The continuing evolution of LocalGov Digital – my honest reflections

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When LocalGov Digital started as a practitioner network back in 2012 I remember the passion, commitment and energy in the room. We were a group of practitioners who had faith that we could collectively collaborate to help make local government better for the people in our communities  – It really did feel like we could change the world.

We were brought together through our shared frustration, shared purpose and shared values.  We have continually evolved from an initial network which was supported directly by the LGA to a network now which is self-directing and independent but rooted in the role of the practitioner. Whilst we were aligned to LGA we received a huge amount of support from individuals that helped us develop new relationships and how to use some of the influence we had started to grow. But I think we were still seen as something created by the LGA as opposed to something that grew out of the sector itself – A true grassroots movement of practitioners wanting and needing to make a difference.

As our journey continued we started to wrestle with some of the “governance” issues surrounding a network and I think we made mistakes in trying to create structures where none needed to be created. Instead what happened was individuals within the network simply made stuff happen, in response to user needs and in response to gaps in the market so to speak. This was a shift which has helped move the network forward and grow its influence more and allow us to respond quickly to the needs of practitioners as the network created the space for practitioners to simply make things happen. Some examples of this include #NotWestminster, Pipeline, The Service Standard, UnMentoring, The Content Standard and the Web Usability Dashboard – all these things were made by and with people in the sector for the sector and we also took over the running of LocalGovCamp

The network now has a level of momentum which previously wasn’t there but one of the challenges we have always had is “how do I know if I’m part of the network?” Until we resolve that we won’t get a sustainable network which continues to provide value into the sector and beyond.

So we have now approached a time in the life of the network where we either accept the informality and the risks associated with that or we look to create something more tangible building on and strengthening the things which have been successful, learning from the things that failed.

So as a network we want to consider plans to become a community co-operative, and want to design this with people who work in and around the sector. Our initial ideas sound very similar to how other cooperatives work, a membership fee, an AGM, membership types etc. We think that some of the things we already have might be able to play a key role in helping to grow the network and the participation such as UnMentoring, LocalGovCamp and Makers etc. We know we need to think about how those individual things work and run so that we can support the wider aspirations of the network. BUT The key thing to remember is this initial consultation is only about the future of the network itself. But if you ahve ideas and views on those other things then please do share them.

The important thing for me personally is shaping something around shared values and principles and ensure that we continue to generate value and continually evolve the network and adapt it to meet the needs of the practitioners and essentially improve services for citizens.  

The co-operative model really resonated as I believe the principles and values of the co-operative match the aspirations of the network and the ambition to grow around these values also make sense. It is interesting to read that a number of former GDS staff are now working for the Coop and I suspect apart from all of the interesting work that needs to be done, one of the main drivers for those people joining were the principles and values.

We know that in moving in this direction it will create challenges and will inevitably mean more work initially, but we also believe that the benefits of doing so are such that it is worth the investment of time and energy in the short and long term.

We know that we currently, we have only engaged a small group of people who have validated our thinking but that isn’t good enough and is often a dangerous place to be, so we are really keen to hear from people who think this is a waste of time, a bad idea – but importantly why you think or believe this. Only through a new understanding of what people think can we be informed in our thinking to make a decision about the future of LocalGov Digital.

I hope that you are able to share your thoughts and reflections and also if possible get involved in making this a reality.

The link to the consultation news item and proposal is on LocalGov Digital.

Event Reflections – Redesigning Public Services – Strategic Importance of Digital

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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

RSA South West Futures – 7th July – Are you going?

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The goodly folk of The South West RSA Fellowship Team have been busy recently pulling together a series of important events for the south west.

Inspired by the recent Northern Futures initiative, the aim is to kick start a new style of conversation about the future of the South West’s economy by asking people to get involved in formulating radical new growth strategies for the region.

