It has been a while…


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

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

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

So here are some highlights?

Team Delivery

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

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

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

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

Working and Collaborating with Public Health Commissioners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a short extract from the email:

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

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

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

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

Beyond the Smart City

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

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

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

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

The website has all the details:

Final reflections and some additional highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Unpicking the barriers to change – changing through experience

i wish someone would do something about this

Photo by Phillirose – Flickr

I was in a conversation with Sara Cretney (Organisational Change Manager) and some senior colleagues recently about change and the question came up about barriers and what is stopping the people who are thinking differently from doing different?

I’m not entirely sure there is a single answer to this but one of the reasons I believe this is the case here is that given the climate we are in and the context and scale of change we have to embark upon the actual practical act of changing (not just yourself, but services) is really hard, especially if you haven’t experienced radical or transformation change before and lets face it most of us haven’t.

I’m not making excuses just highlighting a fact, so the conversation got into what we could do to resolve those barriers.

Sara and I used some personal experiences of attending practical events like XJamGov where the intense nature of the process challenges you within a very short time frame and introduces you to a range of tools and techniques which you can explore in practical situations and not in abstract and also test and develop new tools.

The more people we can encourage and nudge to attend and participate in these types of things to help them gain practical exposure and experience of new thinking and the doing of that new thinking the better in my opinion.

So what can we do about that?

Well it just so happens that Sara and I had already being doing some thinking around this with colleagues internally and externally – people like Martin Howitt, Lucy Knight, Dave Briggs, Andrea Siodmok and colleagues from Cornwall Council, Devon & Cornwall Police and a few others. We have also looked at work already done by others around this such as the work by Cornwall, Monmouthshire and the Policy Lab.

The idea is to create something which helps individuals discover and explore through experience. Actually shifting people from Thinking Different to Doing Different.

Sounds easier said than done of course – but we thought that there was almost an emerging range of experiences which could be built upon and developed further so it doesn’t feel like we would be starting from a blank piece of paper.

The early thinking is to look at how we can create a Change Academy – this would provide and facilitate an engaging experience around the following headings and themes to develop and grow people’s talents.

The Change Academy

Focus on Need
Key message: User Needs, not (Local) government needs
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Service Design
  • Service Blueprinting
  • User Journey Mapping
  • Personas
  • Ethnography
  • User Research
  • Service Jams

Whole Person, Whole Place, Whole System
Key Message: Focus on what matters
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Understanding and mapping demand
  • Tackling system conditions
  • Identify value and eliminate waste
  • Impact and measurement
  • Measures VS targets

Agile Projects
Key Message: Doing and Showing
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Rapid prototyping
  • Minimum Viable Product
  • Doing not Talking
  • User testing
  • Lean Start-up

Data and Experience Driven
Key Message: Solving the Right Problems
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Data Stories
  • User Stories
  • Storyboarding
  • First hand Experience
  • Hackathons

Reflective Practice
Key Message: Coaching, mentoring and reflection
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Reflective practice framework (satori lab)
  • Coaching
  • Strengths and impact on others
  • Giving and receiving feedback

Key Message: Making change sustainable
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Social Investment
  • Crowdfunding
  • Co-opetition
  • Business models / business model canvas
  • Law, Finance, HR – Navigating through, not compliance to
  • Negotiating and selling
  • Marketing and Communications

Networked and Collaborative
Key Message: Better Together
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Digital Skills
  • Co-opetition
  • Relationships
  • Understanding networks and channels
  • Online and offline
  • Unconferences

Open by Default
Key Message: Open is better
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Data skills / literacy
  • Transparency
  • Data Frame
  • Privacy and Confidentiality
  • Reputation

Digital by Design
Key Message: This will happen / this is happening
Skills, development, learning and hands on experience of:

  • Digital Skills
  • Digital Infrastructure
  • Market Awareness
  • Opportunity
  • Prototyping
  • Experience

Now as I mentioned this is early thinking and we would welcome views and comments.

One of the aspirations I have is to link the Change Academy to the LocalGov Digital skills development workstream and this become a natural part of what we do and support through LocalGov Digital.


Do we really need web managers?


Now this is a question that has bothered me for some time and has caused me to question the validity of my job.

I want to ensure that my councils websites is one which can benefit and deliver efficiencies for the organisation and one which provides services and information for our customers. A simple vision but one which is way out of my scope as a web manager.

I of course have influence on aspects of the website, style, tone, design (although branding is more important). But when it comes to range of services and what people really want to do in terms of performing tasks, this is something that a service manager needs to be engaged in and needs to decide whether they wish to spend their service budget on a channel that for some is still unknown. When we don’t have huge amounts of information about the types of online customers we have and serve.

My dilemma and perhaps cause for confusion is that the web is too broad an area to be managed by just one person, a web manager and their team.

When the web is in fact at the heart of a range of existing disciplines in the council.

  • Technology and Innovation – we are perhaps fortunate that our corporate ICT function has a team of Enterprise Architects who are there to look at the strategic business architecture which would include the web, but also looks at the latest innovations and how they can support and deliver business benefits, web 2.0 is one area that this team will look at.
    In terms of operational web development, this is provided by our in-house development team who do the actual programming etc.
  • Content (text, image, video, audio etc) – for me this the bread and butter of websites and is mostly driven by communications and marketing people across the council, but also involves web editors and publishers. what we need here though is a content strategy which highlights all content amd which channel it needs to be delivered to. This is wider than just websites
  • Information Management (metadata and taxonomy) – This is the field of information specialists and we also have a tool which helps us tag our pages with correct metadata and contributes to the taxonomy management
  • Services (what people come to do – the tasks!) – this has been the drive of eGovernment for the last few years and continues to be the main focus of websites now, but it driven by customer services and service managers looking to provide alternative channel of access for services. But we need to put the right service in the right channel if they are to be used.
  • Design – last but not least, a visual framework by which people navigate, search and perform information and search requests. This is a design function and in terms of framework is easy to manage but overall design needs to compliment the organisational brand, a communications and marketing role.

How can a web manager truly manage all of those aspects to ensure that the website as a whole develops consistently and in a usable way. They would need to be multi-disciplined and have a wide range of knowledge or they focus on one area and do that well.

It maybe that what we need is effective governance and key people from each specialist area to ensure that we can deliver a multichannel approach. Not to cut myself out and sell myself short, i have managed to do elements of this co-ordination for the past 4 years, but that is all it has been – “Co-ordination”, it has not been about truly managing the website as a strategic platform for business and staff. Perhaps my dilemma is that iu ahve outgrown my role instead of it out-growing me.

The web needs to be mainstreamed into everyday business thinking and when that happens you won’t need a web manager as it becomes part of how we work.  However you will need all those specialist areas to focus on the wider picture.

I could be tempting fate but stating such things but this is my dilemma, i welcome your thoughts