Tag Archives: digital

Trivallis: Changing culture within the frontline

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In the third of a series of posts on the Chartered Institute of Housing’s Frontline Futures Programme, Dyfrig Williams spoke with Jonathan Tumelty of Trivallis to find out how they are empowering their staff to lead service changes.

At our recent event on improving digital leadership and ownership, Chris Bolton shared a slide that showed the vast number of business fads that had been implemented within organisations in recent years. It’s probably not surprising that some staff aren’t jumping for joy at the prospect of digital transformation being the latest change process that’s being implemented at their organisation. So how can organisations go about changing the way that they do business?

Richard Pascale's chart of (many) business fads, with Digital Transformation manually added

At Tai 2017, I spoke with Jonathan Tumelty about how Trivallis have enabled frontline teams to lead their service change.

What did Trivallis do?

Trivallis found that their teams were working in silos as they were grouped by job roles. Each area of responsibility would be informed by others, but this structure almost encouraged clashes and ended up with fraught relationships between different areas of the business. They decided to align their systems geographically based on the patches that they work in, but this was easier said than done as attempts in the past hadn’t worked.

Although Trivallis knew what their end goal looked like, they decided to hand control over how a geographical structure might work to staff by holding a series of meetings to shape the change. It started off as quite a light touch process through involving managers, then they had individual conversations with key influencers who were working on the frontline. Staff were given ownership and control of the process, and there was clear communication throughout.

What did this look like in practice?

Initially, staff got people together to map their frustrations, which was in turn affecting customer satisfaction. Employees undertook an exercise where they grouped post-it notes together, which fortunately echoed the initial thought process. They developed principles for these new ways of working with staff, with the managers only offering very broad parameters. Pilot teams were set up to test the plans that had been put together by staff, and they then worked to unblock barriers that they faced. In the first few meetings the staff were waiting for directions from Managers, but eventually they began to take control of the exercise themselves. Jonathan described the process like this video from a music festival, where one person starts the discussion, and gradually more and more people get involved. People who weren’t initially keen to take part ended up really wanting to be part of it.

From the staff feedback, Trivallis created virtual teams. Now all frontline services have been split up by areas, and the next phase is to build links between each team. The services are no longer siloed services, but a multi-skilled team working around an area. Jonathan said that this localised approach had been achieved without changing policies or any change in spending – it was all about empowerment and identifying power.

The power bases, including reward; coercive; expert; information; referent; legitimate

To go back to our recent Digital Seminar where we looked at digital leadership and ownership, Kelly Doonan ran a fascinating workshop for us on influencing change. Kelly shared French and Raven’s power bases in her workshop to help people understand where their power lies. It’s fascinating here to see how managers shared their legitimate power, whilst also harnessing frontline staff’s expert power from their delivery experience. It was great to hear from Jonathan about how Trivallis have made the work a success. If you’ve improved your organisation’s work by sharing power, we’d love to hear from you about how the changes that you’ve made have resulted in better public services.

Making use of Open Data

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The Wales Audit Office recently released our first Open Dataset. What happened next? Ben Proctor of Open Data Institute Cardiff talks us through how he made use of the data.

A screenshot of a dynamic map created by Ben Proctor to show levels of Council Tax per head of population in Wales

A screenshot of a dynamic map created by Ben Proctor to show levels of Council Tax per head of population in Wales

Oooo! new data

I was excited to see that the Wales Audit Office had released a set of data as open data. Open data is data that anyone can find access and use and it is the most useful sort of data.

Dyfrig Williams wrote about the process they’d gone through to release this data set (a summary of the audit data from each local authority in Wales for each year). The data is a simple table and you can download it as a CSV file (essentially a file that will work in any spreadsheet programme) here.

But there are problems

I downloaded the file and quickly spotted some problems. These are not errors exactly but just things that are missing or inconsistent and will make some uses of the data a bit harder. But this is not a complaint, because one of the attractive features of open data is that I could resolve these problems. I can do this because the Wales Audit Office have released the data under the Open Government Licence. This tells me I don’t need their permission to do anything with the data and there are no limits to what I can do with it (apart from I have to make it clear where it came from).

