What are the Right Conditions?

Mmm, not got enough time for this post, but.. I wanted to suggest a topic for localgovcamp, the event for digital and design practitioners in and around local government.  It’s in Leeds on Sept 12th and you can grab a free ticket here.  There are also two fringe events on the Friday by many lovely folk.

Apart from working out what to do and why (see Dave Briggs’ post on government as a platform and go to his session), I’ve long been wrestling with the problem of how to make it happen.  Well, how to make anything happen to be honest!

I’m thinking mainly about the tools here (digital tech) rather than the method (design thinking) because I think the former is a necessary (pre) condition, and the latter is relatively easy to achieve once the tools are there, but we can talk about that ..

There are a few things I’d like to explore

  • understanding your organisation and whether you should stay
  • articulating the value of digital (the sector has a problem here)
  • what the Chief Executive needs to know and do
  • knowing and thinking about your audiences, especially decision makers
  • developing a balanced strategy to meet a range of stakeholder needs – what we did at A&W
  • recognising this is a 3-5 year project and true disruption does not come until about year 3
  • dealing with pessimism and resistance
  • working out when to give up and try something else – different routes up the hill

Back in May 2014 last year, I started at Adur and Worthing Councils as Director for Digital & Resources.  Since then, we’ve developed a government as a platform approach and introduced a range of new technologies that are helping us build true end-to-end digital services, switch off legacy applications and deliver savings by removing administrative tasks.  We moved everyone over to Google for mail / productivity last April and we’re dishing out smartphones at the moment (important stuff). We’ve already redesigned and moved our waste and recycling service onto the platform and will soon de-commission the legacy system.  We plan to move on to Housing in the autumn.

I’ll be honest, I’m worried we’re a bit of a freak of happy coincidences so I want to see if there’s a formula we can extract out of this and your experience that might be useful to the sector as a whole.

By the way – have you seen the SOLACE agenda?  Now there’s an audience that needs to think about Gaap and digital business models ……


Digital & Design & Everyone

Today was a good day.  The first 9 people began their training on Matssoft, the low code platform we have selected to enable us to rapidly design and build digital services.  It was so fantastic to see not just folk from our new Digital & Design team but also folk from service areas learning how to design and build applications.  I kept thinking about how virally the news will spread across the business about the value of our new internet-based technologies.  About all the meetings where people will start to say “you could create a Google community to help with that” or “we could build a Mats process to handle that”.  Today was great!

Tomorrow will be good too.  Dave Briggs starts as our Head of Digital & Design.

Our day starts by reviewing our newly architected platform (a nicely interoperable combo of Saleforce and Matssoft) with the first products on it, namely contact centre and “green bins”.  I’m always checking back on decisions and priorities in my mind and I still think we’ve done a great job of focussing on the technology foundations, working with Methods Digital, so that we are able to make rapid progress as we create the Digital & Design team, with users at the centre of everything we do.

I can’t wait for the next phase as we develop a user-centred design methodology utilising all the great stuff from GDS, Open Policy Lab, Design Council and all the brilliant agencies in that space like IDEO, Engine, Futuregov and so on.  We are going to build the capabilities needed to radically re-design services, end-to-end by working directly with users.  We are going to develop a service that encourages incumbent service models to be disrupted, and for innovation to come from the outside in as much as possible.  We’re not just going to “improve” our existing services, although that will be very much where we start, as I see this as a 2-3 year process of learning and deep change in our patterns of thinking and doing.

We still have a few more foundations to lay over the next three months.  We are assessing our wifi this week and intend to install excellent public access in all our buildings.  We’re also going to be rolling out smartphones to pretty much everyone and taking most of the desk phones away.  By June, new enterprise telephony will be accessed from within Google in the browser, and through an app on either corporate or personal mobiles.  We have a BYOD policy already in place.

Even though this is a lot of stuff, I’ve learned that people respond brilliantly when the value is so clear.  When the technology is so reliable and easy to use, the project risks are much lower than people fear.

