Weeknote w/c 9 September: thinking (and acting) inclusive

On Sunday 13 October I’m running the Royal Parks Half Marathon with a group of people from the school trust that I’m part of. We’re raising money for Lambeth & Southwark Mind, who work to promote positive mental health. All donations very gratefully received! https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=CommunitasTrustRunners&isTeam=true

Making sure that Hackney is an inclusive place to work

Across the Council we are running a series of conversations to look at how we can make sure that we are taking the right steps to promote an inclusive workplace and help all of our people to succeed in their career ambitions. Being inclusive is one of our core values, but it’s important that this isn’t just a word on a badge.

A particular area of focus is improving representation of black and other minority ethnic people in senior roles, and in HackIT we are also determined to play a positive role in increasing the representation of women in technology jobs.

This week I had the first of my discussion groups to meet with people from across our team to look at this. The conversations were very valuable and we covered a wide range of themes. A few of the initial observations I had were:

  • It’s encouraging to know that some of the actions we have already taken are heading in the right direction: these include ensuring that we avoid gender coded language when we recruit, our apprenticeship scheme, a pay scheme that is linked to the market and also fair and equally applied to all posts, a positive stance on flexible working, and encouraging our team to showcase their work on the HackIT blog and other fora as part of building their personal brands.
  • There is more we need to do: for example, looking at ways we can encourage mentoring opportunities to support people in their career development, being generous with sharing our professional networks to help people get connected with peers and professional groups, and the day-to-day micro-actions which can make sure that our workplace is always welcoming, even when people are busy or feeling under pressure.
  • The discussions also highlighted some trickier aspects which will require more thought and sustained focus over the longer term. These included:
    • along with the rest of the Council we have work to do to improve the representation of black and minority ethnic people in our senior roles 
    • while women account for c 50% of the people in our delivery and digital & data teams (including close to half of the senior leadership roles) there is still a noticeable gap in platform – while I think this reflects the industry as a whole (for example, there are a disproportionately low level of women in IT engineering roles), we need to make sure that we are continuing to do the long term work needed to change this
    • and we discussed the role that effective communication has in making sure that people in our team feel included (especially where they are working flexibly or where their work has fewer connections to other teams) – we need to keep looking at how we can strike the right balance as some people commented that they find it hard to keep up with the information that we share about our work but others were concerned that they don’t always feel up to date with what colleagues are doing and how decisions are being made

There are further sessions planned over the next couple of weeks and I’m intending to write up some thoughts and actions more fully after those have completed.

Working with colleagues in other councils to develop our profession

The timing for the start of these workshops fitted nicely with the conversation I had on Friday with colleagues at some other London councils looking at how we are developing our services. It’s good to share our work on this and hear how others are approaching the same challenge of building in-house digital, technology and data capabilities in an increasingly competitive market. The conversation included:

  • Looking at how we create job descriptions that fit with councils’ standards but are also relevant to people looking for job opportunities (the short answer – that’s hard)
  • Sharing our approaches to making sure that our salary models are competitive
  • Increasing diversity in our teams – picking up on some of the points I’ve noted above
  • How we work to shift the relationship of our services and other colleagues from the traditional ‘service provider’ model to strategic partnership
  • Ways to make sure that we are ‘selling’ the opportunities that our work offers in terms of delivering real outcomes for citizens (which is an important reason why I and many others choose to work in digital and technology in local government)

I also…

  • Had some great welcome meetings with new members of our team (although the summer break means that some of those are more catch up than introduction meetings)
  • Chaired the Council’s apprenticeships steering group – which was nicely timed as the team went on to win another award to add to their trophy cabinet later in the week (https://twitter.com/hackneycouncil/status/1172513263726268422)
  • Met with the Council’s Business Continuity Management group, where we checked on the progress with making sure that all services have up to date business continuity plans and discussed where additional focus might be needed to prepare for the possible outcomes of the negotiations for Britain to leave the EU.
  • Joined Matthew for a productive conversation with one of our suppliers, where we talked through some recent challenges and ways that we can work effectively together on forthcoming projects.

Something I’ve learned

I really enjoyed the discussions at the inclusivity workshops this week, but they were both on the same day and after a full day of active listening I was fairly tired. That’s something I’ll give thought to as part of my future diary planning.

