audit Office Good Practice Exchange seminars called; Redesigning public services: The strategic importance of digital. The first was held on the 13th September in South Wales and was repeated on the 29th September in North Wales.
Myself and Councillor Barry Parsons (Cabinet Member) were invited to do a bit of a double act and share our story, not the specific story about Devon’s journey but more about our collective journey – one as an officer and one as a councillor.
Firstly whilst myself and Barry were asked to share our story, we both reflected and found that we also learnt a huge amount from the event and were challenged by those who attended which was great. It was a well organised event and gave lots of opportunities for the participants to discuss with each other, ask questions and attend some workshops which were repeated so you could get into see more than one. It was also only half a day which I felt added to the great attendance at both events.
As a contributor to an event it is always interesting to reflect on what lessons emerged across both events and i’d like to share the key themes and messages which came through and I’d also like to throw a challenge back at everyone.
It is worth replaying the intended focus and objectives of the day:
Public services in Wales are entering a new era in how they deliver services. The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act calls for a massive step-change in how we plan and deliver services, whilst technology has fundamentally changed the social environment in which we work.
This seminar is the first in a series of events on the theme of digital service delivery. This particular seminar will share how organisations have laid the groundwork and recognised the need for a cultural shift before tackling service transformation. Public services are likely to already have the necessary talent within their organisations, but organisational hierarchies often separate the knowledge from authority when making decisions. This seminar will share different approaches to overcoming these barriers.
Walking away from this event, delegates will understand how to get the right talent and authority around the table to work collaboratively for better public services.
So let me start by sharing 8 key issues/themes that emerged from across both events
1) Digital isn’t the real problem we need to solve
I’ve said this many times before but “Fundamentally the challenge for current leaders and public sector organisations is the legacy thinking and a business model which is rooted in serving a de-facto purpose which is disconnected from the people and places the organisation or leaders serve”.
2) We seem to have a Leadership vacuum
Leadership is an overused term and for me it can come from anywhere, however there is very little leadership in this space nationally which explains why so many people are unclear about what they can and can’t do, how to move forward as well as truly understanding the vision and direction of travel. My challenge to everyone is if you think you are lacking leadership from above, be that leadership for others and start taking action. Don’t wait around for people to give permission, it rarely follows, so simply think, do and share and hopefully those around you will start to recognise the value and impact of what you are doing…you may need to ask for forgiveness but most likely you’ll be asked to help others.
3) The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act is a fantastic opportunity to reinvent the whole public sector landscape (let’s help them)
In terms of direction, Wales has a slight advantage over the rest of the UK and i’m envious in a good way of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act – The Act will hold to account public bodies to think more about the long term, work better with people and communities and each other, look to prevent problems and take a more joined-up approach. Basically it states that what they do must be done in a sustainable way. How awesome does that sound…clearly there is some way to go before whether we actually see this Act having an impact on the outcomes for local people…but it has certainly created better conditions for those working within its scope.
4) Digital is still struggling with a clear definition that everyone can agree on
Digital will always mean different things to different people and we need to accept that as individuals we simply need to discover what it means for ourselves. What we must do though is not confuse digital with technology, you see many digital strategies simply talking about the implementation of mainstream technology within our current mindset and thinking…I’m full of admiration to any organisation who puts themselves out there and asks for help…But we can’t let this lack of clarity distract us from the real challenges facing us, the reinvention of our organisations around a revised purpose which is absolutely connected to people and place.
5) We all need a gentle reminder that we can’t design FOR people we must design WITH people
I was surprised and somewhat shocked by the number of questions which basically assume we (public bodies etc) can do this stuff for people and how can we do that better – a traditional model of delivery, we will do stuff for people. Let me say though that the people in the room at these events clearly have/had the best intentions of people in their communities at their heart, however we just need to support each other and gently remind each other why we exist and what our purpose is…Also and more importantly that we need to involve those people in the redesign, otherwise we simply risk re-creating a new legacy of failure…I want to reference again the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act here as I firmly believe that given the right support and conditions Wales can flourish and provide global leadership in this space…The question is will those involved deliver on that ambition?
6) Our wellbeing is important – It’s going to be incredibly hard work…let’s accept that and prepare for it
I think everyone accepts this but we aren’t talking enough about it which i don’t think is helpful – our individual wellbeing is SO important that we need to ensure we are individually prepared for the challenges ahead…the challenge we face in redesigning public services is going to be incredibly difficult and for some people, it will be fundamentally challenging everything they currently do, believe, know and understand…collectively we need to recognise this and find ways in which we can support people on that journey. Let’s be open about how we feel, let’s be open about our fears, let’s be open about our hopes and we can all support each other.
7) Overthinking leads to inaction – start small and get going
It also struck me that some people are overthinking the whole thing, what I heard was people struggling to see a way out of their current worldview and everything new was going to be on top of this world…An example of this was when a question was asked to the panel about how do we find the time to innovate or try new things if people are so busy…My response was that we have the time, it is just that we spend a large proportion of our time on doing the wrong things…easier said than done i know, but it is true…AND we can’t create excuses about this anymore. We need to prioritise doing better things and I’d argue all day for people spending more time rethinking, redesigning and delivering new services than perpetuating the status quo. Nobody wants to see the collective results we are creating, so we are we accepting it?
8) People are still not sharing enough – openly
This is a simple problem to solve in reality but requires people to be bold, brave and trust one another. The open sharing of our learning will help us all discover what works and what doesn’t and also will allow us to connect to each other on different more meaningful levels.
One thing people can do is to connect more with each other through the WAO randomised coffee trials mentioned at the events or sign up to the wider UnMentoring here
A final comment from me is that Digital is of course strategically important in terms of business strategy and understanding the disruption to markets and consumer behaviours as a result of digital innovations is important but no more than important in terms of being able to actually deliver services than our people, our reducing funds and money and even our data!
Lets recognise that true transformation is a lever for digital innovation and not digital being a lever for transformation