Once upon a time there was an enormous turnip


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

Enormous Turnip

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.

Enormous Turnip 2

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 !!

Enormous Turnip 3

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…

Enormous Turnip 4

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🙂

Images from Slideshare

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


Seeking mentors and coaches



In my last post I referred to a set of self-limiting belief and said that I had already taken steps to try to resolve that, well those steps were actively seeking our Mentors and Coaches who can help me develop and discover how I can be more effective.

I personally believe that having a mentor and people who can coach you is invaluable in the current climate as it allows you to stay focused on what matters as well as continuing your personal development journey. I also believe that these skills are critical for all public sector workers as we often don’t give ourselves enough reflection time to improve what we do and what happens around us.

Coaching, mentoring and self-reflection are key areas outlined in the Change Academy prototype, I also believe that it is a commitment not just to developing yourself, but to developing the people around you and is why I’ve recently agreed to coach and mentor a colleague outside of my council as I personally believe it is important. We are perhaps fortunate here in Devon as we have an internal coaching network, so I’m encouraging my team through appraisals to consider the benefits of coaching as this provides a really good introduction supported by qualified coaches internally and to also seek out some external mentors to help them meet their personal development targets and improve their performance.

For those who aren’t sure of the difference between the two i’ve included a basic table below which broadly outlines the difference – this is not comprehensive🙂


I’ve also recently agreed with two very senior and influential people in the sector to be my mentor/coaches – I’m very excited about this. I’m not prepared to share who yet as I’ve not had a practical conversation about those aspects yet. My first conversation starts next Wednesday and I’m in the progress of arranging a suitable time with the other. I’m very excited to be able to have this opportunity and would recommend to you all, to seek out a mentor and coach from outside of your council, someone who inspires you, shows and demonstrates skills and behaviours you want to learn and ask them if they can support you on your journey – if you don’t ask you won’t know🙂

I also believe this simple step of supporting the development of each other across the sector can start (in a small way) break down some barriers around collaboration as I do believe one barrier is a lack of understanding and this can start to break that down.

So what are you waiting for?

LocalGovCamp is back for 2014


LocalGovCamp – Flickr by #ashroplad – https://www.flickr.com/photos/47624301@N06/

Just a quick post to highlight that LocalGovCamp will be back this year and will be organised by LocalGov Digital.

LocalGovCamp will take place in Birmingham on Saturday 21 June 2014.

The camp will be part of a two day event run by the LocalGov Digital network, with Friday (20 June 2014) activities focused on the network’s work streams including a LocalGov Digital Makers event.

More information will be released shortly – follow the LocalGovCamp Twitter account for the latest updates.

If you are interested in sponsoring or helping out then get in touch on Twitter via @localgovcamp or @localgovdigital, or contact Sarah Lay, as work stream lead organising the event.

June is a month for breaking down barriers


On the back of the Guardian article today, I thought iId share this slightly longer explanation and summary around Create / Innovate.

June is a month for breaking down barriers – First and foremost Create and Innovate  is about thinking differently it will be about experimentation, discovery, play, learning and reflection.

One of the reasons for holding Create / Innovate is to respond to a recent Council report to our Corporate Leadership Team in relation to the Barriers to Digital Innovation. The key findings of that report stated that we had a diverse set of reasons why digital innovation specifically was difficult and they were different across the organisation and in different service areas, however across the council it was a combination of one or more of the following barriers:

  • The attitude to risk across different service areas, some were naturally more relaxed than others

  • The cultural challenges and associated issues

  • Policy constraints and issues arising from a few conflicting policies

  • Technical barriers and issues – these were not just about ICT access as information security concerns were also affecting usage

  • Resource issues and perceptions that the “flood gates” would open and we would struggle to manage the multiple channels effectively

Corporate Leadership Team supported the report and tasked Corporate Communications in collaboration across the council with a series of actions which would start to unpick and address the barriers. The actions which have helped trigger Create / Innovate are listed below:

  1. approve the review and rationalisation of relevant policies and guidelines and re-present to staff

  2. approve a continued programme of staff engagement, awareness raising and training delivered in creative and innovative ways;

  3. support digital and social media pilots/prototypes and the establishment of digital leaders across service areas

So why Create / Innovate?

There were three things really, which led to the idea of Create / Innovate being a month long series of events and activities, although originally it was only planned for one week as it seemed more realistic to fill one week with activities.

The first was a conversation with colleagues at the Met Office in Exeter who recently held a similar event. In conversations I explained my aspiration to hold a similar event somehow at the council and mentioned that our Corporate Leadership Team were really supportive, so they offered a room at the Met Office for our Corporate Leadership Team to hold their first meeting in June. After a further conversation with our Chief Executive and his Executive Assistant about the practicality, they agreed that they would give it a go and try it to see how using different spaces helps change the dynamics of the conversations and decisions. So on Monday 3rd June, the councils Corporate Leadership Team will be holding their meeting in the Met Office, they will be using digital devices and smartphones and it will be reported live to staff via the councils yammer network.

