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

Event Reflections – Redesigning Public Services – Strategic Importance of Digital


Wales Audit OfficeDuring 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

Good Practice Exchange

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

UnMentoring – 5 rounds in and counting



I posted a while ago about the changes that UnMentoring went through, mainly the switch to a professionalised system which takes all the hard work of administration away and simply connects people. Well after 5 rounds of UnMentoring I was keen to see what was actually happening and how connections were being made or not as the case maybe.

I also looked at the growth over the months as well and whilst it has been up and down there is a steady growth which is good…the initial peak was due to the change from the previous version (managed by excel spreadsheets) to this new system.

UnMentoring Growth Graph


One of the misconceptions affecting growth is that some people think this is just for local government people. UnMentoring is open to anyone who is passionate about the improvement and reform of public services and the broader the people involved the richer and more diverse the conversations. So if you are interested then please sign up.

The interesting thing within the network diagram as each round develops is the number of connections that didn’t get a chance to meet or didn’t confirm whether a meeting occurred. The red lines in the pictures/gallery shows the number of connections that didn’t meet.

I think this is something we need to think about and maybe the monthly commitment is hard to maintain, so we might experiment with a longer time frame and see if that helps people as well as asking a number of people as to some of the reasons why connections didn’t happen. Feel free to share some of your insights on the post by the way🙂  Without your feedback we will innovate in a vacuum. The previous excel system most probably had the same issues but they weren’t visible in this way, but now its visible we can start to something about it.

One thing we do know is that for some people these random conversations are transformative and the simple offer of connecting people is a valuable service to offer and we can only develop richer and more diverse connections if more people join and connect too. It doesn’t work for everyone although we do have and provide other ways to help people connect such as the events we help put on for example LocalGovCamp#NotWestminster and the new peer groups around things like the Service Standard.

With all the focus on technology and technology innovation, the challenge we want to help address is connecting and bringing diverse groups of people together to find common understanding and to solve problems and improve public services for everyone.




Pondering leadership – why digital is a distraction from the real challenges of leadership


There appears to be a range of articles emerging which are titled along these lines “Digital Transformation is more than just Digital” you know the ones, well, on the whole they are really interesting to read but tend to repeat traditional business strategy advice that has been commonplace for the last 20-30 years. So why is this?

From a personal point of view it is absolutely clear to me that Digital is an enabler and whilst it’s a fantastic opportunity it’s not really where the challenges are in terms of leadership or with organisations.

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.

The reason I say this is that can do “digital” even in the current mindset as some people are claiming that there is digital transformation happening when you can see even from the outside that it is simply automating legacy processes rooted in old ways of doing things and all this does is reinforce the wrong behaviours and then make them visible to people via the internet – a lot of people know this is wrong but yet it still happens.

When you look to the future, things are only going to get more challenging in terms of how leaders to have situational awareness around trends and new developments not just in technology but in society. This long article is a fascinating read or perhaps disturbing depending on your viewpoint. Is essentially a report of a keynote presentation that futurist Gerd Leonhard made at a KPMG Robotic Innovation event on the Digital Transformation of Business and Society.

I’ve picked out some of the key points and takeaways from the article but I would highly recommend reading it if you can find the time.

  • Leaders must shift from a focus on “what is”, to a focus on “what can be” – Wait and see means wait and die
  • Do not underestimate the sheer velocity of change
  • Anything that can be automated will be
  • Industry boundaries will blur – ultimately we may end up with a handful of value ecosystems such as: mobility, shelter, resources, wellness, growth, money, maker and comfort
  • Intelligent assistants and augmented reality will replace the need for actual assistants within the next 5 years
  • Collectively, robotics, automation, intelligent assistants and artificial intelligence with reframe society, business, commerce and culture – this reframing will drive fundamental structural change
  • The exponential and combinatorial growth of the 7-ations will create abundance, job displacement and dependency – the 7 are digitisation, de-materialisation, automation, virtualisation, optimisation and augmentation
  • Total efficiency will be reached within 5-10 years and after efficiency is met – value comes from purpose.
  • Purpose driven organisations must excel at technology and humanity
  • Creativity and social intelligence will become crucial differentiators for many organisations
  • If some of the unemployment scenarios play out influenced by automation – a basic annual income might be required for citizens
  • Experience is a differentiator and you can’t automate experiences
  • We don’t just need better algorithms we need stronger values, ethics, standards, principles and social contracts

