Public Service Daft Punk Style

I’ve read with interest the recent Policy Exchange publication, which sounds a bit like a daft punk song 🙂  Smaller, Better, Faster, Stronger – remaking government for a digital age and was reassured to read  that there is a similar view of the future in relation to Digital and Local Public Services.

The publication in a broad context looks at government, central and local and makes a number of recommendations which I can’t argue with, nor would I want to. It is an interesting read and one which I’d recommend for those who are working in and around the digital agenda in the public sector.

The bit which aligned with the Digital Framework the most was the second part of the Executive Summary called The future awaits, where it outlines the climate and conditions which need to exist in order to see and enable the level of change and transformation required across the sector and beyond into our communities themselves.

It specifically refers to the ubiquitous climate and some of the capabilities that need to exist in order to support the paradigm shift in thinking and being Open by Default as opposed to simply being digital by default. It also eludes to the outcomes of growth and well-being but this is a no brainer really.

I’ve copied the section below but you can read the full publication here > Smaller, Better, Faster, Stronger – remaking government for a digital age

The future awaits
Over the course of this decade, two fundamental trends will cause us to radically rethink the way government works, with major implications for both policy and policymakers alike.

The first is the acceleration toward ubiquitous availability of general purpose digital technologies. This will make it possible to completely rethink how government organises itself, how it learns and adapts, and how it fosters innovation.

At the same time, a population that is always connected and at ease with a digital world will make it possible to entertain radical changes in the way public services are delivered without compromising on quality, engagement or accessibility.

The second is the shift toward openness as the default, not just in technology but across our economy and society. A genuinely open government that responds to the growing demand from citizens for accountability and participation will deliver better policies and foster stronger communities. And in an open, networked world, we will discover that many of the things that were once the sole preserve of governments are, in fact, sometimes better done by someone else entirely.

The capabilities for digital local public services – hardware and software

Continuing the development of my thinking around the Framework for Digital Local Public Services and following quickly on from my previous posts on Connectivity and Education. This post focuses on Hardware and Software and some of the opportunities to think differently around this area.

The framework outlines the following:

Hardware : every citizen requires the capacity to connect to the Internet and tap into the full range of its resources and content.

Software: that meets the needs of individuals, families, businesses and communities.

Taking all the capabilities together can be seen a like looking at a whole system and we are essentially trying to change the whole system.

Nesta recently published a Systems Innovations discussion paper and I highly recommend it.

The description states:

Over the past few years there has been growing interest in systemic innovation. We are defining this as an interconnected set of innovations, where each influences the other, with innovation both in the parts of the system and in the ways in which they interconnect.

Yet rather than simply theorising, we want to make this practical. We want to explore the potential of systemic innovation to help tackle some of the key challenges the UK currently faces, from supporting an ageing population to tackling unemployment.

I’ve found this discussion paper helpful in defining some of the challenges these framework wishes to address also.

On page 39 of the discussion paper it states:

System innovation involves a powerful combination of new:

  • Products, services and technologies (tablet computers, containers, stamps, digital projectors);
  • infrastructures that make these innovations widely available;
  • alliances of partners who provide complementary services, software and assets;
  • consumer norms and behaviour, which often emerge peer–to–peer, through a process of social learning, copying and emulation.

these basic common ingredients of systems innovation, however, can be combined in many
different ways.

The first two points are really what the hardware and software components are looking to foster and address, whilst the rest are also picked up by other areas of the framework.


Like connectivity if we focus on public sector organisations, we currently all provide staff with a range of computers and those inevitably need recycling or replacing and we need to start questioning where those are going – this would be PC’s laptops; smartphones etc.

We should think about how we can capture the needs within communities around access to appropriate hardware and we should prioritise the needs of our own communities first and connect the devices and equipment with them.

As a new system of local public services emerges communities and individuals will need adequate hardware to access and connect to that system in order to be able to engage with it.

This pretty much leads into the next area of software…


The software that underpins any new system of local public services has to be open and available for communities and individuals to create new services and opportunities to access and deliver local services. This links very much with having access to open and linked data, but critically means that we need to be able to ensure that people have the ability to connect to the system of local public services.

