Unpicking the disconnect between internal and external influence

Since hearing on Wednesday evening that I was selected and judged to be in the #LGC100 at number 48.

I’ve been pondering and reflecting on a few things which didn’t sit right with me, and started asking broadly 2 questions of myself and with some colleagues – the questions were broadly along these lines:

  1. How can I be judged in the Top 50 nationally around influence and power but yet sometimes feel rather isolated and disconnected to the power and influence internally?  In my case this is really about the disconnect between the perceived impact and influence of the work, ideas and passion of those people around the LocalGov Digital Network (external) and my position as Digital Communications Manager and as a paid employee of Devon (internal).
  2. What can I do to better understand the influence I have and how can I improve the way I use it to benefit local and national outcomes around the redesign and transformation of local public services?

Let me try to answer them the best I can, most of the following will be a very honest account of my self-reflection and my areas for development, I share this here in good faith and hope that anyone reading that can offer advice and guidance does so in the spirit this was written.

The issue around internal and external influence or even perceived value to ones own organisation has been a subject of conversation for many years with many people and we would often say things like “Why is it my council will believe what an external person says over me when I have been saying the same for ages” or something along those lines…Well instead of resorting back to a traditional mindset of blaming others I decided to take a long hard look at what it is I do internally that is different to what I do externally.

After some soul-searching and a really great conversation with my head of service – I came to a conclusion which for the first time made some sort of sense and they split into two areas:

  1. I have a self-limiting belief which is still subjected to the powers and structures of the traditional hierarchy of the organisation I work for and like it or not, I’m obviously still accepting a “position” within that system and I’m not acting like a true leader in my field and supporting and helping the people at the top of the organisation to understand and connect to the digital agenda in ways which are meaningful to them – I’ve clearly focused too broadly and not enough on how it truly relates to each and every part of the business.
    This is a fault of mine and I have already taken steps to resolve this but the biggest shift was in accepting that whilst I’m seen as “disruptive” I’m still only on the edges and NOW is the time to mainstream and scale up the impact and influence internally – watch this space.
  2. I’ve been able to tell a very generic and a broad story/picture of digital in the LocalGov Digital context and that has allowed me to consider the wider benefits and implications. I’ve been able to blog about this, talk openly about this in public forums, conferences locally, nationally and across Europe. I’ve been able to work with colleagues to champion a different way of thinking and working and through voluntary action make a small difference…
    My missed opportunity internally and I’m calling it a missed opportunity even though we (my team) have made some great progress, continue to make good progress and consistently push for better outcomes but it has been my inability to grasp this issue and understand its impact around me that up to now, I have not formally pushed as hard as I now realise I need to, to get the team the explicit validation, mandate, recognition and support they need to be even more effective.
    I need to work smarter, not harder to create the alignment from the top of the organisation to the team and outwards to other teams so the impact has a truly transformational impact. This is clearly something i thought i needed to work really really hard at and often on my own, but that is clearly foolish, I’ve developed some fantastic relationships internally which I need to use more effectively and smarter for wholesale change and I need to seek the support and trust of some different people over the coming months to make a positive difference.
    However this inability to tell an effective story internally is also partly down to the journey the council is also taking around reshaping itself, so it has not been an easy task to fully understand which angle, perspective or tactic to take – this however is resolving itself now, with the councils new strategic vision and operating model which create a perfect hook by which i can start to articulate the exact story that Devon wants to tell and share – this is a work in progress with colleagues to co-design and co-author the story we want to tell and that will start to appear soon on Re:Work Devon.

The second question around what I need to do to better understand my influence will I suspect be an ongoing process, but I’ve taken some steps to seek out new mentors and coaches who can help me navigate this and hopefully that will come to fruition in the near future.

I’ve also started to talk more openly to close colleagues about this and have asked them to challenge me and to think about what this influence might mean. Some may say that I am over thinking all of this and that I should simply get on with work – well I believe that in understanding this better I’ll be significantly more effective and able to deliver and contribute to a deeper and more profound change and transformation not just locally but further a field.

That is worth exploring and understanding…I guess I didn’t have to be so open about all of this but I’ve been clear to myself that thinking in public is a commitment to a set of wider values which I firmly believe are at the heart of the transformation and reinvention of local public services.

 

Shifting Digital Sands

An edited version of this has also been published on the Guardian Public Leaders Network Blog

The landscape of digital is constantly changing and being redefined with every new development, technology breakthrough, success and failure. We need digital public sector leaders who can properly navigate this environment, and ensure that they are connected to outcomes and not traditional organisation objectives.

Here are three guidelines to get your started…(i’ll follow these with more in the next post).

1. Champion open data
We need leaders who can ensure that information and data is open by default, and secure when absolutely required. Too often councils commission digital programmes only to find the data generated does not easily integrate with other systems, or that data is not council-owned and can only be accessed at further cost.

