Weeknote w/c 6 & 13 January: a double dose of weeknotes to start the year

After a very relaxing break over the Christmas period, 2020 has got going quickly! So quickly that this is a double bill of weeknotes – I’ll be working harder to get back into the weekly rhythm from now on.

New year, new ‘to do’ list

I’ve celebrated the dawn of the new decade * with my annual reshuffle of my ‘to do’ list. Over the year I have a habit of accumulating a bundle of good intentions that haven’t received enough of my attention and I find it useful to pause and consider whether any of these are past their sell by date and whether I might organise myself differently to help me focus more effectively.

I still love the app Todoist, which I’ve been using to organise myself for a few years now. I’ve had a quick tinker with some new features that they’ve added in recent months with a view to seeing if these might be helpful with organising the stuff I need to do across work, school governor / trustee responsibilities, DIY and general life admin. Time will tell!

The main change that I’ve made this time around is to significantly reduce the number of things that I give a due date too. Being honest with myself, these usually get based on hopelessly over-optimistic aspirations rather than a realistic assessment of what has to be / can realistically be done. I’ve decided that it will be better for my focus and sense of inner calm to set daily lists that I actually stand a chance of getting done.

I’ve also decided to group other tasks so that it’s easier for me to keep a small number of key priorities at the front of my mind; to have a checklist of other smaller things that are in progress; and to then have a backlog of other things to come back to when I’ve got the more pressing things off the list.

I’ll recap on this later in the year to see if it’s had an impact..!

* I’m not going to get drawn into the argument about whether or not 2020 is the start of a new decade. It is.

Hackney Stars and the Council’s apprenticeship programme

The nominations for this year’s Hackney Stars awards are currently being judged and I was pleased to be on the panel deciding who the winner will be for the ‘Operative of the Year’ category (this covers teams who do field work such as housing repairs, parks, street cleaning etc). It was brilliant to read through ten examples of fantastic dedication to Hackney’s residents, with great illustrations of where our colleagues go above and beyond to provide excellent services. I was also struck by how many of the people who’ve been nominated have shown a real long-standing commitment to Hackney, with some of them having 30 – 40 years’ of service. This is an enormous asset for the borough and it was good to read about the support that many of them provide to newer colleagues, sharing their experience and knowledge to help sustain service quality for the long term.

That linked nicely with the apprenticeship steering group meeting that I chaired, where we reflected on the significant success that Hackney has had in growing an effective apprenticeship programme across the Council and opportunities to develop this further as part of making sure we have a sustainable workforce for the longer term.

I also…

  • Celebrated the return from the Christmas break with Cate by rolling up our sleeves and thinking through our next steps on the mobile phones question (see weeknotes passim). We have a cunning plan…
  • Caught up with finance colleagues to make sure that we’re on track with our money management as we’re now starting the final quarter of the financial year. We’re not quite there yet, but have made significant progress and will be starting the 2020/21 financial year with a much clearer picture of our finances as a result of the work this year.
  • Caught up with Tim (our CEO) and Ian (my boss) to talk through some reflections on how we might support the ongoing development of leadership and innovation across the Council.
  • Popped along to the Neighbourhoods & Housing senior managers’ meeting to give a brief overview of the sort of work we’re doing and how we’re working with their teams to use technology and data to help improve services to residents. A highlight of this was a follow up comment from a head of service at the end of my presentation, who talked about how the work our team is doing together with his service is making a positive difference for their work.
  • Had a great chat with Kit, who’s just started as the digital and technology lead for the Royal Borough of Greenwich. We talked through shared challenges and opportunities to collaborate and I’m looking forward to working together as part of the LOTI group of councils. Kit’s one of a number of awesome digital leaders and doers who’ve joined local government over the last year or so (👋 also Neil, Steve, Chris and Eddie) – it’s great to see the sector benefiting from their experience and ideas.
  • Caught up with colleagues from the Civil Protection Team to plan our next corporate resilience governance meeting. We’ve taken the opportunity to dust down our governance arrangements and make some tweaks as part of building on the very positive progress that’s been made over the last couple of years.
  • Had a really useful session with Nick (our new Corporate Information & Knowledge Manager) talking through his reflections from his first weeks in the role and discussing areas for focus.
  • Wrapped up with an introductory meeting with our new Director of Public Health. We talked about areas that our teams have been working together and some of the challenges of working in a joint role across multiple boroughs (Hackney shares a Public Health service with the City of London Corporation).
  • (Oh, and I started my swimming improvers course. I have a lot of improvement to do!)