So looking forward, what we can safely say is that the future will have a lot more technology and innovation in it, organisations need to be more purposeful and leaders need to focus on what can be – this is a radical shift in thinking for the current leadership landscape.

Coming back to digital, what all this talk and momentum around digital has helpfully done, is represent a diverse range of different influencing factors on how organisations need to adapt and how the people working in them need to adapt to the way people in society live their lives. This is where simple things like understanding how social media can challenge and change communication and customer service. I’m not personally bothered whether leaders are fully versed in the inner workings of social media, but not having an understanding of the implications and potential is no longer acceptable…so their is a legitimate leadership challenge around basic digital skills which needs to be addressed. But when you start to extend this into business model innovation and how organisations can be built around the internet and not just having a website that sits on the internet, well there is a massive leap to take here and i think we need to allow new leaders to leapfrog the current ones…

This leads me onto the bigger and more fundamental issue for me which is around public service leadership itself and in particular the cohort of current leaders in the public service landscape right now. From my personal point of view there are good leaders who understand this and I have total respect for them and admire the work they do in challenging environments, but they are a minority. There are also good people trying to do the wrong things and sadly the leadership challenge is systemic therefore I’d like to propose a vote of no confidence in the current leadership landscape and ask them to either step aside or better still recognise as current leaders they are a barrier and allow the emerging leaders to help navigate the landscape of change and help transition public services into a new environment – the current leaders have a clear role to play, they need to help make this transition by ensuring the current system doesn’t completely fail people, but they need to allow and encourage new leaders to provide the energy and momentum to change the current system.

Now this is probably an unrealistic ask, so in the absence of that I want to offer my help and the help of those emerging leaders in the sector, a small proportion of which are part of LocalGovDigital but the majority are in the services delivering and responding to people every day. Collectively we need to come together around a shared endeavour, share stories, share learning and truly support each other. A few examples of this is that as Devon we have over the last 12 months actively started conversations with other organisations outside the public sector to challenge our thinking, a simple example of this is the Exeter City Future initiative has challenged our thinking around the use, management and opportunity of data. As well as sharing our learning and seeking learning from others examples of this include, Nottinghamshire County Council, Buckinghamshire County Council, Suffolk County Council, West Berkshire Council, Cornwall Council, Bristol City Council to name just a few. This sharing of learning has taken many forms and most recently the learning between us and West Berkshire was a shared conversation between myself, my Chief Executive and Phil Rumens and his Chief Executive via skype, the main purpose of that was to connect the chief Executives and we have already set up a regular catch up. What this has not achieved is any real hard wired collaborative action between any of the councils. There are also more opportunities we have engaged with over the last couple of days which will enable us to share our learning even further, more on this in good time.

Before we start moving forward I want to talk about how digital has unhelpfully complicated the issue as well. The problem with using the term digital is that it is simply too easy to lump it in with a bunch of technologies and start calling it platforms and software etc. Technically this is just technology and those leaders who understandably don’t understand the inner workings of technology start to say they don’t understand digital as this is clearly someone else’s job and most scenarios this is revamped Heads of IT, who have a bloody hard job in just keeping the current legacy environment working – again some who make that transition and do it well are good, but not all have.

In making this link to IT, this is where you end up getting the automation of existing processes promoted as digital transformation where it is clearly just a simple automation of a process, but how many times do we ask ourselves, why are we doing this process, what is the thinking behind this, how is this helping or contributing to meeting the needs of people in our communities.

