Weeknote w/c 29 July: time for a pause

The Customer Services board gets started

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

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

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

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

A year (and a bit) on from GDPR

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

Other highlights from last week were:

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

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

Something I’m reflecting on

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

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

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

Preparing for our new Member led customer services board

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

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

Designing our software licencing to fit our future direction

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

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

Other highlights from last week were:

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

Something I’m reflecting on

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

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

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

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

Getting there with mobiles

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

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

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

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

A visit from the Committee for Standards in Public Life

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

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

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

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

Other highlights from last week were:

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

Something I’m learning

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

Weeknote w/c 8 July: a hasty weeknote, including a trip out with housing

The week is running away from me, so this is a briefer weeknote than normal to make sure I keep on track.

Learning from the housing neighbourhoods team

I took some time last Monday morning to get out and about with a colleague from the De Beauvoir and Queensbridge neighbourhood housing office. I find opportunities like this really valuable as it helps me get a better understanding of the work that the users we support do.

We took a walking visit around one of the estates he’s responsible for, starting out by discussing potential placement for additional secure cycle storage with a colleague from the asset management team (there’s growing demand for cycle hangers across the borough, including residents of our estates). And we also talked about areas where there might be opportunities for us to help with the use of data to help our colleagues better understand assets and demand across our estates.

It was very encouraging to hear how positive the team are about the work we’ve been doing with housing colleagues to provide better digital tools for staff. The app for tenancy visits is proving very valuable and the team are looking forward to further processes being added to this and also the ability to report and follow up repairs while they are on the move. Our work on connectivity is also meeting a real need, with current providers being very variable in the service they provide to our tenants and leaseholders.

I also heard that the work that’s taken place to integrate waste and cleaning services for housing estates as part of the services provided for the rest of the borough has gone very well – with very positive comments about the quality of service that housing receive from the Hackney waste service. And it was interesting to discuss how AirBnb has impacted on estates, with some leaseholders letting out their properties to short term guests.

Other highlights from last week were:

  • I caught up with a colleague at another London council to share experiences from our work in Hackney and discuss ways we might learn from their work too.
  • I popped to Regent Street for a preview event at Microsoft’s new store, which opened the following day. It’s an interesting development that they’ve clearly put a lot of effort into, with a big push on their offer to consumers as well as their traditional business market. I got to try out one of their Hololens augmented reality headsets, which is a concept that I think has a lot of potential. Although the live demo gremlins showed up and it took quite a bit of faffing to get it to work!
  • I joined other colleagues to discuss work across central and local government to improve the UK’s cyber resilience. It was positive to see that we’re in a good position in terms of the work we’ve been doing at Hackney to make sure our systems and data are secure.
  • And the week wrapped up with a sporting theme with the annual Hackney rounders tournament on Thursday (we lost, but recovered our pride by winning our last game) and the Shoreditch 10k on Sunday (where I was chuffed to crack the 50 minute barrier and get a personal best time).

Something I’m learning

I’ve been thinking about hippos. I’m mulling over how we make sure that we continue to Trust the Team and also how we tie that in with making decisions in the right way, by the right people (linking with the governance principles that Cate set out (https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/governance-so-good-people-prefer-to-use-it). I think that’s one for a blog post, so watch this space!

Weeknote w/c 1 July: hacking a bit of bureaucracy

Bureaucracy Hack

Wednesday saw the first OneTeamGov Bureaucracy Hack take place at the Tomlinson Centre. I was pleased to have the opportunity to join the event and meet up with a wide range of public servants from across central and local government (and also some folk from the supplier community) who wanted to look for ways that we can make it easier to get things done within our organisations.

I joined the team looking at business cases and the difficulties that have to be overcome when developing those (both in general and also specifically in an Agile environment). It was interesting to hear the challenges that are experienced across the group, and it helped remind me that local government can be relatively simple compared to central government, where teams need to consider approval by other parts of government such as the Treasury and GDS when they’re developing business cases.

I have to confess that I was one of the people who were only able to stay for the morning, but we resolved to make sure that we had completed a thing before the break at lunch and we managed to pull together this prototype guide for how to publish business cases in the open: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1GC6kBBL_I6-dFJBIxveVtN_5dfHzYdxJJMLoONtPw84/edit?usp=sharing. The hypothesis for this is that by making it easier to discover other business cases, teams across government will have an improved prospect of success and the quality of business cases (and the process of reviewing them for approval) will improve. It’s definitely a bit rough around the edges still, but it was an enjoyable, fast paced piece of work and I was pleased to learn about some new resources, such as the Open Contracting Data Standard and some helpful myth busting advice on dealing with commercial confidentiality (http://mythbusting.open-contracting.org).

Communicating data protection

On Thursday, Sarah mentioned some concerns about services not being sufficiently aware of the need to report potential data breaches to us immediately (there are strict timelines we need to stick to if any breaches need to be reported to the ICO). We’ve made great progress with the Data Awareness Training that we’ve been rolling out but it’s important to be thinking about ongoing communication and awareness raising too.

I was impressed by the speed at which this developed from identifying a need for action to an impressive set of communications messages, produced collaboratively with input from comms and other colleagues in our team. Sarah’s produced a set of business card sized reminders, supported by stickers that we’ll be putting on all of our ‘Grab n Go’ Chromebooks, which set out clear and simple messages with links to supporting guidance. You can see the full set here: https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1EAdly–_l8XVLg6_uQWA8uV_FkwQFV5t.

The business cards will be distributed at the Leaders’ Conference events which are starting this week. A big thank you to Colin, Tony and the team in the Print Unit for their speedy help – the proofs were back in under a couple of hours of sending them the images for printing!

