Weeknote w/c 7 October: the aching legs edition

The Royal Parks Half finally came around yesterday morning and I joined 16,000 other runners for a 13.1 mile jog around Westminster and Hyde Park (nicely timed to avoid the rain). It was a great route and I continue to surprise myself by actually enjoying runs like this. I was delighted to complete the course just inside the 2 hour goal that I’d set for myself (I had 29 seconds to spare!).

I definitely need to work harder on my resilience and determination, but it was great to have a supportive crowd and encouragement from other runners – which was definitely needed when I got to the point where my levels of motivation were dipping.

If you count the Gift Aid, we’ve pretty much hit our fundraising target – a massive thank you to everyone who’s sponsored us! There’s still time to add to that and support the work that Mind do helping to promote positive mental health:  https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=CommunitasTrustRunners&isTeam=true.

Further work to develop our future approach for mobile phones

We’re continuing to work hard to develop the details for our future approach for mobile phones (see previous weeknotes). This week Cate D, Cate M, Paul and I met up with colleagues from a number of services whose teams do field based work (inc housing repairs, parking enforcement, parks and waste) to look into the tricky issue of where there might be a case for continuing to provide corporate devices if we move to an allowance based model for most staff.

My first observation was how valuable it was to have everyone together in the room for this conversation. While I’m a huge advocate of using technology like collaborative documents and video meetings to help with productivity, there are some occasions where there isn’t any substitute for actually being in the room together. This was one of those.

The question we were working through had risked becoming a bit of a tense topic. It was evident that some of our colleagues felt that their concerns weren’t being heard and there was also nuance which would have been hard to work through without being in the same place at the same time. In the end, I think we have boiled this down to a fairly simple set of principles that we should be able to use to determine the right outcome for different service areas. Our next step will be checking that by working through the principles with the different services and seeing how well they fit with our users’ needs.

Making sure that we are recruiting effectively and inclusively

One of the themes that came up in the discussion groups I held recently * was making sure that we are doing everything possible to make our recruitment inclusive. We’ve already implemented changes such as making sure that our adverts don’t use gender specific language and making the application process as simple as possible, but it’s important that we aren’t complacent.

One welcome change that is being implemented across Hackney is introducing applicant blind recruitment. This will mean that hiring managers don’t see details like candidates’ names when they are shortlisting for roles – helping to reduce the risk of unconscious bias in the process. On Thursday I met with colleagues from HR, Matthew and Soraya to look at how this will be implemented and other suggestions for changes that we can make to help us recruit successfully.

I will confess to having been slightly nervous about this. I am very positive about making sure that the recruitment process is supporting our commitment to inclusion, but I was worried that the way that we implement these changes might make it harder for people to apply and risk making it harder to fill vacancies. But the excellent presentation from Soraya and Mark from the recruitment team gave me a lot of confidence that this will be a positive step forward. The conversation included some very useful suggestions for ways that we can update the application process and I’m optimistic that this will work well once it’s implemented (hopefully early in the new calendar year).

Soraya and Mark will be arranging to present a show & tell to share details about the approach so that you can find out more.

* Blog post coming shortly – it was slightly delayed by the change to my plans on Tuesday (see below)…

I also…

  • Chaired the latest meeting of the Member-led Customer Services Steering Group. This was a very positive discussion and we identified some useful work to carry out ahead of the next meeting in November.
  • Had an unexpected day on GOLD duty, taking on the role of overseeing the response to the major floods in the north of the borough (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-49972617). This meant that I had to park everything that I’d planned to do on Tuesday, but once again I was enormously impressed by the work that people across the Council did supporting the many residents who were affected by the incident, including a large number of people whose homes were flooded out.
  • Joined Thursday evening’s Audit Committee meeting, where I gave an update on the work we’ve done in the HackIT team to increase permanent recruitment and reduce our dependency on agency staff.
  • Went to Kim Wright’s leaving do (Kim’s off to be Chief Executive of Lewisham Council). I found it interesting to hear the stories from Hackney’s journey during Kim’s time here and am trying to track down a copy of the ‘How to get the best from Hackney IT’ booklet that she mentioned in her speech (it sounded very entertaining and I’ll share a scanned copy if I can find it…).
  • Took part in a call with colleagues from LOTI to plan a workshop that we’re having in a few weeks time for the assistive technology project.
  • Finished off my week with a mentoring session. I always enjoy these as they’re a good opportunity to learn about work that others are doing and think through challenges together.