One of my guiding principles is that digital & design is for everyone, and must be BY everyone.  I’m proud to have kept that in mind as we implement government as a platform at Adur and Worthing, ensuring that we are introducing new technology to all staff rather than only worrying about the longer term citizen platform stuff.

I’m delighted that as a group of people we have ‘gone for it’ at this pace, working on infrastructure, devices, data and software all together.  Now for people capabilities .. design thinking and culture change.

As Martha Lane Fox said last night about digital in the UK: “We’re going too slow, being too incremental. We need to be bolder.” We’re being bold in Adur & Worthing.  I encourage YOU to be bold, or move to somewhere that will let you be!

This has been urgent for some time – see my earlier post on the need for radical redesign.  Changing out your technology in a radical way is, I believe, an essential starting point.

Dave Briggs joins Adur & Worthing Councils

We’re taking another big step forward today at Adur and Worthing Councils with the announcement that Dave Briggs will join us as Head of Digital and Design.  A leading figure nationally in digital government, Dave will build a new Digital and Design Service to drive forward our digital programme here on the south coast.

How exciting !!!!

Over the last six months we have been focussed on selecting best of breed technologies, ensuring we have the right tools for the job.  The next stage is creating a great in-house team of people who can deliver service re-design, technology and change management.  It is extremely rare to find people who can do all three things well, and Dave is one of them.  I can’t think of a better person to take forward the next phase of our work as we continue to build the capabilities we need to make true digital local government a reality.

Dave’s career in government took him from the benefits office at a Norfolk borough council to 10 Downing Street in four years. He was one of the first blogging local government officers and founded the influential LocalGovCamp series of informal conferences for innovators in the sector.

In recent years he has been working as an independent consultant with various councils and government departments, helping them prepare their digital strategies and develop their working cultures to make the most of the opportunities technology provides.

With Dave joining us, and the fundamental technology change we have already begun, I believe we can make a fantastic impact on our Council’s agenda to deliver for customers, communities and businesses.

Making Progress at Adur & Worthing on Digital & Design

I’m absolutely thrilled with how much work we’ve managed to get done here at Adur & Worthing Councils on digital strategy and delivery. This post explains what we’ve been doing, why and what’s coming up next. The Digital & Design Service is being set up in April (exciting leadership announcement coming soon ..) and along with it a dedicated public blog.

Before I give an outline of the work we’ve been doing, I wanted to set out a few thoughts and ideas to help frame things.

Vision & Principles

In advance of publishing anything official, which we soon will, here are some thoughts about what we might say to set the scene.

We will make our Councils really easy to interact with digitally. Our old IT systems have been holding us all back, and we will replace them with modern, secure, internet-based services that mean we can make simple, elegant, end-to-end digital services a reality to the benefit of our citizens.

Our staff need better work processes, software and devices to do their jobs well and to remove inefficiency. We will use user-centred design principles to radically re-shape and simplify services, improving team collaboration through technology, and enabling people to work from any location using modern devices.

Becoming very capable at digital and design, the Councils will develop their role as leaders and conveners in Adur & Worthing and further afield, helping to address future public service and civic challenges by harnessing the wider capabilities and assets of our system: partners, communities, citizens and businesses.

We will be publishing a ‘living’ Digital Road Map for Adur & Worthing over the next few months. We’ll start with some initial ideas, goals and projects and take time to engage with partners, communities, citizens and businesses, with the aim of building a network of people and groups that will help build our digital future.


We’re talking a lot about capabilities at the moment as we shape our thinking with the help of the folk at Methods Digital. Capabilities is a concept that makes sense for both technology and people. It’s a really powerful way to think about things.

We developed our technology strategy recently by looking at our business capability needs; things like the ability for a customer to make a booking, or a payment. We will be moving away from our legacy line of business systems that duplicate these capabilities across the business and maintain the silos and fragmented customer experience. More details on that further down this post.

