Monthly Archives: September 2014

What will a VirtualGovCamp session look like?

We’re probably due an update, not least because people keep asking me about VirtualGovCamp – and one of main topics people are querying is how on earth this thing is going to work.

To reiterate some of the things I have previously written about this, VirtualGovCamp will live and die by its asynchronicity. That is, nobody will have to be in the same place at the same time to take part. People can access the content and the discussion at any time they want.

That means that there will be very limited use of live interactive stuff like webinars, hangouts and so on. They aren’t banned, necessarily, but they are not the basic, core way people will interact.

In terms of platform, it has to be WordPress I think. So, every ‘session’ will be a WordPress page. The person who suggested the session, who will be called a facilitator, will add content to that page to help inform that discussion.

That content could be made up of videos, text, images, audio, presentations and so on. It could be content that the facilitator has produced themselves, or bits and pieces they’ve found elsewhere on the web, or indeed a mixture of both of those things.

Then, conversation and stuff takes place in the comments. Simple as that.

Now, if a facilitator really wants to do something live, then that’s fine, but the output would need to be embedded in the page so that others can still comment afterwards.

More on how this will all be organised next.

Have you signed up to show your interest in VirtualGovCamp yet? Do so with the form on the homepage!

Northern Futures

There’s an interesting bit of open policy work going on at the moment with the Deputy Prime Minister’s office working with the Policy Lab and Open Policy Making team, who are both based at the Cabinet Office. I’m lucky enough to be involved in a small way, too.

It’s called Northern Futures, and is all about finding ways that the northern cities in England can work together to compete with cities around the world.

The elements of open policy making here are an online ideas generation site, and a series of policy jam sessions.

The ideas site, based on Delib’s excellent Dialogue App tool, allows anyone to submit their own suggestions for answers to three questions:

The best answers to these questions will be taken forward to the policy jams. There will be eight jams taking place at the same time across eight cities in the north, each looking at their own ideas and producing iterations on those ideas, and potentially prototypes too.

I’m delighted to be helping out with the process and will be facilitating the policy jam that will be taking place in Hull. It will be the first time I have been back to the city since my graduation!

The Hull event will be taking place at the city’s History Centre, which looks like a cracking venue. I’m hoping we will get a whole range of people attending – strategists, policy experts, technologists and so on.

The other cities involved will be Manchester, Leeds, York, Sheffield, Newcastle, Liverpool and Lancaster. You can express an interest in being involved by signing up on the Eventbrite page. Note – signing up here doesn’t guarantee a place, it’s more an expression of interest.

If you’re up for a challenge and would like to get involved in a pretty meaty policy initiative, then this is a great opportunity. Get on the ideas site and share your inspiration, and come along to one of the policy jam sessions – especially the one in Hull, which will be brilliant and almost certainly the best of the lot.

Why writing helps

One of the things that I love about being a blogger is the encouragement it gives me to write.

Writing helps.

It’s fair to say, I think, that if you want to get good at something, then writing about it is a key part of the learning process.

You don’t even have to do it online, or even on a computer. Having a notebook you can put thoughts and reflections down in on a regular basis will do wonders for you in terms of thinking through problems and assessing what you are doing.

If you have an idea for something, making yourself write it down, think about the words you use and how you articulate it, will help you spot what’s good and what’s not so good about it.

As I said, you don’t have to do this on a blog. But there’s an advantage to sharing your writing online.

It adds another level of thinking critically about your writing. Knowing that other people could well be reading makes you think a bit more about each phrase and each sentence. It sanity checks your ideas – if you’re embarrassed to be blogging about it, maybe it’s not such a great solution to your problem.

This obviously works for individuals, but it works for teams too, and organisations. Share with people what you are thinking and what you are doing. Force yourself to articulate it in terms that will be clear to those that are reading them.

It will help improve your work and your understanding – even if nobody else ever reads it.

The need for internal digital evangelism

If you’re going to make your organisation sit up and take notice when it comes to new, digital ways of doing things, you need to get out there and sell them.

Pretend you’re a techie startup trying to sell your product to your organisation.

Get on every team meeting agenda that you can. Speak at every senior leadership team meeting. Come up with new and interesting angles and stories that will pique people’s interest, whilst still hammering home your core message.

Have chats with as many people as you can to find out what is going on in the organisation, make connections, build links, put people in touch with each other. Fins out what their pain points are and think how digital might help solve them.

Produce an email newsletter to send every week with interesting digital stuff in it that will enthuse and motivate people to give digital a go.

Find a way to use internal systems – maybe the intranet, or a social tool like Yammer, or even the staff magazine – to promote your digital agenda to people.

You might not have a specific product or service to sell, but you still want people to change the way they do things – and they will need convincing.

So try pretending that you are that little startup wanting to land a big contract – and get selling.

Using Trello to help run a workshop

trello

I’m a bit ambivalent about Trello as a project management tool – I know others love it, but me, I prefer something that looks a bit more spreadsheety.

If you’ve not heard of Trello – here’s a video that explains it.

Anyway, I did manage to make use of Trello in a pleasing way during a session at Channel Shift Camp, which I facilitated, which was called ‘transformation ticklist’.

The aim was to produce a checklist of things that really ought to happen when redesigning a product or service. With only 45 minutes we weren’t going to all the whole thing done, but we could at least make a start.

My original plan was to use a traditional post-it note and flip chat approach, but being lazy, I didn’t fancy doing the write up afterwards. What else could I use to get the same effect?

