Weeknote w/c 12 November: taking time to listen

Hi all, I hope you’re having a good week.

Listening to our users

I spent some of my time last week preparing my quarterly update to Hackney Management Team (aka ‘The Board’). I find this a useful opportunity to take stock of what we’re delivering and to ask myself whether we’re focusing on the right things. I’ll publish that next week.

An important part of this quarter’s update was the outcomes from our recent ICT survey, where we asked our users for their feedback on how we’re doing. Cate and Joe’s analysis of this was really helpful and brought out some useful findings that we can reflect in the work we’re delivering. The level of response was great (we had 684 people respond to the survey, which was a significant increase from the 402 responses received in 2017 and close to the 706 who responded in 2016) and I’m very encouraged to see that satisfaction has continued to rise and that we are now scored positively across all but one of the questions we asked people to rate us on (the negative one relates to the very old PC and laptop hardware which we will soon be replacing, so that wasn’t a surprise).

I find that the most valuable part of these surveys is the detailed free text comments that we receive and I spent time reading through all of these. As ever, there are a wide range of different views, ranging from strong positives through to more negative opinions which it’s important we listen to (even if we don’t always agree with them!). The majority of comments reflected the hard work that everyone has been putting in and I felt that overall the balance was a fair assessment of where we are on our journey. Here are a few examples that stood out to me:

‘I joined the council three years ago in October. My first week I could barely get on a computer as the network was down and when I did I found edocs terrible to use. I sat there on my first day, having come from a private company, thinking what have i done? Things are so much better now. The systems and tech difficulties have greatly improved. G Suite makes my work much more efficient. Keep up the good work and keep on introducing modern working techniques!’

‘Nothing ever changes and it seems the only way you get good services is if you work in the main office. The smaller offices are normally forgotten about or left to the last minute.’

‘The ICT team is so much better than it was a couple of years ago. They are proactive and looking at new ways of doing things and are open to ideas from service areas across the Council (rather than pretty much refusing to engage with us in the past and being told what would work for us with no discussion about our actual service needs). The ICT team feels part of the Council now, rather than a completely different service hidden away in a secret building across the road!’

‘I do believe that transformation is now underway, a lot of changes for the better are underway, I do hope ICT realise they have a long way to go! and this survey is a great step towards it.’

I’ve pulled out a number of common themes which I think are the areas that we need to focus on and these will be in the report that I’ll share next week.

Keeping ourselves up to date (aka will there ever be ‘enough’ communication?)

I’ve been giving some thought to communication. In every organisation I’ve ever worked in I’ve heard complaints that communication isn’t good enough and this has been an important area of focus for me since I joined #HackIT in 2016. We use a range of techniques to communicate, including regular weeknotes from across the team; a cross-team Google+ community to share updates and a ‘HackIT Delivers’ community for project updates; weekly strategy stand ups; and also regular updates and show & tells from project teams.

I was interested to hear an observation last week asking whether there might now be too much communication, which made me reflect on how we consume information. Historically project teams produced regular highlight reports, each of which ran to several pages including lots of detail about the projects’ progress, risks and issues. We don’t do these anymore and I wondered whether people might find it helpful to think about communication as a set of user needs and then target how they use the information we’re making available to meet those needs.

So, for example, if one of the user needs is: ‘As a member of the HackIT team I need to keep up to date with projects we’re delivering so that I know what is going on, am able to answer questions that I get asked by users and can identify areas where I need to find out more’ it might be useful to bookmark the weeknotes stream on the HackIT Weeknotes (https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/projectweeknotes) and set aside a little time each Monday morning to read the notes that have been posted the previous Friday. These are much more readable than the former highlight report format (which our analytics showed were not well read) and provide a valuable overview of work from across our programme. I used these when I was making sure that I’d covered everything I needed in my HMT report and I found that I was able to get answers to almost all of my questions that way.

I had more focused time in my diary than usual last week, but still managed to cover a range of different topics including:

  • Keeping up to speed with the work to help teams adopt Drive and move their workflows over from the legacy eDocs system. The team are currently focusing on developing consistent approaches for executive support teams and service unit Team Drives so that we can set those up for colleagues quickly.
  • Looking at the work that’s taking place to develop our approach to reporting, in particular the reporting of key data for HR colleagues.
  • Sitting down with some of our Mac users (we have a number in use by design teams in Comms and Regeneration, as well as our digital teams) to talk through ways we can make sure the user experience is consistent and works well.
  • Chairing the inaugural meeting of the Council’s Apprenticeship Steering Group. It’s exciting to be involved with Hackney’s award winning apprenticeship scheme and the progress that’s made is really inspiring.
  • I was also able to take advantage of the new Hangouts Meet video meeting facilities for some of my meetings, which worked very well. This included one meeting with a supplier overseas which I joined from my iPhone.

Something I’m learning

I’ve mentioned before that one of the things I do outside of work is being a school governor. Last week we had our termly meeting of the governing board where we reviewed progress over the last school year and agreed our priorities for the year ahead. As well as this regular meeting I was also involved in a hearing to listen to a complaint from a family who were unhappy with a decision that the school had made.

I’m finding that being a governor is an incredibly valuable learning experience. It’s given me the opportunity to get much closer to an important area of public service delivery, which includes learning about education policy, approaches to teaching and learning and also how schools support families with all manner of complex life circumstances. And it’s also given me a glimpse into the sorts of things that our elected Members have to do in their roles. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity.