Tag Archives: innovation

The writing’s on the desk!

Melin Homes’ white board desks have promoted positive behaviour change, saved money and resources, and also improved Data Protection practice! Ena Lloyd blogs below on the story behind the desks.

I recently popped up to see Trisha Hoddinot at Melin Homes after Mari Arthur from Cynnal Cymru said what good work they were doing on their Car Scheme. Not only saving money and achieving positive sustainability results, but also showing some early signs of positive behaviour change too.

When I got to their office, I noticed all the desks in the Sustainable team were white, and on closer inspection, there were lots of written messages on them too! So I had to ask what the story was. Turns out they were white board desks. I’ll share information on their car scheme in a later blog! Here’s Trisha’s story on the white board desks.

A photo of a Melin Homes whiteboard desk, with writing on it

A Melin Homes whiteboard desk

We are the Sustainability Team, formed in February 2016 to capture what Melin Homes was doing in terms of sustainability in order to get the best out of everything we do. We wanted to lead by example, show things are possible and demonstrate that as a team, we could be totally paperless. We had no excuse, we were a brand new team – an innovative, but realistic team. We didn’t expect teams to go paperless overnight (we have less restrictions than some teams in terms of external auditing and record keeping), but if every team did a bit of what we are doing, it would really make a difference.

What we’ve done differently

Here’s how we’re encouraging others:

  1. Every month we advertise the top three teams who have reduced their printing on our internal TV screens.
  2. We’ve changed what we buy. All future Melin Homes desks will be white board desks.
  3. We make people think. There are laptops and tablets in every meeting room so that people can log on to make notes, share meeting agendas on screen and access documents, instead of using pen and paper.
A photo of Melin Homes staff using their whiteboard desks

Staff at Melin Homes using their whiteboard desks

We decided to use A4 sized whiteboards instead of post it notes and paper for notes, and purely by accident, we discovered that our white desks were in fact whiteboard desks, which can be used for ‘to do’ lists or notes for when you’re on the phone. Our excitement was not initially shared by everyone, but within 2 or 3 days less enthusiastic colleagues were coming around to the idea and asking for whiteboard markers so that they could join our revolution! Our customer contact team also use whiteboards, which not only reduces paper usage but also helps Data Protection as notes taken on calls with residents can be noted while the call is being resolved, but wiped out immediately after.

How we did it

For us, the only way to do it was without exception, no excuses, no printing and no notepads. When we meet with others and are given papers, we scan and save them on our team system and destroy them. One challenge that we did have to overcome involved one of my colleagues, who was updating information from our contractors onto a database. Historically, they would print one document off while updating another one on screen. To resolve this, we connected a second monitor.

A photo of a Melin Homes staff member using two monitors to save paper

A Melin Homes staff member using two monitors to save paper

What are the benefits?

The benefits are much wider than the environmental benefits and the financial savings on paper and printing costs. Staplers, pens, scissors, etc. aren’t needed now and our desks are much less cluttered. The added benefit is the opportunity to remind people that we are paperless when they ask to borrow a pen.

What learning would you share with others?

My first piece of advice for others on becoming ‘paperless’ would be that you should not enforce a massive expectation for change on all staff. It will alienate people immediately. It’s better to set the challenge and lead by example.

You should also use every opportunity to reinforce what you want to achieve. Whenever a member of our team attends an internal meeting, there is always a member of staff who apologises for having a paper and pen with them as they feel guilty. We don’t have to mention anything, but we always welcome the opportunity to remind people that we are Melin Homes’ first paperless team.

You do need to be aware of external meetings. I always feel the need to explain to others why I am using a phone or tablet to make notes, so they don’t think I’m being rude and texting friends or checking social media.

If you are positive about making the change, you can work around it. Good luck!

What I learnt from taking part in the #NatterOn Podcast

The way that we learn and consume information is constantly evolving. Dyfrig Williams reflects on what he learnt from taking part in the NatterOn podcast.

A copy of the NatterOn Podcast logo

For the last year or so I’ve been listening to podcasts to broaden my awareness of what’s happening in the world and to get a better understanding of how I can improve my work. The Podcast Addict app has been great in managing interesting podcasts because it brings a range of podcasts together into one feed.

Podcasts that I’ve found particularly helpful are:

I’d add the NatterOn podcast to that list too. It’s a podcast the looks at digital and marketing that’s put together by Helen Reynolds and Ben Proctor, who are two of the most switched on people I know. Helen gets how communications are being changed by social media more than anyone else I’ve ever met. And I’ve learnt so much about data from Ben. I particularly recommend his post on Data Maturity in local government, which has been the basis of my thinking on acquiring data with the Wales Audit Office’s Data and Tech Working Group.

So when they asked me to take part in the podcast, I jumped at the chance because I’d basically get an hour to pick their brains on interesting public service improvement topics.

So what did I learn?

Unsurprisingly, a lot. Helen shared a really interesting post on Unconscious Bias, which brings together many different types of bias into four main problems:

  • We aggressively filter information to avoid information overload.
  • Lack of meaning is confusing, so we fill in the gaps.
  • We need to act fast, so we jump to conclusions.
  • We’re working in complex environments so we focus on the important bits. Decisions inform our mental models of the world.

