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


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…


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.


Looking to the future – A 30 year prediction


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.

Looking back to look forward


Triggered by a range of experiences recently I thought I would reflect on my learning journey. So over the last few weeks I’ve been dipping in and out of my blog posts from the last 5 years and thinking about how things have or haven’t changed or even if some of the things that I thought would happen are happening.

About 3 years ago I started sharing my thinking around the future of local government from a range of perspectives: what it might look like, how it might operate, how we might address the challenges we are facing now and also how we might help shape services…

This post “The future of local government” from June 2010 seems to reflect and hint at the situation I find myself in now – I wrote:

So we could get to a situation (I am making some big assumptions here but after all I’m only sharing some thinking)  –  I don’t believe it will be that long before we see it – where the only aspect of local government which is truly local is the actual service delivery and decision making. The organisation behind it all could well be a mix of local, regional, national and cloud based services all supporting an individual worker (who may not actually be employed by the council) to deliver a service to someone in a community.

To me this will mean that local government is purely going to be a conceptual layer – with greater transparency and openness, radical approaches to service delivery and support services, this will all mean that the only aspect of local we really need to focus on will be the People in the Community. In my view this will be a great outcome, albeit very painful and a political hot potato in some areas. But this approach in my opinion  would drive out the inefficiencies in local government and offer greater local involvement in service design and creation.

The following week I posted a second post titled – “The future of local government – social enterprise council”  – I wrote:

I do agree that there is a huge assumption that the general public would be willing to take over services, but i do think that currently we don’t engage people well enough to activate any desire they may have.

To foster and encourage this kind of active involvement requires a major shift in how people see public services, it requires everyday people to start thinking less about “public” services and more about “community” services and how they can get involved directly through volunteering or indirectly by sharing their views on what’s important to them.

These two posts resonate with me right now and reflect a lot of the topics and conversations I have with people

I’ve also previously blogged about the World of GovCraft where reframing some of the conversations and providing connections for people to engage would help trigger a set of responses and actions. I previously wrote:

So let me try to answer these questions now in the light of this post, I’m not saying that the responses are enough but there is something we can build on and develop further to really engage with people.

Urgent Optimism – The budget cuts in the public sector will mean that some services will no longer be offered or developed – if people (you or I) see these services as important and we want them to continue we will have to start getting involved or risk losing it altogether. The reality of the financial situation will mean that the threat is more real than ever.

Social Fabric – The government has made a big play during the election campaign and since about the Big Society, this is an attempt to unify people to a common agenda and common purpose which previously didn’t really exist in my view.  I do think however we need to go a lot further and start talking and acting more local.  

Blissful Productivity – Social tools are be used albeit sparingly to help mobilise people to get involved and contribute to solving the real world problems we are facing. The government have announced that they want citizens to contribute ideas to how we can save money and which services we should consider reducing funding on.

I think we need to connect the digitally mobile and engaged with the offline folk who traditional get involved to create richer conversations and deeper discussions about how we can shape local services.

Epic Meaning – The mission we have created is to reunite society, reconnect people locally and to provide services which meet the needs of local people. This mission can no longer be just the responsibility of a single local authority.

I think in so many ways the councils Tough Choices programme is starting to address these areas…ok it isn’t in the spirit of a game – as suggested in world of govcraft – but what it does is start to provide a level of urgency, it surfaces connections to existing social fabric, it suggests connections to tools and existing productivity and of course the epic meaning around why we need to come together to collaborate around new models of achieving outcomes.

The real question which remains unanswered is : will it work?

The beauty of blogging and sharing thinking and observation is that we can revisit this post in a couple of months or years and reflect on whether we started to trigger social change and achieve better outcomes.

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.