If we see public services as a system, we can’t simply do more within the current system as that won’t work – we need to change the purpose of the overarching system of public services and do things differently.To re-purpose and re-frame local public services we have to open it up in order to allow it to change.

It can be seen like the android or apple ecosystems – Apple and Google provide a system for which stuff can be created, developed and delivered and it only requires people to resolve the connectivity and education aspects in order to actively participate with those ecosystems in order to gain the wider benefits and value that being part of them brings.

We all need to start questioning how these things can start to be realised and not wait for other people to make them happen as i don’t believe that will be the case. What we need to do more of and quicker is open up the system to be challenged and disrupted as well as allowing people to take ownership of parts of the new system of public services.

The capabilities for digital local public services – education

Continuing the development of my thinking around the Framework for Digital Local Public Services and following quickly on from my previous post about Connectivity. This post focuses on Education and some of the opportunities to think differently around this area.

The framework outlines Education as:

Education: Provide access to training and technical support for users to become comfort-able and proficient. Enable a mind shift in citizens that value learning, connecting and communicating through technology, and that recognise the business and other opportunities of expanding Internet participation.

So this post will focus on some basic ideas and build on existing stuff that is happening now.

Most of what needs to be done here around people and skills is happening to some degree, although the key missing point in the wider Education is that we are currently not really educating people to access and meet service needs themselves – a bit of a comms and marketing job required as well as actual education in terms of being able to help themselves.

The really good stuff that is happening locally for people and communities such as social media surgeries, digital mentors etc need to be scaled wider and more quickly. This can and should link with schools as pretty much every school primary and secondary have access to computers and the internet, also libraries could and do already play a key role here.

The real challenge is providing a wider context for people to actually want to learn and engage with the internet in its broadest context, plus we need to ensure that those people who we essentially classify as digitally excluded are engaged in the education in some way.

There is a long way to go before we can get to a pervasive and ubiquitous climate – however what we need is for this to happen more visibly in peoples communities.

So my basic idea here is that we try and create opportunities for people to problem solve and understand how the internet can play a role in that – it doesn’t require people to directly have access to the internet now or understand it but it does require people to come together and help solve local problems and to understand through that how the internet can help transform how those problems can be met.

My recent experience with XJamGov was a similar thing, in that there were people there who whilst having smartphones etc, weren’t always looking to the internet to solve the problem, more that they focused on what needed to be done and then through conversation, exploration and prototyping came to understand how the internet could play a role.

These activities and events can in turn help others understand how the internet can help solve problems in a practical way and how there is still a major need for real people to play critical roles in digital public service provision.

I’d also like to see schools play a greater role in helping people access and understand the internet – As a parent I’m always hearing how my kids use the internet and digital technologies to help them through their work, they understand – even if they can’t articulate it – that the internet is a resource, a platform and a tool to help solve problems.

We should open this process up and be more inclusive in how we engage schools and communities in solving problems…after all they are the future users of all these services.

The capabilities for digital local public services – connectivity

Continuing the development of my thinking around the Framework for Digital Local Public Services I wanted to share some really basic thoughts around how the connectivity challenge can and perhaps should be approached. This isn’t really a post about what is happening in Devon either, but i’ll naturally use examples locally to help illustrate the point

This post is really just a set of ideas, I’ve not dug deep into the legislation to see how viable this is as I’m starting to think that it shouldn’t really be the barrier…if something needs to be done to help our communities then we really should be doing what we can to remove those barriers given that over the next 4-8 years we will lose a significant amount of funding and unless we challenge the system we operate it we will only even get what we’ve got but slightly more efficient, which isn’t going to be enough.

In the framework it states:


  1. Connectivity:  Access that is high-speed, reliable, affordable and available everywhere (wired, wireless, digital).
  2. Education: Provide access to training and technical support for users to become comfort-able and proficient. Enable a mind shift in citizens that value learning, connecting and communicating through technology, and that recognise the business and other opportunities of expanding Internet participation.
  3. Hardware : every citizen requires the capacity to connect to the Internet and tap into the full range of its resources and content.
  4. Software: that meets the needs of individuals, families, businesses and communities.
  5. Participation:  Access to and participation with local data and intelligence to help shape decisions in communities.

