Tag Archives: culture

Getting to Grips with Digital Service Design

Amy Richards leading Y Lab's workshop in Llanrwst

Amy Richards leading Y Lab’s workshop in Llanrwst

How might public services begin to digitally design their services? Jess Hoare and Amy Richards from Y Lab look at the key things to think about when you’re starting off on your Digital Service Design journey.

A few weeks ago the Wales Audit Office invited Y Lab to run a workshop at their Digital Seminars. These seminars were lively events with some really great questions coming up during the panel session. Here’s one of the meaty ones:

What are the key areas of focus for any organisation looking to redesign services?

We thought it might be useful to reflect on the discussion that followed this question and offer some practical advice. Through the work of the Digital Innovation Fund, we’ve concentrated on addressing three main areas: skills, culture, and tools.

Each of those categories relates to broader themes of skills, culture and tools. To keep this succinct, we’ve summarised some of the key points raised in our workshops:

Skills

  • Get to grips with the basics of service design. Always, always start with user needs. A lot has been written on how to go about this. As a starting point, I would recommend taking a look at some of the brilliant resources shared by Government Digital Service.
  • If you want to enable digital service design be brutally honest about who is best qualified within your organisation to lead that. Who’s good at UX? Who’s interested in doing more user research? Who has more recently mapped the services your organisation offers? Get them in a room together.
  • You need to be able to build agile interdisciplinary teams that can work iteratively. That doesn’t happen overnight but it is important to start with a team that knows what they are working towards.

Culture

  • Don’t just recruit talented people, develop those already with you;
  • be clear about career advancement, company culture, and training/development opportunities;
  • allow ideas to be challenged and championed;
  • ensure your leadership is committed to cultural change and supports risk.

Tools

A photo of Jess Hoare taking part in the panel discussion in Cardiff

Jess Hoare taking part in the panel discussion in Cardiff

Y Lab’s Innovation Process has been created to help organisations solve challenges using design methods. The process has been split into three steps: Explore, Generate and Evaluate. The basis of our process is if you understand the problem better, you have a better understanding of the user needs, reduce the risk of failure and have a more efficient and effective solution.

Explore comprises of questions that help you fully understand the problem, get a clearer picture of what it is you need to solve and ask yourselves some crucial questions about the resources you need and how you might measure the project’s success.

It is at this point in the process where assumptions about the needs of the user are made and this is where user research steps in. It’s much better to admit not knowing everything than to start making assumptions about what the user needs, and getting it wrong. Our user research tools will enable you to add further detail before you begin to think about solutions. Journey mapping and user personas can add valuable insight.

Generating Ideas…

You’ve got a better understanding of the problem and user needs, written a brief (without realising it) so now it’s on to the fun part. Our generate section is exactly how it sounds, we encourage you to sit down as a team and start coming up with ideas constantly reflecting on your findings from ‘Explore’ to ensure that your solutions are relevant and which ones you should take to the next stage and start prototyping.

Evaluate (through prototyping and testing)

Prototyping seems to be the part most people are scared of, it’s the part of our process where ideas are really put to the test and where flaws can be uncovered. Service blueprints, storyboarding and paper prototyping are invaluable and can be put in front of users, tested and refined to reduce the risk of failure in the long run. It’s much better to fail now, and not fail when you’ve made that big ‘investment’. Evaluate your ideas and solutions against your findings in the ‘Explore’ section, is this really the best possible solution? If not, throw it away and start again, you can’t make a bad idea good.

Final thoughts…

The business of innovation can be messy, is tricky and is often fraught with challenges to be overcome. The work put in by those we worked with through the Digital Innovation Fund was considerable. There was a great appetite and enthusiasm for responding to challenges practically through a structured innovation method and cross-sector collaboration. In the most successful cases, we can see how involvement with the Digital Innovation Fund has had a wider impact across the organisation, bringing in new ways of working and opening up conversations around the potential for digital forms of innovation.

The pertinence of working in this way has infused the ideas, workshops, and conversations that have taken place since we begun our work on the Digital Innovation Fund. This appetite and enthusiasm for new methods of approaching challenges was certainly echoed at the workshops we ran with Wales Audit Office and we’re looking forward to the next seminars in the series.

The strategic importance of digital: a conference about culture change

What were the key messages from our recent events on digital? Kelly Doonan from Devon County Council reflects on the main learning points that she took away.