Lead partners include University of Exeter and Devon County Council, RSA SW and Knowledge Hub, supported by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly and Heart of the South West (HotSW) LEPs. Other key partners include Made Open, Current Works Ltd, and COSMIC.

The invite is open to anyone from local authorities, businesses, social enterprises, academics and students in identifying key challenges for the region and collaborating to solve them, to drive open policy making, open innovation using creative problem solving tools and design thinking methods.

The South West Futures Open Ideas Day is a pilot project. There is an online call for ideas, seeking to generate topics to explore on July 7th, and develop solutions that can be shared at a follow-up event with key partners in September.

As a pilot prototype, if it is successful then it could lead to an even bigger project in 2016.

On July 7th, parallel events are being held in the following locations:

Exeter (University of Exeter Business School)

Honiton (East Devon Business Centre)

Penryn (Made Open, Jubilee Warehouse)

Places are very limited but FREE, there is space for around 20-30 people at each event.

The events will be good fun and challenging and they are particularly seeking participation from people who are passionate about making positive change and are willing to collaborate across sectors and boundaries.

 

It has been a while…

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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: http://beyondthesmartcity.com/

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.

 

Looking to the future – A 30 year prediction

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Back in December the LGiU published an interesting document looking at how local government might look in 2043 to coincide with their 30 year anniversary titled “The Future Town Hall“. It is full of very interesting predictions, hopes and aspirations for the future and I’d recommend reading it.

I thought I would write my very own prediction here as a virtual contributor to the publication.

In 2043 I’ll be 67 and most likely still working, probably still sharing random nonsense and I’ll probably have some kind of internet connection built into my body or at least on my body, integrated into my clothing providing me with up to the second information about my health, wellbeing, finances, activity, my appointments, work, and my friends and family’s activities.

My kids already grow impatient when the playstation, Wii, or laptop shows a “loading” sign…the ever increasing expectations, always on, multi-device, multi-connected world we already inhabit is likely to change the way we live, work and see ourselves to such a point that we will have to revisit what it means to receive and fund local services

If the demands and expectations of my kids are anything to go by, then these predictions are not far fetched or even radical enough to meet the potential demands in the future, when I was a kid I grew up waiting over 90 minutes for manic miner to load on a ZX spectrum and was in awe of the 8bit world even though it didn’t always load or work – As a citizen of 2014 I simply want something that works and is reliable…in 2043 I will demand more (rightly or wrongly), I’ll want something very personalised, very responsive and always on…I will want to decide when I switch off and most of all I will want ownership of my data.

I say this because all these things will have a profound impact on local services and local governance as the one thing I will say is that if local government is to have a future it needs to stay connected with local people and local places to stay relevant, even if this means reinventing itself.

First and foremost I see the purpose of local government being about one thing and one thing only. The Health and Wellbeing of people in its communities. Everything else is secondary and an added value.

I’m going to consider the future in relation to the following three areas of local government as I see it.
1) local government (local services and commissioning)
2) local authority (planning and strategic influence)
3) local council (accountability and decision making)

1) When it comes to local government and local public services, the data that I’m collecting will be mine and available only to those I choose. I will give permission to local providers of services to access relevant data sets to help me make informed choices around the services to ensure I stay active, healthy and in work. I will see the service providers as partners, enabling and supporting me and my family.

2) In relation to strategic influence and planning in the local area I live and the communities of interest I participate and belong to. The local authority will have a key role in ensuring that key infrastructure projects are pushed forward, that the area I live is championed on a National, European and Global scale, however I don’t see the same structures existing, I suspect and hope that this will be a mix of hyper local and sub regional activity as local places redefine their strengths and explore the global potential of the social capital that exists to support health and Wellbeing.

3) From a local council and a democratic perspective the ever connected citizen will demand more and more openness and transparency and will want more of a say on a range of issues. This would likely be facilitated through some kind of online micro participation / engagement platform where I connect my identity and choose to associate a range of personas and identities to allow me to vote, contribute or debate Local, National, European or International issues.