I settled on Trello. I created a new project board, cleared it of all lists bar one, and displayed it on a big screen in the room so everyone could see it.

The first thing we did to start building the transformation ticklist was to have people shout out ideas for things that need doing in a transformation project, in no particular order. All these were recorded in a list as individual cards in a list called ‘activities’ in Trello.

Then we identified the stages we’d need to go through that each of the activities could be put into, and these were created as new lists on the board.

The final activity was spent taking activities from our first list and distributing them around the various stages.

You can see the public version of the ticklist. Also email me if you’d like access to it for editing and so on.

What went well

Using Trello for this workshop went pretty well. People liked the idea, possibly because it was a bit new, and it certainly saved time on writing up, messing about with post-its and so on.

What went not so well

The system isn’t as hackable as pen and paper. We wanted activities to take place across the life of our ticklist, rather than being part of a linear process and this was difficult to make clear. Also, the writing on the screen was too small at times for people to be able to read comfortably.

I’ll definitely be trying this again in future, and would love to hear if others give it a go!

 

The soul of a new iPhone

So I got my new iPhone 6 on Friday – don’t judge me, I was due an upgrade anyway – and have been using it all weekend.

Here are some early thoughts.

1. The size – it’s a bit too big. I didn’t go for the ludicrously sized plus model, but even so. This thing is a lot bigger than the iPhone 5 I upgraded from and it’s just – just – slightly too big.

I have to stretch my thumb to reach the top layer of icons and it isn’t comfy. I know I can double tap the home button to bring them down, but at the moment this isn’t coming naturally to me.

Also it’s too big to fit comfortably in the breast pocket of a shirt, every time i move, it threatens to fall out. Annoying.

Another factor with the size is that there is no way I can put one of those oversize cases that double as an extra battery on this thing, so will need to find a new way of carrying emergency charge around with me.

2. The camera – is excellent, but I cannot believe they have released it with the lens poking out of the back of the phone like it does.

There’s a lot of nonsense written about post-Jobs Apple, but this is one of those things that would never have been released while Steve was in charge. It’s ugly and means you absolutely have to put a case on this thing if you don’t want to knacker it.

3. The storage – I went a bit mad and ordered the top storage option of 128gb. When I found out everyone else was getting the 64gb model I felt a bit daft, but not now.

It holds pretty much my whole iTunes library, as well as every app I would ever want, plus a load of podcasts, and a few downloaded episodes of Peppa Pig for those moments – and I still have 30 odd gigs free. Love it!

4. Some apps aren’t working – am finding I am having a lot of trouble with quite a few apps. Is this an iPhone 6 thing or an iOS 8 thing? I don’t know.

I restored the phone from an iCloud backup of my previous one, and a fair few apps either didn’t download properly at all or crashed when I tried to open them. Deleting them and reinstalling fixed most but not all.

The Chrome browser, for instance, refuses to work for me. Hopefully they will update it soon.

5. Touch ID is something I love, and I’m surprised by that. This is where you can unlock your phone by just holding your thumb over the home button to identify yourself.

My previous iPhone didn’t have it and I was always a bit sniffy. But it seems to work really well, really quickly, and I’ve got used to it right away.

What next?

Those are just my initial thoughts and I am sure I will be able to add more about how I end up using this phone differently to my previous one.

It would be great to hear how others are getting on with theirs in the comments!

Lacking leadership

Recently on my visits to councils and to conferences, and in the conversations I have with people across the public sector, leadership in digital has been identified as an issue.

I think the problem is that within many organisations, there’s nobody with sufficient clout taking the digital agenda forward: identifying the vision and setting out how people can get there.

Part of this is because digital doesn’t easily fit into any of the slots of the traditional organisation chart. It’s definitely not IT, nor (just) communications, and probably not (just) customer services.

Perhaps the closest fit would be within the organisational development bit of HR.

To kick start an organisation’s journey to become truly digital, having an inspirational leader in place is, I think, vital.

I’ll be talking about this in more detail this coming Monday, in a free webinar. Sign up here.

Communicating customer access

I’m at Channel Shift Camp in Birmingham today, organised by my good friend Nick Hill.

It’s an opportunity for people involved in customer services in the public sector to talk about ways of delivering services using new channels, such as online.

The point for organisations is that online channels tend to be a lot cheaper than phone or face to face; for the customer, hopefully the experience is quicker and more convenient.

The first session I attended was a very interesting one about how to communicate the benefits of using new channels for contacting councils and so on to users of services.

The problem was soon identified of the quality of the new service being sold. Often the user experience of online public services is pretty bad – to the point where most people would rather phone up or turn up to an office than try and figure out how to use them.

After all, think about the big, successful online services, like Google’s search engine, or Facebook, or Amazon. When have you seen an advert, or a poster, trying to convince you to use them? Probably never, and yet we do in our millions, because it’s better.

It was mentioned that it might be possible to ‘nudge’ people into using online channels by doing things like hiding the organisation’s phone number and address on the website, so people have to use the web service.

That is not nudging! It’s bullying.

Users ought to be able to access a service in whatever way they prefer to. The job of the organisation delivering that service is to design it so that their preferred channel is also the one their customers would choose.

So to start with there is a need, I think, for communications folk to challenge those asking them to promote a service to ensure that it is actually an improvement on the traditional alternatives. If it isn’t, then trying to persuade people to downgrade their user experience is not really a goer.

In other words, the service ought to sell itself. To do that, it needs to be designed with the user at the centre, meeting their needs and solving their problems first, and not those of the organisation.