The launch of UnMentoring

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UnMentoring-mainSo my blog post reflecting on the Steering group meeting gave a very very brief overview of what we are intending to create around an UnMentoring offer.

So what is UnMentoring?

So in the true spirit of adapting something that exists already we have essentially reworked Nesta’s Randomised Coffee Trials. It will start during March 2015. UnMentoring (Randomised Coffee Trials in disguise).

To sign up and find out how it works check out the LocalGovDigital site for details

 

Reflections from We’re not in Westminster – Local Democracy for everyone

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Remember this date : Saturday 7th February 2015, because on Saturday in Huddersfield a special event We’re not in Westminster – Local Democracy for Everyone took place that created the space, time, inspiration and curation to bring together an amazing group of people to discuss and suggest small and big changes to how local democracy works.

Thanks to all the people involved from sponsors, organisers, participants and most importantly the attendees who gave up a Saturday to talk about local democracy – YES they really did…

The format of the day was well structured and professional – the hard work and planning by those behind the scenes really paid off on the day. The discussions and planning around the sessions beforehand allowed them all to have a clear active and action based focus, so all participants were engaged in trying to work through problems and suggest solutions…this approach I think worked perfectly for an event which has a specific focus and required more curation and facilitation than say an event like localgovcamp.
The mix of the day with sessions and lightning talks helped maintain the broader context and purpose around why we’re all there…
So in what appears to be a standard way of reflection on these types of events here are my  reflections and highlights.
  • People will travel to things they care about. Huddersfield for the majority of people is not on any mainline so did take some time travelling to, in my example it was a 6 hour train journey with 3 changes so it was a real commitment to make that journey and many people made the journey to the event which is why it was and is a success. My hat goes off to everyone who made the effort to attend, participate and give their views, ideas and energy.
  • Sharing values and visions doesn’t always mean you’ll share the same opinions and this is a very healthy place to be and we should ensure that we bring in as many different voices into these discussions as possible.
  • Curating events in the manner that was applied to this event is perfect when you want to have a specific focus on a topic and want to deliver value and outputs as it focuses the energies on that which is perfect.
  • It takes more than just money from sponsors to make an event fly, but without them you only have an idea and energy. No one should under estimate the huge amount of effort required to get these things off the ground and huge respect to the team at Kirklees Council in making it happen.
  • A highlight for me was when a couple of councillors from Kirklees in Tim Davies session on 20 ways to work with open data said they would like to see how Open Data could help them deal with a local issue around people feeding pigeons…they found some options and ideas from the group work and I really hope they share their learning and outputs as it will be with small stories like this that things like open data can really start to show some value to the non believers.
  • Another highlight was the clear diversity of people in the rooms – councillors, academics, people off the street, council employees and those passionate around democracy. The quality of discussions I witnessed really showed through because of this.

There are some great insights on the hashtag #notwestminster which i highly recommend checking out – John Popham created a storify if you want to check that out

