What I think about Local Government and Digital

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Mush of this post was written before today’s Budget announcement which contains a really interesting snippet:

Budget 2015 - Digital ambition extends beyond central to consider local services

I’ll make some comments about this snippet towards the end of this post but want to carry on with my post as originally intended.

In my previous post about Local Government in general I shared my thoughts and journey through local government.

In this post I want to share my thinking about Digital in Local Government. Probably for some a long overdue post but I must admit my views and thinking have not been consistent over the last few years so

To briefly recap this is what i said in my last post around the vision:-

We must demand and create world-class local public services and we simply can not compromise on this….

I believe…

We need demand led local public services that are responsive to the needs of citizens and are based on what people need and how best those needs can be met.

We need open by default and digital by design local public services that are transparent, inclusive and accessible 

We need dynamic local democratic processes that respond to the needs and value the views of local people.

Firstly I want to make the point that Digital means different things to different people and that is in my opinion one of the fundamental barriers to wide-spread collaboration across the sector at the moment, although it should be the biggest opportunity to get people together as well!

There have been many discussions online and in person, some helpful, some not so helpful about what local government should do about Digital and it is reassuring that so many people actually care about the sector to express their points of view. The thing is no one is right or wrong as each person brings a different perspective and a different solution to the table – all of which most likely have a place somewhere.

I don’t claim to know what the answer is, nor do I claim to represent the views of the many practitioners who perhaps want different things. But what I can do is share what I think the problem is, where I think we as a sector need help.

The landscape of digital in local government ranges from aspects of the traditional IT domain to Web/Public Information to skills development and connectivity. It is all these things and much more.

As a practitioner in local government right now working to push digital innovation through my council, the approach I’m having to take is to set very high standards around the areas we have direct control which is the public website and the public information. We are in a process of change here and are currently moving our site to a new platform.

We now control content more than we ever did. We have an evolving approach around how we develop content – understanding what the demand is for a particular service and then mapping this to user needs and looking at how we can reposition the content to meet needs whilst also providing additional content/messages which signpost local community and voluntary services and we do this because that is where people look first.

What we found out is that a good proportion of people don’t look at google first, people ask friends, neighbours, people they know who may have experienced similar situations. Only if they don’t find out any information do they resort to google or think of us as a council – we are seen as almost a last resort.

The problem is that the way we have set up the system of local government so that once people contact us we collectively tend to want to pull them into our systems and processes and manage them as cases, contacts or customers and then we often think about how we can exploit that contact and provide sight of all of their interactions with us in a single view. Who does that really benefit, and who does this really empower…it feels like we still hold the power in this model and that feels wrong. This doesn’t in my opinion treat people as people it treats them like assets which can be exploited.

We need to shift away from this centralised model to one which is personalised, empowering and designed around the lives of people. We need to design and build services which can be pulled when needed / required and or that respond dynamically to people’s lives and transitions that they experience.

We need to design our services to fit into the workflows of everyday people and not around the processes of policy and government only then we will deliver truly radical change.

Digital is not really a set of solutions, it is the symbolic behaviours that go with all that the internet represents.

I do believe we (Local Government) need to share aspects of what we currently recognise as IT infrastructure and we also need to consider how we can provide a consistent but not uniform public interface to the whole of the sector, not just local government but the multiple organisations that deliver local services.

That may mean that we consider and properly review whether a single platform for publishing would actually help make that better or make things worse…I think whilst cost is a driver, we can not make cost the priority focus for making these choices as we either want to deliver world-class local public services which we believe and know will reduce costs or we reduce costs and make the best of what we can…I’d rather start with world-class public services.

Coming back to the snippet from the budget – here are my top 7 things I demand as a Digital Practitioner in Local Government.

  1. Appoint a Chief Digital Officer for Local Public Services, who would have a responsibility to pull together the vision and map out the support required for each area and provide system leadership and direction. This might be a single person or a collection of people given a single mandate and the authority to make it happen.
  2. Adopt a relentless and uncompromising demand led redesign approach to ensure users are at the centre of what we do.
  3. Develop, support and enable a skills development programme ASAP which addresses the fundamental skills gap in local councils and local areas to actually make the changes on the ground happen and sustain them. This might be matched with a framework of approved suppliers who can be used to support who work to a consistent set of standards and approaches.
  4. Demand open approaches, open systems, open practice. We can no longer tolerate design and development in isolation within councils and across councils. Opening ourselves up and sharing the problems
  5. Reward and incentivise collaborative action – We need to be uncompromising in our approaches to collaboration and demand this is designed into funding, rewards and any inspections. It has to be the the rule not the exception
  6. We can no longer tolerate digital ignorance in strategic positions across the local government landscape. If strategy and policy is disconnected from the opportunities we will continue to fail
  7. Fix strategy and policy so that local services are designed around the lives of people and not around the boundaries of organisations

What I recognise is that we all need help, we all need to feel we are not doing this in isolation. We need help to agree an ambitious vision for how local public services can be delivered and then we will need help in relentlessly focusing on delivery against that vision – especially when it gets hard, really hard.  That is what I think about Local Government and Digital.

