Weeknote w/c 14 October: a very short week!

Half term has rolled around, so this week was somewhat shortened by a couple of days off with my children. We had a successful negotiation to agree how much time would be allocated to Minecraft and I even managed to get them out of the house, getting some kudos for remembering to bring many umbrellas – which they were thankful for when the inevitable deluge arrived.

Chief Exec’s roadshow

Tim, our Chief Exec, does an annual series of roadshows where he brings everyone across the Council together for a recap on the previous year and a look forward to the year ahead. I went along on Monday afternoon along with a couple of hundred colleagues from across services.

It would be easy for the roadshow narrative to be focused on doom and gloom in the context of ongoing funding challenges that Hackney and other councils are facing. Instead the focus was on a Council that is proud of making a real positive impact for our communities, despite budget cuts. I particularly liked that the recap section took the form of a series of video clips that teams in different services had made sharing work that they were proud of. It was fab to see our Digital Design team included in the clips and I also loved that several of the videos from teams in other services included them talking about work that we’ve been doing with them to improve the technology they use. A key principle in our approach is embedding technology and data in services’ improvement strategies, not having a separate ‘digital strategy’. This felt like a real endorsement of that.

I was also really pleased to hear that the team representing HackIT in the Marketplace which followed each roadshow event had received lots of positive feedback. I popped over on Monday morning to see them when they were setting up and was very impressed by the thought that had gone into providing useful and engaging updates about the work we’re doing.

The Community Library Service celebrates its 70th anniversary

On Tuesday morning I went to Stoke Newington Town Hall to speak at the event that the Community Library Service team were holding to celebrate their service’s 70th anniversary. I took the opportunity to draw parallels between what I think can often be overly-narrow perceptions of both libraries and computing.

People often assume that the main purpose of a library is to lend books, but their origins are a much bolder social goal of offering opportunities for people to acquire knowledge and improve their lives. Andrew Carnegie, an important early funder of public libraries, summed this up: ‘A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.’

Similarly, computing is often portrayed as being a geeky pursuit for people who love wires, flashing lights and complex code. But I think a much more powerful description of the role that computers can play was offered by Steve Jobs in 1990: ‘What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.’ – the real potential of computers is that they allow human beings to achieve far more from our potential than we can unaided. I think we’re still in the relatively early days of seeing the impact of that.

I then talked about the work that we’re doing together with colleagues in the libraries service to improve the public technology offer, work with the other boroughs in the libraries systems consortium we’re members of to improve the systems that libraries use, and explore ways that we can work with the Community Library Service to help housebound residents access the online world.

As an aside, the brochure for the event contained a really interesting history of the service from its origins in the rubble of the Blitz to a much loved service that many housebound residents continue to rely on today. It’s well worth a quick read: https://drive.google.com/a/hackney.gov.uk/file/d/0B22V-aMUdjwFY29ZcHhwN0ZoczVPUU9GT0RKb2w1WUc1Sno4/view?usp=drivesdk.

I also…

  • Caught up with Cate, Henry and Matthew to discuss our strategic focus moving forward, building on the work that we’ve been doing over the last few years. There’s an interesting challenge of how we strike the right balance between setting a clear direction while also giving teams autonomy to deliver. Watch out for a HackIT strategy stand up soon when we’ll share what we’ve been considering and ask for your feedback.
  • Joined with colleagues in the NHS as part of an interview panel for the Regional Director of Digital Transformation for NHS England. There was an impressive list of candidates and it was a good opportunity to get closer to the work that is taking place in health.
  • Joined a call hosted by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for a briefing on the potential implications for cross-border data transfers if the UK has a ‘no deal’ exit from the EU. In so far as it’s possible to tell at this stage, I think we’re in a reasonably sound position on this. But time will tell…

Something I’m learning

Getting meetings right is a regular conversation point – how can we make sure that time together is valuable and helps teams work together well, and how can we make sure that we avoid low value ‘talking shop’ discussions? In the time I’ve been at Hackney I’ve learned some useful lessons from colleagues in the team about planning meetings effectively so that their purpose is clearly set out and using different approaches to help people contribute their ideas. But this is still very much in the ‘I’m learning’ category, with plenty of room for further improvement.I had an interesting conversation with a colleague in another service last week, who shared something they’d been reading about adopting ‘silent meetings’ as a technique for engaging teams in thinking about topics. It’s an idea that has its origins in Amazon and there’s a useful summary here (they also shared an interesting podcast about silent meetings here). The colleague is going to try this with their teams as an experiment and I’ll be interested to hear how that goes. As an aside, I was also really pleased to hear how their team are already using the new tools we’ve been rolling out to improve their meetings, including using collaborative documents to develop ideas and Hangouts Meet to help people join meetings remotely. It’s good to know that these are having a positive impact!