Weeknotes w/c 10 September

We’re currently trying out a new approach for the way that Hackney approaches performance management. Research with managers and staff over the last year has shown that the traditional approach based on annual appraisals and mid-year reviews isn’t felt to be working, with the focus too often ending up on completing the form rather than timely discussions about progress, challenges and opportunities. The six monthly cycle is also a poor fit for the work people do, with more frequent and less formal discussion felt to be a better way to do keep track of progress, give encouragement and offer support where needed. Many other leading organisations have made changes to their appraisal processes along these lines too, and we’ve been looking at these to see what we can learn from others’ experience and apply here.

As a result of this, our colleagues in HR are proposing to replace annual appraisals with more regular ‘check-ins’. These are given structure through key discussion points and support is being provided to help managers and staff get the most from these regular conversations. In HackIT we are one of the services that are trialling this to help learn where we can further improve the proposed changes ahead of a wider roll out. This week Cate, Henry and I started to use the new approach for our 1:1s, and I’ve found it was fairly easy to use and helped add a little more structure to the regular catch ups we have been having anyway. It’s also helping us as a management team by prompting some useful discussions about areas we should focus on for our own personal development. It’s all too easy to forget to make time for this, so that feels like a win already.

As well as our own development planning, Cate, Henry, Matthew and I also took some time to think about steps we might take to help support digital skills development across the Council’s workforce and also areas we need to focus on to address digital exclusion in the borough. We covered off a number of ideas and will be doing some more work to develop these further – including following up with other colleagues and partners who we will need to work with on this.

Some of my other headlines from the week included:

  • An encouraging update with Liz and Ruth to talk through the work they’ve done to review business intelligence and data analytics across the Council. I liked the way that they’ve framed recommendations for what we should focus on next, learning from experience elsewhere and building on the positive work that’s already been done here at Hackney. This feels like a really important area that has the potential to help shift from a focus on reporting that tells us what’s already happened to greater insight that can help inform decisions and identify new ways to deliver services that will meet Hackney’s future needs.
  • Some time spent with Jasmeen, Matthew and Nic looking at how we might help other services develop roles that can help them to maximise the impact of the work that we are doing together. We’re determined to make sure that our HackIT team is working as a trusted, strategic partner for services, so it’s really important to me that this doesn’t create a customer / supplier or ‘clienting’ relationship between us and other services. I think we got to a good place with our thinking and Cate’s follow up suggestion that we look at Product Owner roles was a helpful idea too.
  • Matthew and I had a very useful catch up to talk through the work he’s doing to look at how we assess the Return On Investment for projects we’re delivering. This can be hard where baseline data is patchy and where savings will be delivered through other services’ financial planning (we’re keen to emphasise how we are supporting them to deliver their financial plans, not creating a parallel universe of ‘digital savings’). I liked the model that Matthew’s outlined and think this could work well in parallel with the work that Cate is doing to develop our own performance framework for ICT. We’re going to spend some more time on that next Wednesday when we have our management team ‘away day’ (ie day spent in a different Council office to usual looking at bigger picture topics).
  • We’re rapidly approaching the mid-point of the financial year so we’re giving quite a bit of attention to our budget monitoring this month so that we are clear about where we need to focus to make sure that things are are on track for the second half of the year. We have savings that we need to deliver this year and more to identify for next year, so it’s essential that we’re planning for this in good time and making sensible strategic choices.
  • I had some useful meetings with external partners this week, including local NHS colleagues catching up with work to enable integrated approaches for health and social care; colleagues in central government who are working to design the next generation of secure collaboration and sharing of data across government; and colleagues at Homes England to compare notes from the work we’re both doing to improve workplace technology and collaboration.
  • I managed to make time to attend a couple of our project stand ups this week. These were really good opportunities to get closer to the detail with our work to build on the Local Gov Digital Pipeline service to provide a collaborative roadmap tool that can help build collaboration across the sector, and also the work we are doing in partnership with Camden and Southwark to reinvent the process of submitting planning applications.
  • The week ended with a very useful briefing from Keith, Kameel and Lindsay who took us through the current thinking for our future network strategy. This is a vital part of our ‘web first’ strategy which, as well as delivering much needed upgrades to make sure our network is up to date, will also give us the bandwidth, reliability and security we need to make the most of cloud services and enable a managed shift from legacy applications. I was pleased to see how the thinking is developing and we identified some areas to focus on ahead of agreeing the high level design and pressing on with the more detailed design work.
  • I had several ‘welcome’ meetings with new members of our team this week, which were all really good conversations. I discussed service design and the experience of moving to a new organisation with Joanne; data science and an interesting project on analysing case notes with Joe (a bit more about that below); how we are working to develop a structured approach for our service improvements with Paul; and information management and ways to make this responsive to user needs with Jonathan.
  • I also managed to finish this weekend’s Peckham Rye 10k ‘fun’ run in a little less time than I did last year’s Shoreditch 10k. I’m wondering whether I feel brave enough to aim for a time that’s under 50 mins for next month’s return to Shoreditch…

Something I’m learning

I really enjoyed the notes that Joe shared from his presentation about the work he’s doing to look at how we might use data to better understand the needs of Hackney’s vulnerable residents. This is a Discovery exercise and it was fascinating to see how complex it is to understand the context of commonly used terms (for example words like ‘asbestos’ and ‘monoxide’ in case notes might indicate a risk to someone’s health but might also relate to routine inspections / requests for monitors to be fitted). I find this interesting because there often seems to be an assumption that using analysis of data and algorithms to provide services is an easy piece of tech ‘magic’, but it’s actually incredibly complex to understand context and use that to make objective decisions. I think this is a really important area for us to be exploring and I’m pleased to see it being done in a thoughtful way.