I can fix the problems

These are the things I did to my copy of the data.

I changed the format of the “financial year column” because in the Wales Audit Office file some of these are numbers and some are text.

I added a column of GSS codes. GSS codes are codes that are used to identify local authorities (and other boundaries). Having the GSS code means you don’t have to worry about whether the data says Anglesey Council, or Isle of Anglesey Council or Ynys Môn. And with the GSS code I could add “polygons” for each council. Polygons are basically instructions on how to draw the outline of each council and information about where to put the drawing on a map.

With these changes I was able to draw a series of maps showing the level of council tax per head in each local authority and how this has changed over time.

And given the Wales Audit Office an improved file

And I’ve been able to hand back to the Wales Audit Office a KML file. This is a file suitable for use in mapping software. Anyone who wants to visualise the Wales Audit Office data on a map can just open the KML file and get going.

You can download this mapping file yourself.

Why did I do this?

I’m part of the core team at ODI-Cardiff so I get excited about open data.
It took me a very few minutes.
I’m trying to get better at using a Google service called Fusion Tables and this is a good opportunity to experiment.
I’m actually quite interested in what this data might tell us.

Why Open Standards lead to better public services

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How can the use of Open Standards lead to improved integration of Information Technology systems and public services? Dyfrig Williams reflects on what he learnt from taking part in the Good Practice Exchange webinar on Open Standards.

Digital has been a key theme of our work for some time now. We’ve delivered a range of events on that theme, from our seminar on Information Technology as part of our assets work in 2013, to our latest webinar on Open Standards.

This is the most techy digital themed event that we’ve hosted since our Cloud webinar, but it’s a topic we particularly wanted to give air time to because of how important Open Standards are in the integration of public services. Training and consultancy services the length and breadth of Britain are currently sending marketing material selling all kinds of products and services with the “digital” prefix. Open Standards are key to enabling many of the services that are being sold to integrate with each other and to enable better public services.

During our webinar, I described Open Standards as standards that are developed through a collaborative process for data, document formats and software interoperability. But as Evan Jones pointed out, there is no universal agreed definition of Open Standards – ironically! So for that alone, it’s well worth catching up with the webinar!

So what were my key learning points?

“Do the hard work to make things easy”

Terence Eden of the UK Government Digital Service gave us so much food for thought during the webinar. He followed up this gem with “It’s not about you, it’s about the users.” The opening question from a delegate was around whether it might be difficult to implement Open Standards with their existing technology. Terence’s response immediately got me thinking that Open Standards are an enabler of better public service, rather than an endpoint in and of themselves. We should be thinking about how we can provide the best possible services for the end user, and using proprietary standards that hinder integration certainly don’t help with that. As Terence said, “Open Standards can save lives!”

We’ve done a lot of thinking at the Good Practice Exchange about the complex and complicated environments in which public services are delivered. Our Manager Chris Bolton has written this great post on the problems that come with implementing a one-size fits all solution in a situation that has many variables. The problem with continually going down the proprietary route is that we’re adding layers of complexity in to an already complex environment. It narrows down service options and means that solutions themselves have to be increasingly complex, which can generate further issues and decrease reliability. It’s worth reading how the New Zealand’s Office of the Auditor-General made their information systems open by default, which resulted in a more reliable and robust IT system because of the cleaner configuration without endless permissions and restrictions.

Open Standards aren’t just for IT specialists

The discussions during the webinar weren’t just about Information Technology systems working well together. I mentioned above that Open Standards are an enabler for better public services, and as such knowledge and awareness of them shouldn’t be constricted to IT departments. They help systems to integrate and enable collaboration. The data gathered can be used to plan long term, so it’s clear how they can be really beneficial in enabling organisations to work through some of the ways of working that are identified in the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. If we want to gather data for effective planning and to work together to provide better public services, then awareness of Open Standards is important amongst everyone from Public Service Board representatives, to Elected Members, to Capital Project Managers.