Something I’m learning

The school where I’m chair of governors was inspected by Ofsted last week. It was the second time that I’ve taken part in an Ofsted inspection and I was reminded how exacting the process is. For governors it involved a one hour quizzing, but for the school team the process takes two days of intensive conversations and observation. It’s hard to imagine how it would feel if our work as a team was subjected to such detailed inspection and once again I was enormously impressed at how the teachers and other school staff responded. We now wait 3 – 4 weeks to hear how we’ve done…!

Weeknote w/c 9 December: talking mobile phones, counting votes, not getting enough sleep, but wrapping up with an awesome HackIT party

Thinking hard about the direction we take for mobile phones

In the summer I referred to the thinking that we’ve been doing to look at how we might change the approach we take for providing mobile phones. We’ve been developing ideas based on shifting away from providing a standard corporate offer towards extending access, reducing costs and reducing environmental impact through an allowance based model. Since then Cate and I have been engaging with services and staff representatives to discuss these ideas in more detail and decide how best to move this forward.

This week we caught up with colleagues in housing and also union representatives to discuss their feedback. To be honest, I have been a bit surprised to find that people are more reluctant to change how we approach this than I had expected. The survey we carried out in the early summer suggested that opinions were divided, but that many staff were positive about the proposals we were developing. But discussing it further with colleagues since then there seems to be more push back than I had thought would be the case.

In the meantime we’re continuing with the current model and reminding colleagues that we need leavers’ devices back before we can provide phones to new starters so that we are using the Council’s assets cost effectively. Cate and I will be taking some time to look through the feedback we’ve received about the potential new approach to decide what we will recommend going forward. I’ll keep you posted.

The HackIT Christmas party

Friday evening saw the HackIT Christmas party, a combination of karaoke, canapes, and good company close to Hackney Downs. There was a great turn out and one of the highlights for me was Colin’s brave attempt to get us all to do the Candy dance (no, I hadn’t heard of that before either…). Not having done this before I suspect that I probably made a fairly mediocre contribution to the team effort (there are rumours of videos… 😱), but fortunately a rescue party arrived in the form of the people in the room next door to ours who joined in and helped us all along!

A huge thank you to Cate D who got it all organised, to Colin for taking on the role of impresario with the karaoke and dancing, and also to Nigel and friends for the music and MCing.

Colin and Mal performing their rendition of Baggy Trousers

I also…

  • Spent time with Cate, Henry and Matthew looking at our medium term financial plan (the investment we think we’ll need over the next 3 – 5 years). This is an important part of the Council’s budget planning work that is currently taking place.
  • Caught up with Finance colleagues and Paul to run through the approach we’re taking to reduce the cost of productivity software across the organisation over the next few years.
  • Really enjoyed Monday’s Spacebank show & tell. It was great to see how the team are combining making progress towards delivering this manifesto commitment alongside providing immediate benefits for our users (staff and residents). The best bit was seeing how eager colleagues in housing are to start on the next stages of work with the team once the current work with libraries is completed!
  • Enjoyed catching up with colleagues at Camden on Tuesday evening. It was great to share our thoughts and experience from the two councils and I’m optimistic that there will be lots of opportunities to collaborate through our work as part of LOTI.
  • Joined a briefing on the Council’s pension scheme. Parts of this are a bit complex, but the overarching message is how important it is to make sure that you’ve taken the time to look at signing up to become a member of the scheme. Even with my advancing years retirement seems like it is a long way off, but planning ahead is really important and we’re very fortunate to be able to benefit from being part of the local government pension scheme.
  • Took part in Thursday night’s General Election count – my team counted just over 5,000 votes and we finished at about 4.30am on Friday morning once Hackney’s results had been declared.

Something I’m learning

Election counts aren’t great for getting a good night’s sleep. Especially if they land on a day when you can’t opt out of childcare… But I did learn that I was able to get through the day with just under 2 hours’ sleep (with an extra one hour nap in the afternoon) and still make it to the HackIT Christmas party!

