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

notwestminster
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

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#LocalGovDigital Steering Group on tour in Huddersfield

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

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.

Seeking mentors and coaches

 

In my last post I referred to a set of self-limiting belief and said that I had already taken steps to try to resolve that, well those steps were actively seeking our Mentors and Coaches who can help me develop and discover how I can be more effective.

I personally believe that having a mentor and people who can coach you is invaluable in the current climate as it allows you to stay focused on what matters as well as continuing your personal development journey. I also believe that these skills are critical for all public sector workers as we often don’t give ourselves enough reflection time to improve what we do and what happens around us.

Coaching, mentoring and self-reflection are key areas outlined in the Change Academy prototype, I also believe that it is a commitment not just to developing yourself, but to developing the people around you and is why I’ve recently agreed to coach and mentor a colleague outside of my council as I personally believe it is important. We are perhaps fortunate here in Devon as we have an internal coaching network, so I’m encouraging my team through appraisals to consider the benefits of coaching as this provides a really good introduction supported by qualified coaches internally and to also seek out some external mentors to help them meet their personal development targets and improve their performance.

For those who aren’t sure of the difference between the two i’ve included a basic table below which broadly outlines the difference – this is not comprehensive 🙂

coaching-mentoring

I’ve also recently agreed with two very senior and influential people in the sector to be my mentor/coaches – I’m very excited about this. I’m not prepared to share who yet as I’ve not had a practical conversation about those aspects yet. My first conversation starts next Wednesday and I’m in the progress of arranging a suitable time with the other. I’m very excited to be able to have this opportunity and would recommend to you all, to seek out a mentor and coach from outside of your council, someone who inspires you, shows and demonstrates skills and behaviours you want to learn and ask them if they can support you on your journey – if you don’t ask you won’t know 🙂

I also believe this simple step of supporting the development of each other across the sector can start (in a small way) break down some barriers around collaboration as I do believe one barrier is a lack of understanding and this can start to break that down.

So what are you waiting for?

Further reflections from LocalGovCamp and about LocalGovDigital

As you can tell I’m all for imaginative blog post titles 🙂


Anyway what I would like to reflect on is how I believe LocalGovDigital became more real, more present, more about the network and collaboration as opposed to the steering group at LocalGovCamp and how through the conversations at the open steering group I realised we had finally achieved what we needed to in order to make real and lasting progress.

Let me explain…

For me and for others LocalGovDigital as an unnamed network started at the very first LocalGovCamp and what made that so successful was it created new connections, new collaborations, new discussions etc but what we didn’t really focus on back then was creating collaborative outputs (OK, some were created and some people tried) but nothing has really appeared that has transformed a service.

When LocalGovDigital formally came together nearly 2 years ago now, we came together through a shared vision, shared values, shared aspirations and I guess at the time and more importantly shared frustrations.

We all wanted to see something change, we wanted to think different and do different…so we tried a few things as a small group of people and called ourselves the steering group and it started to do stuff.

However one of the issues for me and others was that the capacity of those within the steering group was limited and therefore we decided (rightly or wrongly) to focus on small outputs, manageable and extensions of the “day job” as we were and still are all voluntary.

As time progressed more and more people recognised the value of the network and the collective voice and action of practitioners. We were a “Thing”, we were seen as formal when we weren’t. We needed and have started to understand what all of this really means and how we can make change happen.

LocalGovDigital has never been about the steering group, it has always been about the network, the people who do stuff, make stuff, change stuff, design stuff and share stuff.

The steering groups role was merely an attempt to do the following:

  • Mobilise the existing network, not grow a new one
  • Amplify the voice of practitioners, not simply share it
  • Make and do things instead of just talking and meeting
  • Be networked and collaborative instead of simply networking with each other

So the change I saw at LocalGovCamp this year was that people recognised they were the network, that we are all the network and if we collectively want to see things change we all need to help and give some time to make and do things differently. The steering groups role needs to change and adapt and that has to be about doing those things above and creating the spaces for people to come together to collaborate, to make, to do and share.

We also need to clarify our focus and that has to be about outcomes and not about specific products. I wouldn’t want to get into a situation where we are recommending specific platforms and saying implement that and you will see change as we all know that doesn’t work. However what we do want to do is support good stuff.

My colleague Martin Howitt summed it up very nicely recently, he said:

LocalGovDigital aims to support and collaborate with everyone in and around the sector. We want to focus on outcomes rather than specific groups or people.

That is to say that if someone builds or creates something brilliant and someone else does something similar then that’s brilliant too because we can all learn from it. It’s the learning that is important and not the product or the organisation that produces it.

So my final reflection is about my contribution – what is it I can do to help?

One of the biggest issues for me is the skills and capacity of those in the sector to make change happen…that isn’t to say there isn’t any capacity and skills, but it just isn’t always well-developed, doing the right things or focused on the right outcomes…so my focus is to look at how that can be solved in practical ways.