The capabilities for digital local public services – participation

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

The framework outlines and considers participation as the following:

Participation: Access to and participation with local data and intelligence to help shape decisions in communities.

But I also think this it is about how people participate generally in their communities to help make it better, the data and intelligence should be helping to identify the issues that need solving but are people actually doing things locally!

The challenge here is to provide opportunities for people and places to connect to the underlying data and intelligence about the people and places and at a time and in a form which is usable and meaningful for those consuming it. Nothing too hard then 🙂

In the commissioning cycle it is absolutely fundamental to ensure that you have evidence and data which helps you understand needs today and those that are likely to be predicted over a period of time, so that preventative measures can be put in place and therefore reduce future demand on services. We are essentially suggesting that the commissioning and the intelligence behind this is opened up to those people in a community who maybe better positioned to actually understand what could be achieved locally.

The underlying issue for me is that the opportunity and practicality of everyday people (like my mum) to engage in intelligence and data about their community is limited and even if you know where and how, it is hard to make sense of it in a wider context.

It needs to be linked with stories as well as raw data so that there are opportunities to understand the impact of what it is saying other than simply looking at perhaps numbers, graphs or charts.

It seems to me that public libraries or community hubs would make logical places where this data could be accessed and made sense of along with people who can help interpret it without bias – they also make logical places where networks and networks of networks can come together physically or virtually through directories.  It makes sense for community hubs to provide access points as they should really be promoting and acting on community needs anyway…maybe i’m over thinking this aspect of it…of course the access point should be the internet but I’m thinking that if say my mum, wanted to gain more understanding she could get that from the hub or library and then be in a position to share her story about what it means for others…

In terms of whether people are participating locally, some of what I want to say here I’ve written before in the following posts:

But to summarise those posts in this context I would have to say the following.

As this series of posts outlines the key capabilities required when collectively delivered create opportunities for a new climate of growth and well-being to emerge, however that climate won’t emerge unless we ensure that people are actively participating in society.

Reflecting back on World of GovCraft where video Game designer Jane McGonigal speaks about harnessing the power of gamers who have super powers as they are actively participating in games and solving problems…

With these new capabilities how do we ensure and create opportunities for individuals, communities, networks, organisations etc to actually harness the possible and potential capacity that Jane eludes to…this very much links across to the Education post as well about opportunities to solve problems.

To recap she suggested that gamers have 4 super powers:

Urgent Optimism – extreme self motivation – a desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.
Social Fabric – We like people better when we play games with people – it requires trust that people will play by the same rules, value the same goal – this enables us to create stronger social relationships as a result
Blissful productivity – an average World of Warcraft gamer plays 22 hours a week: We are optimised as humans to work hard and if we could channel that productivity into solving real world problems what could we achieve?
Epic meaning – attached to an awe-inspiring mission.

All this creates Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals – People who are individually capable of changing the world – but currently only online /virtual worlds….

….So some observations:

If people have “Urgent Optimism” then what are we doing to tap into that to help solve and tackle obstacles?

if people have a “Social Fabric” what are we doing to build trust with them and do we play by the same rules and share the same goals?

If people have “Blissful Productivity” then what are we doing to mobilise and optimise the people around us in our communities to work hard at solving real world problems

If people can be inspired around “Epic Meaning” what meaning are we providing in our engagement and participation offering?

We should recognise that games are powerful in more ways than we can imagine, we need to think hard and fast about how we can develop the right kinds of games to engage people and to involve people in shaping their future and solving common problems

Expanding on those observations I had before, we need to move to a situation where organisations, communities and individuals can develop relationships and levels of trust to connect them to the networks and “networks of networks” within our local communities and to connect those communities with each other but to also connect them with the problems and narrative around local public services to make it easier for them to interact digitally and create transformational change.

The basic idea

  • We need to change the way we think about data and our connections to it and how we can help each other make sense of it through stories.
  • We need to identify networks and networks of networks and then connect them.
  • We need to create content and share stories which provoke conversations that will lead to bigger transformational actions.

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.

Hardware:

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…

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.

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 www.xjamgov.co.uk – this takes place between 4-6 June.

xjam_3Mar_017
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.

#KHub’s potential closure an analogy for #Localgov

Like so many of local gov people out there I was surprised to hear the news about the potential closure of the LGA’s Knowledge Hub platform.

The following is in my role as Digital Communications Manager at Devon County Council. Although I strongly believe that the Local Gov Digital Network can play an active and leading role in helping to find a solution – more on that soon.

Better people have written about the background, context and what could happen, links below and I urge you read them all – however I’m going to take a slightly different view:

Initially my reaction was “What the F**K!, how could the LGA be proposing such a decision given all the recent strategic messages around the importance of sector collaboration and digital”.

But since that initial reaction, I went away for a weekend in Cornwall and simply enjoyed time with family and friends with fantastic weather and a few bottles of the wonderful Doom Bar.  Now upon returning I have started to see a slightly different perspective (It doesn’t make the decision any easier of course) but it does for me at least, send out clear signals to the sector and beyond that times are hard, finances are under increasing scrutiny and we all are questioning what we are here to provide and what our purpose is.

I can’t knock the LGA for having a strategic conversations where all things should be questioned and assessed and questions asked around why they should continue to provide the same services in the same way regardless of how these things came about.

After all as a local government community we will all be questioning what on the face of it will be sensible solutions and sensible services but when budgets are being cut your only choice is to completely rethink how the same outcomes can be met.

So with that in mind, I actually think the LGA’s decision to question the continuation of the Knowledge as a centrally funded platform is a sensible one and actually shows real leadership when in the face of everyone else it may not appear a good decision.

I would like to think that more of these types of decisions can start to be made…after all as an analogy this is the kind of thing that FutureGov’s casserole project is counting on and rightly so…we need to question and rethink how meals of wheels are provided and if you maintain the same existing platform it becomes financially challenging so a different model needs to be engaged and this might not be how people originally thought the service should be provided but the same outcomes for a large majority of people would be unaffected.

The one issue I do have with the LGA’s approach with this is that in order to close down the Knowledge Hub, they need to play an active part in the decommissioning of it and allowing something else to emerge in its place so that the sector as a whole doesn’t suffer.

I’m not going to talk directly about the people who are also likely to be at risk, although my thoughts are with them and all those staff across the sector who are struggling with the scale of changes and cuts which are affecting us all. These truly are challenging times and they are only really just beginning. 😦

What I think should happen in the next two to three weeks:

  • First and foremost people should respond to the consultation honestly and constructively – according to the Knowledge Hub people need to send thoughts, comments and suggestions to info@local.gov.uk
  • Those people who care about this topic should share their views publicly as well to help build a wider picture of what people believe to be an appropriate way forward. There are many options which could be realistically considered but we shouldn’t over engineer a response and we should ensure that what ever happens meets the needs of not just local government but all those involved in the provision and development of local public services.
  • In parallel people need to start thinking of alternative models across all aspects of what is provided e.g. technology and solution, business and operating model, information and data and also community management.  I will be sharing my thoughts on this as i’m sure many other people will be too.

Personally I think that collaboration across all those involved in providing and developing local public services is a critical component in helping us tackle the very big problems that society has.  The knowledge hub or what comes next has to be seen as a core part of the future for local public services.

How that looks will be up to us all to decide collectively…It will require leadership, courage and persistence and I’m pleased to say that there are enough of those people involved already to give me faith that we can and will solve this challenge.