So I’m going to take each one of these in turn over a few posts and propose a set of ideas which could help us move forward…

So starting with…


Now there is work going on to bring connectivity into the many rural areas across the country and that is a good thing, although many people are arguing that this isn’t good enough, fast enough or even fit for purpose given the challenges ahead – in essence some are saying the work currently under way is short sighted and unsustainable.

I’m not going to get into a political argument around this as I simply want to propose some ideas around how we could think differently to provide connectivity.

The first and most obvious thing in my opinion is to look at all public sector organisations currently providing connectivity to their own buildings and assets which are located in often remote parts of our counties and rural villages – for example Libraries, GP Surgeries and  Schools as well as some council offices.

You may find that in certain communities the public sector network in all its forms, provides a level of connectivity which the community itself has failed to secure as part of any wider commercial offering.  This in my view is not good enough and I know there are some challenges around state funding, but if we are to create a wider public sector system which allows communities and individuals within those communities to access, deliver and even commission services for themselves then we need to redefine what we consider to be a public sector network and therefore what constitutes state funding.

Therefore my basic idea here is to open up what we currently recognise as public networks and allow our communities to piggy back on the connectivity through wifi or via small charges to communities themselves.

This feels like something that we can do quickly if we have the energy and desire to do it and is something that we have prototyped using public libraries for a while so we know it works as well.

We can then focus energy on making sure those areas which literally have no connectivity are connected with a fit for purpose solution.

It is much easier to write then it is to deliver as it does require not just basic change but a change in the system of government in order for these solutions to come to fruition.

June is a month for breaking down barriers

On the back of the Guardian article today, I thought iId share this slightly longer explanation and summary around Create / Innovate.

June is a month for breaking down barriers – First and foremost Create and Innovate  is about thinking differently it will be about experimentation, discovery, play, learning and reflection.

One of the reasons for holding Create / Innovate is to respond to a recent Council report to our Corporate Leadership Team in relation to the Barriers to Digital Innovation. The key findings of that report stated that we had a diverse set of reasons why digital innovation specifically was difficult and they were different across the organisation and in different service areas, however across the council it was a combination of one or more of the following barriers:

  • The attitude to risk across different service areas, some were naturally more relaxed than others

  • The cultural challenges and associated issues

  • Policy constraints and issues arising from a few conflicting policies

  • Technical barriers and issues – these were not just about ICT access as information security concerns were also affecting usage

  • Resource issues and perceptions that the “flood gates” would open and we would struggle to manage the multiple channels effectively

Corporate Leadership Team supported the report and tasked Corporate Communications in collaboration across the council with a series of actions which would start to unpick and address the barriers. The actions which have helped trigger Create / Innovate are listed below:

  1. approve the review and rationalisation of relevant policies and guidelines and re-present to staff

  2. approve a continued programme of staff engagement, awareness raising and training delivered in creative and innovative ways;

  3. support digital and social media pilots/prototypes and the establishment of digital leaders across service areas

So why Create / Innovate?

There were three things really, which led to the idea of Create / Innovate being a month long series of events and activities, although originally it was only planned for one week as it seemed more realistic to fill one week with activities.

The first was a conversation with colleagues at the Met Office in Exeter who recently held a similar event. In conversations I explained my aspiration to hold a similar event somehow at the council and mentioned that our Corporate Leadership Team were really supportive, so they offered a room at the Met Office for our Corporate Leadership Team to hold their first meeting in June. After a further conversation with our Chief Executive and his Executive Assistant about the practicality, they agreed that they would give it a go and try it to see how using different spaces helps change the dynamics of the conversations and decisions. So on Monday 3rd June, the councils Corporate Leadership Team will be holding their meeting in the Met Office, they will be using digital devices and smartphones and it will be reported live to staff via the councils yammer network.

The second thing was a conversation with a local Service Design Agency Redfront Service Design (Simon Gough and Phillippa Rose) who organised the recent Service Jam event in Exeter back in March (XJam) and there was an opportunity to host and get involved in supporting a specific Service Jam for the public sector in June (GovJam), which locally we have called XJamGov – this takes place between 4-6 June.