I’m now going to take a weeknote break until the new year… Back to normal early in w/c 13 January. I hope you all have a very relaxing break and a happy near year!

Weeknote w/c 2 December: working in partnership with our colleagues

Working in partnership

I really enjoyed last Thursday’s #HackIT strategy show & tell, where Tom who leads our records management team joined up with colleagues from Revenues & Benefits to talk about the work they’re doing together to look at ways that we can help them with managing the records they hold in their service.

Particular highlights for me were:

  • It was a great example of a team coming together to benefit from one another’s experience and expertise. The team talked about how they are learning together and changing the approach as the work develops to reflect what they’ve learned.
  • There is a clear focus on the ‘why’ for the work – it’s not just about managing files well and following arbitrary rules and processes, the focus is on steps that can be taken to improve services for our residents and help our colleagues work efficiently.
  • When I asked how the team felt about the work their response reflected this and highlighted how working as a multi-disciplinary team meant that they felt that they were making positive progress and feeling well supported.

Sharing our approach with colleagues

On Tuesday I was invited to deliver a short presentation to the wider senior management team for our Children’s, Adults’ and Community Health directorate. Having discussed this in advance with Cate, Henry and Matthew I took their advice and decided to focus on talking about the impact that technology and data are having on the world and how we are working to harness the potential of this to improve public services (rather than just talking through a list of projects that we’re working on and service performance statistics).

I’ve popped my slides here (with a few explanatory notes) in case those are of interest.

I also…

  • Was pleased that I managed to make the time to join a couple of our project show & tells looking at how we are working to improve the e-forms used across the Council’s support services and the work to introduce DevOps practices and skills for supporting our new digital services. I find it really valuable to get a closer look at the progress our teams are making and to hear the thinking that’s going on within the project teams.
  • Sat down with Keith to go through our Public Services Network (PSN) security submission for the annual renewal of our accreditation. It’s a useful reminder of how much work our teams do to make sure that our systems and data are managed securely. It’s also good to see how our strategic technology decisions are helping to improve our overall security position.
  • Was delighted to see the first of our digital apprentices completing their qualifications – well done Micah and Ali!
  • Helped out colleagues at Camden as part of their interviews for a new Chief Technology Officer.
  • Took some time to look at our capital investment plans, thinking about how we will develop our financial plan for the next 3 – 5 years.
  • Popped along for the ‘Oslo Meets Hackney’ event in the Town Hall. This included a number of really interesting examples of ways that Oslo is testing out new ideas to reduce the city’s impact on the environment. I was particularly interested in the idea of combining package deliveries with waste collection – improving the environmental impact of internet shopping and reducing the number of vehicles on the city’s streets.

Something I’m learning

I’ve always been a fairly mediocre swimmer and it’s been on my list of things I’d like to get better at for a while (especially now that my children are way ahead of me with their swimming confidence). I was quite excited to see that my diary aligns with the next set of swimming lessons that the Council is running for staff, which starts in January, so I’ve signed up for a six week improver course. I’m now having to persuade my family that this is not a secret plan to do a triathlon…

Weeknote w/c 25 November: working in the open and LOTI progress

Reflections on working in the open

Henry is currently leading some work to refresh our ‘HackIT Manifesto’ so that we can make sure that it continues to provide a useful guide for the way that we work together across our team. I took a little time to scan over the thoughts that people have shared about our current principles and thought that they gave a helpful picture of the different views and ideas across our team.

One of the notes which stood out to me was on the ‘Open Up’ poster and it prompted me to jot down a few thoughts on why I think that working in the open (including blogging) is valuable to us as a team.

Open up | Be open about your work. We’re part of a community.

Some of the reasons I think that this is important are:

  • Our internal governance can be simpler and less onerous because weeknotes and blogposts give transparency about progress, opportunities and challenges. I also find that they give more insight into what project teams are thinking than traditional highlight reports and often prompt me to ask follow up questions to find out more about issues.
  • Sharing our work in the open has proven very useful for attracting new people to join our team by showing how we are helping to make things better for our citizens. I think it’s more authentic to share information about the actual work we are doing rather than simply relying on bold assertions in recruitment ads.
  • Posting about our work is also a useful way to show current and potential future suppliers how we want to work, helping them to work well with us.
  • Talking about challenges can be helpful as it can prompt people elsewhere to share their experience and help us overcome problems that we haven’t been able to solve yet.
  • Teams also get a sense of pride from talking about the work they’re doing. As a manager I know that it’s important for me to show the people I work with that I value their work and I think that this is as important for teams within our service as it is for HackIT as a whole. I’ve loved the recent G+ posts from different teams sharing information about what they’re working on.

