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.




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


RSA South West Futures – 7th July – Are you going?


The goodly folk of The South West RSA Fellowship Team have been busy recently pulling together a series of important events for the south west.

Inspired by the recent Northern Futures initiative, the aim is to kick start a new style of conversation about the future of the South West’s economy by asking people to get involved in formulating radical new growth strategies for the region.

Lead partners include University of Exeter and Devon County Council, RSA SW and Knowledge Hub, supported by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly and Heart of the South West (HotSW) LEPs. Other key partners include Made Open, Current Works Ltd, and COSMIC.

The invite is open to anyone from local authorities, businesses, social enterprises, academics and students in identifying key challenges for the region and collaborating to solve them, to drive open policy making, open innovation using creative problem solving tools and design thinking methods.

The South West Futures Open Ideas Day is a pilot project. There is an online call for ideas, seeking to generate topics to explore on July 7th, and develop solutions that can be shared at a follow-up event with key partners in September.

As a pilot prototype, if it is successful then it could lead to an even bigger project in 2016.

On July 7th, parallel events are being held in the following locations:

Exeter (University of Exeter Business School)

Honiton (East Devon Business Centre)

Penryn (Made Open, Jubilee Warehouse)

Places are very limited but FREE, there is space for around 20-30 people at each event.

The events will be good fun and challenging and they are particularly seeking participation from people who are passionate about making positive change and are willing to collaborate across sectors and boundaries.


It has been a while…


blogThe 18th March was the last time I blogged on this site, this is probably one of the longest periods of no activity on my blog, but yet one of the busiest periods of work I’ve had as well. I’ve had so many blog post ideas in my head which I simply haven’t found the time or better still haven’t actually prioritised in those 3 months for various reasons. So this inevitably ends up being a very long post as I clearly don’t have enough time to write a set of shorter posts :)

As I reflect back on the last 3 months in particular I get sense that the pace and scale of change (here in Devon and other places) is rapidly increasing and I need to challenge myself to stay committed to blogging regularly as I fundamentally believe that open practice and open thinking is a critical part of the culture that needs to grow and scale and support those in and around the sector to connect, inspire and challenge each other.

The two biggest themes that come through the activities I’ve been involved in over the last 3 months are: Collaboration and Design – Nothing I do really directly starts with Digital which used to be the case a while back…maybe that is my approach or the organisational awareness, perhaps both in equal measure. But it is great to have more in-depth conversations around the design of things.

So here are some highlights?

Team Delivery

The team have been VERY busy redesigning and redeveloping the council website and we have had some significant pieces of work go live recently. None of this is anything I have done, this is purely me being very proud of the team on some key projects

These projects have been fantastic examples of how the team have followed the Government Digital Service (GDS) phases of developing digital servicesdiscovery, alpha, beta and live – from end to end. Some of the key challenges have not been within the team but from across other areas who have not yet fully appreciated the shift in our role and approach.

Sarah in the team has blogged about all the work that happened through the discovery, alphas, beta and live versions of Educations and Families and it was a real team effort.

The team have also started to share the development journey around building the new homepage too again a huge team effort and not just our small team but the whole of Communications – the story starts in this post by Matt and this one from Tim. There are more posts planned as part of this journey so keep an eye on the teams posts on Rework Devon

Working and Collaborating with Public Health Commissioners

It has been a pleasure to work with some of my public health colleagues who are really engaged in Devon’s new operating model (a framework for how we work) and that has meant that they are prepared to fundamentally challenge assumptions, seek new perspectives and invite new collaborations to discover new solutions. One of the outcomes of that was realised on Monday this week when as part of a commissioning process, we ran a “Discovery Day” to help clarify the problem relating to a future healthy lifestyles service. From our perspective it was certainly a success, it really focused us all on understanding the target audience and defining the problem. We developed 4 broad persons loosely based on mosaic data and public health intelligence. I tweeted a photo of the 4 personas – see below

The additional aspect to this commissioning process is that I am also supporting the Assistant Director directly through our joint submission to participate in the Far South West Commissioning Academy, which is a local franchise of the Cabinet office Commissioning Academy.

The Commissioning Academy is a development programme for senior commissioners and those responsible for transforming service delivery in all parts of the public sector, including, local authorities, health bodies, justice organisations and central government

The Cabinet Office has been running a Commissioning Academy since 2013, designed to help senior commissioners learn from the example of the most successful and innovative commissioning groups to deliver more efficient and effective public services.