Something I’ve learned

I’m rubbish at warming up and down properly after activity like yesterday’s run – I blame my secondary school PE teacher whose obsession with that put me right off. But I did take up the opportunity of a recovery leg massage after finishing yesterday and I’ll definitely do the same again if that’s on offer. It made an enormous difference, as did having ten minutes to lie down during the process!

Weeknote w/c 30 September: a new website, great progress with Spacebank and ‘looking forward’ to the Royal Parks Half…

It’s the final week before my Royal Parks half marathon run this Sunday. I’m not sure how confident I am that I’ll crack the 2 hour barrier, but I managed a couple of runs into work last week and a decent 20k run on Saturday, so I’m hoping that I’m reasonably well prepared…

There’s still time to sponsor my team for the run. We’re raising funds for Mind so that they can help support positive mental health – it would be great if you could pop a few quid towards our target here! https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=CommunitasTrustRunners&isTeam=true

New website for Hackney

The Big News last week was the launch of the new hackney.gov.uk! It’s been delivered by a surprisingly small team, who’ve punched well above their collective weight, in a surprisingly short amount of time. I’m really chuffed that not only have the team delivered a big improvement in terms of accessibility and usefulness, they’ve also:

  • Used the design work from GOV.UK to help us deliver a big improvement in the user interface and provide a clear foundation for future content that we publish.
  • Moved to a platform (WordPress.com) that will make it easy for us to deliver our content through mobile apps, Alexa skills, voice-activation technology, chatbots or any other digital product that our residents and businesses prefer to use in future.
  • Massively reduced our hosting costs.
  • Used the project as an opportunity to deliver other big improvements for our residents, like the Summer in Hackney map.

As ever with a big piece of work like this, there are still some teething issues to work through, but it’s a fantastic achievement. A massive well done to everyone involved!


I often find myself wishing that I could find more time to spend with the projects that our team are delivering. One project that I’m more closely involved with is Spacebank, one of the manifesto commitments that we’re leading on (https://pipeline.localgov.digital/wiki/156/community-groups-booking-free-or-low-cost-meeting-spaces-hackney-space-bank).

The team working on this have been doing great work to understand the challenges that Hackney residents experience when they try to organise space for meetings and community activity. I think that this a particularly interesting project because of the way that it cuts across different Council services, giving us an opportunity to find new ways to join up the user experience and make things simpler for our residents.

This week saw some particularly good progress for the project, including the conclusion of work to shape the technology that will underpin the next iteration of the project, agreement for next stage funding and a brilliant show & tell where the team shared the work that they’ve been doing with colleagues in Housing to look at community halls provision across Hackney. I was especially pleased that both the Director of Housing and Head of Tenancy & Leasehold Services made time to come along to see what the team have been finding through their work – it’s so important that senior leaders engage at this level of detail and great to see our colleagues in housing doing that.

I also…

  • Had a really positive meeting with HR colleagues and colleagues at partner councils to look at the model we’ve been developing for the updates to our salary supplements (see previous notes). The feedback was very positive and I think we’re heading on the right track.
  • Presented my latest update on our work to the Hackney Management Team. The follow up conversation included really good feedback to the work that the Data & Insight team have been doing with colleagues in children’s services and you can read the full report here: https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/autumn-2019-hackit-update
  • Was pleased with the update that Steve brought to our DMT meeting, sharing progress in developing our service’s contracts information and strategic procurement plan. I really appreciate the hard work that’s gone into getting these into good shape..
  • And I responded to quite a few emails asking about our plans for mobile phones…!

Something I’ve learned

One of the apps on my Apple Watch is called Breathe. It’s designed to help you take a pause and step away from the pressures of the day. I think that this is a good idea.

There were a couple of occasions last week when I was reminded how important it is to make sure that we don’t get so caught up with focusing on delivering our work that we forget to make sure that we take a moment to consider the pressures that other colleagues have and what might be behind decisions or actions that feel obstructive. There are few challenges in life which can’t be made worse with impatience or frustration!

Weeknote w/c 23 September: a late weeknote

Crikey, where have the last few days gone? I never manage to wrap up a weeknote on a Friday, but I’m not sure how it’s got to Thursday already… I wondered about making next week’s a fortnight note but am determined not to break my successful run of actual weekly weeknotes, so here we go!