But we also want to look hard at the new ‘people capabilities’ for public services; we must develop new skills and approaches like design thinking, digital skills, commerciality, working in the open and taking a more risk-based approach.

It’s widely accepted that local government will increasingly become a facilitator, commissioner and curator, but this only really happens in my view as we break up the old patterns and build new capabilities through fundamental technology change and service re-design. Technology is so instrumental to the way we work and modern platforms give us new possibilities about how services can be delivered. This is why digital is so compelling – if we are brave and get this right, by adopting the right kinds of technologies, we will create possibilities for deep change in public service organisations, helping rethink and rewire the system.

What the sector should definitely collaborate on: 240v or Lego Government

I’m really up for sector collaboration, but it’s actually really hard to make it work and I think there are some really major, structural and natural human barriers. But there are some fundamentals that the sector must collaborate on in order to market-make. New public service innovators need to know they can sell their services to any public service organisation (let’s start with local authorities!), and this requires us to look at making ourselves the same ‘shape’.

Government in the future will, I think, rely on set of curated and supported capabilities that are available to a range of familiar and new providers operating more platform-based business models, allowing for much more creative co-production. For example, MK:Data Hub are creating a civic data capability for the Milton Keynes, which will provide a platform for SMEs to plug into and develop applications for a “Smart” city.

Following the logic mapped out in “Digitizing Government”, I like to think about this as “240v government” or “Government as Lego”. Government needs to create/adopt a set of platforms and standards that citizens and service providers can more easily plug into digitally. Different technologies can happily co-exist (we don’t need to use the same tech) as long as they are interoperable. Lego pieces are different shapes and sizes but use standards that mean they always can be fitted together, giving massive flexibility, scope for innovation and allowing a network of service providers to still give seamless experiences to end users). The 240v standard for domestic electricity means manufacturers can make electrical products knowing they will work in homes anywhere in the UK. That’s a powerful principle and an essential model if we are to create a new market for public service innovation that delivers outcomes differently and at lower cost.

So a key question for public services is: what are the 240v or Lego standards that we need to build, so creating the conditions for future service providers to confidently bring products to market?

That’s a crucial thing for local government to think about and prioritise as a sector.  Let’s not start with the Local Government Digital Service argument!  You can imagine the future commissioner’s simple specification: We operate on 240v, do you? We need agreed open data and technology standards. To talk about collaboration further up the food chain, such as business processes or single technologies, is the wrong place to start for our complicated system.

Capable People

For us, in our new Digital & Design service at Adur and Worthing, we will place an increasing emphasis on digital and design capabilities / skills. Not just for our D&D staff, but through developing a programme of ‘learning by doing’ for all staff and, increasingly, other stakeholders. I want the technology stuff to gradually move into the background as we adopt a thoroughly user-centred, not tech-centred design approach. We will develop a confidence, knowing what our tech capabilities are when designing and be able to bring technology to bear when it’s appropriate.

So all that having been said, my focus and obsession in the job has been this: Where do we start?

Building Blocks and Being Practical

When I arrived at Adur & Worthing in May 2014, it was clear we had a very traditional set up, albeit with some really good practice in our web team (we’ve had four stars in the Better Connected report for years). There was still a lot to do.

From May-July I did my own discovery work and the first priorities were very clear: network outages, disaster recovery processes and telephones, all of which we had significant problems with. I got specialists in to help with DR and worked with our IT colleagues (our infrastructure service is provided in a partnership with two other councils) to stabilize the network. I also worked with the telephony supplier, recently agreeing to part company. I began to look for a specialist technology partner to help me flesh out what I knew we must do: to move the whole organisation to new open, cloud-based technologies. I had been involved in innovative digital projects before which were incredibly challenging to establish in the councils I worked in. They had tended to “bounce off” after expending a lot of energy! I knew something deeper and more fundamental needed doing with council IT. The ‘monolith’ as I call it, needed moving. Through my network of contacts, I discovered James Herbert, Mark Thompson and their company Methods Digital.

