The first signs of autumn and looking ahead


As I’ve been cycling to work this week, I really noticed the colour of the leaves had changed and some trees had such vibrant colours that it warmed my soul on such a chilly morning commute. Its moments like that which you remember…I must take a photo before it changes too much.

I know that I’ve not blogged as regularly as I used to and I’ve been thinking about how I can start to rediscover or rethink my approach, until then, the sporadic nature will continue.

I wanted to share some thoughts and reflections around what has happened since coming back to work from a refreshing summer break.

I wanted to just share some of the activities that have stuck with me the most and things that have happened since returning from summer…it isn’t comprehensive – didn’t have time to pull that list together :)

  • The main change is that one of our organisation change team (Julie) is working with me to better define the digital transformation picture for the county council…that has provided some really helpful support in a range of things.
  • I’ve started Digital Coaching sessions with one of our Cabinet members (Cllr Barry Parsons), which simply formalises an informal catch up session approach we previously had been doing over the early part of the year. We spoke about making the conversations more visible to the organisation and making them more relevant and strategic so that is how it started – simple really. The first conversation started well with some really productive discussion around digital operating models, government as a platform, Buurtzorg and the Simon Wardley Value Chain
  • I’m also working with procurement colleagues to start to engage suppliers around our digital direction and strategy. I’ve been invited to a provider marketplace day in November which will provide an opportunity to share some of our thinking and direction.
  • I’m working with our Social Care colleagues to work-up the details of a strategic Digital session where we can explore what digital means and the opportunity across social care.
  • We had a visit from colleagues at Suffolk County Council to share digital transformation lessons and will be exploring further opportunities for collaboration
  • Mike Bracken came down and spoke to our Corporate Leadership Team and Heads of Service around Digital and the approach of the Government Digital Service around change and transformation. That visit triggered a range of responses internally (all positive) and has unblocked some minor barriers and opened up new conversations which is great.
  •   I had a couple of visits to London for discussions with Local CIO Council, Socitm and other colleagues including some fellow localgovdigital folks (Dave Briggs, Paul Brewer, Ben Cheetham and Phil Rumens) around Place as a Platform. It was a fascinating session and we still have quite a way to go before we really avoid putting technology first in our discussions about Digital…the example from Adur and Worthing by Dave and Paul demonstrated that it is all about rethinking the fundamental operating model of the council.
  • A visit to the treasury with some other colleagues to have discussions and explore the technical architecture of a digital platform approach to Libraries working  – this was something which our Head Libraries (Ciara Eastell) had asked if I could support as she is the current President of SCL (Society of Chief Librarians)
  • I managed to fit in two coaching/mentoring sessions with my Chief Executive and Mike Bracken..I’m finding the coaching/mentoring sessions really productive and helpful and they are having such a positive impact on how I see myself and it has improved my confidence and I believe (although others may disagree) my outputs as well.
  • A fascinating and insightful provider perspective day as part of the Far South West Commissioning Academy – This process really highlighted to me the challenges of procurement and commissioning and the impact on relationships and trust in this process. I’d always suspected as much but to hear the details and insights from providers really validated that.
  • Further mind-boggling fun with the Design Council and in particular an awesome master class from Becky Rowe from ESRO – we shared our thoughts and reflections on the design council blog here
  • Following the design council session we (myself, Kevin Gillick and Jo Prince-White) ran a couple of prototype user insight sessions for around 30 colleagues from across the council – it was a fascinating process to rapidly pull the workshop together and the feedback from the participants was great so we plan to run some more plus other workshops as we continue our learning through the programme.
  • Outside of work – this week I was Elected Chair of Governors at my local primary school. I’m really proud to have this role and it is an exciting time for the school, we recently had a OFSTED inspection and were graded a solid Good and the report outlines some outstanding aspects which we are very proud of as a school. I now look forward to continuing to work with the other governors and the school and most importantly the children to improve outcomes.  I’ve been fascinated by the work of primary schools in particular for a while now and the work they do is such a great insight into how organisations can approach change as well as. In the last few years I’ve witnessed more design thinking in a primary school than in the wider public sector. I suspect the autonomy and relentless focus on children’s outcomes is a great place to start. In a recent conversation with the Head Teacher she outlined an approach to a piece of work around well-being with staff and every step matched the Design Councils principles of “Human centred” > “Being Visual” > “Iterative and collaborative”. It really is fascinating to see this in a different context. OR maybe my connection to design thinking is helping me see the wonder in everyday decision making of good and outstanding leaders.

The one thing I feel I’ve done very little of though is broader LocalGov Digital stuff, However my thinking around this is that unless you have a focus on local delivery and change you can’t effectively engage on a broader level as you end up disconnecting on both levels.  This is all part of the system leadership challenges we all face.  But my aim over the next few weeks and months is to properly re-engage with colleagues in that space as I missed LocalGovCamp which I was gutted about.

