Networked decision makers

I make no apologies that probably the majority of my future posts will be linked to explaining and exploring in more detail the Digital Framework for Local Public Services.

So this post is focusing on some of the middle area of the picture…in particular the box around leadership and decision-making. This part of the journey is critical not just in a wider context of leadership and decision-making but in ensuring that we have open and transparent local decision-making as well as a clear accountability in terms of local representation.

Digital Climate for Local Public Services Framework v2

To recap I previously explained this area in this way:

Leadership/Decision Making
We require strong visible leadership to enable transformation and strong decisions that ensure that we all contribute to creating a climate for growth and wellbeing. The leadership can also come from anywhere not just local public service providers
Capacity Building / Networks and Networks of Networks
Stimulating local action and identifying and connecting with networks and networks of networks to generate and create new opportunities and markets.
These connections can and will come from anywhere, this is not solely down to the council or local authority – this is about people and places.

Now all this is easy to write and even easier to say, but the practical implications of this are slightly more complicated and require a shift in thinking about what we should expect of our future leaders and decision makers and how we help those people become networked and connected.

Now the great thing about the internet is that you can always find and connect to people who are in a far better position to dig deeper into the thinking and that is exactly what Catherine Howe has done in relation to the Networked Councillors project. It came out of two things:

  • If we are going to have more networked and digital citizens we are going to need politicians with the right skills – we will need networked councillors but we have not yet really explored what that means

  • Just showing people how to use twitter doesn’t solve the problem

I’m really pleased that Catherine has shared this work as I personally think it validates the wider framework and also adds a layer of detail which I was obviously lacking (on purpose of course)

The report on the website is well worth a read and is easy to digest.

I want to pick out another quote form the report which to me helps to proactively link this to the wider framework and the language of the framework which is:

The qualities that the Networked Councillor should embody are found in the way in which Next Generation Users are approaching and using technology. We suggest that the following qualities, which can already be evidenced online, will be inherent:

  • Open by default: This is open not just in terms of information but also in terms of thinking and decision-making

  • Digitally native: Networked Councillors will be native in or comfortable with the online space, not in terms of age but in terms of the individual adopting the behaviours and social norms of the digital culture

  • Co–productive: Co-production is a way of describing the relationship between Citizen and State which brings with it an expectation that everyone in the conversation has power to act and the potential to be active in the outcome as well as the decision-making process

  • Networked: A Networked Councillor will be able to be effective via networked as well as hierarchical power as a leader

This is obviously one part of a wider complex environment and although this report is focused on councillors specifically it also applies itself to future leaders and decisions makers whether a local councillor or not….however for me this is a fantastic start to the discussion and conversation.

The problem is in the middle, isn’t it?

At a number of meetings over the last few weeks, months and in fact years, when people talk about change or anything new, one issue or barrier always comes up…can you guess?

No, it isn’t IT, in fact the most common referred to barrier is –  Middle Managers!

Now, I’m not entirely clear what group of people this actually refers to, other than it could and probably does include anyone who isn’t actually a Senior Manager, Head of Service, Officer and administrators etc…

On that basis I’m probably a middle manager and therefore in a category of people who are considered a barrier. I’ve finally arrived in localgov 🙂

Now whilst most people acknowledge this term and people nod when it is referred to as clearly middle managers are blocks to lots of interesting and innovative things, it does concern me that we can’t actually specify the real barriers to things.

I’m sure there are many managers, in the middle, or at senior levels, who are barriers in many organisations. But what I’d like to suggest is that what we really need to acknowledge is that the biggest barrier to change is in fact – Mediocre Managers.

They can be anywhere and have some common traits for example:

  • They fear empowering their staff or they might look incompetent at their own job
  • They micro-manage every task
  • They see “working from home” as a day off work and hold the view that unless you’re in the office at your desk, you aren’t working – oh and you have to sit in rows….”shudders”
  • Blame lies everywhere else but with themselves

I’m sure you could suggest a few more common traits, however my question is how do you really change people?  I also have to ask myself how many of the above do I demonstrate to my team…hopefully none of them? – I doubt anyone in my team will respond to this as I ban them from reading my blog 🙂

It isn’t going to help anyone by laying the blame on a group of managers, who aren’t actually the problem when the real problem is organisational and sector wide in that we clearly have universal HR processes that promote and reward mediocre behaviours and foster controlling cultures.