Weeknote w/c 2 September: clouds, data sharing and the Wayback Machine

On Sunday 13 October I’m running the Royal Parks Half Marathon with a group of people from the school trust that I’m part of. We’re raising money for Lambeth & Southwark Mind, who work to promote positive mental health. All donations very gratefully received! https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=CommunitasTrustRunners&isTeam=true

Next steps with cloud

One of the hypotheses we’re testing through our ‘devops’ work is:

Picking a primary cloud supplier will save time & money

On Wednesday afternoon we got together for a workshop with Digi2al who are supporting the work and dug into this in more detail. I went into the session with a strong view that we need to be heading towards a multi-cloud model environment so that we can reduce the risk of the sort of technology lock-in which bedevils many (almost all?) organisations like ours. The workshop helped me refine this view and shifted my thinking helpfully.

One of our conclusions was that we should aim to standardise our use of cloud platforms, with a default primary provider and clear principles to help us know when it would be more appropriate to vary from that. We also agreed that we should set standards for cloud portability, so that we minimise use of vendor specific components that might make it harder to change platforms in future. This felt like a useful set of conclusions and there are now some clear next steps which we can use to progress this phase of the work.

LOTI workshop on information sharing to enable collaborative innovation in London

On Friday I joined a workshop in Camden to progress the LOTI project on information sharing. The group included people from data, ICT and Information Governance backgrounds, including colleagues from the fire service and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, which meant that we could draw on a wealth of experience to shape the work.

By the end of the session we had unpicked what we were hoping to achieve through this LOTI project, developed some more detail on what good might look like and agreed some aspects that we felt should be the initial priorities to get done. It was good to see the preparation that had gone in to make sure that we were building on work done elsewhere and I made some useful new connections as a result of the discussions. The LOTI team shared more details in their weeknote – please let me know if you’d like a chat through any questions about this.

I also…

  • Caught up with Sarah and colleagues from legal and procurement to finish off our conversations about moving the work to ensure that the Council’s contracts are GDPR compliant from working as a ‘project’ to business as usual, clarifying each team’s role in this.
  • Had our first Divisional Management Team meeting since the end of the summer holidays. We checked in on our service performance and user feedback and also looked at the progress wall that Cate and Nic have developed to help us manage the flow of project work that we are delivering.
  • Henry and I caught up with colleagues from the Libraries and Archives service to talk through areas that we need to work on together, including the public PC offer in Hackney’s libraries. Our work last year to extend the ‘Wifi-4-All’ service to libraries has been well received, but the PC and printing offer isn’t good enough at the moment. We’ve recently had funding agreed to upgrade this so hopefully we will provide our residents with some significant improvements over the coming months.
  • On Thursday I met with a colleague from Internal Audit who’s reviewing the way that the Council’s policy on market supplements is applied across different services. I took him through the approach we’ve used and the feedback was positive. I also explained the work we’re doing at the moment to bring our supplements up to date – I’m hoping to have a draft set of details ready to share by mid-October so that I can get feedback before we finalise the updates that we need to make next spring.
  • And the week wrapped up with Sarah’s leaving do. It was great to see a good turn out from across our team and other services to thank Sarah for the great work she’s done leading Hackney’s work on data protection and information management.

Something I’ve learned

I’ve recently had to make a claim to my credit card company for something which hasn’t been delivered. The supplier appears to have gone bust so I was relying on the card company to help me get the money back. I was pleased that I’d kept detailed notes of my contacts with the supplier as this was useful to support my claim, but there was one piece of evidence that the credit card people asked for which I didn’t have. As the supplier’s website is no longer online it looked like my claim would be rejected.

But then I remembered the ‘Wayback Machine’, a searchable archive of the internet which keeps a copy of old web pages: https://wayback.archive.org/. A quick look there found the information I needed and on Friday I received confirmation that my claim has been approved. Cue much happiness and relief on my part!

Weeknote w/c 26 August: getting back up to speed

On Sunday 13 October I’m running the Royal Parks Half Marathon with a group of people from the school trust that I’m part of. We’re raising money for Lambeth & Southwark Mind, who work to promote positive mental health. All donations very gratefully received! https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=CommunitasTrustRunners&isTeam=true

A lot of my week was taken up with clearing through email and other bits and bobs that had come in while I was on leave. I was pleased that I’d planned in a decent amount of desk time so that I could get this done and I finished the week feeling fairly calm and up to speed. It’s taken me quite a long time to learn that it’s useful to treat returning from a holiday as something that’s worth planning for properly.

