Tag Archives: digital

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.

Our Yammer journey – how we implemented an enterprise social network at the Wales Audit Office

In a few online and offline discussions recently, we’ve ended up discussing how the Wales Audit Office is using social networking to improve internal communication. Mark Stuart Hamilton has blogged about how we’re using it and the work involved.

The Wales Audit Office Intranet, with a Yammer feed on the right hand side / Intranet Swyddfa Archwilio Cymru, gyda ffrwd Yammer ar y dde

The Wales Audit Office Intranet, with a Yammer feed on the right hand side

We’ve recently introduced Yammer at the Wales Audit Office – for internal use. Like other social media, Yammer is a platform where people can post messages to each other, start conversations and improve knowledge sharing.

The difference between Yammer and many other social networks is that Yammer is designed specifically with business in mind.

We had been thinking about launching an internal social media platform for ages, but the time was never quite right. But after redesigning our intranet we revisited the idea.

Our old intranet had a system called post-its, which allowed people to post short messages to the front page. Original discussions focused on expanding that system (such as post-its being targeted to specific groups of people). But we soon realised that a different solution was needed.

Various options were explored and, after careful review, it was agreed that we would choose Yammer.

Yammer has a paid-for enterprise version and a free version. The enterprise version offers more administrative tools, although the free version was good enough for us for testing purposes. So, we set up the free version, along with a small pilot group.

At the start, this pilot consisted mainly of people who had asked for a system like Yammer since they would be more willing to start new discussions and breathe life into the system. We wanted as much content on Yammer as possible before the launch, so people would think of Yammer as something others use on a daily basis – not something to use a lot for the first day or so and then immediately forget about. In line with this philosophy, we expanded the pilot over time, so that more groups and content would be created.

That said, we still wanted to generate hype behind the main launch and get people excited – to encourage as many staff as possible to join in once it was officially launched. We have two television screens in the Cardiff office that display corporate news on a slideshow.  One of these slides was changed to read “Stop! Yammertime” and posters featuring MC Hammer were placed around the building carrying the same motto.

At the start, we provided no other information about Yammer. We wanted to generate discussion and a sense of mystery. Over time, we revealed more and more information, but the intent was always to instil Yammer into people’s minds rather than introduce it as a surprise.

We scheduled training sessions for people to attend about how to use and get the most from Yammer. Some staff were initially sceptical about Yammer and we have worked hard to show how Yammer can be beneficial for business, for networking and social interaction with colleagues. However, it is worth noting that marketing Yammer as “Facebook for business” is likely to generate a more hostile reaction from people who do not use or dislike Facebook (or other social media).

A few weeks after the Yammer ‘teaser’ advertising and the ‘taster sessions’, we officially launched the redesign of our intranet. We wanted to integrate Yammer into the homepage to further solidify the intranet’s role as the primary communications platform. The homepage now has an embedded Yammer feed in the sidebar.

The new intranet was originally planned to have a Yammer notifications icon that displayed the number of unread Yammer messages received, but this was cut from the release for technical reasons and will be re-added later*.

Our old news ‘comments’ system was also replaced with a ‘separate’ embedded Yammer feed. Yammer comments automatically provide a link to the article being read thanks to the Open Graph protocol.

Before we launched Yammer, our vision was that it would become a knowledge-sharing utopia. Almost everything would be sent to specific, targeted groups, and these groups would be made public so that people in different areas could provide insight into things that they otherwise would not know about.

In practice, it is hard to tell how much knowledge sharing has occurred, since people who learn something do not usually leave a comment to say that they have learned something. We also underestimated the importance of private groups. Some members of staff feel more comfortable if their messages are not sent to the whole organisation.

We will be doing a bit of work soon to evaluate how it’s being used by staff and analysing the take up, activity rates and value to the business.

Overall though, we consider Yammer to be a success – based on the amount of interaction taking place – and expect it to stay that way in future. Generally, it has been positively received and this is reflected in the kinds of discussions that are happening.

*For the curious, the unread messages icon is actually deceptively hard to create. The short version is that it requires creating a Yammer app, using the Yammer API to make the app impersonate a user by getting and storing their bearer token, and then getting their unread message count. The problems are performance-related and should be fixable by moving certain code client-side.

Agile programme and project management

Leading Programmes and Projects / Arwain Rhaglenni a Phrosiectau

As someone who has never been anywhere near a project management job, there was a lot for me to learn at our recent Leading Programmes and Projects Shared Learning Seminar.

Lately, I’ve seen the word ‘agile’ bandied around like nobody’s business. Many of the GovCamp Cymru discussions were about how Gov.UK had changed the way that people interact with public services, with the tax disk and DVLA in particular getting lots of praise. Having followed the development of Gov.UK as it’s looked to simplify online access to public services, I was interested to learn more about its Agile approach.

Fortunately for me, I facilitated James Scrimshire from AdaptAgility’s workshop on Servant Leadership and Agile project and programme management. I’d already read about some of James’ workshops on Chris Bolton’s blog, so I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately there wasn’t a game of Battleships this time, but the workshop was a great guide to Servant Leadership.

I was confronted with lots of new terms at the workshop, but what struck me was that these were developments of ideas that some public service projects are already considering as new ways of delivering public service projects. At the Good Practice Team, we clearly recognise there isn’t a one size fits all fits approach. But given how empowering this method is, it’s certainly worth a look.

What I particularly liked about Servant Leadership is the power dynamic, as it puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform. It’s at odds with the traditional role of the Manager, where they keep the power to themselves. Listening to James discuss the concept, it struck me how closely this is linked to good staff engagement. It builds on motivating staff and ensuring that their voices are heard.

James Scrimshire of/o AdaptAgility

James Scrimshire of AdaptAgility

The Scrum Master’s role is to remove barriers so that the team can deliver the project aims. Although Richard Wilson’s presentation wasn’t on Agile, I could draw direct links between his points on the need for managers to empower the workforce and the Agile philosophy.

In case you’re thinking that Agile is strictly for digital projects, this blog by the Ministry of Justice gives plenty of food for thought. This post offers lots of scope for putting it into practice, from organisational change to recruitment.

Having had no direct experience of leadership myself, this session helped redefine my understanding of good leadership. Strong leadership isn’t about power and control; it’s about enabling staff to improve their programmes and their projects.

Dyfrig