Weeknote w/c 3 February: sharing experience with peers and making sure that we are continuing to recruit and retain a great team

Getting together with peers

On Friday, Matthew and I joined a group of great people from several councils to compare notes from our digital journeys, share the challenges we’re grappling with and think about ways we can support one another. The idea for the meet up was sparked by Paul Brewer at Adur & Worthing and the group represented councils stretching from the Channel coast up to the northern borders.

I won’t try to outdo Paul’s excellent write up of the conversation and that areas that we plan to focus on moving forward. I highly recommend taking a few minutes to read that here: https://medium.com/@pdbrewer/we-made-a-local-gov-cdo-group-4f87932bd34b.

Making sure that we continue to recruit and develop a great team

At Thursday’s HackIT strategy show & tell I talked about the work we’re doing to update the market supplements that we use to make sure that we are continuing to develop a great team in HackIT. We want roles in our team to be opportunities to:

  • Make a real difference for our residents
  • Develop your skills and career
  • Work in an energetic and ambitious team, and be involved in fun, exciting and rewarding work
  • Meet smart and creative people and learn together
  • Be competitively paid

The slides I talked through explain how we’ve approached this and how we are making sure that the update to our benchmarking is effective: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1ryOYucmuScCo09EuDmX91Zd3ElBkM40FiWCZcLla0GE. Do please let me know if you’d like to find time to talk through any questions you have about this.

I also…

  • Joined Henry and David (our Director of Housing) for our ‘Digital quarterly’ meeting with the Mayor, Cllr McKenzie and Cllr Nicholson. Our discussion focused on the progress that’s being made with the digital connectivity work which Henry summarised in his weeknote last week. I’m excited by this work because it’s a real opportunity for Hackney to use assets that the Council owns to encourage new connectivity providers into our borough and address the shortcomings of existing provision – which is a source of significant frustration for many of our residents.
  • Caught up with Lucy and a colleague in our Public Health team to learn more about the work they’re doing to use data to help improve the health and wellbeing of residents of the City and Hackney.
  • Had a good catch up with Lucy and Sarah, our Director of Children’s and Families Services, to talk through ways that we might help develop our support for the service.
  • Went to the Senior Managers Network meeting, where we heard from Tim (our Chief Exec) about the work he’s doing to review the Council’s senior management arrangements following the recent voluntary redundancy scheme and also an update on the work that’s taking place to promote Hackney as a great place to work and develop your career.
  • Was pleased with the pace that’s developing with the integration of the Hackney Learning Trust ICT team and the HackIT team. This week Bertie (HLT’s Head of ICT) joined us at our HackIT DMT meeting and I went along to the first meeting of the Education Change Programme Board, where we checked on progress across the programme of work that’s taking place to bring finance and ICT support for education in Hackney closer to the Council’s core services.

Something I’m learning

I’m taking a few days off over half term. I’m trying to decide how best to fix my backlog of stuff ahead of that – which is going to take some fairly ruthless prioritisation….!

Weeknote w/c 27 January: learning more about homelessness and a catch up with LOTI

Learning more about our support for people at risk of homelessness

In last week’s note I wrote about the rough sleeper count that I took part in the previous week. To follow that up, on Wednesday I joined nine other colleagues for a ‘meet the service’ day where we were taken through other areas of the work that colleagues in the Benefits & Housing Needs service do. It’s awesome that the service makes the time to do this – the main purpose being to help colleagues from across other Council services think about how their teams’ work can contribute towards reducing the risk of people becoming homeless in Hackney.

We learned that Hackney is very unusual in having brought benefits and housing needs together in a single team. This makes it easier for the teams to work in an integrated way and we were given lots of examples of how they are able to work with residents to help them manage debt and guide them towards support such as financial advice, employment support and health services. As with the colleagues I met when I joined the rough sleeper count, I was impressed by the compassion that the team showed for the people they support, even when it isn’t easy for them to meet their needs.

Something that stuck with me is how long term ‘temporary accommodation’ often is. It’s not unusual for individuals and families to be in temporary housing for ten years or more, and from visiting one of our hostels as part of the day it was evident that this is far from a low cost or comfortable option for those people. Many areas of London have seen big increases in the cost of housing and reduced availability of social housing, but the dramatic changes in Hackney’s rental market mean that there are also very few affordable rented options available through private landlords, so the team have to work incredibly hard to find suitable accommodation and there is often a very long wait. Sometimes families are offered homes outside of London, but this can be very difficult for them given family ties, school places and work in Hackney. The day gave me a really valuable insight into the team’s work and respect for what they do at the sharp end of many of society’s most challenging issues.

I’m pleased that our teams in HackIT have been working with the Benefits & Housing Needs service to help them with this important work. Our work together in preparing for the introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act a couple of years ago was an important first step, which has made the process of assessing people’s needs much more efficient and compassionate. And this is now being taken further through the service redesign work that is being delivered in partnership with FutureGov and Made Tech. Projects such as Single View are already showing real promise, helping to reduce the time it takes to look up information across multiple systems by 10 – 25 minutes per case.

LOTI update

I finished the week by joining other CIOs from the LOTI councils for our regular LOTI member meeting. I thought that this was the best meeting yet, with a good showing from across the councils. It was also great to have new faces joining the team, with Kit and Steve who have recently started as the technology and data leads for Greenwich and Kingston | Sutton coming to their first LOTI meeting. We covered a range of topics including data analytics projects, getting the most out of our supplier relationships and reflecting on what LOTI will have achieved when it reaches its first anniversary in the summer. 

You can read more about the things we covered in the latest weeknote from the LOTI team here: https://medium.com/loti/loti-weeknote-27-d382ab23b05d.