There’s still time to sponsor my team for our Royal Parks half-marathon run on Sunday 13 October. We’re raising funds for Mind so that they can help support positive mental health – it would be great if you could pop a few quid towards our target here! https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=CommunitasTrustRunners&isTeam=true

Senior Managers’ Network

On Wednesday last week we had the latest meeting of Hackney’s Senior Managers’ Network. These are good opportunities to catch up with colleagues from across the Council’s services and what I particularly like is how these are used as an opportunity to share learning with one another and exchange ideas, rather than just broadcasting corporate messages.

Early on in the morning, Cate and Henry had a slot to share how our ‘HackIT Manifesto’ has helped us guide the way we work as a team. It’s good to talk about our goals of putting residents and our interactions with colleagues at the heart of what we do, rather than doing technology for technology’s sake.

There was also a strong theme of putting people first in the updates presented by colleagues from other services. We had briefings from adults’ social care, customer services and policy & partnerships and there was a consistent theme of taking the initiative to rethink the way we do things so that we focus on how we are making things better for people, not just following processes. It was a great reminder of why working for Hackney is so rewarding.

Community libraries

Earlier in the year I spent some time out and about with the community libraries team, who are celebrating the service’s 70th birthday this year (you can read more about that here: https://www.hackneygazette.co.uk/news/heritage/hackney-community-library-service-celebrates-70-years-1-6204826). In a few weeks’ time they’re holding an event to celebrate this with people coming from across the country to share ideas.

I’ve agreed to join them to talk about the approach we’re taking to our digital work and the work we’re doing together with the libraries service. We’ve also hatched a cunning plan to look at ways that we might work together to support some of the community library service’s users to help them get more from online services. I’m quite excited about that and will share more in a few weeks’ time.

I also…

  • Joined our Brexit planning group for the latest update on Hackney’s preparations for when Britain leaves the EU.
  • Took some time with Cate, Henry and Matthew to look through the proposed questions for our forthcoming annual user survey.
  • Held two more of the discussion groups looking at how we can make sure that Hackney is an inclusive place to work.
  • Met up with Tom to look at the guidance we’re developing on use of photos for work purposes.
  • Took part in work with external partners, including the regular ‘IT enabler’ board which supports health and social care integration across the City and Hackney, and also the regular meeting hosted by the Local Government Association which leads on cyber security and resilience for the sector.
  • And the week ended with the inaugural LOTI social, where a group of us from the HackIT team got together with colleagues from the central LOTI team and partner boroughs for an enjoyable get together.

Something I’ve learned

I’ve long been allergic to grand-standing presentations about ‘transformational change’. Instead, I have a strong preference for taking the long view and building mutual understanding and effective working relationships with colleagues in other services to provide a foundation for us to deliver sustainable improvement together over the longer term.

With this in mind, the presentations at Wednesday’s Senior Managers’ Network were so rewarding. I really enjoyed hearing how those teams have been using ideas that have come out of the work that we’ve been doing together combined with leading thinking in their professional fields to take very different approaches to their work. It felt like a real endorsement for the partnership approach that we’ve been taking and showed lots of opportunities for the future.

Weeknote w/c 16 September: a late night wake up call and doing the hard work to make a success of collaboration

It’s now just under three weeks until the Royal Parks Half Marathon. I think that my training is on track, but the team I’m running with are still some way off our sponsorship goal. All donations towards the important work that Lambeth & Southwark Mind do to promote positive mental health will be very gratefully received! https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=CommunitasTrustRunners&isTeam=true

A busy shift on the GOLD duty

Tuesday was an unusual day. I began my day at two minutes past midnight with a call from the Council’s emergency planning team to tell me about a fire at a block of flats in Clapton (https://news.hackney.gov.uk/update-fire-at-harry-zeital-way/). The Council’s role in a situation like this is to support the emergency services and to help the local community affected by the fire. This response is led by the emergency planning team, who send people to the scene whatever the hour and coordinate activity from their main control base. They’re supported by officers from across the Council’s teams and in this case the response included colleagues from Adults’ Social Care, Communications, Housing Needs and Environmental Services – illustrating the breadth of services that the Council provides for our residents.

