It has been a while…

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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 services – discovery, 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: http://beyondthesmartcity.com/

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.

 

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.

Reflections from We’re not in Westminster – Local Democracy for everyone

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Remember this date : Saturday 7th February 2015, because on Saturday in Huddersfield a special event We’re not in Westminster – Local Democracy for Everyone took place that created the space, time, inspiration and curation to bring together an amazing group of people to discuss and suggest small and big changes to how local democracy works.

Thanks to all the people involved from sponsors, organisers, participants and most importantly the attendees who gave up a Saturday to talk about local democracy – YES they really did…

The format of the day was well structured and professional – the hard work and planning by those behind the scenes really paid off on the day. The discussions and planning around the sessions beforehand allowed them all to have a clear active and action based focus, so all participants were engaged in trying to work through problems and suggest solutions…this approach I think worked perfectly for an event which has a specific focus and required more curation and facilitation than say an event like localgovcamp.
The mix of the day with sessions and lightning talks helped maintain the broader context and purpose around why we’re all there…
So in what appears to be a standard way of reflection on these types of events here are my  reflections and highlights.
  • People will travel to things they care about. Huddersfield for the majority of people is not on any mainline so did take some time travelling to, in my example it was a 6 hour train journey with 3 changes so it was a real commitment to make that journey and many people made the journey to the event which is why it was and is a success. My hat goes off to everyone who made the effort to attend, participate and give their views, ideas and energy.
  • Sharing values and visions doesn’t always mean you’ll share the same opinions and this is a very healthy place to be and we should ensure that we bring in as many different voices into these discussions as possible.
  • Curating events in the manner that was applied to this event is perfect when you want to have a specific focus on a topic and want to deliver value and outputs as it focuses the energies on that which is perfect.
  • It takes more than just money from sponsors to make an event fly, but without them you only have an idea and energy. No one should under estimate the huge amount of effort required to get these things off the ground and huge respect to the team at Kirklees Council in making it happen.
  • A highlight for me was when a couple of councillors from Kirklees in Tim Davies session on 20 ways to work with open data said they would like to see how Open Data could help them deal with a local issue around people feeding pigeons…they found some options and ideas from the group work and I really hope they share their learning and outputs as it will be with small stories like this that things like open data can really start to show some value to the non believers.
  • Another highlight was the clear diversity of people in the rooms – councillors, academics, people off the street, council employees and those passionate around democracy. The quality of discussions I witnessed really showed through because of this.

There are some great insights on the hashtag #notwestminster which i highly recommend checking out – John Popham created a storify if you want to check that out

#LocalGovDigital Steering Group on tour in Huddersfield

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On Friday 6th February a small number of the steering group came together at Kirklees Council and we do what we usually do at the steering group – we think, do and share stuff around the workstreams and it was very interesting meeting in many ways.
Sarah Lay has shared her reflections here and I don’t want to repeat everything Sarah has already said but do want to reflect on how far the group has come and how we have adapted and evolved in response to the people in it and those starting to engage.
So the group came together because of people who were passionate about seeing something change and also how as a group of people who originally felt disconnected and isolated how we could better help ourselves and others connect together to do bigger and better things.
Our vision is something we simply won’t compromise on which is to demand something better, to see world class local public services and to see local democratic process redesigned to meet the the immediate and future demands of citizens and communities.  We may not often articulate it like this but what brings us together as a network is that we won’t compromise on the direction, but we will be pragmatic through iterative developments so we can at least start to see a new model emerge from the grassroots.
As Sarah highlighted in her post, some people have expressed concern about the pace by which we as a volunteer group can affect change. I’m not worried about that as at least we are working on the ground to build a movement, a set of simple tools which will start to address some of the barriers people talk about.
We are not a large single organisation with a mandate, but we are a responsive network, full of people who give up their own time on top of sharing what they do in their work time to do something better.
We can’t do this alone, we need more people to work across the network and if you don’t know how, then simply offer some help, through one of the workstreams…as a network we don’t have any money, we currently struggle accessing money but this won’t stop us trying to work with people to release money in creative ways.
The focus of the network is on practical things…there are a few of us who like and focus on the strategy aspects and less tangible things (myself included) but the primary focus of the network is about practical iterative change…
The steering group is not the network, it is simply the group of people who are prepared to extend their focus to a national level and this is not a fixed group, it has changed significantly in the 2 and bit years we have been going but yet we are still pushing, growing stronger and gaining personal and collective confidence with every event, output and celebrated success that we see.
The network has to adapt, evolve, respond to the environment we work in, we originally set out a number of workstreams where some have made no real tangible progress, not because of the people but because I guess upon reflection they were not actually priorities for people…We have changed the way we work to be even less formal, we don’t have minutes of our meetings, our agendas are crowd sourced on trello and anyone could pitch something for us to discuss or come along and join in.
To ensure that we continue the personal and collective growth of the network we want to introduce something which we are calling unmentoring basically this is a simple commitment by people to give up 30 minutes to think, do and share with someone. It is similar to what the NHS are doing in the school of social care radicals in their randomised coffee trials.
Unmentoring – how will it work?
We have to work out a simple mechanism but we essentially ask people to submit some basic details: Name, phone, email and optional googleID/skype and we provide a tool which randomly connect you to someone else and you commit to having a conversation and then sharing some basic outputs, a tweet or a blog post about what you learned. It is an experiment we want to try and we want to test the assumption – connecting people even randomly will help challenge your thinking.  This has been tested offline already in events like localgovcamp, UKGovCamp and any unconference so we know the benefits exist, we want to know whether an online model exists.
As a steering group (those who were there) have committed to putting ourselves in the pot and would want to invite other to join in.
We just need to rapidly prototype the actual process so we can launch it properly
If you are interested let us know and we will keep you posted…

 

LocalGov Digital – people passionate about public services

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It has been roughly two years now since LocalGov Digital came together – in my personal opinion we surpassed our original aspirations at the very first meeting when so many people committed to doing something together and we were blown away by the interest and momentum which came through at this years LocalGovCamp – it does prove that grassroots collaboration can and does work.