Photo by Paul Clarke (from XJam photo set on Flickr)

The idea of GovJam is to work around a common theme, small Teams meet at multiple locations, working for 48 hours on building innovative approaches and solutions towards challenges faced by the public sector.

GovJams are especially relevant to local government and public sector professionals, and will give us the opportunity to grow collaborations  – exchanging techniques, insights and ideas with colleagues near and far, while working on concrete projects addressing key issues inspired by the common Theme.

35 locations around the world are currently hosting an event including: LA, San Francisco, Barcelona, Warsaw, Eindhoven, Bologna, Mumbai, Berlin, Helsinki, Santiago, Montreal, Toronto, Perth, Canberra and Melbourne – In the UK only Exeter and Dundee are currently hosting events.

The third opportunity also came up through a twitter conversation with the Local DirectGov Team which added more scope to a months long event, was to host a Really Useful Day at County Hall – it is in so many ways similar to the Jam experience although we know the topic in advance.

The purpose of the day is to learn about and explore customer user journeys. It aims to map existing user journeys and take people through a process so that participants are more aware of how the real user journey can be improved – the following challenge is then taking that back into the work place and implementing it.

The great thing about both of these events is that they aren’t exclusively for staff at the council and will be attended by a diverse group of people from across the region which helps us to build new connections and collaborations.

Encouraging a culture change

Like most people the real challenge is trying to change a culture from the edges and this won’t happen in June alone. Culture change is a complex thing to make happen and we are fortunate here in Devon that we are in a climate where the whole organisation is starting to shift and there is more awareness of a new culture emerging.

The council has also spent the last twelve months exploring the next 5-10 years under the heading “Future Landscape” which has provided a lot of internal momentum and has engaged around 300 staff across all services and at all levels in thinking differently, so we won’t be starting from scratch in terms of engaging people in opportunities to think differently and challenging existing cultures.

My aspiration is that if we can nudge or disrupt people forward by 5 steps and then in July they take 4 steps backwards, at least we would have moved. The greater challenge will be in sustaining the momentum from some of the staff and amplify that and make it more visible.

Adding value and the wider benefits

We’ve also looked at how some of what we do can involve the wider public and although the primary focus is to challenge the internal culture of the organisation, we have an opportunity through some of our public facing services to involve and engage the public in helping us to think differently as well as challenging them to think differently around how our services are provided.

One of the most active service areas is Libraries, where we have adopted a more public image called “Time to Make and Play” which we hope will help people engage in small scale activities in some of the libraries to help them explore how the spaces can be used and how collaborative approaches within communities can use those spaces more effectively as well.

Some examples of the activities happening in libraries are, Raspberry Pi Jam, Gadget Days, Free to Play tables, Musical drop in sessions, Smartphone advice and make a noise in libraries.

Lessons so far…

  • Involve people:
    Working collaboratively with a wide group of people from different orgs requires you to be flexible in the tools you use and how you communicate with people.

  • Sell the idea
    Don’t sell a programme of completely fixed events, although start with something to build around, do sell an idea and ask people to help fill the programme with activities and events they believe will help challenge thinking and provide opportunities to do things differently – this allows you to capture all the variations of events and activities that people feel are required, from the more formal events like XJamGov to simply having a social media surgery so people can understand how to use smartphone more effectively.

  • Be patient, keep focused and relax
    There were times that I didn’t think this would happen, I was initially getting concerned by the lack of progress in setting things up and sorting the logistics etc, but being patient, staying focused and involving people means you can relax a little and things do and will happen.

  • Be flexible and prototype
    An absolute must, no matter what you originally thought would happen and wanted to happen, you need to be flexible and be prepared to change plans, adapt to other peoples ideas and timescales and most of all, let go of any notion of a formal plan…after all the whole month is a prototype of how we can engage people in different things.

Final thoughts

My aim has been to ensure that Create / Innovate is a creative and fun approach to addressing barriers to digital innovation and a key objective is to start to build sustained awareness and understanding of the opportunities for staff to be more creative and innovative within the council.

We are trying to disrupt people in fun and creative ways and we also hope to inspire people to try new things…the whole idea is really a prototype, so some things may not work out as we expect but that is ok so long as we learn.