#LocalGovDigital Steering Group on tour in Huddersfield

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On Friday 6th February a small number of the steering group came together at Kirklees Council and we do what we usually do at the steering group – we think, do and share stuff around the workstreams and it was very interesting meeting in many ways.
Sarah Lay has shared her reflections here and I don’t want to repeat everything Sarah has already said but do want to reflect on how far the group has come and how we have adapted and evolved in response to the people in it and those starting to engage.
So the group came together because of people who were passionate about seeing something change and also how as a group of people who originally felt disconnected and isolated how we could better help ourselves and others connect together to do bigger and better things.
Our vision is something we simply won’t compromise on which is to demand something better, to see world class local public services and to see local democratic process redesigned to meet the the immediate and future demands of citizens and communities.  We may not often articulate it like this but what brings us together as a network is that we won’t compromise on the direction, but we will be pragmatic through iterative developments so we can at least start to see a new model emerge from the grassroots.
As Sarah highlighted in her post, some people have expressed concern about the pace by which we as a volunteer group can affect change. I’m not worried about that as at least we are working on the ground to build a movement, a set of simple tools which will start to address some of the barriers people talk about.
We are not a large single organisation with a mandate, but we are a responsive network, full of people who give up their own time on top of sharing what they do in their work time to do something better.
We can’t do this alone, we need more people to work across the network and if you don’t know how, then simply offer some help, through one of the workstreams…as a network we don’t have any money, we currently struggle accessing money but this won’t stop us trying to work with people to release money in creative ways.
The focus of the network is on practical things…there are a few of us who like and focus on the strategy aspects and less tangible things (myself included) but the primary focus of the network is about practical iterative change…
The steering group is not the network, it is simply the group of people who are prepared to extend their focus to a national level and this is not a fixed group, it has changed significantly in the 2 and bit years we have been going but yet we are still pushing, growing stronger and gaining personal and collective confidence with every event, output and celebrated success that we see.
The network has to adapt, evolve, respond to the environment we work in, we originally set out a number of workstreams where some have made no real tangible progress, not because of the people but because I guess upon reflection they were not actually priorities for people…We have changed the way we work to be even less formal, we don’t have minutes of our meetings, our agendas are crowd sourced on trello and anyone could pitch something for us to discuss or come along and join in.
To ensure that we continue the personal and collective growth of the network we want to introduce something which we are calling unmentoring basically this is a simple commitment by people to give up 30 minutes to think, do and share with someone. It is similar to what the NHS are doing in the school of social care radicals in their randomised coffee trials.
Unmentoring – how will it work?
We have to work out a simple mechanism but we essentially ask people to submit some basic details: Name, phone, email and optional googleID/skype and we provide a tool which randomly connect you to someone else and you commit to having a conversation and then sharing some basic outputs, a tweet or a blog post about what you learned. It is an experiment we want to try and we want to test the assumption – connecting people even randomly will help challenge your thinking.  This has been tested offline already in events like localgovcamp, UKGovCamp and any unconference so we know the benefits exist, we want to know whether an online model exists.
As a steering group (those who were there) have committed to putting ourselves in the pot and would want to invite other to join in.
We just need to rapidly prototype the actual process so we can launch it properly
If you are interested let us know and we will keep you posted…

 

Early experiences – On being Coached / Mentored

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I wrote just before Christmas that I was actively seeking coaches and mentors who can help me develop and improve my productivity and impact.

I’ve previously had informal coaching/mentoring relationships with a range of people and still value those links and I don’t think people should be limited to just one as I believe that we all constantly need support and advice and we are always developing mentoring and coaching relationships without realising and without ever formalising them.

For example the following people have probably had the most significant impact on my career over the last 5 years due to their informal mentoring and coaching relationships over the last few years and in some cases much longer;

Andrea Siodmok – the first time I met Andrea I was inspired, her outlook and her experience in Design disrupted my thinking and broke me out of a world which I felt comfortable in and it is her influence, advice and support which has helped me to find a balance in how I look at the way I work. The approaches I take and the constant opportunity of working with people on the ground. She never stops making me think and inspiring me to consider new perspectives on problems.
Dave Briggs – I’ve always valued my conversations and interactions with Dave and would very much consider Dave a friend. I find every conversation engaging and memorable and not always for their coaching value :). Dave has provided a huge amount of advice, challenge and support whether he knows it or not which has helped me at critical times and he deserves a huge amount of recognition for his work and influence on a wider number of people in the sector.
Martin Howitt – for someone who had to put up with my constant questioning for a two year period when we actually worked in the same team and opposite each other in the same office, Martin provided some of the most valuable support and guidance at a time I felt out of my depth, lost and full of self doubt. Martin should know he is a valued friend and I always look forward to our informal conversations over coffee.
Catherine Howe – one of the most intellectually stimulating people I’ve ever worked for and with and Catherine has always been supportive of me and I am personally grateful for her encouragement, challenge and honesty. She is one of the people I hope I could see more but fear that my brain would explode if I did :)
Sara Cretney – I’ve only really started to get to know Sara over the last 18-24 months and in that time she has provided some of the most timely and fundamentally honest coaching I’ve received. I have to thank her for providing a balanced viewpoint and reflections which stopped me at times resigning from the council. Looking back and looking ahead, I’m hugely grateful to her for that support and she is very much a kindred spirit and some of the best work and progress I’ve made in the last 18 months is also down to her support, advice and influence.

So last week I had one of my first coaching/mentoring sessions with my Chief Executive (Phil Norrey) and found the experience hugely valuable for a variety of reasons which I aim to explore in this post. I’d like to thank Phil here for agreeing to be my coach/mentor and I hope I can offer some value back to him during the process.

