Weeknotes w/c 1 and 8 October 2018

Two weeknotes in one due to general busyness and a weekend of cub camp in the woods of deepest south London… We’re moving home next week, so I’ll be taking a pause after this one and normal service will resume at the start of November.


Last week started with something that I’m incredibly excited about – our launch of an updated version of the Pipeline tool that was first developed by the LocalGov Digital team four years ago (Nic’s blog here is a great summary of that: https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/pipeline).

Since it launched in 2014 I’ve always believed that Pipeline is a good idea. I think it’s essential that we have a shared space that councils can use to encourage and support collaboration, and I think this approach has the potential to have far greater impact across the sector as a whole than complex shared service arrangements (which are always tricky and often fail). I blogged some thoughts on ways that I think sharing could help improve digital services across local government a few years ago, and it’s really positive to have the opportunity to put some of that into action at Hackney: https://bytherye.com/2014/07/04/one-local-gov-digital-some-further-thoughts/.

The reaction to the launch of the updated Pipeline platform has been very positive and I’m hoping to see lots of other councils post their projects soon so that this becomes a catalyst for significant growth in cross-council collaboration – in line with the principles of the Local Digital Declaration.

Forms, forms, forms

We’ve been looking hard at our internal support processes, working closely with colleagues in other support services including finance and HR. The goal for this is to apply the same design led approach to the internal workings of the organisation as we are aiming to for our public facing services. We think that if we can do this well we will help colleagues get things done more quickly, letting them focus more of their time on delivering services, and also help to build the general understanding and consciousness of user centred design.

I’ve never managed to pin down the reason why, but there does appear to be a particular genius in most organisations for producing internal processes that are mind bogglingly hard to navigate. Particular issues that I’ve encountered include multiple approvals for the same thing, categorisation run amok, poorly designed self-service, use of professional jargon rather than easy to understand language, and security which means that things can only be done from an office desk. Usually these come together in all their glory as e-forms, often complemented by an array of downloadable documents and PDFs.

We spent some time as a management team looking at our progress with this and the areas that we’re focusing on. One of these is the process for hiring new people and their experience when they join the Council. Research work with managers and staff over recent months has helped us to get a much better understanding of user needs and the pain points that people experience at the moment. We’re now looking at how we can design much simpler processes, cut out unnecessary approvals and make sure that users can find out what they need to do really easily. We’re also looking at the best way to make this accessible to users, looking at the technology we currently use and reflecting on whether this will give us the flexibility we need to design really user-friendly services, or whether we need to make some changes too.

A quick fire list of other highlights from the last couple of weeks includes:

  • We’ve been looking at the data we’re getting from the new audit tool that we’ve set up to help us understand how people are using information in G Suite (we’re using GAT: https://generalaudittool.com/) and how we can use this insight to support services in using their information well.
  • A brilliant talk by Hackney resident and co-founder of GDS, Mike Bracken, who shared his experiences from GDS and set out some bold challenges for raising the standard of digital services in local government. Cate’s pic here shows the great turn out we had for that: https://twitter.com/madebycatem/status/1046761327702749184.
  • A series of events organised by Richard, our Lead User Researcher, to accompany National Customer Services Week and help us learn how user research is at the heart of delivering excellent services.
  • Some encouraging conversations about ways that we can make our work on information security even more proactive, learning from the approaches that major web companies take to actively seek out potential vulnerabilities. It’s really important that security isn’t just an annual ‘event’ when we renew our PSN certificate.
  • A number of positive conversations with other organisations, including colleagues at the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, sharing thoughts and experience of introducing modern working technology and approaches in our organisations and ways that we might maximise the benefits of this.
  • Checking in on the new ‘Check Ins’ approach which we are using to replace traditional appraisals at Hackney. The beta for this has gone really well and has brought out feedback that is being used to refine and improve the approach. The next step with this will be the Big Launch at next week’s Chief Exec’s Roadshows (I’m really excited about how this might help us make ‘performance management’ a more valuable experience for managers and staff across the Council).
  • Some interesting meetings with suppliers and potential suppliers, ranging from a small start-up looking to get into the local government market to an event with G Suite Product Managers where we learned more about their future plans and had the opportunity to discuss our thoughts on those.
  • A further update on the development of the high level design thinking for our new ‘web first’ network model. I was particularly impressed by the way that Kameel, one of our Technical Architects, had gone out of his way to learn about Wardley maps, look at how he could apply that to the work and also share that learning with other colleagues across the team.
  • A useful session looking at the alignment of our work with NHS partners for integrating health and social care. This is highly complex because of the number of organisations involved, but it was great to see social care colleagues setting out a clear and well thought out set of areas that they want to focus on and to explore how these link in with the developing digital roadmap for our NHS region.
  • I joined Hackney Management Team for a discussion looking at the Council’s preparations for Brexit. There are lots of potential implications for us at a local level and while the exact arrangements after the end of March 2019 are uncertain, there are sensible things we can be doing now to help make sure we are well prepared.
  • Henry and I met with the Mayor and Cllr Nicholson to share the draft vision that Henry has been bringing together with colleagues across the Council, setting out proposed priorities for enhancing connectivity across the borough and using this to support the Council’s goals for economic growth and social inclusion. A really powerful part of this was the use of mapping to show how existing provision aligns with areas of need / opportunity and identify areas that we can focus on (eg looking at ways that the Council’s private fibre ducting might present an opportunity or us to influence the market).
  • And to finish off this week I caught up with some colleagues in the GLA and other councils to check in on the work to secure commitment to the first stage of the London Office of Technology and Innovation that Theo Blackwell, Chief Digital Officer for London, has been championing. (You can read more about that here: https://medium.com/@SmartLondon/developing-a-london-office-for-technology-innovation-progress-report-2c712415d249)


Something I’m learning

We’ve been talking about meetings.

Moans about ‘too many meetings’ are a common grumble in all organisations, but I actually think they’re really important when used well. In recent months we’ve got pretty good at planning our strategic meetings (with much clearer definitions of purpose for each agenda item to help us prepare and stay focused), and also reducing meetings by giving teams clearer autonomy and working in the open (Cate’s post on developing our governance is key to that: https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/governance-so-good-people-prefer-to-use-it).

There’s still more to do and one of those areas is making sure that ad hoc meetings to dig into specific issues are effective. I think it’s important to use an open approach to bring out thoughts, concerns and ideas for ways forward and make sure that this owned by the team as a whole. But this can sometimes mean that it isn’t really clear whether or not the meeting has achieved its goals. One way to address that might be to start such meetings with a clearly set out proposition that can then be tested by the team and iterated on. But I’m slightly concerned that might bring the risk of closing down thinking prematurely and also giving the impression that a direction has been set when it’s actually still open for discussion. We’ll be working on this and trying out some ideas to see what we can learn.