Tag Archives: digital

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.

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.

Unmentoring 2: The return of Randomised Coffee Trials

What can Welsh public services learn from Kirklees Council? Dyfrig Williams discussed digital with Steve Langrick.

UnmentoringWe’ve been running Randomised Coffee Trials, where random participants are drawn together to discuss their work, since our Wellbeing seminar in March. We’ve had some great feedback, where people have discussed a range of issues from job interviews, to mentoring and working closer together.

At the same time I’ve been taking part in LocalGov Digital’s Unmentoring sessions, which are along the same lines as Randomised Coffee Trials. My first Unmentoring blog looked at my conversation with Paul Inman of Warwickshire County Council, and this time I had the opportunity to talk with Steve Langrick of Kirklees Council.

I spent much of the conversation getting as much info as possible out of Steve, who fortunately was happy to share his work and how the council are embracing digital developments.

Going mobile

As a higher proportion of people in Wales access the internet through their phones than any other part of the UK, I was intrigued to hear how people access Kirklees’ website and how it influences the council’s work. In two years there’s been an increase of 300% in the use of mobile to access the website, which is now close to 50% of traffic to the website. With stats like that, a responsive and easy to use site isn’t just a ‘nice to have,’ it’s a necessity.

Cyngor Kirklees

BetterOff

With more people accessing their information through mobile, Kirklees are tailoring their approaches accordingly. They’re developing a new site called BetterOff to help benefit claimants through their applications and to show them how much they might be better off in work. As this can be quite a long process, the council can potentially save a lot of money by moving the service online. They can then focus their resources on the more complex enquiries they get on the issue. It’s also preventative as it guides people through the right steps up front, which helps them to avoid potential sanctions.

BetterOff also embraces the concept of Assisted Digital, where people who can’t use online services are helped to access them. The site itself is not an inhibitor, as people can come in and get support to access the site and the service.

What’s next for Kirklees?

Public services are constantly evolving and adapting to the environment in which they’re delivered. Kirkless Council are a good example of that, because even as they’ve undertaken a lot of work in the field, they’re constantly looking to improve. The Alpha version of their new website is online so that people can see what their new site will look like and comment on how it meets their needs. Like Kirklees Council, we can’t rest on our laurels if we want to deliver the best services possible for the people of Wales.