So what does this mean for public services? For me, it’s about awareness. If we take the time to actively reflect on these problems, then we can be more conscious of our bias as we interact with people and deliver services. We’ve already identified this as an issue at the Wales Audit Office, so we held an internal event to reflect on this. The Storify includes lots of useful resources, including Harvard’s Implicit Associations Test.

We also had a really good conversation about trust, PR and public services after Ben shared a post on the war on truth. Helen looked at the professions topping the Edelman Trust Barometer, which finds that people’s trust in government is generally a reflection of how content Britons are with their lot. This has big implications for how we interact with people from different socio-economic backgrounds.

As a project, we’ve undertaken work ourselves on looking at the importance of staff trust in public services. It’s interesting to take some of the lessons around staff trust and applying it in a wider context of working with communities:

  • Ability – have we shown that we are competent at doing our job?
  • Benevolence – do we have benign motives and a concern for others beyond our own needs?
  • Integrity – are we principled? Are we clearly acting in a fair and honest way?
  • Predictability – are people aware of what we’re likely to do?

After sharing a post on GCHQ’s Digital Approach, I also learnt from Ben that the analogy of frogs in boiling water is a complete lie.

What else did I share?

The Good Practice Exchange is also pondering how we can help public services develop their approaches to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. So I shared Chris Bolton’s post on Sustainable Decision Making and Simulation Games as it’s been useful in getting me to think differently about how we as a project might respond to the legislation in order to help services improve.

I’ve also been pondering about how we learn and develop in the workplace. In my ten years or so of working in public services, only three of the training courses I’ve attended have actually had any impact on my work. So how might we tie in our own learning and development with better organisations and improved public services? Carl Haggerty has written a great post on this.

Horses for courses

We have a slide that we use at our events that shows the many different that we share information – through our blog, social media, Randomised Coffee Trials, email and phone calls. We recognise that not everybody wants to receive information in the same form, and not everybody processes it the same way. One of the key principles of our work is that there isn’t a one size fits all approach for better services. Podcasts are another useful way of sharing learning and information, so it’s well worth having a listen to this and other podcasts to see whether they can help you improve your work and what you do.

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.

Failing to learn from failure

How can public services make use of learning and information that result from failure? Dyfrig Williams blogs on learning from failure.

Last week I attended the Learning from Failure workshop in Cardiff. Before I go any further, I should clarify that these reflections are very much on my own process of working, rather than the work of the Good Practice Exchange.

The event was a bit of an eye-opening session, as it gave us all as participants the scope to look at aspects of our work that are not traditionally discussed. But why not?

In her paper on ‘Strategies for learning from failure,’ Amy C. Edmondson shares the Spectrum of Failure, which shows that blameworthy failure rarely results from the actions of any one individual. So why do we still tend to think that an effective and productive workplace culture is one that shuns failure and casts blame at all costs?

Order, order!

In the group exercise, each table designed an enabling environment for innovation, and each one was an environment where failure was accepted. Which makes sense, because we’re not encouraging innovation by cracking down on failure, we’re cracking down on ideas for new ways of working.

I was given the task of feeding back our table’s thoughts, which were based around the point that an enabling environment is complex and messy. What I personally meant by this is that a traditional approach, and the way that I’ve tended to approach innovation, is messy. My own innovation has often been a by-product, rather than an outcome or focus I’ve chased. It’s not been something that’s been identified in my appraisals, and it’s not been something that I’ve had to report back on to measure success.

This messiness is complicated even further by the environment that we’re working in. There is no one-size fits all solution for issues around public service access and delivery. What works in one community may not work in another.

However, there are approaches to innovation in the wider world that are much more rigorous. It was interesting to look at the work of the Bromford Lab, who have got a much more structured approach to innovation by testing ideas. One of their founding principles is ‘to fail fast,’ which means that they uncover lots of information and learning from their tests.

This planned approach makes it much easier to measure the success of innovation. Whilst there is no doubt innovation taking place at Bromford outside the realms of the Lab, taking issues and ideas to the Lab gives scope to evaluate them in a more formal way. This is at its most obvious with their Trello, where evaluation is planned and built in to their testing process.

Making space to evaluate

Making the time to evaluate impact has been the main learning point for me. I’ve tended to treat evaluation as something I do when I get the chance, rather than a process to embed into my work. And if you don’t take the time to properly look into why something’s failed, then there’s little chance to learn from it.

And so my more rigorous process of evaluation begins. The dates are now in the diary – I’ll be taking some time out from my day to day work and getting on with my evaluation. I’ll be leaving the physical space of my desk, which will help me get away from the usual distractions like email and the pile of paper on my desk, and get me in the right headspace to approach a different aspect of our work. Wish me luck!

Google Atmosphere: think creatively and innovate boldly

Atmosphere

Dyfrig Williams took part in Google’s Atmosphere, a webinar that examined cultures of innovation. In this blogpost he reflects on the key learning points.

