Daily note for 18 September 2023

If I had one bit of advice for ‘IT’ people it would be to stop referring to “the business”. It’s just so WEIRD.

I newslettered again.

Laura Hilliger, Doug Belshaw and Matt Jukes all on the same podcast? 😍

This seems an interesting approach to sharing capacity and capability around digital stuff in local gov.

I have enjoyed every John le Carré novel I have read, with the exception of A Perfect Spy, generally considered his best, which I have never managed to even get a third of the way through. I tried again at the weekend and gave up. No idea why it doesn’t click with me.

Lauren Pope on how to do a content audit (thanks Steph!):

5 simple rules for organisational leaders to keep in mind about technology

Commenting on James Herbert’s sensible post about approaching AI in local government, I came up with 5 statements of the bleedin’ obvious that all senior people ought to have in their minds whenever technology is being discussed.

  • If something sounds like a silver bullet, it probably isn’t one
  • You can’t build new things on shaky, or non-existent, foundations
  • There are no short cuts through taking the time to properly learn, understand and plan
  • There’s no such thing as a free lunch – investment is always necessary at some point and it’s always best to spend sooner, thoughtfully, rather than later, in a panic
  • Don’t go big early in terms of your expectations: start small, learn what works and scale up from that

Increasingly, I tend to speak about digital being different from previous approaches to technology because it includes a healthy dose of cynicism about the ability of technology to improve anything, ever. Perhaps these points reflect that!

Interesting links 8 April 2022

Things I’ve seen that are worth sharing.

Reflections on my time as the Head of Local Digital – May-N Leow

This week brings to a close my two and a half years as Head of the Local Digital Collaboration Unit (LDCU). In this blog post, I want to reflect back on the lessons learnt and achievements, such as bringing local authorities together to solve common challenges, and in particular how a group of local authorities and suppliers are cooperating together to deliver an open source solution.

How the [open source revenues & benefits] discovery phase is informing the alpha – Amanda Pujol

Revenue and Benefits systems are one of the key digital systems for all local authorities, processing payments to and from local businesses, council tax payers and hundreds of low income households on a weekly basis. They hold key customer data and, as such, are a linchpin in delivering councils’ digital transformation strategies and should link seamlessly into other key council systems.

You would expect that transformation of these systems would be at the forefront of every council’s mind. And they are, but because there are limited options (3 main suppliers in the market), there is a level of dissatisfaction with the market and transformation is considered to be costly and risky. Only 2 LAs in the country have their own in house Revs and Bens systems and Sedgemoor are one such council.

Winning awards – Kat Hurr

It’s always great to receive recognition for the hard work our team is doing. At the beginning of March we were delighted to win the Gold award for Customer Focus at the iESE Public Sector Transformation awards… Our entry focused on two areas of Cumbria Council – Highways Enquiries and Fault Reporting and Targeted Short Breaks for SEND Children.

Digital Playbook 3 day sprint – Nicola Bryant

I have competed my first 3-day design sprint to build a prototype digital playbook. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect – so while a little hectic, sometimes intense – all in all it was a great experience and I am becoming more used to feeling comfortable with the uncomfortable! Below for the record sets out what we did, how we went about it and what we discovered.

From the Made Tech content factory:

Servant leadership, with Katy Armstrong

What is servant leadership, and how can you use it to help your teams fly? Clare Sudbery talks to Katy Armstrong about how to empower teams to do their absolute best work, by removing blockers, identifying vision and giving them everything they need.

The business analyst’s role in building successful teams – Khalil Anwar

I began my journey as a BA half a decade ago, and here I am today: a lead BA at Made Tech. I love being able to make a difference to a very diverse mix of users of public sector systems, which has ranged from Home Office frontline users to clinicians in the NHS, as well as the general public. Learning about the different systems and processes involved goes hand in hand with this, so I’m constantly learning and developing my skill set. But there’s much more to the job than this. Here’s the lowdown on what we do, what makes a good BA, and how we contribute to success.