So, in July 2014, I wrote a report for Committee that outlined the issues I’d found and what we needed to do next, securing funding to partner with Methods Digital for technology discovery and then blueprinting, taking us to an investment case for significant funding, successfully made to Committee in December. We worked really hard with the timing of the work and reports to ensure we kept a really good pace going and Methods started implementation with us on site in early January 2015, just six months after the first Committee report.

So, what have we decided to do?

We have established three key strands to the programme: productivity (email/office), platform (multi-channel engagement & end-to-end self-service) and telephony (fixed and mobile). Design, agile and open principles are core to the approach.

In the autumn we developed a capability map, and a target platform-based architecture. I was initially very keen to look at open source options for the new platforms, but it quickly became clear that we could make more rapid progress if we looked at selecting enterprise cloud platforms with great capabilities, their own ecosystems and open APIs. I learned that open standards were the important part. As a small authority, the other critical feature for me was always having platforms that we could build on cost effectively and rapidly, making sure not to find ourselves caught out for professional services costs in the long run.

We are very much at the beginning of this work, but I think we have made some exciting product selections:

  • Google for Work (already soft-launched)
  • Salesforce (for the contact centre)
  • Low code business process platform for the whole business
  • Cloud telephony (selection being finalized)
  • Android mobiles (tender out soon)

Our “Citizen Interaction Platform” (CIM) is a tightly integrated combination of Salesforce and the low code platform, providing us with a powerful but cost-effective platform to build on. Methods got the two products ‘talking’ last week and we’re all very excited about it!

Our first digital product on the CIM will be a “green bins” ordering service, allowing us to establish some core capabilities on the platform. Our aim is to then replace our first legacy ICT system (by June we think) by going on to digitize bulky waste, clinical waste etc. We expect to be able to increase momentum in the programme as our capabilities are established both in terms of the platform technologies and our people. We have 18 staff (mostly people with business analysis skills, rather than programming skills) being trained on the low code platform in April.

Importantly, we will also be doing a lot of work soon to create the “Design” part of our service and will be recruiting an experienced “Service Designer” to the team. I will very soon announcing who will set up and lead our new Digital & Design Service. This will be a huge step for us, because we know that our success will be built around very talented and committed people using great technologies but with user-centred design at the front and centre. We will introducing a new ‘people’ work strand around digital and design capability which will be very exciting and hugely important.

We already have some talented and energetic folk at Adur & Worthing and I’m really excited to see what they will do with the help of these new people and capabilities we are bringing in.

UKGovcamp 2014 Session Write-Up: Local Capacity for Innovation & Delivery

A good session was had at UKGovcamp on developing local capacity for innovation.  We had some very experienced folk in the room which allowed us to see ways through all the challenges and barriers!

There are a number of features to the discussion worth covering, but as a headline we achieved the central UKGovcamp goal – found people of common interest and a way to continue the conversation and learning at the Open Policy Making UK Linkedin Group.

Hidden Treasures

As we talked it was clear that there are some really interesting examples of local innovation that are not visible enough.  We need to be better at highlighting the work that we do and look to create an open resource for people to draw on.  From small but powerful ideas like a ‘you have permission’ letter from the Chief Executive to hand out to staff when they express reservations, to writing up whole case studies or sharing toolkits.  We can talk more about the practicalities in the Linkedin Group.

Some examples of local innovation practice,

Shaped by Us, Cornwall (including some great looking toolkit stuff)
SILK, Kent
Monmouthshire Intrapreneurship School

Please do post others to the Linkedin Group.  They can be individual projects as well of course that have something interesting to say about our ability to innovate.

The Language we use

One feature of our discussion was around the language we use and we agreed, I think, that talking about “innovation” is very likely to be counter-productive as we seek to share a way of working with people.  Andrea Siodmok (@designcomedy), who was Chief Design Officer at Cornwall County Council for a couple of years, suggested we instead talk about “making good ideas happen”. This is a great way to capture not just the need to design well, but also the need to implement successfully.