The power of procurement

Linked to the above point about Open Standards being important beyond IT, it’s something that staff in procurement roles should consider. Not only do they reduce complexity to enable integration, they also open up procurement opportunities beyond major vendors to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). This is clearly linked to some of the Wellbeing Outcomes within the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, especially around a Prosperous Wales and a(n economically) resilient Wales.

As Evan Jones pointed out during the webinar, Open Standards also help you help you to take a longer term view of systems, as they will be interoperable with the future you. We also had a good discussion about encouraging vendors to work with Open Standards during the webinar, and as Jess Hoare said, it’s important to remember that it’s us as public services who are procuring services. It’s perhaps easy to forget in these situations that as the procurers, the power during negotiations lies with us. Evan encouraged us all to negotiate with vendors – if they can’t store data in an Open Standard, you should be suspicious about their motives.

Where do we go from here?

Resources from this Open Standards work will be fed into our Digital work in order to prolong its impact and also to give people who are interested in the agenda some food for thought. We’re also thinking about how we can share this work internally as well. I’ve fed my learning from the webinar into the Cutting Edge Audit Office project, and we’re also thinking about how we can share the learning with auditors, because Open Standards have a key role in ensuring that systems and organisations can work together effectively to deliver value for money. Short term thinking here has a big impact in the longer term.

We also have a procurement webinar scheduled as part of this year’s programme, which gives us an opportunity to look again at some of the issues raised here. We’ve come across some interesting practice in our initial scoping work on procurement, particularly how CivTech have taken a different approach to driving innovation in Scotland. We’d love to hear from you if you have further practice that we can highlight. Because after all, our work is only a success if it’s learning from and reflecting the key issues that you’re facing as Welsh public services.

Enabling staff to make better use of data

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How can we enable Wales Audit Office staff to make better use of data? Dyfrig Williams reflects on learning from our Cutting Edge Health Audit prototype.

A screenshot of our intranet, which shows the latest health news and data

In my work on the Cutting Edge Audit project, I’ve been looking at how we can bring together data from public bodies in a way that’s open to everyone and easy to access so that we can get further insight as auditors. The Health Team at the Wales Audit Office kindly volunteered to work with us so that we could look at what this might mean in practice.

In order to develop the parameters for the work, I developed personas for staff in various roles so that we could be better informed about what work we needed to undertake. This really helped us to identify how research time is used and who is doing that research.

The feedback that I received was that data is difficult to access, so we’ve developed a prototype to bring useful health data and information together in one place.

Testing approaches

Our initial attempt to bring this data together in one place is very much a proof of concept to see how this could be progressed further. Our initial thinking was to try and create a data one-stop shop for each health board, as well as a page for national work that covers the whole of Wales or the UK. When we thought about what a functioning prototype might look like, we decided to use a national site as our test.

We initially decided to use Sharepoint Online because it gave us the opportunity to look at how we could develop our use of the service to make data more accessible internally. Unfortunately whilst this worked as an initial test, we could only make the site available to a selected number of users, as we’re currently testing it with a small user group. We really wanted to share the results throughout the organisation so that staff could think about whether this type of approach would be useful in their work, so we decided to host the information on our intranet (The Hub), which is a Drupal site.

We used feedback from the Performance Support Officer to bring together information feeds in order to save research time. We created widgets from RSS feeds (Really Simple Syndication feeds, which deliver regularly changing web content from news sites, blogs and other online publishers) where available. We also generated our own widget (a small application that can be installed within a web page) for a Twitter feed that we generated from a Good Practice Exchange Twitter list. We embedded these feeds as IFrames within the site.

Making data more user friendly

We wanted to make data easier to understand and use. There was a strong feeling from the staff that I interviewed that knowledge and understanding of data shouldn’t be siloed, so we looked at how we could make data more accessible.

