Tag Archives: devon county council

Digital: It’s all about redesign, not business as usual

Our seminar on Redesigning public services: The strategic importance of digital wasn’t about digital tools, but a shift in mindset. But what does that mean in practice? Ena Lloyd reflects on what she learnt from the event.

I’ve been heavily involved in developing and delivering the recent seminar on Digital as part of the Good Practice Exchange at the Wales Audit Office. For us as an organisation, digital transformation is a key strategic objective and priority, as well as a massive contributor to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.

As part of the planning element of the seminar, we conducted a wide literature review via commercial and academic routes as well as a wide variety of social media, talked to people with serious ‘Digital knowhow’ in the private, public sector and third sectors and the academic world so that we can get a good handle on what we needed to focus on in this seminar. This seminar was the first in a series of events to support public service transformation. I would honestly say it was a pivotal seminar for me. Why? Because I thought it would have been reasonable to expect that technology would figure hugely in the conversations in plenary and the workshops. In reality, it didn’t. So what did?

It might be helpful to have a listen to a 90 second video clip of Cllr Barry Parsons and Carl Haggerty of Devon County Council. They share the key messages and the word technology doesn’t figure once!

So what is the starting point?

It became clear from the seminar that digitising public services does not mean moving a service ‘like for like’ on to a digital platform. What would be the point in that? We need to explore how we can do things better with service users. We need to talk to them, as well as similar service deliverers that are potentially complimentary. I think it’s safe to say that public services cannot financially afford to deliver services in their current format. So figuring out quickly whether a potential redesign does actually have legs is essential.

Besides the importance of time or working at pace as I would prefer to think of it, I also learnt that when it comes to redesign:

  • Small is beautiful, so start small. Even if it doesn’t you can learn the lessons. We simply cannot wait for massive projects to come to fruition
  • Failing fast is a good thing. We must move with speed and pace for timely innovation
  • Make sure you have nailed your proof of concept. In other words, clearly define issues to make sure we’ve got things right at the start; and
  • Most importantly with your redesign – proceed until apprehended

Y Lab’s workshop helps to demonstrate these points. In the workshop Jess Hoare, Amy Richards and Rob Ashelford talked about a number of examples of small innovative projects that worked at pace and have been able to demonstrate viability in a very short space of time. I particularly liked the example of what’s taking place at Cardiff Council. Through the Digital Innovation Fund for Wales, Y Lab worked with 5 organisations on various digital transformation projects. At Cardiff Council, the project is trialling Internet of Things technology to support public services. Sensors will be deployed at various sites in the city to provide data on water levels in culverts. This real-time information can be used to inform the prediction and prevention of flooding in Cardiff. Learning from this project, and the hardware and network infrastructure provided through the grant, has the potential to enable sensor data to enhance other services across the city.

LoRaWAN is designed to provide Low Power Wide Area Network with features specifically needed to support low-cost, mobile, secure bi-directional communication for Internet of Things (IoT), machine-to-machine (M2M), and smart city, and industrial applications. It is optimized for low power consumption and to support large networks with millions and millions of devices. It has innovative a number of features, namely these are its low-cost, low-power model (it can even run on energy harvesting technologies) which enables the uptake and ease of use of the Internet of Things.

LoRaWan is an exciting emerging technology. At the time of writing, this would be the first network of its kind in Wales and one of only a handful in the UK. Given this, Y Lab has been approached by a number of organisations interested in working with Cardiff Council on possible network applications.

What does service transformation mean from an audit office perspective?

The bottom line is that technology can and does offer a range of potential cost savings, increases in efficiency and improvements in the quality of services offered to users. The Auditor General has said on many occasions about the need to take well managed risks. We just need to ensure there are opportunities for staff to take such chances on new approaches and technology. The Auditor General for Wales has talked on many occasions about the importance of taking those opportunities. As he says in the below video, we must innovate and adapt to new ways of working in order to provide effective public services.