The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. 
Abraham Lincoln

So a plea really…whilst a large proportion of those who obstruct actually reside in the middle of a hierarchy, we need to tackle the fundamental organisational and wider enterprise design processes so we reward and foster more creative and innovative behaviours and not point at individual people as they behave like they do because cultures and processes allow them to.

 

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

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

The Future of Local Government Part 4 – Influence and Insight

I seem to be doing quite a bit of thinking about the future recently which has naturally sparked a few blog posts in my mind, so I’m going to continue the future of local government theme and build on the previous posts:

This week has been a really interesting week in many ways and yesterday we had a feedback session on our future Devon programme which went very well. The energy and passion in the room was reassuring and it reinvigorated lots of people. It was also refreshing to see our corporate leadership team embracing the challenge and ideas from the group of about 70 people who were able to make the session.

They even managed to provide a video feedback session which was fantastic as it showed and shared individual journeys of a cross-section of the group and all of them basically said the following things:

  • Meeting and connecting with people from across the council was a great benefit and should happen more often
  • Having the time to think and move out of your day job even for a few hours a day to think and unpick the really big issues is empowering and also hugely beneficial in terms of personal and professional development
  • Nobody wants the experience to end and are keen that this experience is broadened out to a wider selection of people

The event itself was a great opportunity to glimpse how a future culture could work and how it would feel, the atmosphere and energy of many people from different parts of the organisation coming together and sharing ideas, challenge thinking and questioning everything was a joy to behold and be part of. A simple challenge is how do we maintain this…i’m personally confident this will happen but it is still a challenge.

There are many individual learning points for me from the session but I wanted to use this post to pick up on two specific issues which I think as local government we sometimes forget.

INFLUENCE

In a local government context influence exists and manifests itself at many levels – at officer level, at senior mgt level, in teams, across team, within partnerships, at political levels and it can affect the very local issue right up to the big national issues.  The key thing to acknowledge here is that at some point in this complex influence web – something has to try to make sense of it all and find consensus.

Communities will exert influence up to a local authority which has a responsibility to co-ordinate across a larger geographic region. In doing this consensus is often negotiated so that the best outcomes and interests of all is progressed.

Moving forward it will be essential to ensure that something exists in some form which can maintain the influence at the right level to ensure the best outcomes across an area. This is likely to coincide with where the insight and intelligence is collected and where commissioning is managed and evaluated.

So should a local authority exist in the years to come then a key component of that will be to maintain and grow its influence to ensure that it facilitates the best outcomes for its population.

I think back to a previous post of mine about the World of GovCraft where I comment on a video of  Game designer Jane McGonigal who spoke about harnessing the power of game mechanics to make a better world. In the video she talks about “gamers” and the super powers they have developed and how these super powers can help us solve the worlds problems.

My thoughts now are about how can we use our influence as individuals, communities, networks, organisations etc to actually harness the possible and potential capacity that Jane eludes to existing…

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 we 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

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 and influence people.

Urgent Optimism – The wide scale budget pressure in the public sector has meant that in some areas local services are being stopped and in most cases these are preventative services which would have longer term benefits. Instead of sitting back as citizens we will have to rethink how we see the outcomes we articulate being met.

Social Fabric – We need to be honest and shift our dialogue to one which is adult to adult and start opening up and being more transparent about how and why we make decisions as well as how we plan for future services. We need open access to all the intelligence and insight so everyone can query it.

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. Lots of great examples are already happening around the country – this week Casserole from FutureGov was launched wider and promoted as an example of community based action

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 facilitate services which meet the needs and outcomes of local people. This mission can no longer be just the responsibility of a single local authority – we are all in this together and we need to use our influence to extend that across all stakeholders in Devon and beyond.