We decided to use Microsoft’s Power BI (a suite of business analytics tools to develop insight) to make health data sets more accessible and easy to understand. This meant that we didn’t have to buy any software, and that we could host the data directly through the Power BI service. We didn’t use any sensitive data for our test so it wasn’t a problem to publish it directly to the web. There was mixed feedback from staff that I interviewed as to whether the site should include private data, so we will need to look at our options again should we choose to go down this route.

The data sets that we used are publicly available and use APIs (Application Programming Interfaces, which access the features or data of an operating system, application, or other web service). This means that the Power BI data tools are linked directly to StatsWales for the data so that there’s no manual downloading of data after its set up. It also means that we’re always using the most current data that’s available.

Where do we go from here?

The use of our prototype has now been developed and extended so that it can be used as a data tool for a Primary Care project in health so that colleagues can use it to analyse data for their own Health Board, so it’s great to know that the work has already been of practical value.

Our use of widgets and APIs mean that the amount of work needed to maintain the current information that the site holds is very limited. However, if we want to develop the data that it holds, we need to think about who might be responsible for its upkeep, should it be seen as valuable.

The next step for us as an organisation is to use the personas that we generated, as well as informal feedback from this work, to look at what an effective data site and service might look like, and how that might be adapted for other parts of the organisation. That will enable us to learn from any mistakes that we’ve made so that we do things differently in the future, and also to build on our successes. And if we can build on that learning, we’ll be well placed to develop our work in order to be the cutting edge audit office that we aspire to be.

What is digital leadership?

What does digital leadership look like for a public service? Kelly Doonan looks at the subject in advance of her workshop at our event on Improving digital leadership and ownership.

I’ve been thinking about leadership.

As so often happens several things have almost serendipitously come together giving me the opportunity to reflect on what leadership means and what good leadership could look like.

  • I’ve read several articles on leadership; specifically digital leadership and data leadership — links to all articles at the bottom of this post
  • I’ve received invites to webinars and conferences on leadership for digital transformation and innovation.
  • My organisation is examining and discussing leadership models through the lens of a new leadership charter introduced by our leadership team.

I’m also thinking about myself as a leader and what that should look and feel like; so it feels like a good time to bring my thoughts together.

What is leadership?

Firstly, I think leadership and management are two different things and, although I often see them used interchangeably, I want to keep them distinct.

My definition of a manager is a position in a hierarchy whose role is to manage down and report up, and keep the current system operating as effectively and efficiently as possible. A manager is a command position that is usually removed from doing the work and so is unable to see the whole system.

There’s lots of information available about the roots of modern management arrangements — but essentially most public and private sector organisations are using an approach created around 1900 by Frederick W Taylor to deal with a specific set of problems in factory production during the Industrial Revolution, and it has barely changed since.

For me management is a time-limited idea designed to solve the immediate problems of:

  • a predominantly low-skilled and uneducated workforce
  • rapid expansion
  • large-scale industrialisation.

And it did that. It solved those problems so well that it’s become the dominant model across most areas of work across most industries — including people systems like social care, health and education. The problem is what was perfect for managing hydraulic pump production 120 years ago is not suitable for most organisations today.

Now we’re sailing the choppy, unknown waters of the Information Age and many people are calling for digital leaders and data leaders to captain the ships. We did need managers who knew about pumps and steam engines, and now we need managers who know about Blockchain and the cloud.

“Despite the fact that our current management beliefs date from the previous century, still the majority of organisations today operate with models that are inherited from a world that no longer exists. The models are already outdated, and surely not future proof. The era in which the command-and-control approach would bring you immense success have long gone.”

Corporate Rebels 2017

I believe it’s more useful to think in terms of good timeless leadership. So, in that case I need to explain what I think good looks like.

Eight steps to good

  1. I’m curious

A good leader wants to know stuff and they want to understand. They look for opportunities to learn more and they create opportunities for others to learn.

