Tag Archives: digital

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

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

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.

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?

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.

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.