Weeknote w/c 19 November: a visit from the Mayor

Hi all, I hope you’ve had a good weekend.

The Mayor of Hackney visits HackIT Towers

A highlight last week was the Mayor’s visit on Thursday morning to meet our team. I thought this was a good demonstration of the support and encouragement that he’s giving to our work and I enjoyed having the opportunity for people across the team to ask him questions directly.

I was struck by his description of our work as being about social change – not just a technical exercise. There is a growing understanding among politicians nationally (from all parties) of the important role that technology, data and service design have in shaping people’s lives across the communities we serve. I’m really pleased to be working for a borough that’s at the forefront of this.

How we work with our colleagues and moving on from ‘shadow IT’

I had two meetings last week which made me reflect on the concept of ‘shadow IT’ – where people outside of the corporate IT team become more deeply involved with the systems that they and their colleagues use.

Traditionally this would be a cause of great concern and the corporate IT team * would set out to hunt them down and shut down anything they’re doing beyond basic word processing and email. There are valid reasons for us to be concerned about ‘IT work’ happening out of sight of our corporate radar – with plenty of risks to security and good management of systems and information that mean we need to care about this. But I’m mindful that these people are often also the strongest advocates within an organisation of the potential for technology and data to help deliver services more effectively, and there’s lots that we can learn from their ideas and experience of the services they work in.

The conversations last week were really encouraging. One was with some colleagues who’ve leapt at the opportunity to use our new G Suite tools to make it much easier for colleagues in their service to access policy and guidance information that they need when they are on the move. They’ve also got some interesting ideas for ways to extend on this by taking advantage of other parts of the toolkit we’re providing. And the other conversation was with a colleague who is more sceptical about some of the changes we’re delivering. Taking the time to talk through his concerns in more detail and to discuss the longer term direction we’re working towards gave him a clearer sense of the context for the changes he’s worried about and also identified some ways that he can get early access to look at changes which are in the pipeline and see how these will work for his service.

* this is the case for corporate IT teams in most organisations, not just a Hackney thing

Other headlines from my week included:

  • My regular meeting with representatives from the Council’s Unions, where we discussed the findings from the ICT user survey and feedback they’ve had from their members.
  • The monthly Housing services steering group, which looked at how we’ll work together to develop the future plans and investment decisions for this important area of our work.
  • Meeting with the Member Reference Group to have an early conversation about the approach we’ll take for refreshing the IT kit they use (which is looking likely to be next year).
  • Reviewing our capital planning for next year’s budget setting.
  • Working with colleagues in HR to look at the work our team are doing to help update the reporting data they’re provided with and also discuss the next steps in developing our approach to recruiting into our team.
  • My quarterly progress update to Hackney Management Team – I’ll be writing up a separate blog about that shortly and will share the report as part of that.
  • Liz and I met with someone who’d got in touch to discuss ideas linked to Liz’s recent blog post about how we are developing the ethical approach that will underpin our data science work. This highlighted some useful thoughts that we can consider and also assured me that we’re in good shape in terms of the way that we’re thinking about this (making sure that we are considering what we should do, as well as what we could do).
  • And I also had an enjoyable welcome conversation with Micah, who’s recently joined the team as one of our new apprentices.

Something I’m learning

It’s easy to assume that by following the governance pathway in an organisation you can make sure that proposals you’re recommending have broad support and that you get the clear decision that you need to be able to crack on. But it’s important not to forget how important it is to make time to talk with people well ahead of a decision being needed so that you’ve been able to listen to concerns and ideas and reflect these in the proposals. There were two good examples last week which showed that doing this pays off, with decisions being made quickly and easily because people knew that they’d been part of the thinking process.

And there was another example recently where I hadn’t been aware of a piece of work that was happening elsewhere in the Council that I don’t entirely agree with, and I’m now trying to decide how grumpy I ought to be about that. (My feeling is that grumpiness won’t be helpful though, so I think I need to find a smarter approach!)