And the crucial thing here is that being a curious leader means that sometimes I will learn stuff that I may not like, or that may challenge my view. I will learn things that will unsettle me and will make me uncomfortable; and when that happens I must keep learning and asking questions anyway. In fact as a good leader I need to understand that this is when I am learning the most. A colleague expressed this as; ‘getting comfortable sitting in the why’. Be comfortable asking questions and not knowing the answers straight away. Be comfortable in a position of constant learning.

A good leader needs to be curious about the work they lead and spend time there to discover what is really happening. Is what you think should be happening? Why is that? And be curious about other systems and other disciplines. Go and have a look in another world and see what’s happening there. What do you learn from doing that?

Interestingly, I’ve met several managers who are curious in their personal life, but don’t bring that mindset or learning to work. So…

  1. Bring yourself to work

AKA be authentic. Being a good leader is not the suit you put on when you come to work.

This is really tough. Particularly for those of us who work in a culture which has a fairly narrow definition of a professional personality. If I had a pound for every time I’ve been told to ‘play the game’, or have been advised not to share my real thoughts on a subject or use my own words because that’s not the right professional approach, then I’d be writing this from my yacht.

Over time the cumulative effect of this is to let staff know the right way to act and the right things to say and eventually they stop bringing themselves to work and start bringing the character their leaders want to see. This is how organisational cultures are created and maintained. The consequences of this can be seen in staff engagement events or surveys where only positive things are said because staff don’t bring themselves to the process and the whole episode becomes a nonsense.

A good leader needs to bring themselves to work, and show everyone else that it’s ok to do the same. Which brings me onto…

  1. I’m honest

Although it’s languishing at number three, for me this is everything. This is partly being authentic, but it’s so much more. A good leader needs to be open and honest with themselves and with everyone else. Have a think about your organisation — do you see this? Do you do this? Does your organisation have a culture that promotes and rewards honesty? Measuring how honest your organisation is can be a very good measure of how mature your organisation is.

Again this is really hard. The behaviours have been learnt over a long time and for most managers they have been successful. Managers aren’t rewarded for being honest and they don’t see any value in it. What happens instead is empire-building where knowledge is power and openness is dangerous. A traditional command and control structure encourages dishonest behaviour — co-workers compete and and success is often framed as stepping over others.

Being honest with yourself and with others is the hardest thing on this list because it means making yourself vulnerable. My role involves being incredibly honest with myself, my colleagues and my managers. It means thinking carefully about how I feel and why. It means using the right words to give a true reflection of my thoughts and feelings, sharing my successes and failures and reacting honestly and kindly to other people’s. It means asking questions, challenging fairly and accepting fair challenge. And honestly, I feel exposed a lot of the time.

But it’s worth it. Being honest is a strength and the rewards are huge. I believe in the work that I’m doing, I am completely present in my role and my team, other people are sharing themselves honestly with me, and my relationships are based on trust and respect.

  1. I ask for help

If a leader is in a state of constant development and sets a culture of continuous learning, then in practice that means asking for help widely and often. And for me this is where the timeless element comes in. A good leader doesn’t necessarily need to know about digital or data or hydraulics or steam. They need to do the first step; to be curious about the work and spend time in it rather than removed from it, and they need to understand what they don’t know and where they need to go for help.

The skill is not necessarily having the knowledge, but knowing where the reliable places to get that knowledge are. And listening to them. Again, how many managers do you currently know who ask for help? Who believe that the more they ask, the stronger they are? That really bench the strength of their peers and their team? Which leads me to the next point…

  1. I build the right team and I trust my team

A good leader builds the right team around them. And clearly this is not a group of people who always agree with them and whose job is to push reports and information back up to them — showing them exactly what they expect to see. A good leader should build a team that challenges and surprises them, that has strengths and skills they don’t have. A good leader supports their team to develop and grow.

