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

Love or Fear – which one rules you?

I was asked a question recently about the challenges around organisational change and barriers that “some” managers seem to put in the way.

My response I think took a few people by surprise as I simply suggested that those people who appear to be providing blocks or barriers are simply acting from a different place. They are operating from Fear.

I’ve over simplified this but essentially there are only two ways in which you can live your life, and from there make decisions about the things that affect you and those things around you.

Those two things are Love and Fear (Over simplified but I like the over simplification)

Personally I’m scared of many things, some rational and some irrational and because of that my thinking around those things gets clouded by the feelings of fear which take complete control like an auto-pilot – in those moments I’m not likely to make good decisions, even though those decisions might help me feel better about that fear, or manage it away from me…but all too often those decisions restrict my personal growth or the growth of those around me.

I also love many things and from that place, I’m able to let go, be vulnerable, trust in myself and others and allow decisions to be made more freely and those decisions have wider benefits as they are not about me but are made in a wider context.

Which rules you?

I’ve also thought a lot about how people learn to move away from Fear and I used to think you could simply inspire them, nudge them, provoke them and even shock them into a different place…but the I was reminded on this quote…

galileo

 

All we can do is to support people, create conditions and spaces for them to learn and discover love within themselves.

How are you helping others?

 

That elephant is ******* big now I can see the whole thing

Warning: This is a reflective post…i’ve had some time off and did some digging around my inner self 🙂

“There is a moment when you take a step or two backwards and start to see the bigger picture, the full picture, the elephant so to speak and then you wait, your eyes refocus, your body adjusts and there in front of you is the biggest thing you’ve ever seen…it is a massive elephant…holy shit…how on earth did I not notice this given it’s size, presence and impact.”

I’ve worked in a local council now for 20 years (half of my life) and I’d like to think I’ve managed to avoid being completely institutionalised.

But it isn’t until you start a process of transforming yourself that you realise that some of the cultures/behaviours/traditions that you work hard to remove have found there way into your own life.

In that very moment I felt vulnerable, without purpose and most of all I started questioning everything I did and do.

I’ve blogged about these types of things on here before, not in as much detail as i’m now realising sits within me, but my reflective posts and my journey of coaching for example are starting points for me to build on.

It has all got me to a point in my life where I now need to truly transform who I am and prepare myself for my emerging future. It simply isn’t good enough for me to expect others to do this without pushing myself through the change also.

I read quite a bit of organisational type stuff more than I read fiction if i’m honest, I’m always keen to learn and push myself and I really enjoy reading peoples blog posts of their individual and organisational journeys. I always thought that my journey wouldn’t be as profound as it is starting to be though.

Growing up in a local council these are the things that struck me…

I learned to live with frustration.

I learned to live with pressure and stress.

I learned to live in a world that is disconnected.

I learned that failure is to be avoided.

I learned that authority is to be trusted.

I now need to unlearn all of this as it has held me back and is unhealthy

I’m learning to live with opportunity and creativity

I’m learning to live in harmony and find my personal wellbeing.

I’m learning that the world is and has always been connected and I’m connected to it at all levels.

I’m learning that failure is a process of learning.

I’m learning that everyone is to be trusted.

Most of all…

I’m learning to open my mind.

I’m learning to open my heart.

I’m learning to open my will.

I’m learning to see that the elephant has been created by everyone to protect themselves from fear.

All of the above may seem a bit random for some people and that is OK.

Everyone is on their own journey and everyone experiences different things in different ways. We need to celebrate and acknowledge that difference more…we focus too much on creating artificial barriers and boundaries which hinder us all from simply being human.

 

 

Reflecting on how I learn and how I help others

I suspect like so many others – getting frustrated by policy, by process, by all the crap that stops you thinking and believing you can make progress and sometimes by other people/managers and leaders.

I’ve started to think more positively about this and how I can understand more why it happens, how I can work with it and what I need to do differently.