Before I continue with reflections from Phil, I have also now set the date with my second coach/mentor for 11th February so will be able to share reflections and details after then. This year is going to be a significant year in many ways.

So reflecting on my first coaching session with Phil. Firstly it was VERY productive and HUGELY helpful to me in thinking differently about my role, my professional development and the opportunities ahead. It was also initially strange having a very personal conversation with someone whom previously I’d only had professional based conversations, but those feelings disappeared pretty quickly once we get stuck into conversations.

One of the reasons I asked the Phil to coach/mentor me was because I believe it will be valuable to me to be challenged by a strategic leader who does not fully grasp the digital agenda and that is ok, I don’t expect him to understand it all, however he is clearly aware of its potential, opportunity and its transformational capabilities. The key aspect for me was to be challenged around relevance, strategic alignment and reframing the story the needs to be told around digital locally…whether we like it or not the county of Devon is not the same as a major city and presents very different challenges around digital and whilst it is fine for me to believe in a digitally enabled future, unless I fully understand the strategic picture in Devon I’ll never be able to exert the right kind of influence to see a digital Devon emerge.

One of the conversations we covered was around my career so far in the council (I started in 1996) and how I have got to where I am today and the very organic nature to the way I’ve moved around the council and how in nearly every single job I’ve had, how I always seek out opportunities and activities outside of any formal Job description I was assigned to do…I realised that I’ve never had a job description in my time at the council which completely satisfied my curiosity and my skills…which is why I’m very grateful to my current line manager who allows me to discover and explore new things whilst also focusing on my core activities.

The question Phil asked me in response to this was simply but yet, no one had ever actually asked me and it really made me think – he asked “are you happy with the organic nature of your career so far?”

That question really made me consider what it is that is important to me and what it is I really want to do…the answer to this was after some reflection simple. It is fundamentally important to me that any job I do or if I were to apply for something, that it allows for and encourages personal and professional discovery, or to put it more simply, that I actually have inbuilt 20% time but with a broad purpose and for me this has since I started working for the council in 1996 about improving public services. The consistent them in my time at the council has been around and how technology, people and democratic participation / accountability can help reshape what this can and could be…

One of the benefits of taking to Phil was that we could simply talk and have a conversation around such a wide variety of things, I shared my thinking and vision for digital in Devon and asked him questions about the internal and external political landscape, we spoke about the future of Devon and pondered some random opportunities looking forward to 2050. One of the most reassuring things about the process was how similar (to a degree) our thinking was….ok my thinking is at a very different level at the moment as I’m working in an operational context and not the high level strategic context Phil and the rest of the corporate leadership consider and deal with all the time.

I always had a lot of time for those people who become chief executives of local authorities and always thought that it would never be a role I would envisage myself doing…I have even more respect for those people who have to deal with huge amounts of complexity on a daily basis and who, at least those I have met, maintain an engaging personality…I appreciate My reference points are those who I meet at conferences, meet online and those are clearly making a different statement because of how they behave, but it demonstrates and reassures me that it is something that perhaps one day I would want to do…but not for a long time yet :)

Phil and I agreed to meet every 6 weeks which I am grateful for and am looking forward to the personal development journey.

Tomorrow, Later today or on Friday 23rd (depending when you read this) I start my first session coaching Sarah Lay from Nottinghamshire County Council. Sarah is a friend, someone who I have a huge amount of respect for, we have been on a journey together and she has provided support and guidance to me over the years and I just hope I can help her through coaching achieve what she sets out to achieve.

LocalGov Digital – people passionate about public services

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It has been roughly two years now since LocalGov Digital came together – in my personal opinion we surpassed our original aspirations at the very first meeting when so many people committed to doing something together and we were blown away by the interest and momentum which came through at this years LocalGovCamp – it does prove that grassroots collaboration can and does work.

LocalGov Digital has also won Best Collaboration at the inaugural Comms2Point0 UnAwards. Sarah Lay has written a very good post on “We are all LocalGov Digital” which I think explains best what we set out to achieve and how everyone is key in that.