Mobile phones

We’re getting into the detail of the arrangements for implementing the new approach for mobile phones that I shared earlier in the summer (https://bytherye.com/2019/07/24/weeknote-w-c-15-july-mobiles-robots-and-focus/). One important aspect is how we apply this to service areas where staff are mostly mobile (eg people working in parks and repairs). We’ve a reasonable idea about how we think this will work and have had some useful detailed feedback from colleagues in some of those services. We will be using to help make sure we get the specifics right and have agreed that we’ll set up a session to work through that and co-design it together.

Money

I had a good follow up meeting with colleagues in finance this week to move forward with the work that we’ve been doing to reprofile some of our investment funding. 

Historically, Hackney ICT has operated on a fairly typical model where investments have been largely capital in nature – investing in new infrastructure (servers, network switches etc) and major systems implementations. But as technology changes and the Council’s digital maturity develops, the nature of the investments that we need to make is changing too. Key drivers for this are:

  • Growing use of cloud services, where the Council ‘rents’ computing capacity and software rather than buying those as ‘assets’, increasing agility and the ability to deliver improvements at pace, and reducing risk. This means that costs shift from capital purchases to revenue subscriptions.
  • A greater need to invest in ongoing digital transformation to help Hackney take maximum advantage of the potential for technology, data and digital service design to improve services and realise efficiencies through smarter service delivery. This means that costs shift from ‘one and done’ capital implementation projects to the ongoing skills and capacity needed to deliver continuous and accelerating improvement across services.

Our strategy also means that some of our work is creating ‘intangible assets’ (software built on open source platforms) rather than the traditional proprietary systems that are familiar to finance colleagues.

I’ve been encouraged by the constructive approach that our finance colleagues have taken in working through this together. We’ve now agreed most of the budget lines that need to be set up and those should be in place shortly.

We’re not home and dry quite yet though, and there is further work to do looking at budget pressures due to increases in costs from some of our software vendors and reviewing our charging for print. Once we’ve got those done we will hopefully be in a position to confirm that we are on track with our budget management for the year.

I also…

  • Had a good catch up with Liz and Matthew looking at how we can make sure that we are maximising the visibility of the excellent work that the Data & Insight team are doing.
  • Caught up with a colleague from another council who I have mentoring sessions with. I was really pleased to see that they’ve started blogging some of their ideas following an earlier conversation we had (https://thelocalanalyst.blog/).
  • Looked at our intranet content with Paul and discussed how we might use the shift to our new intranet platform as an opportunity to simplify that. (And how we can use user research to make sure we’re providing useful guidance that meets people’s needs.)
  • Enjoyed the show and tell that the GOV.UK PaaS team gave on Thursday. I was particularly impressed with the breadth of ground that the team covered – from technical details to the wider strategic business model – which helped provide a good understanding of what the service can offer.
  • Had positive catch ups with Kim (our Group Director for Neighbourhoods & Housing, who’s leaving soon to move to be Chief Exec at Lewisham) and Kay (our Director of Customer Services). Kim’s been clearing out old files and has found a bundle of old Hackney booklets, including ‘How to get the most out of ICT’. She’s promised to share that with me when she leaves!
  • Wrapped up the week with a good catch up on the Spacebank project with Philippa and Richard. The team are learning loads from the work that they’re doing with the Community Halls team and the earlier user research is also proving valuable in assessing options for the next steps in taking the prototype work forward.

I was also really pleased to hear that Richard has linked up with our colleagues in Croydon to do some collaborative user research work (https://croydon.digital/2019/08/30/croydon-teams-up-with-4-other-councils-on-user-research/). It’s great to see connections like this being made and the User Research library that we developed last year (https://research.localgov.digital/) being used to good effect.

Something I’ve learned

Kindles don’t do very well if you run them through a cycle of the washing machine 😢

This didn’t work…

Weeknotes from a break

Today’s my first day back after a relaxing couple of weeks in France. As with last year’s holiday, I resolved to switch off from work properly so I turned off notifications for my work apps and removed my work mailbox from my phone while I was away. It’s great to have a strong team back in the office and to know that they will have everything in hand without feeling that I need to check in while I’m away. (Cate’s weeknote here illustrates how well the team came together to respond to a major network issue: https://weeknot.es/s3-ep6-that-was-the-week-that-was-nt-8759c1da689e).

I also tried to leave my phone in our room during the day to reduce the temptation to get lost in grazing Twitter, the news, and basically trying to read all of the Internet. I wasn’t totally successful in that, in fact I was pretty rubbish for the first couple of days, but I did get better as the break went on.