Accelerating delivery: 10 questions to ask your team – Anikh Subhan

If you work in digital in the public sector, you’re probably aware of accelerated delivery. It helps to build projects faster, more efficiently, and with reduced risk.

If your team is new to delivery at pace, we’ve outlined 10 questions to ask yourself and your team to make sure you’re set up for success.

Interesting links 25 March 2022

Things I’ve seen that are worth sharing.

Exciting next steps for Local Digital and Cyber – Local Digital Collaboration Unit

The Local Digital and Cyber teams are going to be making some exciting changes over the next few months, backed by multi-year funding to the tune of £85 million.

We’re developing an enhanced approach that will allow us to support the local government sector to achieve even more brilliant things, as well as fix the core problems.

Stockport Council announces ambitious Radical Digital Strategy – Holly Rae, Craig Hughes & Adrian Davies

Today we have announced our ambitious new Digital Strategy. It aims to provide residents, businesses and partners with an overview of our digital ambitions for the borough, based on three broad pillars: Digital Communities, Digital Place and Digital Council.

Community of Practice Kick-off Canvas (with Miro template) – Emily Webber

The Tacit community of practice kick-off canvas helps get your community started or reset using a canvas framework that guides you through six questions… It has been available for a couple of years on my company website as a printable pdf, and I have recently turned it into a Miro board template, which anyone can use.

Interesting links 18 March 2022

Things I’ve seen that are worth sharing.

The Policymaking / DDAT Divide – Jerry Fishenden

Despite politicians’ grand ambitions for DDaT since at least 1996, it’s had relatively little impact on radical government renewal and reform. Yet the political ambition has remained fairly constant during these 26 years: to ensure users are the focus, not providers; to design services more closely around people’s needs and lives; and to deliver more effective, and higher quality public services.

Think Links icebreakers a Miro board template that you can use – Emily Webber

These two quick lateral thinking icebreaker games will help participants flex their creative thinking muscles before jumping into your workshops. I love that they help get people checked into the session and open up new ways of thinking, particularly good if you want creativity in your workshop.

How we’re building our data platform as a product – Osian Llwyd Jones

While companies large and small have made considerable gains in building a scalable and sustainable architecture, we’re left with the uncomfortable questions: is what we’re doing truly providing value? Do we really know who our users are and understand their needs? If so, can they generate insights in a fast and reliable way? As long as users don’t complain and pipelines don’t fail, does that mean all is well? For all our investment in data, are we seeing the return?

The Birmingham Digital Approach – Peter `Bishop

As we enter this new phase, I am keen that we now move away from being seen as just an IT provider to the rest of the council to one where we can start to work more collaboratively in partnership with our service leads so that we prioritise, manage our demand, design and shape and build great digital services together; a place where we cultivate and nurture an environment of working in the open; grow our digital talent and become centres of excellence of good practice across our various digital and technology disciplines.

Sharing our new user research templates and guides – Helen Calderon

Today we’re sharing the first of our new user research templates and guides. We designed these for teams working within the council, and they can easily be adapted for teams working in other councils. You’ll find these on GitHub. Download them, make them your own, and let us know if we can make them even better.

Interesting links 11 March 2022

Things I’ve seen that are worth sharing.

The next ten-years of digital government – Scott Colfer

For what it’s worth, my instinct is that the NHS might be the place that leads (by doing) the settler phase over the next 10-years. Showing by doing. The work of the last 2-years during the pandemic, the recent restructuring, and some conversations with people leading this work all make it sound like they’re explicitly investing in the work of the settler phase. Looking closer to my old home, the Office of the Public Guardian is doing this at a smaller scale.

How to build a team and effect culture change – Lisa Trickey

In 2017, I was asked to ‘make digital happen’ at the council. Digital is such a broad agenda and needs to permeate everything we do and think about in the organisation. Although the ICT function in the council initiated ‘digital’, I didn’t want technology to be the focus of the change activity.

