Reflections on my second coaching / mentoring session

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A couple of weeks ago I posted about my first coaching/mentoring session with Phil Norrey (my Chief Executive) and it has had such a positive impact on my thinking, approach and behaviours already.

This week I had my first session with Mike Bracken (Executive Director of Digital in the Cabinet Office) who kindly agreed to support me and help me over the coming months.

First and foremost I want to thank Mike for agreeing to do this and for taking time out to speak to me and help me professionally and personally it means a great deal and I believe it will provide the necessary challenge and encouragement along with my sessions with Phil to help me develop as a practitioner and a leader.

Like before the detail of the conversation will stay private but I will use this space to reflect on themes and specific challenges to help me work through them.

One of the interesting things in speaking to Mike was reflecting and talking about the work we are doing here in Devon (not just me, but the wider transformation that is also being driven hard by Sara Cretney and many others) and it isn’t until you try to capture everything that you realise how much is happening and how much things have significantly changed.

It was refreshing to get Mikes perspective and observations on the challenges we have faced and what we want to do moving forward and also reassuring that the direction of travel is a good one.

One thing I will share is the ‘killer question’ moment, I find that evercoaching / mentoring session has that killer question which makes you stop and really think, I mean really think what is the answer here. In this instance it was such a simple question and I felt disappointed in myself for not being able to answer or provide what I thought would have been an adequate response. The question was ‘What can you point at that tells me what you think?’  For me, I’ve never really thought about my blog in those terms, although more recently I did want to start writing with purpose and clarify my thinking, I’ve historically just thrown random ideas into this blog and whilst I have found that helped me there isn’t the final picture of what my thinking is for others to easily pull apart and access…

I’ve got a range of themes to reflect and ponder from the initial conversation and it isn’t until you start to reflect on different aspects of the conversation you realise how much you get from this process. The key themes for me from this conversation are:

  • Focusing on Local
  • Sharing your thoughts does not mean people know what you think
  • What people perceive you do is different to what you think you do yourself
  • Using the ‘language of old’ to change the future
  • Grassroots movements VS formal structures
  • We all have to let go of something to allow the future we want to see come to fruition
  • My story and my councils story are two different things and should remain that way, but I’m part of my councils story

An additional theme and more urgent action which I need to resolve as well is what role if any am I going to play in any of the change locally and or further afield…This wasn’t explicitly touched on in the conversation but in starting to reflect on the other areas plus the conversation I had with Phil, it is becoming an important question for me to answer.

I have already created some actions for myself from speaking to Mike and feel very positive about the experience and process and I am already looking forward to the next session.

#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.

So gov.uk is now live…

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Stating the obvious and in case you didn’t know GOV.UK is now live.

Congratulations to all those who got it this far  – a big thumbs up:)

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I could leave it there, it has been a long time coming and now it is live, I’m sure many people can sit back for at least a second or two to acknowledge the huge first task they have completed, but I suspect the scale of the task ahead is focusing the minds.

Mike Bracken explains in a post why GOV.UK matters, it’s focusing on user needs, its faster, clearer and is now a platform – all this stuff is really important. But the most important thing that Mike does say is this:

Our upcoming Government Digital Strategy will address the urgent need to redesign our mainstream transactions.

I wouldn’t for a minute under state the task that has been completed and the scale on which it has been completed. It has certainly provided a number of great resources via the GDS blog which my council and my team have benefited from and as Mike explains it is already improving the experience for users…

This morning however it appears that I may have offended or at least annoyed a few people by tweeting:

Now if you believe “veneer” to be a negative word then this would naturally offend people, however I don’t think veneer is a negative word, I personally believe it is a positive component of redesigning services and is an often understated tactic.  It has its downfalls and challenges but it is a valuable approach

In Devon we often employ the veneer tactic to help people understand how things can look, how language can be used to improve the usability and how it can help users engage better – we have now started using that tactic in a more open way by employing a beta environment and sharing our thinking about how we build stuff – similar to how GDS approached their early stages –  instead of an old approach which was to simply use pictures to inspire.  It took some hard work to get to this point here for us.

Our content strategy reinforces this approach by explicitly saying that we will focus on content and design, experiment in open and share our thinking and refresh our infrastructure. We have a separate strategy for applications and how we will tackle and improve the overall transactional experience as this is a longer term game for us but it is an important part of shifting our whole web estate to be user focused.

It is much, much harder dealing with applications and transactions and I don’t want to for a second suggest that GOV.UK is a failure – it is completely the opposite, it is a success, but not for the release today.  In my view the biggest contribution to public sector digital, is the “permission” that sharing your thinking, sharing your code, exploring ideas and asking users in a very open environment can work and does work.

My only remaining question is where will the beta environment live now – the continuation of the testing in public, the sharing of ideas, the continuing tweaking and updating, which needs to be sanity checked before a live release.

GOV.UK used to be the beta, but it is now mainstream…so will we see beta.gov.uk (as of today there is no site at this address)

A trip to #thatlondon to talk about #localgov and digital

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Yesterday I went to London to talk with a bunch of people including Martin Black (Camden) Conor Moody and Kevin Jump (Liverpool) Paul Knight (South Cambridgeshire), Phil Rumens (West Berks), Stephen Cross (Hillingdon) Sarah Lay (Derbyshire), Jason Williams (Cornwall) and Stuart Harrison (Lichfield) – It was hosted by the LGA – Sarah Jennings and her colleagues provided coffee and cake and space to chat and kindly took all the notes and helped facilitate the day.

My thoughts on the day before I went up were around whether or not we’d be able to actually agree any real actions and perhaps it could have been a waste of time.

But it was actually a really very interesting day, lots of honest conversation as well as recognising the many good things that are going on across the localgov sector and beyond. So it was a really good use of time.

My personal view was that lots of people have over the years asked for something more that what exists and the recent discussions about Local GDS have sparked many different views and we spoke in-depth about that yesterday as well.

In relation to a Local GDS, we didn’t say there should be one or shouldn’t be one, however we did say that it requires a universal commitment from multiple stakeholders in order for something like that to come together and to be truly effective.

But in the meantime there are some real practical issues which we need to resolve and move forward and we can do that with the help of others.

I’ll blog again soon once the formal notes come out but on the train home yesterday @georgejulian introduced me to haiku deck so I thought I’d try it out with some of my highlights from yesterday…

http://www.haikudeck.com/p/wWs2xe29en/localgovweb

Bringing content to people, not people to websites – Gov2Radio

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As referenced in my last blog post, here is the podcast embedded below…I didn’t realise that I sounded so Devonian :)

A very open account and it comes from the heart as you’d expect..a good edit considering we spoke for just over an hour…for those who know me, getting me to shut up isn’t that easy…

Thank you to Allison for the opportunity to share some thinking and the conversation.

Enjoy….

http://gov20radio.com/2012/06/content-to-people/