A benefit of our children being a bit older now is that they spent most of their days playing in the pool with their cousins, so there was lots of time for reading and other selfish indulgences. I used some of the time to get in some runs because I’ve realised it’s less than two months to the Royal Parks Half Marathon that I’m doing in October and I need to get back up to distance. I also tried to improve my rather poor swimming technique (with limited success) and made time to reacquaint myself with a guitar, which was good fun (the holiday hit was ‘Postman Pat’, which my younger nephews and niece did great dancing to!).

Reading list

A shorter list than last year:

  • Sapiens: this is an overview of how human societies have developed over the ages which gave some interesting food for thought. I reminded myself that this sort of whistlestop tour only ever really touches the surface of the topic and it’s important not to take too much of it as definitive information without doing some wider reading.
  • The Stranger’s Child: this was my dalliance with non-fiction for the holiday, and made good on a nearly year old commitment to Polly (our Director of Comms) who suggested a book swap last summer – I think she read the one I leant her much sooner. It was an interesting read about the interwoven stories and relationships around a family which starts from before WW1 and runs through to the early 2000s. I enjoyed the way that the story developed and makes the reader do a bit of thinking to join the pieces together. But I also thought that the main narrative hook of a poem written by one of the key characters in 1913 was a bit overworked, which made the story a bit repetitive in parts.
  • This America: The Case For The Nation: I decided to read this after hearing a conversation with the author on the Talking Politics podcast. The book discusses the competing claims for the notion of ‘the Nation’ in the United States since the Republic was founded, and the tensions between different groups over the years. Lack of tolerance is by no means a monopoly of any one country and the book is a reminder of both the best and worst in human nature. Which led me to…
  • Southern Horrors Lynch Law In All Its Phases: a short book written in the 1890s which makes for genuinely grim reading. The only positive is that it serves as a reminder of how much we have progressed since then, but it’s important not to take that progress for granted nor assume that such things are the preserve of any one group of people or time.
  • The People vs Tech: I’ve been meaning to read this for a while. I liked the author’s framing of the challenges that technology and the exponential growth in data captured about our lives present for democracy and society, and it’s good to see the growing consciousness of the importance of these issues in our national debate (although this book provides a more balanced and thoughtful analysis than many of the over-excited newspaper headlines). I suspect that the ‘solutions’ offered in the epilogue might be easier to propose than to actually implement but it felt like a useful contribution to the topic.
  • Good work: the Taylor review of modern working practices: not strictly a book, but as it runs to over 100 pages I think it counts. This is something else that I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while (it was published two years ago) but it still felt like a useful read. The report is a wide-ranging review of employment practices and different forms of work (including self-employment and ‘gig’ style employment) and looks at the roles that businesses, workers, Government and unions have in achieving worthwhile and rewarding work as part of a successful and flexible employment market. This was another time where I finished with the feeling that I needed to read more widely as it challenged some of my preconceptions and I’d like to test that in greater depth.

Reflecting on what I want to focus on now I’m back

On our journey out I read Matthew’s note about the things he’s been learning on his leadership course: https://link.medium.com/qzSMP7gJ0Y. I really liked that and on the journey home I did a bit of thinking about what I want to focus on when I’m back. I’ve grouped that into three areas of emphasis:

  • Something organisational – how can I help to make sure that we make the most of the opportunity that the new Customer Services board presents to further raise our ambitions across the Council?
  • Something specific to HackIT – how can I make sure that I am delegating effectively, in particular making sure that I’m successfully distinguishing between areas of our work where I ‘have views’ and want to contribute, but am not the direct lead, and those areas where I need to be more clearly taking a lead role? This is important so that I don’t unintentionally slow work down and also to help me focus my attention.
  • Something specific to me – this is my annual commitment to be better at focus and not find that time slips away jumping between things on my list / in my mailbox (I previously described this as ‘more quality, less grazing’).

My first challenge will be getting through my mailbox and seeing if I can emerge from the day with a clear direction for the rest of the week!

Something I’ve learned

For our holidays this year we joined what seems to be a growing (and positive) trend of giving air travel a miss and took the train to France. I was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was. 

The check in process at St Pancras was less faffy than our recent airport experiences, and the journeys were nice and quick (and compared well when you consider the time spent in check in queues and waiting for the gate to be called). We also took the opportunity to break the outward journey with a couple of days in central Paris which was good fun. I think we’ll definitely be doing that again.

