Weeknotes w/c 29 October: a break from the boxes

After ten days out of the office that were spent fetching, carrying and emptying boxes while we moved home, this week was a welcome return to normality! (Overall, I’m pretty pleased with how the move has gone and consider the fact that so far I only appear to have misplaced two things to be something of a success.)

Moving forward with smarter working

We’re working hard to provide our users with modern and flexible productivity tools for their work. Over the summer we’ve upgraded the software that people use and over the coming months we’ll be replacing ageing laptops and desktop PCs with modern kit. These represent a big step forward, but we’ve been spending time this week looking into the human aspects that will be equally important in making sure that we get the fullest benefit from the tools we’re rolling out.

Our analysis of our recent user survey (more about that below) has highlighted some interesting trends that we think will help us better understand patterns of where people are adapting most quickly to the new tools and where they feel that they need more support. It was particularly interesting to see the strong correlations linked to people’s use of digital tools in their personal lives and people’s preferences for accessing training, support and guidance. I’ll share more on that when we’ve written up the findings.

We’ve also been looking at how we can make sure that we strike the right balance between policy controls and flexibility in the ways that people can use the tools we provide. As part of that we spent time this week ‘doing the hard work to make things simple’, distilling our policies and guidance into a simple set of questions that our users will be able to use to make sure that they’re doing the right thing.

Smart Cities

On Wednesday afternoon I joined a round table discussion to talk through the role of digital infrastructure in ‘placemaking’. I found this interesting because the other people in the conversation came from different professional backgrounds so it gave me the opportunity to hear other perspectives.

I’ll confess to being somewhat sceptical about ‘Smart City’ initiatives. It’s obvious that technology will play an increasingly significant role in society, but it seems to me that many of the eye catching schemes I read about might promise a lot more than they deliver. I enjoyed the discussion we had because as well as shiny technology possibilities we also took the time to think about the implications that these have on power dynamics and society, and the roles of government and business in guiding the way that these develop.

The week fitted in lots of other topics too:

  • The week began and ended with meetings to take stock of our finances, which is important now that we’re at the mid-year stage. We take a ‘one team’ approach to this, managing pressures and opportunities together across the service based on the principle that we will only win when we all succeed.
  • I’ve had a number of conversations with colleagues in other organisations encouraging them to commit to the Local Digital Declaration and London Office of Technology & Innovation initiative. Sharing and collaboration have long been cited as key imperatives for local government. Having led a shared service in a previous role I know first hand how much work has to go into making those succeed. Personally, I think that the Declaration and LOTI have the potential to be a real step change in smart collaboration and I’m really keen to help make sure that they’re successful.
  • I met with Hackney’s new Housing Transformation Manager, Jahedur, who’s getting up to speed with the programme of work. I’m really excited about the progress that’s being made in this area of our work (and very grateful to Jahedur’s predecessor Carol for her hard work bringing the programme together and keeping it on track) and we had a very positive conversation. Key areas that we focused on were the importance of making decisions together (not having a supplier / customer relationship between the ICT / digital teams and ‘the business’ *) and continuing the work to capture the return on investment for the work that we’re doing together.
  • Cate, Joe and I went through the analysis of our recent ICT survey. The headline stats are looking very positive, with further improvements in user satisfaction across all of the questions we asked. ** But it’s also really important to dig into the data and use it to help us understand where we need to focus to make sure that we’re continuing to improve and meet our users’ needs. Joe’s used some smart analysis techniques to bring out themes from the 684 responses we’ve received (a 70% increase in the level of response compared with the previous year’s survey) and we’ll be writing those up over the next couple of weeks and sharing them in the next HackIT quarterly update later this month.
  • Cate and I caught up with Warren and Emilia from the Digital Marketplace team in GDS to talk about the work that Cate’s leading to develop our governance arrangements (https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/governance-so-good-people-prefer-to-use-it). There’s a strong connection between this and the work that GDS are doing to develop standards for digital work across government and we discussed a number of ways that we can work together and share ideas and learning.
  • Friday afternoon gave me time for welcome meetings with Hidayat, Emma, Sam and Ali, four of our new apprentices. It was great to hear more about their backgrounds before joining Hackney, which range from studying classical civilisation, business, IT and working in the parking service, and finding out what they’ve been working on during their first few weeks in our team.

* I learned some time ago how important it is to avoid terms like ‘the business’ to describe our colleagues in other services. We are all ‘the business’ and our customers are our residents.

** I was particularly pleased to see the very positive reaction we received to the Data Awareness Training that we’re currently rolling out. You can read more about that and access the content via Sarah’s blog post here: https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/sharing-our-work-data-awareness-training-content.

Something I’m learning

One of the things I particularly like about working as part of the HackIT team is the opportunity it gives for continual learning from one another. I’ve been keen to learn about using Agile and design led approaches to deliver transformation for a long time, but I had very limited experience of doing that before I arrived at Hackney. This week included more examples of the value of these ways of working.

  • On Thursday Richard talked me through the user research brief he’s been preparing for a discovery that we’ve been asked to do. I was really impressed by the thought that’s gone into this and it included a number of very smart pieces of thinking that will help us better understand the problem we’re trying to solve before we start to develop potential solutions. I really like this as a way of making sure that we understand user needs and reducing the risk of heading off on the wrong course.
  • I’m also seeing the benefit of Show & Tells, which I’m finding much more valuable than the traditional highlight reports that PRINCE2 projects churn out. I’m finding that these give me a much clearer picture of the work that projects are doing, which in turn is helping grow the confidence to Trust the Team and know when it’s useful to ask for more details about the work that’s being delivered.