Stories from the new world

How do we show what these “good ideas”, developed from a true understanding of user need and context, are like?  How do we make it clear that new groups of people using design methods can deliver the radical solutions that are needed?  We tell stories, Andrea suggests.  Like the one about a village’s response to the withdrawal of the rural bus service.  They decided to paint a cross on the pavement by the bus stop.  Anyone passing by seeing someone standing on the cross could pick them up and take them into town for a £2.50 fare.


We heard a difficult story from a county council about their rural transport project that eventually ran aground because of a lack of senior leadership.  And we had a couple of examples where even with Chief Executive support, the body of the organisation can easily resist the “fad” unless a thoughtful and realistic long-term strategy is developed.

Giles Gibson talked about the importance of stress testing here, which was all about making sure enough of the right conditions are present before embarking.  Many of us will know how wasteful and draining it can be to be knocking on the wrong door.  But I hope Giles can help us explore that more on the Linkedin Group, because we need to learn how to work with people to get things off the ground.

Design thinking

I think we were clear that a design approach is the way to do this stuff, that takes us from discovery, through definition and development, to delivery.  The graphic below usefully illustrates how parts of the process are divergent (open) and others convergent (controlled).  Read more here.


There are plenty of examples of where design thinking is being used in the public sector, or starting to be.  Here are some useful links

Design Council’s Public Services by Design
Government Digital Service, Design Principles
NHS Institute for Innovation & Improvement

I also just found this Design Council report on design in public services

Getting Design into the DNA

We talked quite a bit about whether setting up a dedicated “innovation hub” – a physical space inside the council, say – was the way to go.  The difficulty with this we thought was that they are susceptible to being seen as very visibly “Other” to the mainstream and may set up a counter-productive “them” and “us” divide within the organisation.  We need good innovation work to be happening widely.  Esko Reinikainen talked about the work in Monmouthshire to teach cohorts of staff new skills and Andrea talked about how in Cornwall, design and project toolkits were written up, incorporating the best of existing methods (including PRINCE2!) to form a “new way of doing things” that has been embedded into all the transformation work they do.  The Head of Transformation was mentored by Andrea from the beginning, making the whole effort THEIRS, not something shipped in that would evaporate when the design consultants (or indeed the supportive Chief Executive) left.  Andrea talked about her Book of Nothing initiative:  A blank notebook was passed around inside and outside the council asking people to hand-write their idea of “what is innovation?”, starting with the Chief Executive and including (after much harrying and chasing), a visiting Nick Clegg.  This became a very powerful shared symbol of broad commitment and understanding, with each new writer being influenced by previous scribes.  This is very powerful cultural change work – absolutely aimed at encouraging everyone to participate, think for themselves and use their own language.

Catalyse the change, don’t be the change.

Maybe every council will have a Chief Design Officer at some point fairly soon to help imbue the organisation with the design approach?  Toolkits, open collaboration on projects, mentoring, learning by doing.

Where are the opportunities?

It’s really important to have enough space to create good ideas in.  Cornwall called it “thinking room”.  When the pressure’s on, there’s not enough time to do the work properly and we’ve all seen service user “consultation” be paid lip service in the rush to solve immediate commissioning and budget challenges.  So Andrea talked about “getting ahead of the problem”.  I’ve not spoken to them, but it seems to me SILK’s focus on designing for dementia is a good example here.  Certainly that’s the kind of big issue that deserves deep work to get the right kind of change in place for the long term.  What are the other biggies, and can we forge collaborations on these between local agencies or between councils etc – sharing resources and skills?

We also talked about the opportunities to re-use service designs and digital platforms that have been created elsewhere.  We remarked how common it is for people to resist “copying” others – opportunities to be praised as innovators and creators will be missed!  Nesta’s Creative Councils 10 Lessons report has an interesting point (5) on a role they call the public service developer: “These people don’t innovate from scratch but instead work out how to match ideas with great potential to sources of investment, new business models and the people who can make them work”.