INTELLIGENCE / INSIGHT

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.

This intelligence and insight is another key component in a future model – It should all be open by default and digital by design so that communities and individuals are able to identify their own needs and maybe create local solutions on top of that.

However the link to influence is crucial here as this level of insight and intelligence will be at the heart of what something would be using their influence to ensure the outcomes are met for the local population.

It will be critical to recognise that regardless of the organisational boundaries the influence of what we refer to now as local government must and should reach beyond those boundaries and ensure that its influence is focusing on achieving the best outcomes for all citizens and all needs within a local area.  Some of those needs will naturally fall within scope of the authority to commission services, however some will be outside and therefore it must use its influence over a wide ecosystem of private, public, voluntary and community organisations to ensure needs are met and communities are empowered where possible.

I think back to the guardian article referred to in my last post – however for me upon reflection that merely reinforces the current model and structures of government and doesn’t fundamentally re-imagine how things can be done from the ground up.

For me whatever emerges has to recognise that influence and insight are key components and building blocks of a future local governance model.

The Future of Local Government Part 3 – A Critical and Trusted Friend

I’ve blogged previously on the subject of the future of local government but some posts were very scattered and half-baked, like most of the posts I write 🙂 however I have written two previous posts which I’d like to associate this one with:

Part 1 – Future of Local Government

Part 2 – Future of Local Government – social enterprise council

In Devon there is a group of people from across the council who are coming together to talk about, challenge and discuss what the future landscape is for local government – It all kicked off back in June/July…

It is a bit like having a constant Open Space South West event but without the awesomeness of the external challenge and great food! That doesn’t mean that my colleagues aren’t awesome because they are…everyone has been on a journey and the issues and challenges that the groups have been discussing have been a struggle to get to grips with, but the important thing is – we are starting to make sense of some of this stuff now and there are some very good outputs and the level of thinking has increased dramatically.

We have six groups altogether – People, Systems, Customers, Commissioning, Spend and I’m in a group which is looking at Demand.

The group was initially charged with looking at 3 overarching questions but these were a guide and we were given freedom to explore all the issues providing we could come back together later this month to report our learning.

The questions were:

  • How can we move away from the current approach of ‘rationing’ provision to influencing and managing demand?
  • How can we better understand demand drivers so that we can deal differently with demand e.g. community resilience, building up skills??
  • How can we change behaviour so that expectations are better managed and others can make a bigger contribution?

To say that it was all good would be a lie, the conversations were challenging at the very beginning and it took the group some time to find its own rhythm and for the members of the group to find a consensus and for us all to break out of our current thinking modes.

For me the fundamental action that is required moving forward is a shift in the relationship between the state/public services and citizens. We also need to acknowledge that we need to have better and more aligned relationships with private and voluntary sector…

There is a little bit or irony about some of the conclusions I’ve personally come to in that when the county council faced the issue of local government reorganisation and the possible threat of not existing – we started to really articulate our core value and purpose in levels that I hadn’t seen before or unfortunately since – until now that is…the challenge and issue is that we clearly haven’t created a learning culture otherwise the conversations we have had would have developed the thinking of a few years ago, but in fact we have almost hit the same point but from a different angle…which is also OK…at least it reaffirms the previous thinking…

Anyway let me share some of the thinking about Demand, well the key starting point for us as a group was what demand isn’t.

We considered the issue of managing demand to definitely not be about:

  • Tightening or changing eligibility criteria so that fewer people are able to access a service who have legitimate needs to do so.
  • Altering, changing or restricting access or opening hours of services to reduce costs and pressures on budgets
  • Stop investing in or delivering non-statutory services – just because something is non-statutory doesn’t mean it isn’t a valuable service. Most preventative services are non-statutory and are key to reducing demand on statutory services over time.
  • Passing on costs to partners – no more to add to this one…

It is important to recognise that these approaches simply take what we currently provide and either reduce the numbers of people accessing them, stop them completely or pass on costs elsewhere. None of this supports communities and individuals to meet their needs, the very people that we are here to help.