Mulling this over prompted a conversation with Matthew about how we can help people to feel confident writing about challenges they’ve encountered. Nic wrote a How to HackIT guide as a tool to help make sure that we are protecting data when we work in the open: How to HackIT – How to work in the open, responsibly. I think it might be useful to think through how this could be extended to include guidance about sharing less positive news and challenges, so that working in the open doesn’t simply become a glossy veneer on our work. I’ve made a note to follow that up.

LOTI all member workshop

On Tuesday, I joined up with colleagues from the other LOTI member boroughs to catch up on the progress we are making together (the LOTI team have written about this in their most recent weeknote: https://medium.com/loti/loti-weeknote-20-6ba93117d39). I am proud that Hackney is playing a full and active part in this work, and am especially pleased to see the fantastic progress for the Digital Apprenticeships workstream that Cate has been helping to lead.

In June we agreed to set a goal of having 100 digital apprentices in post across the LOTI boroughs by September 2020, an important first step in LOTI’s mission to accelerate the development of digital skills and capabilities across the boroughs. We found that at that point there were 48 apprenticeships in place across LOTI and we are now well on track to more than double that, with a total of 68 apprentices now in post and firm commitments that will bring this up to 97. I’m very confident that we can exceed our initial goal, which is a brilliant example of how working together has helped us significantly increase our collective impact.

I also…

  • Caught up with Dan and Liz for an initial conversation about a further update we are planning to take to Audit Committee to show how the HR dashboards that the Data & Insight team produced earlier in the year are helping managers manage sickness absence.
  • I’ve taken over from Kim Wright as corporate lead for resilience (covering the Council’s arrangements for responding to major incidents in the borough) and this week I met with colleagues to look at ways we can make sure that our governance is keeping pace with the excellent progress that’s been made across the Council in recent years. I also met with Cllr Selman, who’s cabinet portfolio includes community safety and resilience, to discuss the areas that she would like us to be focusing on.
  • Ran a follow up session about our ‘Start-up to Scale-up’ journey with the support team and other colleagues who weren’t able to make the strategy show & tell a few weeks ago.
  • Went to the Hackney Procurement Board with Cate to ask for approval to buy some licences we need. The hard work that Cate, Paul, Steve and others have put into this was rewarded with a positive outcome.
  • Had my training for next week’s General Election count. Having done this a few times now I’m reasonably confident that I know what to do. But different elections use different voting systems and the general election is counted overnight, so this was a useful opportunity to make sure that I’m on top of the detail.
  • Joined Matthew to welcome Nic to our team as our new Corporate Information & Knowledge Manager. This is an important role and I’m pleased to have Nic join our team.

Something I’m learning

Last weekend I did some in-depth research into the importance of user experience… I was figuring out how to set my sons up with the ability to share a Minecraft world with their cousins, and in the process I managed to write a small epistle documenting the numerous foibles of what’s involved with doing this (mostly relating to problems I encountered with the account service it uses).

There’s a widely held view that consumer technology is much easier than the IT we experience in the workplace. I think that might be true in many instances but it definitely wasn’t in this case. Overall, it reminded me that whether technology is being designed for home or work, it’s important that time and care is taken to make sure that users can succeed first time, unaided.

Weeknote w/c 18 November: another gong for HackIT!

APIs and awards

The highlight of my week was hearing that Rashmi, Selwyn and Matt were bringing back another HackIT award! The Dev team’s work on APIs as microservices won the iNetwork award for innovation, recognising the team’s contribution to changing the way that we deliver digital local services fit for the internet age:

Our work on APIs is a key foundation block for our future digital services. Through this work we’ll be able to accelerate the pace of improvement, deliver technology that better meets user needs, and reduce our reliance on legacy technology and suppliers. It’s something that I’ve felt passionate about for many years (https://bytherye.com/2014/04/06/an-applications-strategy-fit-for-digital/) and it’s so exciting to see our team’s progress in bringing this to life.