The second thing was a conversation with a local Service Design Agency Redfront Service Design (Simon Gough and Phillippa Rose) who organised the recent Service Jam event in Exeter back in March (XJam) and there was an opportunity to host and get involved in supporting a specific Service Jam for the public sector in June (GovJam), which locally we have called XJamGov www.xjamgov.co.uk – this takes place between 4-6 June.


Photo by Paul Clarke (from XJam photo set on Flickr)

The idea of GovJam is to work around a common theme, small Teams meet at multiple locations, working for 48 hours on building innovative approaches and solutions towards challenges faced by the public sector.

GovJams are especially relevant to local government and public sector professionals, and will give us the opportunity to grow collaborations  – exchanging techniques, insights and ideas with colleagues near and far, while working on concrete projects addressing key issues inspired by the common Theme.

35 locations around the world are currently hosting an event including: LA, San Francisco, Barcelona, Warsaw, Eindhoven, Bologna, Mumbai, Berlin, Helsinki, Santiago, Montreal, Toronto, Perth, Canberra and Melbourne – In the UK only Exeter and Dundee are currently hosting events.

The third opportunity also came up through a twitter conversation with the Local DirectGov Team which added more scope to a months long event, was to host a Really Useful Day at County Hall – it is in so many ways similar to the Jam experience although we know the topic in advance.

The purpose of the day is to learn about and explore customer user journeys. It aims to map existing user journeys and take people through a process so that participants are more aware of how the real user journey can be improved – the following challenge is then taking that back into the work place and implementing it.

The great thing about both of these events is that they aren’t exclusively for staff at the council and will be attended by a diverse group of people from across the region which helps us to build new connections and collaborations.

Encouraging a culture change

Like most people the real challenge is trying to change a culture from the edges and this won’t happen in June alone. Culture change is a complex thing to make happen and we are fortunate here in Devon that we are in a climate where the whole organisation is starting to shift and there is more awareness of a new culture emerging.

The council has also spent the last twelve months exploring the next 5-10 years under the heading “Future Landscape” which has provided a lot of internal momentum and has engaged around 300 staff across all services and at all levels in thinking differently, so we won’t be starting from scratch in terms of engaging people in opportunities to think differently and challenging existing cultures.

My aspiration is that if we can nudge or disrupt people forward by 5 steps and then in July they take 4 steps backwards, at least we would have moved. The greater challenge will be in sustaining the momentum from some of the staff and amplify that and make it more visible.

Adding value and the wider benefits

We’ve also looked at how some of what we do can involve the wider public and although the primary focus is to challenge the internal culture of the organisation, we have an opportunity through some of our public facing services to involve and engage the public in helping us to think differently as well as challenging them to think differently around how our services are provided.

One of the most active service areas is Libraries, where we have adopted a more public image called “Time to Make and Play” which we hope will help people engage in small scale activities in some of the libraries to help them explore how the spaces can be used and how collaborative approaches within communities can use those spaces more effectively as well.

Some examples of the activities happening in libraries are, Raspberry Pi Jam, Gadget Days, Free to Play tables, Musical drop in sessions, Smartphone advice and make a noise in libraries.

Lessons so far…

  • Involve people:
    Working collaboratively with a wide group of people from different orgs requires you to be flexible in the tools you use and how you communicate with people.

  • Sell the idea
    Don’t sell a programme of completely fixed events, although start with something to build around, do sell an idea and ask people to help fill the programme with activities and events they believe will help challenge thinking and provide opportunities to do things differently – this allows you to capture all the variations of events and activities that people feel are required, from the more formal events like XJamGov to simply having a social media surgery so people can understand how to use smartphone more effectively.

  • Be patient, keep focused and relax
    There were times that I didn’t think this would happen, I was initially getting concerned by the lack of progress in setting things up and sorting the logistics etc, but being patient, staying focused and involving people means you can relax a little and things do and will happen.

  • Be flexible and prototype
    An absolute must, no matter what you originally thought would happen and wanted to happen, you need to be flexible and be prepared to change plans, adapt to other peoples ideas and timescales and most of all, let go of any notion of a formal plan…after all the whole month is a prototype of how we can engage people in different things.

Final thoughts

My aim has been to ensure that Create / Innovate is a creative and fun approach to addressing barriers to digital innovation and a key objective is to start to build sustained awareness and understanding of the opportunities for staff to be more creative and innovative within the council.

We are trying to disrupt people in fun and creative ways and we also hope to inspire people to try new things…the whole idea is really a prototype, so some things may not work out as we expect but that is ok so long as we learn.