When you’ve built/developed your team let them get on with the job you’ve employed them to do. Trust them. Last year I watched a 2016 The Conference talk by Zero Zero co-founder Indy Johar which resonated deeply. Johar said;

“Every human is a phenomenally powerfully intelligence machine, yet we all treat them as bad robots who won’t get it”

I also read an excellent post by Nials Pfleaging which discusses Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Y. In X thinking, managers think staff are unmotivated and undisciplined. Staff don’t really want to be at work and need to be closely managed through appraisals, one to ones, staff reward systems and IT blanket bans on Facebook. If you’re using these tools as a manager then you’re really telling your staff that you don’t trust them. And they know that’s what you think. In Y thinking leaders know that people are naturally curious and motivated and essentially want to do a good job. In that case the leader’s role is to create the right conditions for them to do that; to facilitate and to remove blockages.

  1. I stop and think

I was talking to a colleague who expressed discomfort at having reflection time in his day as; “I feel like I’m slacking off!” How have we got to a place where taking time to think and reflect about what you’re learning and what you should do next is felt to be deviant behaviour?

Good management is measured by constantly delivering products, plans and outcomes. We’re churning out stuff at a rate of knots with no time to think and understand if these are the right things to do at the right time in the right way. Organisations reward and promote a culture of constantly delivering artefacts with no time to reflect on whether it’s right. And, by extension, no chance to switch it off or adapt it if it’s wrong.

Many Agile and Lean processes have stages where the team must stop and think about what they’ve done so far before they can move to the next stage. An opportunity to test, challenge, question and change direction if need be. This is progress, but I don’t think it goes far enough.

Reflection is important to everyone at every level in an organisation and absolutely crucial for leaders. Taking time and making space to reflect on what is happening gives a leader time to grow, and develop self-awareness and maturity. Give yourself space to breathe, to digest, to pose difficult questions and consider the answers. Reflection is a strength.

  1. I do the right thing, not the easy thing

My colleague Carl Haggerty, talks about good leaders having ‘curiosity, compassion and courage’ and it struck me that we rarely seem to ask for bravery from our managers and we almost never seem to see any. I wouldn’t say that my organisation promotes and rewards people for being brave and for taking smart risks. Does yours?

As a great (and sadly fictional) leader said: ‘We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy’

Being a good leader means being brave. And I think that being brave often means operating from a place of love and growth and development, rather than a place of fear. It means making difficult choices, based on evidence, knowledge, understanding and compassion. It means admitting when you are wrong and developing resilience by learning from failure. It means being visible. It means being prepared to stand on your own if that is the right place to be. It means having courage.

And, being honest, this is the biggest area for me to work on as a leader. I’ve started identifying what my behaviours are and am currently working on some 360⁰ feedback.

  1. I lead

The most obvious and the hardest. A good leader must actually lead.

This is understanding that as a leader, change and development must be led by you. Leaders are the gatekeeper of change. I keep hearing and reading about empowering staff to be innovative; I’ve been part of sessions where professionals have talked about how they are going to change, and how they want to change their organisations. And the next year we’ve all sat in the same room and had the same conversations. Why is this? Why are brilliant, clever, talented, empowered and motivated people unable to make change happen in their organisations? I understand now that this is because change, real tangible change, must be leader-led.

The problem I think is that many leaders don’t see this. They believe they have a people problem — their staff just aren’t motivated enough, they don’t take the initiative enough, they don’t really want it. What if organisations don’t have a people problem; what if they actually have a leader problem?

So there you go, easy now innit?

Of course not. It’s really, really bloody hard. Current managers are living behaviours that have been taught and developed over years and years. They are operating in systems that encourage conformity and reward longevity.

Being a really good leader — being a really good anything — is putting yourself out there and that can make you feel vulnerable and exposed. It’s incredibly hard to be open, particularly when others around you are closed.

Part of the reason for writing this piece was to help me to answer the question: what sort of leader do I want to be and how do I get there?