2. Don’t get distracted by flashy products
Leaders must adopt an agnostic approach to technology, and not get seduced by the ever-increasing number of digital technologies and lose sight of real user and business needs.

3. Learn from research and practice
Tales of misplaced IT investments plague the public sector, and senior leaders are understandably hesitant when considering future investments. To avoid causing even more disruption, we should learn from each other and research findings from across the digital landscape.

Making the decision to properly invest in digital leadership will not just improve decision making about digital solutions and strategies. It will also bring in the knowledge needed to navigate the complex security requirements that surround public-sector IT. And it will ensure that practices honed in the digital environment become embedded in the council more generally.

In Devon, for example, we are making sure all the public information and services we offer online are based on the experience and behaviour of users – not an easy shift but its the hard work we should do if we want to make things better. This has led service teams to refocus on the needs of citizens rather than those of the organisation, a subtle cultural shift and we are now starting to see some positive responses from within services. And our experiences of future proofing, agility and responsiveness are informing service design throughout the council.

So what is holding us back?

Across local government there is still a fragmented approach to collaboration, although this is starting to improve and I hope that LocalGov Digital can be a part of shifting the perceived value of informal collaboration away from unprofessional outputs. In central government, the Government Digital Service is charged with providing the right environment for change across all government departments. However, in local government, digital leaders often work alone without a unifying strategy across the sector. It is important to understand and recognise that the Government Digital Service is more than just a team pushing and promoting digital in central government: they are the future of central government, attempting to transform everything – transform how government works as a system.

Initiatives such as LocalGov Digital, NLGN Shaping the Digital Agenda, O2’s Local Government Digital Fund, the DCLG/LGA local digital alliance and the Guardian’s many public sector forums and networks are all helping to push forward debate, spread good practice and build a sense of urgent optimism around the local government digital agenda. But at present there is no equivalent to the unified force of the Government Digital Service.

Local Digital leadership can provide an alternative approach to a centralised local government digital service, after all this is exactly what LocaGov Digital is doing. But do we really want to or can we rely on it alone?

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.

Navigating the Digital Climate

This post is part of a series which will also be cross posted on the Guardian Public leaders Network.

Investment in digital technology is undoubtedly key to the future of local public services – from providing public information all the way through to protecting and safeguarding vulnerable people. Whether you are a local council, voluntary organisation, private company or a community group, ensuring our collective investments are fit for the future also requires identifying and investing in supporting leaders with the digital and managerial skillsets needed to steer the course in a constantly shifting digital landscape.

Within the current financial climate, digital technology is often held up as a means of providing cost effective solutions to a wealth of problems dealt with by local public services. Through digital technologies councils hope to be able to integrate multidisciplinary teams, reduce customer contact, encourage self service, provide digital by default services and internally enable mobile and flexible working so that we can make the most of our estate and property, although that in itself is about opening up our estate where possible to allow others space to work and provide services.

We also look to digital products and services to improve the transparency and accountability of our decisions, to provide efficient and effective communications with citizens, and to foster community capacity by enabling citizens to connect with each other. We are also pushing our staff, officers and elected representatives to embrace and integrate digital into their own lives so we can connect on a more personal level and build new and more direct relationships.

Personally speaking and I make no secret of this, I’m a huge advocate of digital and the opportunities it presents, even in the current climate I get excited by the transformative potential of digital but none of that means anything without a shift in how we think, how we see ourselves as organisations, as employers and how we provide local services. Here in Devon, we recognise that digital is an important opportunity and a foundation for change and will be necessary to secure future savings but no more than recognising that we must change the way we think to ensure we do things differently and do different things. But none of this is easy when we are wrapped in a complex web of legislation and statutory responsibilities and the traditional risk adverse approaches creep back in when uncertainly reigns supreme.

For me digital is much wider than simply products and services and is about creating a climate where digital products and services contribute towards reconnecting people and places to enable problems to be solved. It is about creating a culture where local public services are Open by Default and Digital by Design.

Looking at a couple of examples here at the council we have explicitly stated that digital products and services are key to the success of our Estates Strategy by which we hope to deliver a reduction of 29% in running costs and 35% in occupied floor area between 2012 and 2017.  And targeted investment in digital systems is also key to both our Digital Content Strategy and Public Information Strategy and the service redesigns that will follow our upcoming reviews of council services – which together we hope will enable our citizens not just to ‘self-serve’ but also to ‘self-help’.

This cannot be simply about the technology and its delivery. For this work to really succeed we must invest in the leadership capacity both of our council and of our citizens. We need to make sure we are not just investing in products, but a culture that ensures that the right products are taken up and which allows these products to flourish.