Two opportunities presented themselves in different service areas when we were about to experiment with service design. We engaged FutureGov, who worked alongside service leads, ICT business analysts, content designers and application support officers, exposing them to user-centred design and working in multi-disciplinary teams.

Why these Welsh weeknotes are so good – Giles Turnbull

I’m always looking out for good examples of teams working in the open, and this WRA team are doing everything right. If you want to write good weeknotes about a digital project, just do what this team are doing, and you’ll be doing a great a job.

From the Made Tech content factory:

There’s no substitute for experience: lessons from central government software delivery – Vincent Farah

The important thing to pass on from our experience is that change doesn’t happen overnight. Patience and conviction of cause will help solve one problem at a time. You need to forge alliances and earn trust that will help change to happen.

International Women’s Day: what would you change about the tech industry? – Laxmi Kerai

Today is International Women’s Day. So, we asked a few of the women working in technology at Made Tech to share insights about equality and working in the industry, including how they’d change the tech industry for the better. Here’s what they said…

Local government: from product, to platform, to service – Glenn Ocskó

LocalGovDrupal with Kate Hurr and Will Callaghan

LocalGovDrupal is an open source implementation of the classic Drupal content management system hat has been developed by councils for councils, with the help of some funding from MHCLG.

It is, by my reckoning, the best example I have seen of open source use in local government, largely because councils are contributing to the project as well as consuming it.

16 councils are now involved and conservative estimates calculate that millions of pounds have been saved compared to using commercial off the shelf alternatives.

What is great is that councils are using those savings to invest in other things to make their websites better, like content design and user research.

Will Callaghan has been the main driver of the project and he gives us some of the background, while Kate Hurr talks about the progress Cumbria Council are making in implementing LocalGovDrupal. We also talk a little bit about pies! 🥧

I honestly can’t praise this project enough, I think it’s brilliant, and a wonderful example of the benefits of open, collaborative working, and sharing and re-use of technology across the sector.

To find out how to get involved, drop the team a line using hello@localgovdrupal.org.

If you’d prefer to listen to just the audio, give this a go.

Legends of low code panel recording

This Tuesday Nick and I ran the legends of low code panel session, and much fun was had, and great learning shared.

I was joined by:

  • Kev Rowe, Croydon Council
  • Craig Barker, Cumbria County Council
  • Clare Evans, Tewkesbury Borough Council
  • Lee Gallagher, Hertsmere Council

Check out the video recording above, to hear about

  • the great low code projects all the councils have been working on
  • the cultural changes that went alongside the technology switch
  • the downsides of using low code and how to overcome them
  • who is best placed to become a low code developer in your organisation

Hope it’s useful!

SensibleTech

I’ve started up a new site recently, which I’ve called SensibleTech.

The aim is to share the stuff I’ve learned over the last decade or so of doing digital in public services. I reckon most of the things that are keeping people and organisations from confidently grasping the opportunity that digital offers are things they don’t need to worry about. They just need reassurance that answers are out there.

I’ve moaned in the past that a lot of the potentially useful material that gets published isn’t useful at all, because it’s so often vendor-produced and so, naturally, focuses on how great their product is, rather than everything else that goes into building great digital services – particularly the things that don’t quite go to plan.

So I want to publish articles sharing how I approach certain things in the hope that others can make use of that themselves, and some of the templates I’ve made over the years. I’m also talking to experts in the field and sharing their experience and knowledge too.

In the future, I’d like to look into more formal learning, whether online workshops over Zoom or e-learning courses that people can complete at their convenience. But for now, articles and videos are enough.

Go and take a look around, some of the content on there already includes:

Hopefully there’s something useful for you in there. If there’s anything you’d like me to cover, just let me know.

I’ve also resuscitated the Digital Digest email newsletter to send the latest stuff into people’s inboxes. You can sign up for that here.