But I’m even more passionate and committed to providing support and leadership where I can to help Devon and the whole sector transform.

I’ve said it before in my last post but it is worth repeating here….

The primary purpose of public services is to improve people’s lives not to effectively manage the money, that is an enabler much like digital is, information is, data is and of course the people in and around the system are enablers.


#localgovdigital – Content Standards in Beta


LocalGov Digital logo

[This post has also been published on the Web Managers Group Blog]

Last week LocalGov Digital launched its Digital Content Standard, a carefully crafted first draft – or beta version – and a free resource for local government web and content managers. It supports the group’s overarching principle of encouraging the sector to be open by default and digital by design.

This standard is intended to evolve and adapt to continually meet the needs of the sector as well as raising the aspirations around digital content and services generally.

The standard was a collaborative effort led by LocalGov Digital Steering Group members and has been compiled using a selection of existing guides from the UK and from across the world.

The document has been created in such a way that we hope it can simply be adopted by local councils without too much trouble. In Devon we have adopted them although we recognise that we are likely to need a supplement to allow the local variations and subtle style differences which we have established here.

From a personal point of view the whole document is hugely valuable but you can make sizeable gains from simply getting your existing content authors to consider the following golden rule.

Is the information you’re presenting to the public necessary, readable, original, easy to find and well-presented?

In a checklist:

  • Is the content answering a question that our customers are asking?
  • Is your content easy-to-read and understandable to a layperson?
  • Is the content original?
  • Can the content be found using search words that make sense to the customer?
  • Are graphics and pictures appropriate and do they add something to the page?

I’m sure that there will be many ways we could improve the standards and we would encourage people to comment, contribute and be part of the wider LocalGov Digital network to help raise standards in web and digital across the public sector.

For more information about the Digital Content Standard see this post. You can also download the Digital Content Standard PDF file.

For the latest and to talk with the group follow us on Twitter @localgovdigital, join the KHub group or connect via our G+ Community.

Remembering to reflect on your own journey


Last week I had a telephone conversation with Liz Azyan about the progress that Devon has made around social media etc since we spoke last on this topic late 2009.

One of the great things conversations like that do is make your reflect on how far you and your organisation has come in that time.

One thing I haven’t been doing very well lately is looking back through my own blog and seeing how my thinking has evolved, how ideas developed and changed as well as how my approach has changed…This is actually very empowering and liberating to see first hand that I have made progress individually, my thinking in some areas has come to light and made practical difference to people working for the council.

It also shows me where I have left behind some ideas in favour of news ones, but I haven’t clearly articulated to myself that I’ve changed direction and that is something I find important as my mind is full of “stuff” and I need to make practical steps to make sense of that in ways that not only I can understand but others.

I thought I’d take a look at my blogs footprint through a wordle and get a sense of the topics I blog about using my blogs RSS feed. (


When I looked back at the content I posted on my blog during January of 2010 – a whole 2 years ago now – I was in a different mindset, a different world almost…I was in fact in a completely different job, one focused more on strategy first than practical application….whereas now I have to think about both of those in equal measure.

I blogged a total of five times and the majority were about risk and governance and of course there was the now compulsory UKGovCamp blog post (January is the UKGovCamp Rock Fest Month)

However one post, which was more of a link to previous thinking and external blogging content was the Facebookisation of the Enterprise post – essentially suggesting and proposing what could happen if the IT department behaved more like facebook and created a platform for stuff to be built upon.

I’ve taken aspects of the thinking around that and have taken this into the Content Strategy I am writing.  It is interesting to see how little ideas last and evolve into other aspects of my thinking.

So in looking at all of this, I’ve decided to be more reflective overall and to first look back at my own thinking before I write something on the blog, or use that challenge of my own thinking as the basis of a blog post itself.

Do you reflect on your own blog posts? How has your thinking evolved over the months and years you’ve been blogging?

The act of participating, not the process of managing participation


I was reading an interesting post earlier today ( A Better Way to Manage Knowledge – John Hagel III and John Seely Brown – Harvard Business Review) and it triggered a number of thoughts in my head. Perhaps the act of participating is far more important to get right then the process of managing that participation?

My recent post titled The Governance Ladder attempted to align an organisations view of participation to their governance approaches, well I am now thinking that this is more and more the case.

I don’t think i need to add much more to the quote below really other than to say i think it is fundamental to Governance frameworks that you understand the difference between the “management of people and processes” and “the organisational itself that allows for effective decision making, participation, collaboration and knowledge sharing”

Knowledge management traditionally has focused on capturing knowledge that already exists within the firm — its systems rarely extend beyond the boundaries of the enterprise. Creation spaces instead focus on mobilizing and focusing participants across all institutional boundaries. Sure, there are lots of smart people within your enterprise, but imagine the power of connecting with and engaging a more diverse collection of smart people beyond your enterprise. That is another source of the increasing returns in creation spaces — participation is not limited by the boundaries of the enterprise.

via A Better Way to Manage Knowledge – John Hagel III and John Seely Brown – Harvard Business Review.