We also acknowledged and spoke about the differences between “needs”, “demand” and “wants”.

  • Need happens
  • Demand is manageable
  • Want is a perceived need

Whilst everyone has needs, demands only happen when those needs are within the current remit of the council or public service provider

One of the challenging conversation was about how to manage demand and what options and strategies we could adopt now and in the future to either reduce or increase demand depending on the service.

The following is not a comprehensive list of what we discussed but are some of the more fundamental ones as we saw them here.

Pre-empt and Prevent

This requires us to plan strategically – we aren’t talking about the next 3-5 years but we must look at the next 30-40 years especially when it comes to social care…the example we used was what are we doing to-day with our 30-40 year old population which will reduce demand on our social care services when they hot there 70’s or 80’s?

Outcomes

A lot is mentioned about outcomes but rarely do we actually refer to the outcomes we are trying to solve…still so much of the conversation across all of local government (my perception anyway) is that we are service and target driven.

If we are really clear to the outcomes we want to see we can plan better and be more holistic and strategic in how we design services, so that poorly designed services don’t generate additional demand on other services – an example I used is school transport. Now as a parent and a school governor it was something which struck a chord with me.

Parents and families have a choice what school they can send their children to and this in itself isn’t a problem and is a good choice, however when a family chooses a school which then subsequently requires school transport the council is expected to cover the costs. One option might be to say as part of the choice for your school if your preferred option falls outside of your public transport network then the council is not expected to fund your transport. This could then perhaps spark a service which looks like the carsharedevon scheme but for parents and families to resolve school transport issues.

Capacity Building

It is an obvious thing to say but we really need to work across all sectors or society and build capacity into communities and individuals so that we can actually realise the change.

Some of this will be through facilitating connections between networks and networks of networks so that solutions can be solved locally without the need for the council or public service body to get involved.

Cultural and Societal Change

We need to shift and transform our dialogue to one which facilitates connections with others first before suggesting that the council could or is able to provide a service.

This is where I consider the role of a council shifting to a trusted and critical friend as opposed to the traditional parent child relationship which exists now.

A critical and trusted friend, in my personal opinion would offer good advice and challenge me to act for myself and support me when times are good and prepare me for when things could go bad. What they certainly wouldn’t do is to do all those things for me and make me less independent. This is a major shift in the relationship and when you throw in the democratic relationship into this mix we can see the scale of the challenge ahead – it is kind of exciting when you think about.

In my personal view, if I were to sit here and write that Devon County Council will exist in 8-10 years time, I would be very naive – however what I do know is that a public service body of some kind will exist, which will have a particular set of responsibilities for example:

  • needs assessment
  • agree outcomes
  • vision
  • influence
  • coordinating funding
  • commissioning
  • evaluation and review

So for me the future for local government is that we must accept that it won’t look like it does today, second that we must work across all providers to come together around shared outcomes and lastly we must transform and shift the relationships between citizens, public services and the wider ecosystem we sit within.

There is an interesting article in the Guardian today about behaviour change which outlines 6 goals for a local authority and this very much echoes the conversations we have been having in the demand group and in wider conversations as well.

I shall leave you with this as it very much reflects the thinking we are doing here – the article states:

1. Set a medium-term vision for place in partnership with other organisations in the public, business and third sectors, and through informed and honest dialogue with local people.

2. Based on this vision, adopt strategic objectives for the local authority itself.

3. Review all current expenditure and actions against the strategic options. Be willing to do different things in different ways, funded in new ways to secure the desired result. Set clear outcomes targets; stop doing some things while starting other new activities to meet new and contemporary needs. Where possible, switch resources into prevention.

4. Develop place-shaping and community leadership. Look to influence and bring into play all the available resources in the area, not just the council’s own coffers.

5. Ensure that local people, the voluntary and community sector, businesses, suppliers, contractors and staff are engaged in decision-making.

6. Adopt behaviours and processes that enable the authority to collaborate, partner and share with and where appropriate cede power to others – other local public sector agencies, the VCS, neighbourhoods and citizens.