LocalGov Digital has also won Best Collaboration at the inaugural Comms2Point0 UnAwards. Sarah Lay has written a very good post on “We are all LocalGov Digital” which I think explains best what we set out to achieve and how everyone is key in that.

Anyway, here is a bit of a reflective post – what is localgovdigital, why we do what we do and a look back over the last two years and a look ahead…

What is LocalGov Digital?
Simply put, we’re a bunch of volunteers from local government and its partners who care about delivering brilliant user focused public services, enabled by digital where appropriate. Some of us are techies, web geeks, data crunchers etc and some of us aren’t. What we all have in common is our passion for improving public services. We pride ourselves on the fact that we’re a genuine practitioner network that gets things done for citizens in our localities.

The LocalGov Digital pledge:
We have adopted a Think, Do, Share approach to work and this focuses us on making sure that we actually deliver value on the ground, no matter how small, our approach encourages us all to think differently, do differently and share that widely across the network to help and support others.

The LocalGov Digital value:
Our underlying ethos is that local public services should be Open by default and Digital by design.

What we have done:

Since we formed as a network in September 2012 we have:

What we are actively working on:
We are going to continually share and show people how we did stuff, so they can steal and reuse it if it helps.

We know there is a huge amount of work to do and there are currently only a small number of us to get involved and help move things forward. So we have listed the areas where we have active people right now. However if you are working on something else and want to get involved in expanding the thinking, doing and sharing then get in touch.

1. Skills and capability – does the sector have the skills, capacity and capability to deliver real change in public service delivery?

We’ll do this through:

  • prototyping a “change academy” – this is about providing experiences / opportunities / moments to support people to meaningfully understand the tools and techniques to make change happen.
  • Working with partners co-hosting a Service Design discovery day – Warwickshire, 20th November – what are the needs that local gov has on service design?
  • Encouraging, supporting and promoting Service Jams and the Global Gov Jam Series
  • Creating a resource hub, pulling together existing resources and linking to them
  • LocalGovCamp – our annual gathering to support networking, hacking, leadership debates and sharing
  • Continuing to encourage and support practitioners to join LocalGov Digital Voice and share their thinking and doing.
  • Performance/digital dashboards – build on the existing work by councils who have worked with GDS and Socitm
  • Working on breaking down the language barriers around digital and open

2. Democracy – is the sector supporting its decision-makers to understand and promote digital service delivery?

We’ll do this through:

  • Different with Digital – this project aims to introduce new thinking around how local democracy might change as a consequence of digital. It is an experimental collaboration between specialist local government academics from four universities and local government practitioners working with LocalGovDigital
  • Democracy Camp – February 6th / 7th 2015
  • Produce user journeys for online democracy
  • Local Democracy Discovery Day

3. Making – helping define best practice and joining up the creation and sharing of design and development of digital services, where common aims and local user needs align:

We’ll do this through:

  • Localo – a set of common standards for transactions and data transfer to join-up IT and digital service delivery systems.
  • Pipeline – a “Kickstarter for the public sector” to help those working in around local governments solve common problems through collaborating on the creation of digital solutions.
  • Pulse – a resource to help find re-usable code and open resources designed by local government and the wider public sector.
  • Future hack and discovery days focused on technical design and development.

What we’re not going to do:

  • Create a single website for local government – we’re a practitioner network supporting local services in our areas
  • Force people to do stuff – We will influence through showing and doing

What we know we need help with:

  • Influencing decision-makers
  • Getting our message out to the right people so they listen and don’t keep making the same mistakes in the digital arena (e.g. procurement)
  • Financial support to get some things done – volunteerism only goes so far, we all have a day job to do
  • People from all sectors who can offer mentoring and coaching to practitioners

Do you want to get involved and Join us!
We know how many people there are out there in local government and beyond who feel the same as we do about creating real and sustainable change in public service delivery.

We know there are loads more people who could easily sign up to the LocalGov Digital principles, because they’re already working on transformational service redesign enabled by digital. If that sounds like you, then take our pledge to think, do and share with us. Real change comes from within.

3 simple steps to getting involved

  1. Use twitter or a blog so you can think, do and share in public
  2. Start sharing your work or thinking with the hashtag #localgovdigital and connect your blog to localgovdigital voice
  3. Connect to your peers around you inside and outside your organisation and organise meet-ups to start thinking, doing and sharing in groups.

Getting involved with the LocalGov Digital Steering Group

We operate on the principle that people earn their way into the steering group through thinking, doing and sharing activity and providing local or regional co-ordination.

If this sounds like you, get in touch and share what you are doing.