Anyway, here is a bit of a reflective post – what is localgovdigital, why we do what we do and a look back over the last two years and a look ahead…

What is LocalGov Digital?
Simply put, we’re a bunch of volunteers from local government and its partners who care about delivering brilliant user focused public services, enabled by digital where appropriate. Some of us are techies, web geeks, data crunchers etc and some of us aren’t. What we all have in common is our passion for improving public services. We pride ourselves on the fact that we’re a genuine practitioner network that gets things done for citizens in our localities.

The LocalGov Digital pledge:
We have adopted a Think, Do, Share approach to work and this focuses us on making sure that we actually deliver value on the ground, no matter how small, our approach encourages us all to think differently, do differently and share that widely across the network to help and support others.

The LocalGov Digital value:
Our underlying ethos is that local public services should be Open by default and Digital by design.

What we have done:

Since we formed as a network in September 2012 we have:

What we are actively working on:
We are going to continually share and show people how we did stuff, so they can steal and reuse it if it helps.

We know there is a huge amount of work to do and there are currently only a small number of us to get involved and help move things forward. So we have listed the areas where we have active people right now. However if you are working on something else and want to get involved in expanding the thinking, doing and sharing then get in touch.

1. Skills and capability – does the sector have the skills, capacity and capability to deliver real change in public service delivery?

We’ll do this through:

  • prototyping a “change academy” – this is about providing experiences / opportunities / moments to support people to meaningfully understand the tools and techniques to make change happen.
  • Working with partners co-hosting a Service Design discovery day – Warwickshire, 20th November – what are the needs that local gov has on service design?
  • Encouraging, supporting and promoting Service Jams and the Global Gov Jam Series
  • Creating a resource hub, pulling together existing resources and linking to them
  • LocalGovCamp – our annual gathering to support networking, hacking, leadership debates and sharing
  • Continuing to encourage and support practitioners to join LocalGov Digital Voice and share their thinking and doing.
  • Performance/digital dashboards – build on the existing work by councils who have worked with GDS and Socitm
  • Working on breaking down the language barriers around digital and open

2. Democracy – is the sector supporting its decision-makers to understand and promote digital service delivery?

We’ll do this through:

  • Different with Digital – this project aims to introduce new thinking around how local democracy might change as a consequence of digital. It is an experimental collaboration between specialist local government academics from four universities and local government practitioners working with LocalGovDigital
  • Democracy Camp – February 6th / 7th 2015
  • Produce user journeys for online democracy
  • Local Democracy Discovery Day

3. Making – helping define best practice and joining up the creation and sharing of design and development of digital services, where common aims and local user needs align:

We’ll do this through:

  • Localo – a set of common standards for transactions and data transfer to join-up IT and digital service delivery systems.
  • Pipeline – a “Kickstarter for the public sector” to help those working in around local governments solve common problems through collaborating on the creation of digital solutions.
  • Pulse – a resource to help find re-usable code and open resources designed by local government and the wider public sector.
  • Future hack and discovery days focused on technical design and development.

What we’re not going to do:

  • Create a single website for local government – we’re a practitioner network supporting local services in our areas
  • Force people to do stuff – We will influence through showing and doing

What we know we need help with:

  • Influencing decision-makers
  • Getting our message out to the right people so they listen and don’t keep making the same mistakes in the digital arena (e.g. procurement)
  • Financial support to get some things done – volunteerism only goes so far, we all have a day job to do
  • People from all sectors who can offer mentoring and coaching to practitioners

Do you want to get involved and Join us!
We know how many people there are out there in local government and beyond who feel the same as we do about creating real and sustainable change in public service delivery.

We know there are loads more people who could easily sign up to the LocalGov Digital principles, because they’re already working on transformational service redesign enabled by digital. If that sounds like you, then take our pledge to think, do and share with us. Real change comes from within.

3 simple steps to getting involved

  1. Use twitter or a blog so you can think, do and share in public
  2. Start sharing your work or thinking with the hashtag #localgovdigital and connect your blog to localgovdigital voice
  3. Connect to your peers around you inside and outside your organisation and organise meet-ups to start thinking, doing and sharing in groups.

Getting involved with the LocalGov Digital Steering Group

We operate on the principle that people earn their way into the steering group through thinking, doing and sharing activity and providing local or regional co-ordination.

If this sounds like you, get in touch and share what you are doing.