Dare to be vulnerable to improve public services

How can public service leaders start to embed digital thinking within their organisations in order to redesign public services? Dyfrig Williams reflects on what he learnt from Cllr Barry Parsons and Carl Haggerty‘s workshop at our Digital Seminar.

Although our seminar was looking at Digital approaches, we spent precious little time talking about technology. Instead, both the seminars in North and South Wales focused on the steps that organisations could take to develop a Digital mindset and deliver better public services.

Councilllor Barry Parsons speaking during a panel discussion / Y Cynghorydd Barry Parsons yn siarad yn ystod trafodaeth panelI pitched a session at GovCamp Cymru on how the changemakers who attend events like unconferences can change the practice and behaviour at their organisation to embed learning. One of the questions I posed during my pitch was on the role of leaders in embedding change, as they are in a position to lead by example and demonstrate the behaviour that organisations should be displaying.

With this in mind, it was great to learn more about some of what’s taking place at Devon County Council, where Cllr Barry Parsons (who is Cabinet Member for Performance and Engagement) has a Coaching relationship with Carl Haggerty in order to develop a shared understand of the role that they can play in embedding Digital thinking in the council.

Changing our relationship with the public

In the plenary session we heard the same message from each panellist about how public services should start with user need. Public services need to fundamentally rethink how they work, and the questions from delegates showed that they were thinking about how they might begin to reframe the relationship between our organisations and communities.

Cllr. Barry Parsons made some great points on how he is doing that in the workshop on Involving Elected Members in a digital approach. He spoke about his role as a Cabinet Member (and the role of other public service leaders), where he works to develop trust for systemic action and collaboration, both within and outside the organisation.

Daring to be vulnerable

Cllr Parsons spoke about daring to be vulnerable to develop that trust, and he shared this great video of Peter Sharp at TEDx Perth.

Cllr Parsons shares his own vulnerabilities in Council, where Carl Haggerty may be the expert on day to day digital matters, but Cllr Parsons is required to make big, informed decisions on the subject. By daring to be vulnerable and learn more about Digital, he is building mutual respect with Carl. They share common beliefs and a determination to bring officers together with members to drive the agenda forward in order to benefit communities.

When we planned the seminar, Y Lab developed personas with us for people who should attend the event. This was a change in our approach, as we usually target specific job roles. This was because we recognised that organisational hierarchies can separate the knowledge within organisations from authority when making decisions. By daring to be vulnerable, Cllr Parsons is able to bring that knowledge and authority together to make informed decisions so that the council can be better placed to deliver effective public services. It’s fantastic to hear that an elected member is taking such an approach to develop their knowledge. If your organisation is enabling elected members, non-executive members or trustees to do something similar, we’d love to hear from you.

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