Recruitment

Our strategy show & tell was presented by Soraya, who’s been leading work to look at how we can make sure that we are continuing to hire great people to join our team, and Mark from the recruitment team. Soraya has done a great job of working with recruitment colleagues to help us look at how we can introduce changes to the application process which will make it easier for applicants and hiring managers. This is an important component of our mission to continue to develop ‘A curious, expert team promoting Hackney’s values’.

Some of the changes that we are introducing include:

  • Clearer summary information for job ads on the Council’s recruitment site: https://recruitment.hackney.gov.uk/
  • Simpler ways for candidates to demonstrate that they meet the mandatory requirements for roles that they’re applying for
  • Automated import of details from candidate’s CVs (don’t forget to let Soraya know if you can help us test this to make sure that we’re confident it works reliably!)
  • ‘Name blind’ recruitment, which was an important commitment from our recent inclusion conversations (https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/thinking-and-acting-inclusively)

I also…

  • Took part in the inclusive leadership training that is being delivered for all senior managers across the Council on Monday. The session worked well and prompted lots of useful conversations with peers in other services. I also liked that these are being co-delivered by inclusion champions from across different service teams, which helped us to have an engaging and valuable morning.
  • Had my regular catch up with representatives from the Council’s unions. We talked about ways that we are helping to make it easier for field based staff to access ‘cautionary contact’ information to help them stay safe when they visit residents, and also the proposed changes we’re developing for mobile phone arrangements. There were a few aspects of the latter where we didn’t entirely agree, so we’ve arranged to take a bit more time to work through the discussion points together in a few weeks time.
  • Joined the steering group that oversees our work to help improve the technology that housing services use. We had a good discussion about the progress that’s being made to help link data up so that the Council can provide more joined up services for our tenants and leaseholders, with agreement that we’ll do a Discovery phase to help us understand how we can further develop that.
  • Had our monthly ‘Delivery’ focused divisional management team meeting, where Cate, Henry, Matthew and I checked in on key areas of work across our teams and discussed areas where we can best focus our time to support the work that teams are doing.
  • Spent some time with Paul helping develop the model we’re using to assess some important software licencing options. I love a good spreadsheet, so quite enjoyed this as the start to my day…!
  • Had my regular catch up with Ajman, interim Group Director for Neighbourhoods & Housing. Ajman shared some of the feedback he’d had at the recent staff conferences in housing services and we talked through the links with work that we are doing together through the technology modernisation programme. It was also good to hear Ajman’s reflections on how the collaboration between our teams in Hackney and the responsiveness of our support compares favourably to his experience of working with ICT functions elsewhere.
  • Joined a debrief session to discuss lessons learned from the recent major floods in the north of the borough. The Council’s contribution supporting residents affected by the flood worked very well and we identified some useful learning points that we can use to develop the way we manage major incidents in future.

Something I’m learning

I had my cycling training session at the end of the day on Wednesday. I’ve been feeling fairly confident and having done an advanced driving qualification some years ago I think my awareness of other traffic and pedestrians is reasonably good. But the session was still really useful and I learned lots of very useful stuff about road positioning and ways to make sure that I’m cycling in a way that is helping to keep me safe and be considerate of others. I’d definitely recommend taking up the opportunity (it’s free for all staff and available from beginner to advanced levels: http://intranet.hackney.gov.uk/cycle-training-levels-1-2/) and am planning to go back for a follow up in the new year.

I also learned the great sadness that comes from having a puncture halfway through a ride on Thursday. Fortunately, I found a local cycle shop who sorted it, but I ended up an hour late for the meeting I was heading to which annoyed me.

Weeknote w/c 11 November: next steps for HackIT

From Start-up to Scale-up

The highlight of my week was co-presenting Thursday’s HackIT strategy show & tell along with Cate, Henry and Matthew. We talked about the progress we’ve made as a service and how we plan to evolve our approach moving forwards. Sometimes ‘strategy’ can seem a bit nebulous and disconnected from day-to-day realities, but reflecting on the direction we set in 2016 it’s clear how big an impact the priorities we set back then has had on the work we’ve done since. I can’t wait to see what we achieve together over the next three years (and beyond)!