With huge thanks to the wonderfully open sharing from folk in the session.  I learnt loads, hope others did too.

Let’s keep the conversation going and see what more we can do.


Local capacity for innovation & implementation

As we approach UKGovcamp on Saturday, I was wondering about the big “how do we make stuff happen” question.  An NLGN survey of 65 councils  on innovation found that 90% say they lack the skills needed to implement new ideas successfully, but paradoxically they still expect to generate 50% of the necessary savings through innovation .. This is a rather important conundrum!

Having followed the Local Government Digital Service debate which has been ongoing several years now, I’m convinced that we should give up on that essentially cost saving argument in favour of one that recognises the need for place-based innovation centred around the needs of people and communities. I’d like to talk about how public sector resources could be directed to create local innovation capacity (starting with local government but with bigger ambitions) that truly helps leaders and commissioners create radical new options for service delivery.  This is definitely as much about matching existing ideas or products to local needs as creating new things – both are needed.  And loads about implementation.

So what does this local capacity look like and what’s the business case?



Going freelance

I’ve been wanting to write something about what’s been happening for me for a while .. here goes.

Early last year the opportunity to apply for voluntary redundancy came up at Brighton & Hove City Council where I had been working for 6 years.  The way it works is that you can put an application in and only a few months later do you have to absolutely commit.  I put my application in very much undecided, almost “in case”.  And then followed a very long few months cogitating, discussing and putting my finger into the wind.  I had already been asked to consider a position by a prominent digital company, so I gained self-belief from that but the complication was that we were also expecting our THIRD boy in the same timeframe and the job involved a fair bit of long distance travel.  And as some of you will know, I had worked really hard to firstly secure the Patchwork project in Brighton and Hove and then been hard at implementation for over a year.  I had to think about letting that go, along with the job security and the healthy 21 miles of cycling each day along the coast.  On the positive side I had a good sense of how possible it might be to network with other organisations and agencies if I ended up having to be freelance, because it has been a bit of a speciality of mine in my work, and I’d also been fully into “camps” and twitter for a couple of years and had a good network.  I felt like I might be able to make my own luck and was excited with the possibility of trying.

It was all very difficult to think about, much of it speculation –  so many moving parts.  There was also one very patient and understanding person who’d offered me the job who was just amazing.

D-Day eventually came close and my INCREDIBLE partner was still being wonderfully supportive (even though she later told me she was very worried too).  I had to commit without anything concrete arranged, still really undecided, and with a leave date two days before our third boy was due to be born!  Very luckily for me, I was contacted by Surrey County Council who were about to implement Patchwork across the county.  Could I come and lead the implementation?  Well I looked at the map and it was just the right thing to do.  It was fantastic timing and I could sit back and enjoy 6 weeks with my new born son (who hasn’t stopped smiling since he was born, I swear).

I went to see an accountant, thought of a company name and registered it at Companies House.  I went to my bank and opened a business bank account.  I organised professional liability insurance and long term sickness insurance.  And I bought a second car and kissed goodbye to my flattish stomach.  Later, after a couple of months into my initial 6 month contract I found a graphic designer and worked up a logo.  Then I found strikingly.com and sorted out my website at rethinkdo.co.uk.  Thinking about next steps, I contacted a previous boss who was about to start at Adur & Worthing Councils and got a few days more work there.  I started contacting all the cool digital agencies and innovation think-tanks and began to forge links with some which will hopefully somehow open up opportunities for future collaborations or work offers.  I began thinking about what it is I actually do, and am still thinking!  I’m still at Surrey for a while longer but I’m a whole mix of feelings day to day.  Anxious,  energised, doom-laden, optimistic, excited.  I don’t know how it will turn out.  I’ll just keep networking while trying to deliver concrete value to people.  I’ll keep thinking about where I fit in.  I reckon it’ll be ok with purposeful thought and effort.