(As a top tip, seat61.com was an excellent resource for planning the journey by rail. This included a helpful pointer to the low cost upgrades to first class that are available for the TGV, which gave us loads of comfortable legroom. A nice reminder that the Internet can be a positive place to find information that helps you do things better!)

Weeknote w/c 29 July: time for a pause

The Customer Services board gets started

On Monday we had the first meeting of our new Member led Customer Services board. As I mentioned last week, this is an exciting opportunity for us to bring together work across the Council and deliver further improvements to the services we provide for our residents.

For the first meeting we had planned to do some thinking about what we mean by great customer services and explore that in more depth with the Cabinet Members and other senior leaders in the group. I was a bit nervous about this because while Matthew had done most of the ground work and had designed the session (and I think he’s better at that than I am), diaries meant that the meeting took place while he was on leave so I took on the facilitation role. In groups like this I’m naturally more comfortable discussing my thoughts, rather than facilitating the discussion itself, but Matthew had done lots of prep for the meeting (including running through the workshop design with me so I was well prepared) which helped me feel more confident in what I needed to do.

I was really pleased with the discussion. Everyone was well engaged and I could see the benefit of the pre-meets that Matthew held with everyone over the previous weeks. There was a real appetite to think beyond ‘channel shift’ and look at ways that we could redesign services to make things simpler and more accessible for residents.

We’ve agreed that we’ll follow up next month by looking at some areas where we might focus to explore what could be possible as experiments to help us explore user needs and test out new thinking.

A year (and a bit) on from GDPR

Wednesday’s meeting of our quarterly Information Governance Group included a recap on the work we’ve been doing across the Council to respond to the General Data Protection Regulation which came into effect last May. It felt appropriate to mark Sarah’s last IGG meeting before she moves to Barts Health by reflecting on lots of really positive progress and clear plans for future work. I was particularly pleased to hear another senior manager remark that Hackney’s GDPR work has felt calm and purposeful – a real endorsement for the hard work that the team have done to make sure that we approach GDPR as an opportunity to strengthen our information management practices, not just a compliance burden.

Other highlights from last week were:

  • I had a couple of useful calls with colleagues at other councils. The first was a good opportunity to compare notes on how we can unlock ourselves from vendor dependency (or whether there are some circumstances where that might be too tricky). In my view it’s important that we take this challenge on, but it’s also important to be honest about where it’s hard to do. And the second call was an initial conversation about opportunities for the other council to share the work we’ve been doing for housing services. That was very encouraging and we’ll be following that up to see how we might be able to help make that happen.
  • A useful update from the team who’ve been looking at options to simplify sign ons for our users. I was pleased that they’ve taken the time to do thorough user research as part of evaluating the options, and also that their conclusion has emphasised the importance of simplicity for the user experience and technical set up.
  • Henry and I caught up to discuss the plans for refresh of the IT kit that our Members use. Much of their current equipment is reaching the end of its useful life and it’s important that we are giving them the tools they need to represent our residents effectively.
  • I finished my week with a visit from officers and Councillors from another London borough who wanted to find out more about the work we’re doing here at Hackney. It was good to reflect on how much has been achieved over the last few years (building on the strong foundations that were already in place) and rewarding to know that our work is having a positive impact beyond Hackney.

I’m going to be pausing the weeknotes now and will start again at the beginning of September. I’ll give some thought to whether this merits the declaration of a new season and new format…!

Something I’m reflecting on

I’ve finally finished the finance work I needed to do. It was easier than I had convinced myself it would be. I need to remember that because it’s nearly always the case…

Weeknote w/c 22 July: next steps in delivering great customer services for our residents

The summer holidays are upon us and I had a slightly shorter week so that I could take my share of the childcare responsibilities. There’s still lots I want to get done before we’re too far into August…

Preparing for our new Member led customer services board

I spent some time last week with Matthew preparing for the new Member led customer services board which has its first meeting this week. I’m excited about this because it’s designed to be cross-cutting, bringing together senior officers and Members from across a wide range of portfolios, and is an opportunity to look at how we can work together to use data, digital service design and technology to deliver further improvements for our residents, as well as reducing the cost of services.

Matthew has held pre-meets with each of the attendees to talk through their hopes for the group and reflect on the significant achievements that Hackney has already delivered over previous years. These provide a solid foundation for future improvements and I think it’s going to be exciting to see what can be achieved in the next stage of our journey.