I wrote more about that here: https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/hackit-from-start-up-to-scale-up.

An exercise in recovery

On Tuesday afternoon we had a table-top exercise for people who are involved in the Council’s resilience arrangements. Usually these focus on the Council’s response to a major incident, but this exercise was about the recovery phase after an incident is over. Our scenario was the aftermath of a major storm which had impacted the supply of power and other critical resources to Hackney and other boroughs across north London.

This is a really important part of the Council’s work on resilience, but it is often less noticed than the initial response. We’ve seen from the recent floods caused by a burst water main in the north of the borough how long the impact of an incident on people’s lives can last.

It was interesting to take this time with colleagues to reflect on the Council’s responsibilities and work through how we would manage the planning and actions needed to support residents effectively following a major incident.

I also…

  • Joined other LOTI colleagues for a useful workshop looking at how we can work together to explore the potential for assistive technology to help people live independently for longer. We are currently focusing on how we can align the way that we evaluate this sort of technology so that we can all benefit from each other’s work to pilot new technologies.
  • Had some interesting catch ups with colleagues from other boroughs, including someone who will shortly be moving from central government to a new role leading IT and digital for a county council. I enjoy comparing notes and looking for ways that we can learn together to help encourage innovation and improvement across our sector. I’m also very pleased to see great people joining the team in local government.
  • Caught up with Henry, Ollie and colleagues from the Hackney Learning Trust to discuss the work that’s taking place to look at the potential to make G Suite available for users in our education teams.
  • Enjoyed meeting up with Tim (the chief exec) for a conversation about our future direction (part of a series of conversations that Tim’s having with senior managers across the organisation).
  • Cycled over 100km. I’m pleased with that and am really enjoying my new way of getting around! (I should have started this a long time ago)
  • Wrapped up my week by running the Fulham 10k. I was relieved that I managed to slightly beat my previous personal best from earlier in the year.

Something I’m learning

Was annoyed with myself for not focusing sufficiently when I had some decent sized chunks of clear time on Thursday and Friday. I’m going to try to do better this week.

Weeknote w/c 4 November: promoting wellbeing and listening to our users

Senior Managers’ Network

On Thursday morning we had the latest get together of the Council’s Senior Manager Network. These are always useful events, providing the opportunity to catch up with colleagues and discuss cross-Council initiatives.

As well as useful updates on the corporate accommodation programme, the Council’s communication strategy and the introduction of name blind recruitment, we also had a session led by our Public Health team looking at ways that the Council supports health and wellbeing. This includes a wide range of support and opportunities for activities such as: smoking cessation; gym membership discounts; cycling; activities like rounders, 5k your way etc; let’s network Hackney; support with tenancy desposits; and the employee assistance service. I would strongly encourage you to take the time to find out more about these and see how you might be able to benefit from the Council’s offer.

The most impactful part of the morning was a talk given by a colleague who talked about his struggles with mental health and how he and his manager had worked together to provide support and help him manage the effects of this. I was struck by the openness and honesty in the presentation and also how the combination of their efforts, supported by the Council’s employee assistance service and the NHS, was helping to achieve positive outcomes for the individual and also the Council. 

Survey

We’ve started to look through the feedback we received in response to our recent staff survey, where we asked colleagues to let us know how we’re doing.

There are further signs of great progress. 63% of users of users are positive about our service, which is up from 61% last year and a fantastic increase from 28% in 2016. It was also really encouraging to see that 70% of respondents to the survey said that document collaboration and sharing is proving useful and over 59% of people are finding instant messaging helpful too. These show that our new tools are bedding in across the organisation, which gives a good basis for us to build from.

One of the most important aspects of the survey is the detailed answers to the questions we asked. There are lots of comments to read through which span across the whole range of possible opinions (as illustrated in my tweet below!). We’ll be reviewing those all carefully and using them to check that we’re prioritising the right work and to help us identify any additional actions we need to take to make sure that we are meeting our users’ needs.