Image of speech bubble linking people to clouds, phonoes and documents

On 13 September I attended an event organised by the Wales Audit Office Good Practice Exchange called; Redesigning public services: The strategic importance of digital. Although I’ve referred to it as a conference for title alliteration purposes, it was actually a seminar event with interactive workshops – and some really fabulous catering – held at the SWALEC Stadium in central Cardiff.

This is my take on the event and the six key messages I came away with. Which, as the title suggests, aren’t actually about digital…

1. Digital means different things to different people… we need a clear understanding of what it means to us

The event kicks off with a speech from Auditor General, Huw Vaughan Thomas. In the speech he states; quite accurately, that: “Digital means different things to different people.”

It does and I think that is a huge problem. When he says that we need a clear understanding of what it means to ‘us’ I think we need one clear definition that everyone understands. It’s the only way that we can have aligned conversations and make aligned decisions.

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council has just released their new digital strategy (as a PDF) which explains that Rotherham is putting digital at the ‘forefront’ of their journey to become a modern authority. It links to local health digital strategies, but doesn’t seem to link to a wider culture change or service redesign strategy. Does digital mean the same to Rotherham MBC as it does to the WAO or to Devon County Council? Can we work together effectively if we don’t have an agreed definition?

2. Digital is not doing the same work, but digitally

Huw Vaughan Thomas goes on to clarify that: “Digital is not doing the same work, but digitally.”

Which begins to move us towards a definition of digital, and suggests that we’re starting to talk about culture change and service transformation, not creating a new digital strategy.

3. Mistakes are inevitable; we mustn’t shy away from that

Also from Huw Vaughan Thomas’ speech. This is an interesting one. If common sense was a thing this statement feels like it would be a classic example. Of course humans make mistakes; it’s one of our defining characteristics and how we know that we’re not actually machines surely? Still, it feels weirdly radical to have an auditor stand up and say this. It also feels hugely positive and (hopefully) liberating.

We have to move away from a culture that assumes all mistakes can be ‘policied’ out if only we policy hard enough. Instead we have to encourage reflection, learning and individual responsibility. Back to culture change again.

After the Auditor General’s speech there’s a quick fire question and answer session with the panel. The first questions are prepared by the organisers, but the rest are sourced from the audience – it’s a brilliantly engaging approach and works really well.

4. We can’t ‘do digital’ until we understand what citizens actually need

My cavalier approach to note-taking means that I don’t actually know which panellist said this, but it was definitely one of them.

I get an email every other day from a software development company telling me how their customer portal is going to revolutionise back office systems and save money. They’ve even got a snazzy customer testimonial video featuring a local authority IT manager explaining how this digital transformation has saved him pots of money and tidied up all his back office systems, and no-one ever ever mentions user needs.

We can’t put any digital tools in place until we know that we need them and that they’re solving the right problem – and surely we can only do that if we’re talking to our citizens? Surely we can only do that if we are clearly articulating our purpose and we understand why we’re doing anything at all? What we need is culture change and a different approach to understanding our citizens.

5. These things are not technology problems… digital is an enabler. Buying a load of iPads won’t change your culture.

Beautifully succinct quote from Professor Tom Crick in his workshop session, A digitally competent, digitally capable workforce. For me this session raises some really interesting questions about digital capabilities.

  • Is there a basic digital standard that our workforce needs to achieve?
  • If there is, then shouldn’t this be part of our job descriptions?
  • Do we have a hierarchy of digital capability in our workforce with a digital ‘elite’ who have lots of skills and are working in radically different ways to those further behind?
  • How do we make sure that staff are learning digital skills rather than learning how to use separate pieces of proprietary software?
  • Do we have senior leaders who know enough about digital to make these kinds of decisions?
  • Does every organisation essentially need a benevolent hacker at the top table wielding some real power?

Which is all to say that we probably need to look at changing our culture around staff training and recruitment.

Also in this workshop I share a story about a piece of work we did under the heading ‘ask forgiveness, not permission’ which literally makes another delegate’s mouth fall open in shock.

6. Can you build agile, interdisciplinary project teams that can work iteratively?

For the final session I attend the workshop Learning from the Digital Innovators Network run by Jess Hoare and Amy Richardson from Y Lab, which involves marshmallows and spaghetti.

Y Lab is an innovation lab for public service created by Nesta alongside Cardiff University. They have some wonderful, practical resources – most of which are available on the Nesta website.

The workshop involves a quickfire session answering some provocative questions such as ‘[In your organisation] What is the perceived role of IT?’ and ‘Can you build agile, interdisciplinary project teams that can work iteratively?’. We then identify a digital problem and use the Nesta tools, and Jess and Amy’s support and input, to work the issue through.