I also…

  • Had a good planning meeting with Katharine, Mac, Nick and Tom, making sure that we’re well prepared for the quarterly Information Governance Group meeting which is due in a few weeks time.
  • Was very impressed with the progress that Tony has made working with finance colleagues to make sure that the Print Unit is in a sustainable financial position. What had been reported as a significant shortfall at the start of the year is now a balanced budget and Tony’s identified several good ideas for ways we can develop the service further and continue to provide high quality, good value print services for Hackney.
  • Went with Lucy and Meg to join the regular ‘IT enabler’ board meeting, where we reviewed the progress of the technology and data elements of health and social care integration across the City and Hackney.
  • Chaired the Council’s corporate resilience group, which was a useful opportunity to reflect on the reviews of the Council’s responses to a couple of recent major incidents (a fire and a major flood). Teams from across the Council’s services did a great job responding to the incidents, making sure that residents were supported and keeping focus on the longer term recovery work. It was encouraging to see how the Council is able to make a difference for our local community.
  • Had a really good meeting with Kit, Cate and Eddie at the start of the day on Friday, talking through ways that we could link up OneTeamGov and LOTI as part of building the community of people working to transform local public services in London.
  • Felt like I had a mini-breakthrough in my swimming lesson when there was a moment when it actually felt like my limbs were working together to move me through the water with reasonable grace. This might not have been apparent to anyone watching, but I felt encouraged nonetheless.

Something I’m learning

On Tuesday night I relearned how to change tyres on a bike (it’s a very long time since I last did that). I was pleased to find that I managed to remember how to do it and even more pleased to find that my wheels stayed on and the tyres stayed inflated when I rode to work the next morning. I’m now hoping that the new tyres will be more robust and I don’t have a repeat of last Monday morning’s puncture…

Weeknote w/c 20 January: late night learning and sharing experience with colleagues

Learning about support for rough sleepers in Hackney

I took the opportunity last week to join colleagues from Benefits & Housing Needs and a range of other services and partners to take part in the overnight rough sleeper count which took place on Thursday night / Friday morning. It felt a bit odd cycling back to Hackney at 10.30pm, but it was a very valuable learning experience.

All councils do an annual count each November to check how many people are sleeping rough in their area. Hackney is now doing this every two months so that we can provide updates to the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government as part of the requirement for additional funding we receive to help reduce rough sleeping.

We broke into separate teams and set out from The Greenhouse (a day centre near to Mare St which provides joined up healthcare, housing and welfare support for homeless people in the borough). We left at 1am and returned at c 3.30am having visited a number of different areas to check for people who were sleeping rough and talking to them to see if there are ways that the Outreach service can help support them. I was struck by the patient and caring approach that the Outreach team took with each of the people we met. In each case their stories and needs were complex and the team took time to consider what support might be helpful and whether there were any other reasons for additional concern.

Overall, we counted 12 people sleeping rough, a reduction from the previous count which is positive news. But this is only part of the problem of homelessness that our colleagues work hard to address on a day-to-day basis. There is growing demand for temporary accommodation in Hackney and other London boroughs, with people often staying in hostels and other temporary housing for many years, and many other people who ‘sofa surf’ because they don’t have a stable home. I’m joining one of the Benefits & Housing Needs service’s ‘meet the service’ days on Wednesday to learn more about this complex and important area of the Council’s work.

Sharing with peers

At the start of the week, Cate, Matthew and I met up with colleagues from Leicester to talk through the journey that we’ve been taking in the HackIT team and to share details of some specific aspects of our work that they had asked us about. This included how we are using the Digital Marketplace and our work to move away from reliance on traditional local government applications. I enjoy meeting new people from elsewhere in the local government digital community, and it was especially good to hear about peers’ experience outside of London. The slides we used to structure the discussion are here: http://bit.ly/HackIT-overview.

We wrapped up their visit by inviting them to join the show & tell delivered by the SpaceOps team at the end of the morning, who brought us up to date with the work they’re doing to make it easy for residents and community groups to find meeting space in Hackney. It was great to see that the team is making good progress and to show our colleagues how we have replaced traditional project meetings with more interactive, informative and valuable ways of delivering projects.

I also…

  • Caught up with Cate and colleagues in HR to discuss our thinking about mobile phone provision in further detail. I think we’re seeing a way forward emerge from the thinking we’ve been doing.
  • Had a good session with Henry and Paul to look through some of the key things we’ll be looking at as part of joining our team together with the Hackney Learning Trust ICT team and the finance systems team.
  • Joined the first meeting of the Council’s new recruitment strategy group. As this was the first meeting it focused on setting out the scope for the group’s work and we’re meeting up again in a couple of weeks’ time to follow up on that and start to dig into the detailed thinking.
  • Enjoyed Cate’s strategy show & tell on Thursday, which recapped on the achievements of our initial cohort of apprentices and talked through the planning that we’re doing for the second cohort which will start in the autumn. I’m so incredibly proud of what our apprentices have achieved and the contribution that they’re making to our team’s work. I’m also really pleased by the way that their managers have helped support the success of the programme and Hackney’s involvement in the work through LOTI which will more than double the number of digital apprentices in the 15 member councils (currently at 98 in post or committed, within a hair’s breadth of our target of 100 by this September)!

Something I’m learning

An important lesson that I learned from the rough sleeper count was how different the background stories of the people we met were. It quickly became clear that my preconceptions were very narrow and the team explained how much more complex each individual’s needs are. This means that a significant part of the team’s focus is establishing trust with the people they support, so that they can get a good understanding of their needs and help them find the support services that will be of most help.

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.


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. 


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…