I also…

  • Caught up with Matthew, Richard and Susan to prepare our update for Members about the new hackney.gov.uk. This is a great opportunity to share how the team have delivered a more accessible website and achieved significant savings in an impressively short period of time. We’re booked for 25 November, so have a bit of time to make sure that we are well prepared.
  • Had a very useful session with Matthew and Tony, along with Dawn and Jenny from our finance team, to look at how we will develop the longer term finance strategy for our in-house print service. The team have worked hard to make sure that the service achieves a balanced budget for the year and we discussed ways that we will continue to improve this moving forward and also help reduce the cost of printing across the Council.
  • Met with the Mayor and Ian (my boss) for our regular two-to-one meeting. As ever, this was a wide ranging and useful conversation which covered the work we’re helping to deliver, emerging opportunities / areas for focus and an update on how we are performing across our service.
  • Caught up with colleagues in our Regeneration division. It was great to hear positive feedback about the recent upgrades to the team’s PCs and laptops, and also that the work on supporting the review of the way that the service manages their files and documents has started well. The key will be maintaining pace as we move these forward so that we sustain the direction of travel.
  • Met with a former colleague from the senior team at SOCITM. It was interesting to hear how they’re developing the society, especially their work to support a more representative group of people into the IT profession.
  • Was encouraged by a good week for HackIT awards. Sarah shared the news that she has won Information Governance Professional of the Year (Social Care) for her work here and our submission to the LGC Awards has been shortlisted (although we won’t find out who wins that one until the spring).
  • Wrapped up my week with a conversation to learn more about the arrangements for resilience across London. This is part of my new role taking the lead for this for Hackney Council, and it was helpful to understand how our arrangements in the borough connect in with mutual support and coordination across the capital as a whole.

Something I’m learning

The bike is going well, with 56 kilometres covered over the week! But as demonstrated by the route I used for my journey to a meeting in Stratford, I have some work to do on my navigation technique…

Weeknote w/c 28 October: reflecting on how we’re doing and our next steps

Away day

On Friday last week we had our regular quarterly Divisional Management Team away day, kindly hosted by colleagues at Addaction (one of the UK’s leading drug, alcohol and mental health charities) in their Clerkenwell offices. Once again, I found it very useful to step away from the day to day hurly burly and take time to reflect together. 

This time we focused on the development of our team and considered what we should be looking at to continue to develop our service and the contribution we make for Hackney. Lots of very positive progress has been made since our restructure early last year, and it was good to reflect on this. But there’s always something that needs to be focused on next, so it was useful to take the time to think through what our priorities should be.

This was also timely, as it gave us an opportunity to look at the follow up work to the recent inclusion conversations (https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/thinking-and-acting-inclusively) and include that in our thinking.

The main areas we looked at were:

  • Taking stock of where we are now, looking at what’s working well and our next areas for focus
  • Further developing leadership across our service, developing a suggested programme of workshops for the next six months
  • Our approach to supporting career development and succession planning across our teams
  • Ways that we can respond proactively to the demand for support from our teams – eg by using fixed term roles to increase capacity where needed
  • We also reflected on our personal goals for the next year

Modern tools optimisation

On Monday afternoon we looked at the next steps with our Modern Tools for Work programme. Over the last eighteen months we’ve made significant progress, providing fast, modern collaboration tools, refreshing end-of-life PCs and laptops, updating meeting room technology, making fast, reliable wifi available across our core buildings, and refreshing our policies and guidance to help colleagues get the most from these. We’re now looking at how we can build on that to help teams get the most from these improvements.

The sort of questions I’m keen for us to explore include how might we….

… support service teams in modernising the way they work so that they can increase collaboration, improve efficiency and enhance service delivery to residents?

… further develop our service’s capabilities to offer a practical advisory service which can help turn the insights from the user research we’ve been doing with service areas into tangible improvements in the ways that their teams work?

… achieve savings through reducing the use of expensive, legacy software (including, but not limited to, Microsoft Office)?

… enable more effective partnership working by using the capabilities in the new productivity technologies (eg with TMOs, schools, the voluntary sector etc)?

Ollie is working with Henry to scope the follow up work and I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops.