As the person on GOLD duty I had the strategic responsibility for the Council’s response, including making sure that the necessary resources were being made available where needed. It’s a slightly strange experience because as GOLD you’re not on the scene and the people doing the real work are some distance away. Fortunately, the emergency planning lead kept me well informed throughout and I was able to get a clear picture of how the fire had impacted the residents of the block and what needed to be done to provide them with shelter as well as the accommodation arrangements that needed to be coordinated once the immediate incident had been dealt with by the fire service.

I was very glad to hear that the fire service had been able to make sure that all of the residents were safely evacuated from the block and that the damage to the building was largely contained. But that still left many families unable to return to their homes overnight, with some of them having to find alternative places to stay for the following night too and some who won’t be able to return home for some time while repairs take place.

Reflecting on this when my shift ended on Thursday afternoon I was proud to be part of an organisation with people who are so committed to supporting our residents. I was also incredibly impressed by the support that came forward from the local community, including help with temporary shelter and donations of toys for children whose homes were affected. I thought that was an important reminder of the good that people can do for one another.

Not the usual work of an IT manager, but definitely something that made me feel good about my job.

London Office of Technology & Innovation (LOTI) workshop

On Friday morning, I joined the rest of the core LOTI group to catch up on the progress we’ve made with our initial set of projects and agree the projects from the recent call for ideas that the LOTI team carried out. I won’t rewrite the excellent summary that Onyeka in the LOTI team wrote up in their weeknote (https://medium.com/loti/week-10-choosing-our-next-projects-715c3323b218), but there were some aspects which I thought were worth reflecting on.

The recap on the progress we’ve made so far served as a useful reminder of the challenges that are presented by collaborative working. I found it useful to talk through how we can best juggle the competing demands of local priorities and the shared commitments we’ve made together. And it was also interesting to hear how work that seems fairly easy when the ICT skills we need are part of an in-house team (as is the case in Hackney) can be much more tricky when those services are delivered by an outsourced provider.

The new project that I’m most excited about is looking at how we can align the different projects that teams across the LOTI councils are doing to explore ways that assistive technology can support independent living. I think that this could be a really good example of where coming together through LOTI can make a real difference, getting the most from collaboration while minimising the complexity that often comes with that. By developing a common approach to these experiments with new technology I’m hopeful that we can massively increase the benefits we each get by making sure that the learning can be shared effectively.

I also…

  • Joined Jasmeen and Soraya for a useful discussion with colleagues in Housing Services to work through a question that has been proving tricky. We were able to use this time to find what feels like a practical way forward and it was good to be thinking that through together, drawing on our collective experience and expertise.
  • Held another of the discussion groups that I mentioned in last week’s note. This was another great conversation which echoed many of the points raised at the previous week’s sessions but also added in new ideas to consider.
  • Had my bi-monthly update with the Mayor where I brought him up to speed with the work we’re doing across our team (you can read the briefing that I took the Mayor through here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ct1jOiWKDX7rZOB_ceDw_MiTOEQO417dxH1JGwjNNsg)
  • Wrapped up my week catching up with colleagues from another council outside of London. This prompted some really interesting thoughts about how we might work together more closely by sharing the work we’ve been doing to design new digital services. I’ll be following that up to see what might be possible.

Something I’ve learned

The discussion groups are proving a useful way to get closer to the work that people are doing across our team and hear about their experiences. While I always try to make sure that I’m not hidden away in an office, it’s a good reminder of how important it is to always be looking for new ways to learn more from colleagues and make sure that I don’t become complacent.

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

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

Making sure that Hackney is an inclusive place to work

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

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

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

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

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

Working with colleagues in other councils to develop our profession

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

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

I also…

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

Something I’ve learned

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

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

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

Next steps with cloud

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

Picking a primary cloud supplier will save time & money

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

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

LOTI workshop on information sharing to enable collaborative innovation in London

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

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

I also…

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

Something I’ve learned

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

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

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

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

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

Mobile phones

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

I also…

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

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

Something I’ve learned

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

This didn’t work…

Weeknotes from a break

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

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

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

Reading list

A shorter list than last year:

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

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

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

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

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

Something I’ve learned

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

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

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

Weeknote w/c 29 July: time for a pause

The Customer Services board gets started

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

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

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

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

A year (and a bit) on from GDPR

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

Other highlights from last week were:

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

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

Something I’m reflecting on

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

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

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

Preparing for our new Member led customer services board

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

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

Designing our software licencing to fit our future direction

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

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

Other highlights from last week were:

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

Something I’m reflecting on

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

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

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