Finally, I think it would be remiss of me not to make the connection between the redesign of services and the introduction of the Well-being of the Future Generations Act. At the seminar Huw Vaughan Thomas said that digital thinking and the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act are not competing priorities. This was really helpful and it brought it home to me when he talked about the Act’s five ways of working, in particular:

  • How the principles of integration and collaboration will prompt services to ponder how digital thinking can help services to work together. As organisations are required to come together under the umbrella of Public Service Boards, should each service be using incompatible systems?
  • The long term and prevention principles should allow organisations to consider how platforms can be reused and shared in order to avoid reinventing the wheel and provide better value for public money
  • And the principle of involvement should focus organisations on how they can ensure that services are person centred – how they meet user need………………. And isn’t that what public services should be about?

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.

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.

LocalGovCamp: Being the change you want to see

How are councils across the UK making the most of digital for their work? Dyfrig Williams attended LocalGovCamp to find out.

Over the weekend I went to my first LocalGovCamp in Birmingham, an unconference for local government across the UK, where attendees set the agenda by pitching ideas for discussions.

What is local government for?

The notes from Kelly Doonan's session

The notes from Kelly Doonan’s session

The most thought provoking discussion for me was in Kelly Doonan’s opening session, which asked “What is local government for?” A seemingly straightforward question, but with no easy answers. My takeaway from the session was that local government should be an enabler to help people make their local area a better place to live. What particularly fascinated me was that this chimes with Kelly’s team’s approach to their work. I’ve previously had a great Unmentoring conversation with Kelly about how an enabling mindset means that they’re helping people at Devon County Council to deliver better services. I’m going to steal Ghandhi’s wisdom and pass it off as my own here – this seems to be a great example of “being the change that you wish to see”. We can’t provide enabling services for citizens without applying the same approach to our work with our colleagues.

Gameification

Glen Ocsko’s session on Gameification allowed me to reflect on the work that we’re doing with Good Practice Wales and Bangor University on Behaviour Change, where we held a Festival in Bangor to share public service approaches. At the festival Professor John Parkinson looked at Gameful Design, and Professor James Intrilligator looked at Drinking, Games and Behaviour Change, which included a fascinating discussion on the Chimp Shop App that encourages people to drink less. It was great to compare and contrast this with approaches from the session. Nick Hill shared The Fun Theory’s work, who have lots of great examples of gameification that could be applied to encourage positive behaviour change.

Blockchain and government

Ingrid Koehler led the Blockchain and government session, which gave me a good chance to ponder what the emerging technology might mean for the Wales Audit Office’s Financial Audit work. It was amazing to think about how transactions could be tracked across government. We spoke about what a small, safe to fail pilot might look like (it’s well worth reading Chris Bolton’s post on Trojan Mice for more on this approach), where money raised from charges could be tracked so that you can see exactly what it was spent on. A potential new era for government financial transparency? But it could also be something more – Benjamin Taylor shared a fascinating link on building a democracy contract on the Blockchain, and what do the open processes mean for public trust? Ingrid shared this interesting report on what it might mean for government.

Why we hate the voluntary sector

Just to be clear, I don’t! But I attended this spikily titled discussion by Pauline Roche as I worked in the sector for eight years, and Huw Vaughan Thomas, the Auditor General for Wales, always talks about how public services won’t be delivered by any one sector in the future. It was fascinating to hear how a fear of lack of control leads to local authority services being kept in house, but also really interesting to hear how groups like Snow Angels could add expertise and value in crisis situations.

The best bit… the networking!

But the most useful part of the day was the opportunity to network and share ideas. It was great to meet new people who are doing great things, as well as finally meet people who I’ve spoken to online in my role (hello Albert Freeman!).

When I caught up with Kelly Doonan after the event for a chat, we spoke a bit about the potential for the Wales Audit Office to do our good practice work differently. Kelly told me about how immersing yourself in examples of alternative approaches can help you to understand how the nuts and bolts of particular approaches can be applied in complex environments.