One of the biggest light bulb moments I had with this recently was when a colleague outlined the learning journey individuals make and how when working with senior leaders and organisations you need to be mindful of the learning journey everyone is making or not as the case maybe.

Basically what I realised is that the pace of my own individual learning worked against others and that because this learning was not directly shared I ended up communicating across a deeper void than before i started the learning. This void simply increased the frustrations on both sides when communicating about opportunity or redesign potential.

The picture/sketch below hopefully provides a visual explanation of this…

One of the biggest mistakes and missed learning opportunities I’ve made is that I’ve failed to recognise my own role in helping others learn and develop as I learn.  When I reflect back on my personal journey over the last 6-7 years I’ve been on an individual journey of learning and I have benefited from that in a variety of ways and on the whole It hasn’t been a problem…But as I’ve tried to shift and change my approach to supporting my organisation to learn and develop I’ve missed this key insight although I’ve been starting to address it without having clarity about what it was exactly I was trying to address (if that makes sense)

My Insight: What I had unintentionally done was dis-empowered others in their learning and not focused on the collective learning and opportunity this could have created moving forward.

Learning Gap

Key:
Green Line – My individual journey of learning
Blue Line – A senior manager / colleague / service areas journey of learning
Red Line  – Gap in knowledge = increased frustration

So how I see this now is one of a series of individual and collective learning cycles where the experiential learning is a normative process for everyone involved and we create a sustained change in thinking/learning/mindset which benefits the whole organisation.

I am now actively thinking about my approach to learning new things and whether it would be more beneficial for that learning to be done collectively with others or whether that learning needs to be done individually and then I simply revisit the learning again to support others, so instead of moving on my learning I work actively on repeating the learning with others to reduce the frustrations and disconnection.

If I simply want to develop myself then an approach of individual learning is OK. I’m a huge advocate of self-directed learning and very much value having the time and space in my head to spot something interesting and then research deeper and experiment to build my knowledge and learning base. However I’ve also learned that I am very much a collaborative learner and absolutely thrive when learning with other people – I find shared learning experiences more powerful, more meaningful and have more impact all round..

However if I want to play an active part in helping my organisation learn, to help it change and adapt to the future, then I have a responsibility to ensure others develop their learning and the organisation as a whole creates the knowledge and doesn’t rely on a few individuals.

I am not interested in creating a special role for myself over time, As I believe that we should all design ourselves out at some stage and never overstay our welcome in a given time and space. Paul Taylor better outlines in his post here about planned obsolescence and how this helps creates better systems for innovation. This in turn helps foster a new culture of continuous learning and adaptability, but that only happens when everyone is clear about their role in helping each other to learn and grow.

As an aside I have been reflecting on my purpose recently and have tried various activities to think about what my contribution to the world is and should be…you know that deep internal reflective stuff…Its the kind of thing I want to explore and find answers too..So I am going to be signing up for some Theory U self-study with some colleagues / friends in the Autumn as it will help me find my purpose and clarify the opportunity I have in my head.

What are your thoughts on learning and how your approach helps you and your organisation?

 

 

What am I doing?

I often ask this question of myself as the answer is rarely the same and it helps me get a sense of where I am in terms of understanding the context around me and the value I may or may not be providing.

I asked this question of myself over the weekend, one of those internal dialogues, primarily whilst I was cycling along the roads and lanes of Devon as I’m in training to do a cycling challenge during the first week of September. I’m cycling all three sides of Mont Ventoux in a single day with a group of friends, why? the only answer I can give is why not, its something which will challenge my physical and mental limits and I think I need that right now.

In a professional context I’m currently involved in some work to create some understanding around how and why people contact the council, the type, frequency and value of that contact. It is all part of a much larger piece of work to redesign 5 significant areas of the council and to question and challenge our purpose in those areas and ultimately deliver better outcomes with less money.  The work is fascinating and is already challenging some of the perceptions I had about why people contact us and our ability to deal with some of that contact.