 

Unpicking the disconnect between internal and external influence

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Since hearing on Wednesday evening that I was selected and judged to be in the #LGC100 at number 48.

I’ve been pondering and reflecting on a few things which didn’t sit right with me, and started asking broadly 2 questions of myself and with some colleagues – the questions were broadly along these lines:

  1. How can I be judged in the Top 50 nationally around influence and power but yet sometimes feel rather isolated and disconnected to the power and influence internally?  In my case this is really about the disconnect between the perceived impact and influence of the work, ideas and passion of those people around the LocalGov Digital Network (external) and my position as Digital Communications Manager and as a paid employee of Devon (internal).
  2. What can I do to better understand the influence I have and how can I improve the way I use it to benefit local and national outcomes around the redesign and transformation of local public services?

Let me try to answer them the best I can, most of the following will be a very honest account of my self-reflection and my areas for development, I share this here in good faith and hope that anyone reading that can offer advice and guidance does so in the spirit this was written.

The issue around internal and external influence or even perceived value to ones own organisation has been a subject of conversation for many years with many people and we would often say things like “Why is it my council will believe what an external person says over me when I have been saying the same for ages” or something along those lines…Well instead of resorting back to a traditional mindset of blaming others I decided to take a long hard look at what it is I do internally that is different to what I do externally.

After some soul-searching and a really great conversation with my head of service – I came to a conclusion which for the first time made some sort of sense and they split into two areas:

  1. I have a self-limiting belief which is still subjected to the powers and structures of the traditional hierarchy of the organisation I work for and like it or not, I’m obviously still accepting a “position” within that system and I’m not acting like a true leader in my field and supporting and helping the people at the top of the organisation to understand and connect to the digital agenda in ways which are meaningful to them – I’ve clearly focused too broadly and not enough on how it truly relates to each and every part of the business.
    This is a fault of mine and I have already taken steps to resolve this but the biggest shift was in accepting that whilst I’m seen as “disruptive” I’m still only on the edges and NOW is the time to mainstream and scale up the impact and influence internally – watch this space.
  2. I’ve been able to tell a very generic and a broad story/picture of digital in the LocalGov Digital context and that has allowed me to consider the wider benefits and implications. I’ve been able to blog about this, talk openly about this in public forums, conferences locally, nationally and across Europe. I’ve been able to work with colleagues to champion a different way of thinking and working and through voluntary action make a small difference…
    My missed opportunity internally and I’m calling it a missed opportunity even though we (my team) have made some great progress, continue to make good progress and consistently push for better outcomes but it has been my inability to grasp this issue and understand its impact around me that up to now, I have not formally pushed as hard as I now realise I need to, to get the team the explicit validation, mandate, recognition and support they need to be even more effective.
    I need to work smarter, not harder to create the alignment from the top of the organisation to the team and outwards to other teams so the impact has a truly transformational impact. This is clearly something i thought i needed to work really really hard at and often on my own, but that is clearly foolish, I’ve developed some fantastic relationships internally which I need to use more effectively and smarter for wholesale change and I need to seek the support and trust of some different people over the coming months to make a positive difference.
    However this inability to tell an effective story internally is also partly down to the journey the council is also taking around reshaping itself, so it has not been an easy task to fully understand which angle, perspective or tactic to take – this however is resolving itself now, with the councils new strategic vision and operating model which create a perfect hook by which i can start to articulate the exact story that Devon wants to tell and share – this is a work in progress with colleagues to co-design and co-author the story we want to tell and that will start to appear soon on Re:Work Devon.

The second question around what I need to do to better understand my influence will I suspect be an ongoing process, but I’ve taken some steps to seek out new mentors and coaches who can help me navigate this and hopefully that will come to fruition in the near future.

I’ve also started to talk more openly to close colleagues about this and have asked them to challenge me and to think about what this influence might mean. Some may say that I am over thinking all of this and that I should simply get on with work – well I believe that in understanding this better I’ll be significantly more effective and able to deliver and contribute to a deeper and more profound change and transformation not just locally but further a field.

That is worth exploring and understanding…I guess I didn’t have to be so open about all of this but I’ve been clear to myself that thinking in public is a commitment to a set of wider values which I firmly believe are at the heart of the transformation and reinvention of local public services.

 

WTF! > Straight in at number 48 in The #LGC100

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IMG_0610.JPGThis evening saw the LGC100 list announced and I am very proud and also nicely surprised to be included and in particularly in making the top 50.

This is a huge nod to the achievements and recognition of the work of the people around me at the council as much as it is for me. This is also a huge nod to the group of volunteers who work in and around LocalGov Digital.