I also…

  • Joined the Adults Social Care management team to discuss the changes we’re developing for mobile telephony.
  • Had the quarterly Hackney Digital meeting with the Mayor and Cllrs McKenzie and Nicholson. Henry gave a really positive update on the work we’re doing on our connectivity programme and the feedback from Members was very helpful.
  • Was pleased to see more services using Google+ to work together collaboratively. It’s interesting to see how this is being taken up as a way to share information across teams and make communication more interactive (helped by the great work that Jenny and Hannah in comms have been doing to promote this to management teams across the Council).
  • Was also pleased to see the team weeknotes that Lindsay and Rashmi shared, giving an overview of the work that their teams have been doing. I find it really helpful to catch up with people’s work and learn a bit more detail about the work we’re delivering.
  • Thought that Ola and Tom did a great job providing updates to Thursday’s Information Governance Group. We’ll be taking some time to think this through when Nic (our new Corporate Information & Knowledge Manager) joins us at the end of the month so that we make the meetings are as useful as possible for colleagues.
  • Enjoyed the DevOps end of alpha show and tell. It’s great to see how this has progressed and it feels like we’ve got a really clear direction to work towards now.
  • Took part in a debrief session looking at how the Council responded to the recent fire in Clapton. It was helpful to reflect on this together with colleagues from other services involved. The Council’s response worked very well and we identified some useful ways that we can adapt the response to emergencies in future to make sure that we are supporting our residents effectively.
  • Spent some time with colleagues in finance picking through the intricacies of tax rules. Much fun was had by all concerned…
  • Said goodbye and thank you to Nic, who’s now moved up to Sheffield. Nic’s done great work helping us to develop our delivery practices and the scale of his bravery and ambition was demonstrated by scheduling a house move the day after his leaving drinks.

Something I’m re-learning

I’ve decided that I’m going to start cycling to work and on Saturday I picked up my new bike. It’s nearly 30 years since I cycled regularly, so as well as looking forward to this I’m also a teeny bit nervous. I’m arranging to book myself onto one of the Council’s cycle training courses to make sure that I’m picking up any bad habits early.

(If you’re interested in looking into cycling into work then do check out the Council’s bike loan scheme and the staff benefits available for buying a bike: http://intranet.hackney.gov.uk/travel/).

Weeknote w/c 21 October: a bit of security and resilience

Security is for all of us

We had our latest ICT security group meeting at the start of the week. One of the things that stood out to me was the need to make sure that we are consistent in remembering that we are all the ‘IT security team’. In some organisations the burden of responsibility for security falls on the IT security lead, but I think this is unwise. Even if we don’t realise it, we will all be making decisions and taking actions every day that will have implications for the security of our data and systems. Coming together regularly in our security group helps us to make sure that all of our teams are thinking about the part they are playing to keep data safe.

We’ve done good work over the last couple of years putting in place a robust security approach but we need to make sure that we continue to make security a priority and work to improve further – security risks change quickly and as we move towards adopting cloud technologies we need to make sure we are keeping up to date. If you haven’t already attended one of Mac’s security briefings please keep an eye out for the next one and make sure you go along!

Designing resilience into the system

I was pleased with our response to the major break in the Council’s fibre network, which affected a number of crucial teams towards the east of the borough at the start of the week. As well as excellent team working between our infrastructure team and the CCTV team who manage the fibre network, I was also pleased to see that the approach we have been taking to make it easy to access Hackney’s systems from any device, anywhere, any time helped the affected services continue to get their work done with limited disruption.

Thank you also to everyone who made colleagues from the commercial waste team feel welcomed when they relocated into our office on Tuesday while the network connection at their usual base was down.

I also…

  • Published my write up from the recent discussion groups I held on inclusion: https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/thinking-and-acting-inclusively.
  • Caught up with our software licencing work. We’re getting on top of the complexity of this (with useful help from the Crown Commercial Service team and colleagues at other councils to learn from their work) and are getting helpful support from our colleagues in procurement to make sure we’re lining up with the Council’s procurement processes.
  • Caught up with HackIT alumna Sarah, who’s moved to a role in the NHS. It was good to hear that this is going well and that she’s already introducing the user-centred approach to information governance that she has led with the HackIT team into her new organisation.
  • Had the best part of a whole day for desk based work on Thursday. This is unusual and I tried to make sure that I didn’t squander it.

Something I’m learning

I got some useful feedback on a piece of writing I’d done. I like to make sure that I write things in a clear way, with clear reasoning and conclusions. But it was pointed out to me that this can give the impression that I’ve made my mind up and am not open to alternative suggestions and ideas. I need to remember that sometimes making things a bit more ‘messy’ might be a good thing.

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!