Tag Archives: transformation

Is ‘common sense’ more useful than ‘process and the rule book’ for taking well managed risks?

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

The Good Practice Exchange held a pilot seminar on how you manage risks around organisation change, service transformation and innovation. In this post, Chris Bolton looks at what people use to help them make decisions about risk.

This is the second in a series of posts following a pilot session we ran on well managed risk taking. An explanation of our approach to the session is in the first post, ‘Context is Everything’.

What is helpful when we make decisions?

There are many factors that influence how we make decisions. Some are highly logical, rational, and based upon extensive evidence and information; whilst others might be driven by ‘gut feeling’ and emotion.

We wanted to see if there was anything in particular that influenced how people thought about decision making in relation to the two risk management frameworks and the three scenarios we presented to them. The thinking that shaped the questions we posed people is explained below.

In each case people were asked to move the white ball on the triangle to a position that bests reflected their thinking – the closer it is to one statement, the more important it was to them (in the context of the risk management framework and scenario they were thinking about).  An example of one of the triangles we used is below

A triangle where people moved a point to show whether clear process and rules, common sense or freedom to act are most helpful in the decision making process

  • The question ‘what would be helpful to decisions?’ is quite straightforward.
  • The choices for each apex on the triangle are all things which should be positive and helpful when making decisions.
    – Clear process and rules,
    – Common sense, and
    – Freedom to act.
  • There was no right or wrong in where people moved the white ball to on the triangle.
  • Their choice was literally to identify a place where they felt most comfortable (in the context of the Framework and Scenario we were discussing).

What does the data tell us?

Graphic 1 shows the distribution of the 218 dots in the triangle. Each one of these dots was placed in response to the question; ‘what would help you make decisions, and within the context of the two frameworks and three scenarios.

In Graphic 2, we have highlighted what look like 4 distinct clusters of dots.

2 triangles where people indicated whether clear process and rules, common sense or freedom to act are most helpful in the decision making process

In Graphic 2, the 4 areas highlighted appear to indicate:

  • Top centre – a preference for clear process and rules (in favour of other options, including common sense)
  • Bottom centre – a preference for using common sense in combination with having the freedom to act (rather than clear process and rules)
  • Middle centre – using all three options (in balance)
  • Right bottom – a preference to have freedom to act, with limited rules, process or common sense (superficially this could be interpreted as reckless approach to risk management – which highlights that the data does require some further examination and understanding)

Examination of the data, using a number of different perspectives follows:

2 triangles where people indicated whether clear process and rules, common sense or freedom to act are most helpful in the decision making process

Observations & Questions: What would help making decisions?

  • Graphic 3. For the Safe to Fail Framework, common sense and freedom to act are preferred (quite strongly) to rules and process
  • Graphic 4. For the Failure Not an Option Framework, there is a more dispersed pattern. There is a grouping towards process and rules, but many dots are scattered elsewhere.
  • Question 1. Do some people prefer to not use process and rules, even when failure is not an option?
  • Question 2. Does a preference for process and rules (compliance) reduce the need for common sense?
  • Question 3. Does a pressurised environment (failure is not an option) lead to greater indecision and variability in  how people approach decision making (a more scattered pattern of dots)?

2 triangles where people indicated whether clear process and rules, common sense or freedom to act are most helpful in the decision making process

Observations & Questions: What would help making decisions?

  • Graphic 5. For the scenario about a Complaints Handing process the dots are scattered around the triangle approximately matching the overall distribution for all frameworks and all scenarios.
  • Clusters are seen with a preference towards clear rules and process, and another towards a preference towards common sense and freedom to act.
  • Graphic 6. For a scenario linked to tackling obesity, the overall pattern has formed with a preference towards common sense and freedom to act, with few dots close to the process and rules apex.

For clarification, the Complains Handling scenario was about an organisation improving its internal complaints handing process. It was a big challenge, focused in internal processes. Tackling obesity was about a society wide challenge involving multiple partners, citizens and stakeholders.

  • Question 1. Does distribution of dots for the obesity scenario reflect the context? It is a complex situation with many unknowns. There are not clear rules on how to achieve success so, would people prefer to make decisions based upon common sense and the freedom to act (rather than what might appear to be arbitrary rules)?
  • Question 2. Do the dots close to the Freedom to Act apex, distant from both Clear rules and process and Common sense raise any concerns? Is making decision without rules or common sense something that should be avoided?

Common sense the rule book and decision making

Similar to what we described in the first post, the context in which people approach risk management has an influence upon how they make decisions about managing that risk.

The broad conclusions from this test indicate that in a ‘safe to fail’ context, people would find it more helpful to use a combination of common sense and freedom to act to make their decisions, in preference to clear rules and a process. If the challenge they were facing was a situation where failure was not an option, there was a shift towards using clear rules and process, but not a wholesale move. Many people still edged towards wanting freedom to act and using common sense.

The scenario about tackling obesity might help to explain this as it described a complex situation with many unknowns. The desire to have freedom to act and use common sense appears to be more helpful than following clear rules and guidance (which may be arbitrary given the unknown nature of the challenges).

These findings raise a number of questions. Many organisational project and risk management approaches are built upon a clear process and rules. If the organisation places a high value on compliance with the process and rules, there is likely to be a conflict with the desire of many people to use a combination of common sense and freedom to act to make their decisions about risk management (rather than rules and process).

So is common sense more useful that the rule book? Based on this limited analysis, of a small set of data which focused upon people using a safe to fail approach, the answer seems to be yes.  But it does deserve some further examination and wider discussion.

Finally. As mentioned earlier, this is an experiment for us and an example of us ‘working out loud, doing things in the open’. There is still a lot more we would like to do with this data. We are certain that we haven’t got things right and would appreciate any comments and feedback on what we have tried here. If anyone would like to have a look at the dataset and help expand our understanding, please get in touch, we would very much like to talk.

This post is linked to others that look at:

  • Post 1. Context is everything. This is a brief description of what we did in the session and some observations on how people think they would respond to failure in the context of different risk management approaches.
  • Post 3. Does service user involvement in decision making lead to better decisions? This tested the technology we used and pushed our understanding to the limits.

Enabling staff to make better use of data

Darllenwch y flogbost yn Gymraeg

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

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

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

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

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

Testing approaches

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

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

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

Making data more user friendly

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

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

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

Where do we go from here?

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

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

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

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.

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.