Another interesting piece of work I was involved in was to support one of our county Councillors with facilitating a new conversation in his area around Highways and how we as a council can start to enrich our data about the highways which is primarily hard data with the lived experiences of those people who travel around those roads on a daily basis. Our aim was to provide a different type of space and meeting and not involve our Highways colleagues in the process as we felt they would create barriers to a new conversation emerging at least on this first occasion anyway. This is what I learnt about that conversation and the process:

  • Sometimes sending in a shock wave can make a difference (takes bravery)
  • Putting people in a different setting does result in traditional behaviours being harder to maintain
  • If you remove the traditional platform then you can
    • (a) allow those who want to engage to do so and
    • (b) challenge unhelpful behaviours in a far less threatening way.
  • Communities and the council do seem to have a common understanding of each other’s points of view, but we don’t yet seem to have any mechanism for using this information to effect resolution.
  • We appear to rely a lot on hard data and this data is not representative of what the communities value
  • A single meeting in isolation won’t change anything unless the wider behaviours change as well

On the back of this my role has changed, I’ve now moved out of Corporate Communications and into the Organisational Change Team managed by my colleague Sara Cretney. I’ve been asked to keep the strategic lead for Digital. So I’m now the Digital by Design Lead. My former team managed by Tom Dixon is going from strength to strength and no longer really need me, although I will maintain a strategic link and as individuals I am very passionate about ensuring they can be the best that they can be, so I am still committed to supporting them as individuals if they want it.

We are making real progress with the broader Digital agenda as well which is aligning with the wider organisational change I mentioned earlier and we are also taking opportunities to up skill, develop and challenge the current thinking of our Digital Board as well as other leaders in the council by inviting in external people to constructively challenge and disrupt which is helping us unblock some things as well as generate a new momentum for real and deep change. A couple of weeks ago we had Mark Thompson come in and give a talk to our Board and about 30 other leaders including some of our cabinet members on Digital which went down very well and people are still talking about it – in a good way. We also hijacked a leadership meeting next Monday which will now focus on creating a strategic mandate for action around all the work we are doing relating to Data.

The wider sector development work through LocalGovDigital is also going from strength to strength… ALL of the recent success is not down to me (as I’ve not been involved) and is down to people simply connecting and making things happen – all the work around the service standard is showing that councils can work differently together and that collaboration perhaps needs to be rethought as something more fluid and agile which responds to need and shouldn’t have too much formality around it but enough infrastructure to see it flourish – this and this are good examples. Phil and I have had a lot of conversations recently about how we can push the network forward and continually develop the opportunities to see action on the ground connect with the wider and broader strategic challenges. Whilst what we do as a network may appear somewhat random, it is having a positive impact on people working in the sector and in particular professionals working in this space. Without that I would have advocated the network think about its future and whether it had one – these are questions I constantly think about…If the network isn’t creating or adding value it shouldn’t exist.

My voluntary time is taken up by school governance work with my local primary school and now the emerging cooperative multi-academy trust that we are moving forward with where I’ve been asked to be the inaugural Chair which is a scary position to be in. The opportunity to help transform and improve outcomes for children and young people is a massive responsibility although it really is a huge honour to be asked. All of this activity and development is challenging me every day – providing and demonstrating strategic governance and knowing what this looks like all the time pushes me so far out of my comfort zone for such long periods of time, but I know I am growing and developing. It feels great to be on the journey with such fantastic people who I admire and trust.

I’ve made significant changes to how I work over the last 6-9 months to see whether I can be more effective and It hasn’t been easy, it has been a personal journey and one which has challenged my previously preferred responses.

Now I feel I am in a better place generally and when I ask the question of myself “what am I doing?” I can answer holistically and without seeing all my activity as a whole I can’t begin to see what impact I am making or what value I am contributing to or adding.