How i see this linking is that a traditional view of Governance focuses on managing the people and processes much like knowledge management focused on capturing the knowledge, but that in itself made the process disengaging and often caused the failure of Knowledge Management Projects. I accept that governance does have to do this but it also needs to recognise the act of participating in Governance itself is much like participating in anything else, you need tend to think about “what’s in it for me”. If the process is all about the people and processes and not actually about delivering the right results and priorities then surely it is failing. The creation space aspect for me is about the culture of governance that exists within your Organisation or Enterprise. If this supports an open participative culture then i suspect that your Governance approach would be far less intensive and more Emergent and based on the people within the governance process.  I also posted my thoughts around Emergent Governance on the Devon Enterprise Architects Blog.

They also say in their post:

But for the most part the repositories and directories remained fragmentary and the resources didn’t get used. The folks with the knowledge were often reluctant to put what they knew into the database. The folks seeking the knowledge often had trouble finding what they needed.

I guess i see this as being an analogy to the coordinated Governance approaches that are required across large Enterprises.My thinking is still evolving in this area and the more i read the more fascinated i get as the direct link between participation and governance grows.

The Governance Ladder


NB: This is just my thoughts at this stage and i have no evidence to support any of what i write. If you can contribute, challenge or even support what i say i would be grateful.

I have recently been fascinated by what on face value can be seen as a boring subject – Governance. I am particularly interested in IT, Organisational and Corporate Governance now, but no doubt will read on other aspects as my understanding and thinking develops.

There are literally thousands of results on google around governance and most do focus at a national level and there were a significant amount of results of “Governance of Financial Institutions” and rightly so :o).

There has also been a number of posts around “Guidance over Governance” which are worth a read. I have also read a wide range of traditional governance websites, blog etc. However i will mention a few that i have read recently which helped clarify or contributed to my thinking – (this does not represent the full list of sites i have read – a simply search on google will provide you with that list):

OK so what am i referring to in the title of this post “The Governance Ladder” – i and starting to believe that there maybe a connection between the “Ladder of Citizen Participation developed by Sherry R Arnstein” and effective Governance in organisations.

Let me try and explain how i came to think about this connection. The participation ladder outlines 8 aspects of participation, starting at the bottom with Manipulation moving up the ladder to Therapy – Informing – Consultation – Placation – Partnership – Delegated Power and finally at the top is Citizen Control.

So my theory so far is i suspect that organisations that are operating in Participation Terms nearer the bottom of the ladder are more likely to adopt more formal governance structures and models where there are clear rules and the management are operating in a linear task model. This would pretty much be a command and control environment.

I also suspect that if an organisation is operating nearer the top of the Participation ladder then it would more likely see value in the engagement of people and therefore, understand that decision making requires clear communication, education and information. This approach is likely to spawn a “guidance – governance approach” where governance exists but it is less formal, supported by strong leadership and clear direction.

It is worth stating now that i don’t think it is a simple ass moving up the ladder and staying there, but it is about knowing which for of governance is appropriate for the circumstances. For example in a crisis or an emergency situation, you would more than likely value the rules and linear management styles. However if you were in an innovation space or even the whole discussion and debate around the use of social media, we would need a style of governance that supported joint exploration and sharing, where there are no rules as they organically develop and people share and collaborate on ideas and republish them.

The key thing for me in thinking this way is that i don’t believe that Governance should be seen as something which is rigid and fixed in an organisation. I believe that we need to start adapting our Governance to the circumstances and providing a greater level of education, awareness and information so that people (not the processes) can make better decisions in the first place.

So based on this idea and theory i have come up with a very rough starting point for discussion “Ladder of Governance”.

I know it needs work and more thought but i need to share it before i can move on.

8 – Joint Exploration – New ground, based on trust between people, we share what we find in order to develop and grow – no definable rules as they are organically developed
7 – Influence – Strong leadership and trust providing a clear direction and articulating a shared and common direction for decision makers to align to
6 – Guidance – Partnerships and collaboration, working together in a shared agenda but there are boundaries and basic rules
5 – Networks – Coming together for collective action and decision making. Being driven by what we know is right and shared direction of travel across organisation
4 – Encouragement – relinquishing some aspect of control to enable people to make decisions within flexible frameworks and principles
3 – Education – providing information for people to start to understand the consequences of their actions as opposed to be alienated from this in the previous steps
2 – Rules – the fear of breaking rules for some is enough to keep them on track and stay within the defined parameters
1 – Control – Command and Control, very top down and too much process and linear task driven management.