The programme is for 8 days over a 6-8 month period and consists of master classes, workshops, guest speakers, site visits and peer challenge and covers issues, such as:

  • Whole-systems thinking, bringing all facets of public services together to tackle issues
  • Systems leadership
  • Working with the voluntary and community sector
  • Behavioural insights
  • Market engagement and development
  • Alternative funding models
  • Joint commissioning across organisational boundaries
  • New models of delivery

Participants of the programme are also required to develop a 100 day plan post development to support transformational change in the local area.

This is an exciting opportunity not just to deliver radical change within this area but also to gain new skills and insights as part of the programme. I’ll be sharing more as the programme develops around my learning and insights i gain from the programme itself.

Design Thinking in Public Services Programme (LGA and Design Council)

In May we received an email inviting us to a launch event about an opportunity to submit an application into a design thinking programme – Design in the Public Sector, developed by Design Council and supported by the Local Government Association – cost of participation is fully subsidised as well which made it more of an attraction.

This is a short extract from the email:

There is a rapidly growing interest in design thinking in central and local government and the contribution it can make towards addressing the challenges you face.

Key design principles, methods and tools such as understanding users’ needs, prototyping, visual techniques and working collaboratively can all be applied to service, system and digital challenges in the public sector to great effect.

If your organisation is based in the south-west of England and you have a current or future service delivery challenge which could benefit from a different approach, this could be your opportunity to gain support through a proven, innovative accelerator programme.

So myself a colleague from our organisation change team (Kevin Gillick) went along, got inspired and pulled together an application, engaged some internal colleagues, the Chief Executive, a Cabinet Member and pulled together a core team and we were lucky enough to be successful. The programme kicks off on the 15th and 16th July in Bristol. I’ll be writing a joint blog post for Rework Devon shortly with Kevin to share our aspirations, expectations and challenges. We are committing to being open through the whole programme so expect to see and read lots of reflections, learning, opportunity and no doubt failures.

Beyond the Smart City

So the awesome folks at ODI Devon (Martin, Simon and Lucy) have asked me to oversee one of the most important events in the year.  From the 25th to the 27th of June ODI Devon, alongside the Met Office, is bringing together talks, workshops and, most importantly, people to explore what’s needed for better connected, greener, more human Smart initiatives.

The whole programme looks superb, the speaker list is amazing, the workshops sounds perfect.

To be asked to help out is such an honour as I know how hard they have worked to get to this point and the fact the event is happening at all is such a testament to the excellent work and determination of those awesome folk behind ODI Devon.

I can’t wait for it to all kick off and support them, I hope you can support them too by coming along.

The website has all the details:

Final reflections and some additional highlights

We’ve also been looking at some European funding streams around innovation which has developed some interesting relationships and connections with colleagues in the UK and across Europe, not sure what will happen but the networking has been invaluable.

A couple of weeks ago a colleague from Buckinghamshire County Council came down for a bit of a joint show and share which was a great opportunity for myself and colleagues in the council to share some learning around some innovative projects. It was refreshing getting an external perspective on some of the activity we have been doing and I’d suggest that we don’t often reflect how far we have come until we stop and share that journey. It was also great to hear about the great work Buckinghamshire are doing and we have much to learn from them…so this is really the start a many conversations.

There is so much internal activity happening around the digital agenda that I’ll follow this up in another post at some point…there is so much we can share.

Also the UnMentoring which is part of the LocalGov Digital offer linked to a prototype change academy is going VERY well, the feedback is fantastic, the connections across the sector are clearly growing (small-scale) but it is something which can grow and generate huge value in simply connecting people to share learning and experiences. If you haven’t signed up feel free to do here.

A couple of additional highlights one of which i can’t say much about at the moment – but it is one of the most interesting projects that I believe will have a radical impact on me and my team and how we work and collaborate as well as how we connect and network across teams.

Also I’ve been working across the LocalGov Digital Group on how we can start to rethink how we work, how we shape ourselves and how we can improve and deepen our impact moving forward. All of this will be a challenge to each and everyone one of us but it is something that needs to happen, we just need to work out how…A blog post will appear shortly on this, this isn’t secret I just don’t want to share it in this post…

My final reflection is that I’m perhaps unsurprisingly optimistic about the future even though i have no idea what my role will be, whether I will have an active role. But I do know that from my perspective the narrative has shifted from tough decisions and grey clouds, to one of opportunity, growth and blue skies. I know not everyone sees that…and it has taken me some time.