Devon County Council visited a a user research company, Revealing Reality, to look at how they recruited candidates for a diary study. Participants received a hard copy A4 diary and a pack of stickers to represent different channels and devices. They were shown how to complete the diary, which involved putting in some personal details and then recording their media consumption for a week by writing in the diary and adding stickers. They were able to look at the diaries and ask questions about the techniques and the data.

Kelly also visited the DVLA in Swansea for a user research GDS Cross-Government Meet up, where speakers literally show you exactly how they are working – explaining in detail what software, tools and methods they are using and with pictures to show you what it looks like. You can attend a session and then go away and adapt the approach to meet your needs.

So all in all, LocalGovCamp was a great day. If you’re looking for something similar in Wales, GovCamp Cymru has been confirmed for the 24th of September. If you fancy meeting new people and developing new approaches, put the date in your diary and get involved! I’ll see you there!

Unmentoring 3: Digital thinking and staff trust

In the latest of a series of posts on LocalGovDigital’s Unmentoring, Dyfrig Williams reflects on a discussion with Kelly Doonan of Devon County Council.

When the Auditor General for Wales opens our shared learning seminars, he advocates well managed risk taking, as public services will not be able to continue in their current form.

In a recent blogpost, Phil Rumens examined the five stages of digital transformation. This really shows the added value of thinking about services in terms of digital provision. With that concept in mind, my latest Unmentoring discussion with Kelly Doonan of Devon County Council was timed perfectly.

Devon’s attitude to digital

Kelly’s written a great blogpost that outlines why publishing information online should be approached differently to traditional print media. She also gave a great example of how they’d put this thinking into action when they were asked to create a paper directory of local services for veterans.

The Communications Team didn’t support it because it would date almost immediately. It’s also difficult to measure its effectiveness, there was no budget to reprint or maintain it and there was no planned way of getting the directories to the veterans.

A screenshot of the proposed Devon County Council Veterans Site

A screenshot of the proposed Devon County Council Veterans Site

What I love is that rather than hinder the project, the team looked at how they could enable a better online product that could be accessed by veterans in Devon or those that haven’t been discharged yet, but are planning to come to Devon.

Kelly met with professionals who work with veterans to discuss it, and the Armed Forces Wellbeing Partnership revised and improved the plan from their feedback. They then held a discovery session with veterans to find out what they wanted to know, how they would search for it and how they would want a website to look. Kelly then created a sitemap, started writing content and the designer created the wireframe.

The first iteration of the site will go live on 8 December. All of a sudden a one-off print run has developed into a product that meets user needs and has a longer term effect – fantastic stuff!

What did I share?

Kelly mentioned the added value that the embedded comms team in Devon Council could provide to communications work. I mentioned Professor Ros Searle’s presentation at our shared learning event on staff trust. One of Ros’ points was on how internal communication can preserve and build trust within public services.

According to a CIPD report on trust, senior managers are overly optimistic in terms of how much frontline workers trust them, as 34% of staff don’t trust their senior managers. The problem is particularly acute in larger organisations, and especially hierarchical organisations where there is a perceived distance between managers and their staff. Internal communication is really important to ensure that lack of trust doesn’t degenerate into counterproductive behaviour such as theft and fraud. In fact with 37% of job satisfaction coming from trust, a high trusting organisation is likely to have staff that put in more effort, with improved co-operation, recruitment and better performance.

Trust is also linked to innovation. To go back to the Auditor General’s point, will staff be prepared to take well managed risks if they don’t feel they will be backed and trusted by their managers? For the kind of innovation we need in a time of declining resources, trust is key.

Bara Brith Camp

I’ll be sharing the key messages from the Staff Trust event at Bara Brith Camp, which is a free event that’s been organised by The Satori Lab to provide a space to progress conversations from GovCamp Cymru. If you missed the unconference, we’ve produced a Storify and the below video to summarise the day.

So I’ll hopefully see you there – I’m looking forward to finding out from attendees how we can help to improve trust levels in Welsh public services, and to boost levels of productivity and innovation in the process.