I now understand much more about the sort of leader I want to be. And I’ve realised that I’ll never ‘get there’, that ‘there’ isn’t a real place and that assuming it is will halt my development. Being a good leader is about constantly learning and growing; it’s about being open and honest; it’s about being mindful and reflective; it’s about being purposeful and brave.

In fact, for me, the work of being a better leader is the work of being a better human.

Further reading

Changing behaviour for better digital public services

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The Good Practice Exchange at the Wales Audit Office is running a seminar on Improving digital leadership and ownership. Dyfrig Williams shares how the work was developed in the post below.

Last year the Good Practice Exchange at the Wales Audit Office held an event on Redesigning public services: The strategic importance of digital. From our point of view, it was a very successful event. We had the highest satisfaction rates that we’ve ever had from any seminar, and our speakers also found it a useful way of socialising ideas around how they were developing their good practice. Cllr Barry Parsons told us that the seminar had been incredibly valuable to him, and I certainly found the workshop that he delivered with Carl Haggerty thought provoking – so much so that I subsequently blogged about it.

Our blog posts on the seminar were some of the most widely read that we’ve ever written. We also tested some new ways of working by developing personas with Y Lab to get the right delegate profile. This was successful in that we managed to attract staff who wanted their services to be more agile and responsive to user needs; staff who wanted to work across public service boundaries; and staff who see digital as an enabler of public service reform.

However we didn’t quite manage to access all of the delegates that we wanted. In planning the seminar we realised that there is a gap between people who may have the authority but who lack the expertise to enable digital services, and those who have the expertise but lack the authority. We hoped that the seminar would serve as an opportunity for decision makers to connect with the people who know how to make digital transformation happen. Unfortunately, we didn’t get as many decision makers attending as we had hoped.

Digital as an enabler

Digital is a key theme of our work over the next few years, so we’ve decided to change tack for the second of our digital seminars. We’re going to use an assets based approach to work with the skills that we have in the room and to look at how attendees can affect digital change in their organisations.

Paul Taylor from Bromford has written a great post on how organisations may stifle community creativity. In it he reflects on how controlling organisational environments can also stifle citizen and community strengths. This links perfectly with the thinking that we’ve developed.

My first few pieces of work when I joined the Wales Audit Office was on the theme of asset management. I remember thinking that it was a really dry topic, but it was actually a perfect introduction to the philosophy of the Good Practice Exchange. My colleague Ena Lloyd got me thinking completely differently about the whole thing – we weren’t looking for buildings that were equipped with flashy technology, we were looking for buildings that actively made public services and communities better. We were looking for better outcomes for people, not statistics. I remember really enjoying our seminar on Facilities Management, which I would have said was impossible a few months before. I facilitated a workshop by Charlotte Lythgoe of the Wales Millennium Centre, where she looked at moving beyond style over substance approaches into delivering real change.

A photo of a big building with wind turbines on the roof with a red cross through the image. Part of Charlotte Lythgoe's presentation on moving away from Eco Bling

Charlotte Lythgoe’s slide on moving away from Eco Bling

We’re looking to apply this thinking to our digital seminar. We’ll be looking at how digital can be an enabler for better public services, rather than an end in and of itself. We’ll be looking to equip changemakers with the knowledge and the tools to ensure that their organisations are fit for purpose in the twenty first century.

Kelly Doonan from Devon County Council will look at how some of the digital projects she worked on within the council and how she identified and worked with the power that she had to make change happen. I’ll be sharing learning from the Cutting Edge Audit Office project, which was developed to sidestep traditional organisation bureaucracies and power structures. We’ll also hear from Theo Blackwell of Camden Council about how they’re changing services to make them more effective and efficient.

The Good Practice Exchange are working on our first national study this year, which focuses on behaviour change. In the final session Chris Bolton will lead a discussion on how attendees can look to change behaviours and implement digital thinking within their organisations.