Designing our software licencing to fit our future direction

A significant area of our spending as a service relates to software licencing, and making sure that we have designed our licencing to fit the Council’s strategic direction can be very complex. Many of our legacy systems have their origins in desktop computing and the licencing models can be a poor fit for a world where users are mainly using web and mobile devices, and information flows between systems to deliver more joined up services for our residents.

On Wednesday we had a really useful session with colleagues from the Crown Commercial Service who talked us through some of the tricks that software vendors use and ways that they can help us secure the best value and flexibility from our licencing. This was a good example of how local and central government can work together to get best value for money for taxpayers.

Other highlights from last week were:

  • Henry and I met up with the coach that he’s been working with recently. This was a very positive conversation and I found it particularly valuable to talk through the ways that Henry and I work together and how we can get the best from one another.
  • Andy, Matthew and I met up with colleagues from the Council’s Regeneration team to discuss how we can help them move away from eDOCS as quickly as possible. They’re seeing lots of benefits from adopting G Suite and are keen to bring their historic information together in one place so that they can work collaboratively across their teams. Following this we’ve shared a proposed approach to move this forward which we hope will be of benefit to them as well as helping us to refine the approach we take for engaging with other service areas.
  • We had a catch up looking at progress with developing new ‘How to HackIT’ guides. We had fewer guides ready to publish than we had in previous months but I’m expecting that one for the procurement collection will be published this week and there are a couple of others which will hopefully be ready soon. We also unpicked the commissioning and procurement lifecycle to identify the guides that we’d like to produce to help teams who need to buy things.
  • I attended the third LOTI workshop, which was the first one since the central LOTI team arrived in post. Onyeka from the team did a really good write up here: https://medium.com/@onyeka.onyekwelu/week-2-choosing-projects-creating-systems-c1fd107e3310.
  • I had a catch up to look at the work we’re doing to review our salary supplements (ahead of the formal review next April). We’ve made good progress with this and I’m happy with the way it’s shaping up. We’ve agreed an approach with our HR colleagues which will mean that we’re ready in good time, including time to discuss our approach with the wider team. (Ahead of that, I’m happy to discuss any questions you have about this – just drop me a line if you’d like to make time for a chat)
  • Soraya gave Matthew and me an excellent update on the work she’s been doing to look at how we recruit and attract people to join our team. She had pulled together some useful insights and identified a few hypotheses which she’ll be exploring in the next stages of this work.

Something I’m reflecting on

I watched ‘The Great Hack’ at the weekend. I thought that this was disappointing viewing because I felt that it struggled to tell what I think is the deeper story about how the internet and social networks are changing society and politics.

The narrative seemed to suggest that a strange dark magic was being used to influence how people vote, but I think this is simply a case of new and more powerful forms of marketing which we’re already very familiar with in the world of commerce. What’s changed from traditional political campaigning is scale in terms of the breadth and depth of information available and the ability to use modern technology to profile people and deliver much more personalized messages than traditional billboard posters, leaflets and broadcast media. There have been similarly dramatic shifts affecting society in the past, and I suspect that each time that has happened the changes felt unfathomable to many people while those who ‘got it’ have been able to harness them to further their goals.

The programme touched briefly on some of the deeper questions about power and the interests behind some of the ways this has been used. But I thought that got lost, which was a shame.

Weeknote w/c 15 July: mobiles, robots and focus

Getting there with mobiles

A few weeks ago I mentioned that Cate and I were reviewing the feedback we’d received from our recent survey to find out from staff how they use corporate mobile phones and their thoughts on our proposed future approach (https://bytherye.com/2019/06/09/weeknote-w-c-3-june-management-team-update-thinking-about-mobiles-and-more/). We’ve now completed this and on Tuesday we took our updated recommendations to the Hackney Management Team.

I was very pleased that these were agreed (with a couple of caveats that we still need to work on as prerequisites before we will be able to launch our proposed approach), but afterwards I decided that I was explaining the goals we’re hoping to achieve in the wrong way. I realised that the way I’ve been describing the proposed change in approach made it sound like we were planning to take something away from our users, which meant that the benefits weren’t coming across clearly enough. Reflecting on that, I’ve boiled this down to five key points which I think are a more effective description of what we propose to do:

  • We are going to give our users more choice over the devices they use, by letting them decide whether to use their own device or whether to have a dedicated phone for work purposes.
  • We will extend access to everyone, meaning that all staff will be able to benefit from mobile access to their work.
  • We will reduce our environmental impact by avoiding buying over 3,000 new phones to refresh the current end-of-life devices, supporting Hackney’s environmental commitments.
  • We are going to cut out bureaucracy and make things simpler, by paying a universal allowance through payroll rather than a request and approval process to acquire a phone and the resulting asset management work.
  • And we will deliver savings of over £590k over three years.