So this post ends up being another one of those posts titled – digital means more than digital so i apologise for that.

But what I hope to achieve in sharing this is that we need to demand either current leaders step aside or step up. Either way there are people who can help, so just ask for it.



UnMentoring Rebooted – Round 1 and Round 2


Back in January we relaunched UnMentoring because we were offered a chance to improve the process and hopefully the experience by Spark Collaboration who provided a platform to help manage the process.

Two months on and I’ve experienced 2 rounds of UnMentoring and have found the conversations fascinating as always. I’m a big supporter of learning from others and connecting people together to break down silos and to challenge our own individual mindsets so we avoid the group think scenarios.

You can register at any time and we welcome anyone who has an interest in public service transformation.

This post is going to reflect on two things:

  1. The conversations I’ve had with some great people and,
  2. How the platform is helping and providing a new insight on the connections

So lets start with the conversations

Round 1 – Sarah Roberts

Sarah works for the Fire Service and is working on employee engagement projects. We initially spent the first part of the meeting introducing ourselves talking about what interests and motivates us and then got into the challenges we face in our work.

We found some good synergies in the work we are doing so we shared some learning, insight and basically supported each other. It is always refreshing to get a sense check with other people in different organisations who share similar frustrations, similar opportunities and are keen to share that openly and honestly.

One of the areas we shared some learning around was story telling and I shared a project we are doing called 100 days of Change which is about collecting stories from within and across the council about the learning people are doing and the impact on them. The power of story telling as a way to support cultural change is fascinating and we are starting to capture some great stories from people.

100 Days of Change

We agreed to stay in touch and keep each other updated on some projects we are working on.

Round 2 – Sharon Dale

The most recent conversation was with Sharon who is doing work in central government with GDS, DWP and Civil Service Learning.

Luckily I’d had some previous contact with Sharon before via twitter so it was good to get stuck into what we were both doing and picking each others brains about things we were both looking at.

One of the conversations was about push and pull leadership

The Art of Change Making - Local Leadership Centre

Screen grab from The Art of Change Making – Local Leadership Centre

I shared some examples of how understanding this better has had a significant impact on my approach in meetings and how it is having a positive impact (that’s my perception anyway)

We also spoke about skills development in two forms, staff but also how we can start to work across organisations to think about skills development within the market and helping to create a more open route into some disciplines around digital. Tom in my team is doing some work on this where we are looking at how we can work with others to support a new apprenticeship opportunity.

Again we agreed to stay in touch and continue to learn from each other.

My reflections on both conversations are that is really doesn’t matter who you talk to, you’ll always find a common ground where you can discover and learn new things. You just need to create the space and allow the time for those connections to happen.  It doesn’t take a long conversation to make this happen either, both conversations were about 30-45 minutes which isn’t long. If you think about how long you spend in formal meetings. Ask yourself how much do you really know about the people in the room and how can you find a way to reach beyond the agenda and create space for different conversations and discussions to emerge.

The Platform

So as mentioned before, we shifted from a process that took hours in excel to something that now essentially manages itself. It has certainly freed up my time and allowed some extra space to emerge.

What the platform does in terms of measurement and visualisation is also really cool.

Below is an image of how the system visually displays the people within round 1 – groups of pairs disconnected in a network and isolated from each other…as you progress from round to round this picture changes and creates a flow of people who are connected – see the second image below.

unmentoring - round1

Round 1

unmentoring - round2

Round 2

This visualisation of how the network of people is developing based on the connections people make (assuming of course everyone actually gets to complete their match).

It will be fascinating to look at the levels of connectivity within the network as it grows…I’m keen to see how the visual display of the network reacts as new people sign up along the journey.

I will continue to share insights from UnMentoring as they happen and part of our work with Spark Collaboration is we look at evaluating the impact of this method and tool has on developing connections and relationships across the sector.