Fairly quickly we start talking about articulating the problem, identifying users, understanding needs and gathering evidence. We spend the rest of the session looking, essentially, at redesigning the service and the processes.

The problem with digital transformation

Every conversation I had at this event that started with digital transformation ended with looking at culture change and system transformation.

I think we do need to have an agreed definition of digital and it became clear through this event that many people – but definitely not all – understand that digital is an enabler and not an end in itself. I would say that we don’t need digital strategies (sorry Rotherham) rather we need system transformation strategies which include digital enablers. We need to start with purpose and start with users and understand what we’re for and what they need.

I think there’s a real opportunity here though. To start conversations about digital transformation and, through events like this, show how that conversation must move to one about system transformation.

WAO Good Practice Exchange are planning more events in this series and it would be great to see them challenging participants further to think about how we use digital as a catalyst for real organisational change – not just buying a load of iPads.

How Swansea Council undertook a scrutiny inquiry into their culture

Logo of the future of governance: Effective decision making for current and future generations

The Wellbeing of Future Generations Act requires organisations to go beyond tinkering at the edge of services into wider cultural change. Dyfrig Williams looks at what can we learn from the City and County of Swansea’s Scrutiny Inquiry into their corporate culture.

Culture is one of those intractable topics. When a problem is cultural, it means there’s no quick fix, no one process to tweak that will automatically help organisations to improve their work.

The good side of this is that it means that organisations tend to go beyond tick box solutions when they identify cultural issues in order to deliver real and lasting change. The bad side of it is that sometimes cultural change is seen as being so difficult that it doesn’t get done at all – the problem is too big to get to grips with.

So when I heard about the City and County of Swansea’s Scrutiny Inquiry into their Corporate Culture, I was immediately interested.

So why did they set up the inquiry?

Councillor Andrew Jones, the Convener of Corporate Culture Scrutiny Inquiry Panel said that:

‘The topic was chosen because, as a Council our corporate culture underpins everything we do, from how we engage with our citizens and provide services to how we treat our staff and grow and develop as an organisation. The challenges faced by the reductions to council budgets pose a threat to that notion of a shared culture. We therefore as Councillors, management and staff have a shared responsibility to respond to these challenges by developing a can do culture that ensures the citizens of Swansea continue to receive the best Council service possible.’

Getting things right at the start

So what can we learn from the pro-active steps that the council have taken to identify ways of improving their culture?

When I spoke to Michelle Roberts from the City and County of Swansea’s Scrutiny team, she emphasised the importance of getting the parameters of the inquiry right at the outset in order to focus on the right areas. The rationale of the review was to ensure that:

  • The council has the right corporate culture to tackle the challenges it faces
  • They create a can do culture to help turn the city around
  • Staff culture is focused on empowerment, personal responsibility, innovation and collaboration.

It’s great to see how the council have ensured that the inquiry has an ongoing legacy by linking it to the work of Leanne Cutts, who’s their Innovation Co-ordinator. As the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act requires, they’ve looked at their long term goals, whilst also identifying quick wins and medium term objectives.

There are some eye-catching proposals that focus on the organisation’s people. They cover the whole staff journey from corporate inductions, mainstreaming innovation into appraisals and developing personal skills to avoid buying in expertise.

Failure

We’ve done a fair bit of work around failure over the last couple of years through our Manager Chris Bolton. This work has underpinned a lot of our information sharing and our focus on improvement. So it’s great to see that the council are looking at how they can move away from a blame culture, whilst recognising the external issues that make it difficult (I’ve previously blogged on complex environments and failure). If we’re going to meet the expectations of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, we have to be able to take well managed risks and build upon the lessons from failure, as Huw Vaughan Thomas, the Auditor General for Wales, discusses in the video below.

Where to start?

If you want to examine the culture of your organisation, it’s well worth taking a look at this Culture Mapping Tool that’s been developed by Dave Gray, and which The Satori Lab have been using in their work. The stated and unstated levers of the tool are really useful in terms of thinking about what drives the behaviour of public service staff and organisations.

At the Wales Audit Office, we’re working on our approach to auditing the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. For us as an audit body and for public services generally, it means that we have to change. If organisations try to deliver the seven wellbeing goals through the five ways of working without changing what they do, they’re likely to fail.

The Act gives us the chance to do things a bit differently in Wales. In a time of austerity, we can’t deliver the aspirations of the act whilst tinkering around the edges and adapting what we currently do. For the people of Wales to get the public services that they deserve, we need wholesale cultural change.