The new approach will mean that all staff are paid a monthly allowance of £10 which they can either use towards the costs of using their personal phone and call / data plan for their work or to buy a dedicated phone for work purposes. Our approach to security will mean that we can provide secure access to core work apps (inc phone calls, email, calendar, files etc) without needing to make additional changes to our systems. The slides that Cate and I talked through at Thursday’s strategy stand up give more details about the feedback we’ve had from users and how we plan to respond to the points people raised (https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1pHphy6-ssqyMNFTurQiQ15368G4qtV36Fl8GFSGxKtM).

A visit from the Committee for Standards in Public Life

On Monday, Liz, Matthew and I caught up with members of the Committee for Standards in Public Life (who advise the Prime Minister on ethical standards across the whole of public life in England). This was in the context of the Committee’s review of the implications of Artificial Intelligence for standards in public service (there’s more info about their review here: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/ai-and-public-standards).

We had a wide ranging conversation (the committee have deliberately avoided defining AI too narrowly because the term gets used to cover a lot of different aspects of how technology is developing) and my overall impression was that our thinking at Hackney is looking at the right things and is in line with what they are seeing elsewhere. We made it clear that we think that we are still at an early stage of exploring what will be possible with technology and data, and we are approaching this carefully to make sure that we don’t get carried away with what we could do without giving due consideration to what we should do.

We shared some of the key things we’re learning, including:

  • The importance of data quality, which is especially complicated in an environment like ours with so many different services and systems.
  • How we have chosen to see GDPR as an opportunity to develop the culture of data and privacy awareness across the Council, not just a compliance burden.
  • The work we are doing to develop data skills in our team, including our work on apprenticeships, the roles we designed into our team and participation in the GDS / ONS data science accelerator programme.
  • And how our ‘Think big, act small’ principle is designed to help us experiment with new ideas and opportunities while also managing risk.

Other highlights from last week were:

  • Sarah and I had a useful catch up with Tim (the Chief Exec) and Ian (the boss) about our work on Subject Access Requests and Freedom Of Information requests.
  • We had a very positive meeting of the Housing Steering Group looking at progress with our digital services. I was especially pleased with the update from Lindsey in the repairs contact centre, who was reporting significant benefits from the work to make it easier to report and track repairs.
  • On Monday evening I joined Dan (Hackney’s Head of HR) for a session with Audit Committee giving them an overview of the work that the Data & Insight team have been doing to provide managers with improved access to people data using the new dashboards they have developed. This was very well received and prompted a good conversation about how the data can be used to make sure that Hackney performs well and is a good place to work.
  • I’ve been continuing the work to look at the updates to salary supplements which are due next year. We’ve done some assessment against other councils and benchmarking tools which we’ll be discussing with HR colleagues this week.
  • On Wednesday I caught up with our Finance colleagues to check through the latest budget position. We’re now a quarter of the way through the financial year, so it’s important that we’re clear about the actions we need to take to secure a balanced budget position at year end.
  • On Thursday afternoon, I caught up with Lucy, Marian, Ross and Tessa to look at how we can assess the benefits of the work we’re doing to join up health and social care. The anecdotal feedback is that social care teams are finding it very valuable to be able to access core health data easily as part of supporting people in need of care and the data suggests that the usage is ahead of our expectations. We’re going to do some more work to develop a more detailed understanding so that we can be sure about the benefits and clear about areas for further improvement.
  • And I wrapped up with week with a meeting with senior folk from one of our major suppliers. It was good to report very positive feedback from users and it was also valuable to have an opportunity to be frank about areas where we would like to see improvements.

Something I’m learning

I’m not finishing the follow up work that I need to do on our capital and investment budgets quickly enough, which is annoying me. That’s entirely down to me not making enough time to focus on it, and I’m going to have to knuckle down and finish it this week because it’s important across many areas of our work. I need to keep reminding myself that there are some things which just need to be given the time they need, even if they feel less immediately time critical than other tasks which crop up during the week. Otherwise it’s too easy for time to slip away from me.