End to End redesign starts with really understanding the problem

Problem solving is great fun and is also a fantastic life skill to have, however it can be a frustrating exercise when you are trying to solve the wrong problem or decide to jump straight to solution mode without understanding the problem properly.

After some reflection this was probably the biggest insight that hit home during the whole of the Design in the Public Sector programme which we concluded late last Autumn.

Not content with the learning we gained, Kevin, Jo and I wanted to extend some of our learning by taking the opportunity to visit the Design Council in London as well as visiting Becky Rowe and her colleagues at Revealing Reality (formerly ESRO). We also extended the invite to 3 additional colleagues as we wanted to allow others to experience a small bit of what we gained.

 

I’m not going to share the details of the day as that might sound a bit boring, instead I’m going to focus on the key aspects of learning and reflections from the day.

Design as Strategy
This is something you don’t really see in public services, but it is starting to emerge as an enabler of transformation. But we must ensure that we are clear what this really means. This isn’t just about a sounding good or trendy, it is about adopting a robust methodology and approach to fundamentally and deeply understand the problems we face and the systematically address those using a variety of service design techniques which are currently rare in local government but are on the increase.

Design at the Top Table
As we all know culture eats strategy for breakfast so we can’t simply think that having a strategy will make everything OK and that we can sit back and it will fix itself. This stuff is really hard, when you deeply understand complex problems through powerful stories and data you have a duty to do something with it. The decision makers in organisations need influencing, support, advice and most of all emotional ownership of the change to drive through the bureaucracy and challenges to truly transform how we deliver or enable services. Having someone at the top table who understands the opportunity is essential.

Understand Place and Understand People
You need a breadth of understanding and that is built from exploring the places people live as systems and the interconnections that exist – this gives you a context. You also need to create depth by truly understanding people and their stories.
There is a skill and art to this that needs to be understood but we all do this to a lesser or greater degree already.

Challenge Assumptions
Everyone assumes something all the time and that is fine, but we also need to surface and challenge assumptions so that we can better understand problems, help people explore opportunity and solve problems creatively. In this context not knowing a system or place can be helpful as you can start to explore and ask the obvious questions which many people take for granted.

Really understand the problem
When people talk about End to End redesign – it really means doing all of the above and more. When you do that you create a true understanding of the reality that exists for people and not the perceptions people hold, the assumptions people make or the professional opinion of colleagues. To solve the problems of our day we need a deep understanding of them and that is when we open ourselves up to people – create vulnerabilities but also trust and respect.

I don’t have all the skills or knowledge I need ‘yet’ but I am determined to work with people here and further afield to solve problems. When you think about it like that, it is really exciting. As I’ve said before there is no austerity of the mind and imagination, so we have a choice whether we want to invest our own time and energy in helping others.  I know what I’m going to do.

Looking back, forward and sideways

The new year always seems to bring on those reflective moments where you celebrate the last year and look forward to the next.

I’m a little late with this (well a week, is not that late) but that is because I’ve taken time out and actually disconnected over the Christmas and new year period from work. Well more importantly disconnected from thinking about work and all the challenges that are ahead.

Now I’m back at work I’m able to take a fresh look at the year ahead and beyond and consider what my role is and what my aspirations are for the future in general. I’m not so bothered about the next 12 months specifically but am more focused now on my journey and the impact I can make along the way.

But first I’m going to reflect on the last year – a year which pretty much for me was dominated by development on all levels – spiritually, emotionally, psychologically and physically. Not all of it was work related of course but it was a year of Personal Growth.

I’m not going to spend time here going back over the details of every key moment but I’d like to share some themes which emerged for me which I think might be helpful to others.

  • Coaching: I can’t thank the people who have coached me enough formally over the last 12  months and longer. The coaching sessions created a great deal of clarity for me when I was perhaps becoming lost and disillusioned. I found the emotional connections (on various levels) you make with others and more importantly yourself – deeply transformative.
  • Looking in all directions: Inspiration comes in many forms and can come at any time. I’ve been fortunate over the last year to connect to and be inspired by a great many people, most of which would not have known they inspired me as they were not setting out to do so. They simply created magical moments which helped me see different perspectives on a variety of problems, some complex and some quite simply but frustratingly hard to get to.
  • No excuses: When things get hard, it is all too easy to create excuses as to why things won’t or can’t change, well I’ve found that the majority of the time the real barrier is yourself. A lack of tactics, a lack of energy, a lack of drive, enthusiasm, inspiration, creativity etc. The hardest thing to do is to create new perspectives for yourself which help you to connect to other people in more meaningful and imaginative ways. Now I’m not saying there are not hard and complex problems out there but we can’t make excuses anymore. We simply have to move forward.
  • The power of “yet”: In my leadership course about 18 months ago I was introduced to Carol Dweck and her work on Growth Mindset. During the last year it became something which also moved into my world as a parent and a School Governor as the school has adopted this work for the children and adults in the school and it has had significant improvements in how the school is progressing. One of the key elements for me in the growth mindset is the use of the word “yet”. The shift in your own perspective by using “yet” is a powerful one. For example and a very simple one at that: I’m not good at that. Or I’m not good at that yet.

You can view a short RSA Animate video which talks more about the growth mindset here

  • There maybe no money but: Everyone has been focused on the lack of money for such a long time now that it can’t really be a reflection from last year, however my point here is that whilst there might be austerity around public finances, there is certainly no austerity on people’s ideas, creativity and imagination. So let’s make sure we create the right conditions for that to flourish so that we can create new public and social value for a modern society.

Looking ahead my aspirations or even a set of principles are similar to those that Sarah Lay posted – Here are mine and they will drive my decisions and actions throughout the year.

  1. Live full and with meaning
  2. Balance digital conversations with real world conversations
  3. Embrace “Yet”
  4. Be “Open” with my whole self
  5. Enable others to shine and grow
  6. Don’t give up, when things get hard, embrace it and push through – that’s how you grow

So that’s about it for this post, although one final thing to say is that I must blog more, I’m missing it.

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