This Welsh Public Services 2025 paper clearly outlines that we’re in a challenging time for public services, as there are fewer resources to deliver services in a time of rising demand. If we can’t continue to deliver the services in the same way, how can we start changing the way we work? It was with this in mind that I watched Google’s Atmosphere, which shared lessons from organisations in the private sector.

Where do innovative ideas come from?

In this session Tim Brown from IDEO looked at how we need to think about our options in a completely different way if we’re looking for radically different solutions. He examined how we consider our issues, in the sense that if we frame questions in a really specific way, we have little scope to come up with solutions that look genuinely different. The example given was around asking the question “How do we make this chair more comfortable?” If we instead ask “How might we sit in different ways?” there is much more scope to think and work differently.

This chimes with Google’s 10x thinking, where issues are radically approached by trying to improve something by 10 times rather than by 10%. The only way to make those kind of improvements is to think in a different way.

Cultivating team innovation: A look inside the work rules of Google

Listening to Laszlo Bock from Google was heartening, as it echoed aspects of our Staff Ideas webinar from a few weeks ago. Laszlo emphasised the importance of staff engagement. It’s easy for managers to stick with what they know, because they’ve become managers by making good decisions. But as Laszlo pointed out, the sum of employee intelligence is huge, and we must make the most of it.

It’s fascinating that decisions at Google aren’t based on gut instincts, but that they rely on data. Their Project Oxygen was designed to identify the traits of successful Google managers. The team working on the project spent a year examining data from appraisals, employee surveys, awards and other sources, which resulted in more than 10,000 observations of manager behaviours.

Accomplishing business innovation: How Airbnb transformed an industry

We’ve been doing some work on risk management lately (including running a webinar on the topic), so Jonathan Mildenhall of Airbnb’s points on risk were very timely. Jonathan encouraged us to take risks and to celebrate both failure and success. Their monthly ritual of celebrating fabulous failures encourages this culture, as it focuses on ideas that didn’t progress as planned. Jonathan said that “The more a company celebrates failure, the more confident a company gets in taking risks. The more confident a company gets in taking risks, the more successful those risks are.”

In case you’re wondering how this learning might be applied in the public sector, Chris Bolton has written a series of blogposts that look at how we might approach failure, including this great summary post on loving and learning from failure.

Well managed risk taking in the public sector

The Auditor General for Wales has repeatedly advocated well managed risk taking, and you can see him doing so in the above video. As he says, if those risks are well managed, instead of casting blame on any failure, we’ll be looking to share the lessons that have been learnt.

Can crowdfunding help to reshape public services?

Re-shaping services with the PublicAs someone who doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘holiday’, the Good Practice Exchange Manager Chris Bolton is currently in Nova Scotia, where he’s learning about the work of the Nova Scotia Securities Commission.

The commission have been undertaking some work on crowdfunding recently, as they’re proposing exemptions so that small and medium size enterprises can raise money in a new way. It also means that investors have another way of investing in them. They’ve been running public information sessions in order to find out what people think.

Crowdfunding / Ariannu Torfol

Crowdfunding is where a project is funded by getting contributions from a large number of people, and this usually happens on the internet. As a music fan, I’ve taken part in a few crowdfunding exercises, where musicians are looking to produce work that wouldn’t see the light of day otherwise. That’s just the start of it – there are so many weird and wonderful projects out there, from the bacon themed cookery book to the three metre high inflatable statue of Lionel Richie’s head.

Could public services get involved in crowdfunding? Crowdfunding has really taken off in recent years, with umpteen different platforms available from IndieGoGo to Kickstarter. In the near future Heliwm will be launched too, which will focus on Welsh language creative and digital projects. It’s interesting to see that there’s even a platform for civic projects – Spacehive. It’s already been used to plug a funding gap at Glyncoch Community Centre, where a new community centre will be built to fit the community’s needs.

Nesta ask some key questions in this blog post – is there a risk of crowdfunded cash being used to replace what should normally be publicly funded? Could it work for services as well as products? These are very important questions to ask. But they also throw some positives into the mix, and I’d like to add another – could it help change the relationship between providers and recipients of services?

At the Good Practice Exchange we clearly recognise that Welsh public services have to change the way in which services are delivered and by also by whom. We have already seen that at our recent shared learning seminar on Reshaping Services in Cardiff, where we showcased public services being delivered by trusts, voluntary sector and community councils to name but a few. At the same seminar, Tony Bovaird told us that six million people work for public services, and there are over sixty million citizens in the UK. Yet the balance of power is still firmly in the hands of the minority. Could crowdfunding help to change the way that public services perceive people, so that they’re no longer seen as grateful recipients, but as key players in public service delivery?

So if you need to reshape a service and want some ideas of approaches, we’ll be holding a further seminar in Llanrwst on 18 September, and we currently have 9 places left. From our recent presentations at the Working With Not To network, we know that there are a lot of people in the area who are really passionate about putting co-production into action. We’re really looking forward to learning more about how the relationship between those who deliver and receive services is being changed in North Wales.

Dyfrig