The LGC 100 list looks ahead to who the panel of judges believe will exercise most influence in 2015. According to the LGC website the judges were instructed to consider who will have the greatest influence, rather than who they would like to see holding power. Phew as I’m unlikely to be anywhere near the top 100,000 if it were about power :)

The bio about me was nice and I didn’t even have anything to do with it, it said:

In an environment where more and more councils aim to bring about “channel shift” in order to give the public better access to services and cut staffing costs, his work could be significant over the next few years.

One judge said: “Carl is a driving force behind the digital reinvention of local government. He is also an active online social media promoter of local government.”

To say I’m proud is an understatement, it is a great achievement and I only hope I can live up to the expectation and promise over the next 12 months. I certainly have clear aspirations to do exactly that. :)

Unpicking the barriers to change – changing through experience

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i wish someone would do something about this

Photo by Phillirose – Flickr https://flic.kr/p/nV5A1y

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

Enterprise
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.

 

#LocalGovDigital – A day with @GDSTeam

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Me, Mike Bracken, Tom Loosemore chatting at GDS – part of the LocalGov Digital Visit

On Thursday 10th April a small group of the LocalGov Digital Steering Group visited the GDS offices to share our journey, share our outputs, ideas and challenges and start a conversation around how we might be able to work effectively together moving forward.  We wanted it to be an open and honest conversation which I believe it was, we were very open about our strengths and vulnerabilities and also learnt and discovered new strengths and vulnerabilities through the day.

For some of the steering group it was their first visit so we had to take the tour and get the plotted history and detail about the journey not just of GOV.UK but of the Government Digital Service itself. It helped us all move away from just seeing GDS as a website and I think we all knew it was more but getting the low down on what they do helped us understand and see that they are changing and transforming government and that isn’t always easy and straightforward but it is possible. This resonated with the group as it is something we aspire to within a local government context.

I had put together a rough agenda to help focus the day but what was good was that it was far more conversational and discussion led then simply us “showing our stuff” and asking “so what do you think?”. I think it was a really good opportunity for us to share some of the ideas we have, some of the outputs we have created as well as some of the challenges we face. The conversations were always constructive, positive and focused on moving beyond the reason why we can’t to seeking opportunities around how we can.

We were also lucky to be able to grab some of Nicola Gill’s time and she shared some updates around digital inclusion which we feel is a really important area that we can work on and is something we feel we have missed out of our workstreams so we have agreed that we should have a workstream to look at how we can work effectively on this area.

We were also keen to understand and get some context around the Electoral Role as this is an area which links nicely with our focus on local democracy. Pete Herlihy kindly gave up some time to the group and also some additional time to some of the group who wanted to pick his brains about some specifics.

For me personally the whole day was a turning point for the group and I’d like to share my personal reflections

  1. We seemed to start the day slightly nervous and lacking in confidence and ended feeling energised and empowered even more to push forward transformation in local government. A challenge is how do we get others to feel as equally motivated whilst they are busy doing the day jobs…
  2. Thinking is no longer the barrier, doing different is the barrier and that requires strategic and political leadership to provide the focus and momentum locally in councils which has clearly been a success for GDS. We need to share stories of how people have worked around this to deliver success on the ground
  3. We should not underestimate the challenge ahead but we should allow ourselves to  get paralysed by it either. There are plenty of people who really want to help local government. We just need to start asking around and working better together to allow this happen and quickly.
  4. As a group we need to celebrate our informal strengths and understand and acknowledge the vulnerabilities more so we can be clear about who, how and why we need help from others.
  5. Influence is something that happens in conversations and we need to have more conversations
  6. Lets not get hung up on the website debate, transformation is so much more than a website. We need to as digital leaders take the conversation to the strategic leaders in our councils and get the conversation focused on transformation.
  7. We need to stop feeling like we are the poor cousins in this space. We should stand up and be proud of who we are and that we work in local government and we should expect to be treated equally and been seen as peers (even if some people think we are just practitioners) Tom tweeted this on Thursday evening and i think this sums up why I think we should be proud.

So what next…

The main action is that we agreed to continue the conversation in an open and honest way to develop trust between both groups. We also identified some areas initially where we thought we could both add value. We’re starting this by becoming one of the partner organisation’s to the Digital Inclusion Charter launched today (Monday 14th April). One of the areas we are looking at in the short term is some basic skills development for practitioners – basically a show and tell for localgov practitioners to learn some of the key issues and skills around topics like analytics, user stories and service manager training.

Overall I’m feeling really positive about continuing an active conversation with GDS and finding ways we can support each other to support local government through digital transformation, collaborate on tools to support practitioners day-to-day and for LocalGov Digital as a network to provide its knowledge to what they’re doing; a real two-way partnership of peer groups.

I’d like to finish by thanking Tom Loosemore and Benjamin Welby for looking after us during the day and being our hosts. Thanks also to Mike Bracken, Nicola Gill, Pete Herlihy and Joshua Marshall who gave their time to share what they were doing and to answer our questions and more importantly challenged us back.