Feedback

As the above demonstrates, we’re an iterative project that builds on our learning as we go. The development of this seminar has been very much based on the outcome of our previous work. Much like the event itself, we are a work in progress, always looking to develop how we work in order to best meet the needs of our stakeholders, and most importantly, the people of Wales. This event is only happening because of the thoughts and ideas we received. If you have any ideas on how we can improve our work on this theme or any other, we’d love to hear from you.

Developing personas for a user focused service

How can personas help to ensure that projects are user focused? Dyfrig Williams reflects on how they’ve been used for his work on acquiring data effectively.

An image of personas for Performance Audit staff

As part of my Cutting Edge Audit work, I’ve been working on a test project to gather data for auditors so that we can work more efficiently.

I’ve blogged before on why I’m really interested in the digital delivery of public services because of the relentless focus on user need. This focus isn’t new to me – my previous work on citizen engagement made it clear to me that properly involving the people who access services at an early stage results in a service that is effective at targeting its resources.

Now that I’m four months in to a six month project you could argue that I’m leaving it a bit late to start on the practical part of the work. But in my public engagement role I heard time and time again that staff that didn’t involve people properly delivered their work according to existing preconceptions about what people wanted or needed. I was determined not to make the same mistake with my work, so I developed personas for the main users of data to ensure that we are focusing on building something that people would actually find useful.

Personas are representations of different types of customers or users. They answer the question “Who are we designing our work for?” They help to align strategy and goals to specific user groups. As we’re testing this work with the Health Performance Audit Team, I developed personas ranging from Performance Support Officers to Audit Managers, as well as complimentary work with members of the Financial Audit Technical Team and a Financial Auditor working on the frontline with health boards.

Where to start?

I was quite excited to start on the personas so that I could see how my public engagement mindset fitted with digital practice. My colleague Louise Foster-Key, who is the Digital Comms Officer at the Wales Audit Office gave me a few pointers from her work on the Wales Audit Office Intranet, and I also looked at wider good practice. There’s a great post on user personas on the Office for National Statistics’ Digital Blog, but I ended up basing my work on the Government Digital Service (GDS)’s Guide to User Stories. I had a punt at using Trello, but as this was a largely solo exercise (and it was only a small project to manage) I didn’t find it to be as useful as I expected. Instead I used Xtensio, a free(ish) tool that Louise recommended to me.

I stuck with the GDS format as the structure of my user stories, which I put together from interviews and emails with staff in key roles:

  1. As a… (Who is the user? A biography of the person accessing data)
  2. I need/want/expect to… (What does the user want to do?)
  3. So that… (Why does the user want to do this?)
  4. It’s done when… (This is the GDS acceptance criteria, which is a list of outcomes that you use as a checklist to confirm that your service has done its job and is meeting that user need)

Has it been useful?

By talking to auditors in depth about each of the roles that I’ve mapped, I’ve got a much better understanding of their work. This will be useful to me far beyond the lifespan of the Cutting Edge Audit project, as I look at how the Good Practice Exchange can work more effectively with audit teams, especially the Health Audit Team, who volunteered to work with us on this piece of work.

The main use of the personas will be to sense check our work and to ensure that the purpose of our test matches what our auditors want and expect. Now that they’ve helped us run through some hypothetical tests, we’ll use their thoughts to avoid scope creep for the first stage of our iteration.

Their thoughts will also be incredibly useful for my section of our final report. It’s been said that “The pen is mightier than the sword”, and in this sense we as the report authors have all the power – it is us who provide the recommendations for future priorities. This work will ensure that my recommendations are grounded in the realities of our staff’s day to day work.

The final personas are now online and have been split into two sections because of the limitations of the free version of Xtensio. The first set of personas are based on the Performance Audit roles, and the second set include personas based on the Financial Audit and Technical Team roles.

These personas now give us a level of expectation for our work. If the test fails, they give us a rigorous criteria to examine our output against, and a clear vision to check our delivery against. On the other side of things, should the work (as we hope) be a success, we have an opportunity to think about whether personas can help us to be more focused and responsive as we ensure that public services really are delivering value for money for the people of Wales.