RHP: Great customer service, great employer

A photo of RHP's 5 year strategy mural

RHP’s 5 year strategy mural

It’s impossible to have effective public services without staff that are committed and motivated to deliver them. So how do we go about doing that? Dyfrig Williams visited London housing provider RHP Group to learn more about their approach.

I’ve always been interested in how organisations make the most of their staff. When I worked at Participation Cymru, we noticed that organisations that harness their staff’s knowledge and capabilities tend to be the ones who are good at involving the public when planning their work.

So I was really interested in the work RHP are doing, and when the opportunity came to visit the organisation after meeting their Chief Executive David Done, I was as keen as mustard.

Culture

One of the first things that struck me is the effort that RHP put into building and maintaining the culture of the business. RHP recruit people based on behaviours, and subsequently measure performance against these skills and behaviours rather than qualifications. The assessment centres at interviews focus on that, and once employees have been appointed, all new starters go through a “wow 3 weeks” of induction that ensures that all new starters have the same experience and are aware of the organisations’ values.

Their approach to culture and empowerment isn’t something that just applies to new employees. Existing employees had said that they wanted the opportunity to stay and progress within the organisation, so RHP developed a Climbing Frame approach to staff development that allows existing staff to move up the organisation through promotion, or move sideways through a secondment.

Learning and Development

A photo of RHP's meeting room, which is nicely decorated to provide a relaxed environment

RHP’s meeting room – a bit different to your average one

RHP’s learning and development approach is based on gaps in their business, for example their approach to risk management and decision making. I’ve often felt that the traditional training course approach to personal development is a tick-box exercise (I think only about three of the courses that I’ve attended have genuinely changed the way that I work in about eleven years of working in public services), so it was interesting to see how RHP is favouring a bite-size approach to events that last between ninety minutes and half a day.

This approach includes the Great Place to Think sessions, where external speakers are invited to speak on topics that are relevant to the organisation. Wayne Hemmingway has spoken on creativity and Gerald Ratner spoke about resilience and bouncing back from failure.

The Great Place to Debate sessions also give staff the opportunity to debate contentious issues. RHP is moving into offering five year tenancies, and points from the “All new social tenancies should be offered on five year terms – yes v no” debate informed its approach.

The Live Lounge also harnesses staff’s own learning, as employees lead discussions on their areas of interest, including topics as diverse as social media or politics. Live Lounges are 3-2-1 discussions (held at 3 o’clock, 2 way discussions for 1 hour). One employee who is a personal trainer spoke about health, and another employee movingly spoke about their mental health experiences.

The Good Practice Exchange has been working with public service partners on Behaviour Change Festivals across Wales, including in Bangor, where the Centre for Behaviour Change used gamification to influence attendee behaviour (it’s worth checking out Participation Cymru’s blogpost on this for more details). So I was really interested in how RHP are using the approach to look at how employees react to high pressure situations. They developed games with an external company, where points are rewarded on decisions they made during the game and whether they made the right decisions and the consequences of those decisions. The scenarios were based on what people experience at RHP, so employees could see and empathise with the challenges that their fellow employees faced. And as someone who has a dubious taste in murder mysteries, I absolutely loved how they have used those scenarios to test how staff make decisions under pressure!

I also learnt how RHP have developed RHPedia, an online knowledgebase in the mould of Wikipedia that equips people with the knowledge they need to deal with any enquiries and to deal with specific issues. What I loved about this approach to knowledge sharing is that anyone can add their expertise to the site. The next stage will be to offer this site to customers

And if all that wasn’t enough, RHP also have an internal volunteering scheme. Whilst that isn’t unusual in itself, 107 people volunteer out of the 250 people who work for the organisation (which includes people who donate to support the projects that employees volunteer on).

Benchmarking

If you’ve made it this far through the blogpost, you’ll be unsurprised to learn that RHP is an Investors in People gold organisation. RHP have used the Times 100 to benchmark it’s success in the field, where it came fifth in the UK, and it now uses the Great Place to Work Award. This year, RHP were placed at number one for this award. They also use the Customer Service Index to see what others are doing and what makes them good, whilst also asking customers what a very good service would look like.

And the feedback shows that all this work is worthwhile.96% of employees are satisfied with working for RHP and 83% of customers said they are satisfied with the service they receive. And Geraldine Clarke, RHP’s L&D Advisor told me that “If you want to be great at customer service, you’ve got to be a great employer. You can’t be one without the other.” If you’re similarly looking at how you can make the most of the people within your organisation, we’d love to hear from you.