Other highlights from last week were:.

  • A useful update on the ‘Beyond eDOCS’ work. We focused most of the session on work for an MVP for HR documents and will be catching up on progress in a couple of weeks time.
  • I joined the Hackney Management Team (HMT) / Cabinet meeting to look at the budget setting process for next year. An important part of that will be the Member led Customer Services board that we are helping to set up, and Matthew shared some very positive updates from the pre-meets he’s been having ahead of the first meeting which is due to take place soon. We’re hoping that we can use this as a lever to further develop ambition for using technology and data as part of designing services for our residents.
  • On Tuesday I joined HMT to provide an update on the work that Liz and the Data & Insight team have been doing, as part of a broader conversation about how we are using data to understand and lead change in the Council. I was very pleased to see the recognition of the contribution that the team’s work is having, especially when one person expressed surprise at the breadth of work included in the update – apparently, the support that Liz and team have been providing felt so responsive that they’d thought the team was working exclusively for their service areas!
  • I had a helpful follow up with colleagues in finance on the work we’ve been doing to make arrangements for investment funding (I’ve mentioned previously that we need to shift some of this from capital to revenue). I think I’m clear about what needs doing now and hopefully this will be completed soon.
  • And on Thursday, Matthew and I met with Cara and Eoin, who are Strategic Business Managers supporting HMT, to discuss ways that we can collaborate more closely. We identified that there’s real potential for us to work together to help services maximise the benefits that they get from cross-cutting work such as the workplace technology improvements we’ve been delivering. And we also agreed to set up a Hangout group along with our Relationship Management team to help provide rapid answers to questions that come up in management team meetings.

Something I’m learning

I’ve realised that I use something a bit like the Amazon ‘start with the press release’ technique in my personal life as a technique for strengthening my resolve when I’m committing to doing something that I might otherwise be too lazy to see through.

This week I used this to encourage myself to run into work on Thursday morning (just over 10k). I actually found it an enjoyable way to start the day and am pleased with the progress I’ve made since my initial wheezy jogs around my local park just over two years ago.

It was also nice to have this view to mark the halfway point!

Weeknote w/c 24 June: thinking about skills and taking time to listen

Thinking about skills

Skills development was one of the main themes of my week. We’re getting positive signs of good progress with the work to develop digital apprenticeships across the core LOTI councils, with several councils moving forward to set up new apprenticeships later this year. This includes my former colleagues at Kingston and Sutton who have published job ads for seven new digital apprenticeships, which is great news! https://www.kingston-sutton-digital-jobs.co.uk/apprenticeships

On Thursday evening, I went to an event at the Royal Society for the launch of a report they have produced looking at the market for data science skills (https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/dynamics-of-data-science/). This provides useful information about this rapidly growing area of the technology market, and I was really interested to learn about the work that’s being done to create new higher level apprenticeships to encourage more people into this field.

And at the end of the week I also had a brilliant conversation with someone who organises a programme of events which are designed to encourage young people to explore opportunities to learn more about technology and data and consider this for their future careers. We suggested some ways that we might link this in with LOTI apprentices and will be following that up later in the summer.

Taking time to listen

On Tuesday we held a ‘deep dive’ session to look in detail at one of the areas of work that’s become more tricky over recent months. It’s an interesting scenario where changes in service management mean that some of the decisions that were made earlier on in the work are now being revisited, which could mean a need for rework of the development that we’ve done. It felt that the discussions about this had become a bit entrenched, so we got together with people from across the teams involved to talk through the issues in more depth and look at how we can agree a way forward.

I was pleased with the way that this went and it was very helpful to have the operational teams and their senior managers together in the room with us at the same time. It was also obvious that the time that the team have been putting in to developing effective relationships is bearing fruit. Because of this we were able to agree high level priorities and guiding principles for the aspects that will need to be looked at in a bit more detail to agree the way forward. There will be some follow up needed, but overall it felt like a positive meeting which demonstrated the value of getting together to talk an issue through, rather than just relying on email, reports and periodic project update meetings.

Other highlights from last week were:

  • We started the week with a very useful conversation with colleagues from the Council’s communications team. As our work develops in scale and impact it’s really important that we are linking in with comms effectively so that we can make sure that residents are provided with the right information about how Hackney is using technology and data to support service change. We agreed some practical steps that we can take, including sharing our forward plans of work and using the Amazon ‘start with the press release’ approach to make sure that projects’ objectives are explained clearly from the start (and making sure that these are kept up to date as projects iterate through delivery).
  • Steve took us through the work he’s been doing to help us develop our commissioning approach to our contract management, making sure that we are managing our contracts and services proactively and identifying opportunities for different approaches. Steve also delivered an excellent strategy stand up on Thursday, sharing the work that the Contracts team are doing to embrace agile approaches and new routes for procurement such as the Digital Marketplace.
  • On Tuesday Liz took me through an excellent update on the work that the Data & Analytics team have been doing. This covered a wide range of topics, including providing managers with better access to people data; supporting the waste teams with insight into recycling and waste demand; important work on property and customer data; new tools for children’s social care to help them protect vulnerable children; and analysis to make it easier to understand patterns in housing needs. Later in the week I joined a catch up with Tim (our Chief Exec) and shared some of this – it was great to show how our team are helping the Council to design and deliver services through better use of data.
  • I did some more follow up work with colleagues in finance on the investment plans that we’ve been developing. We’re now happy that these are in sufficiently good shape to take them to the director of finance, which we’re planning to do later this week.
  • On Wednesday I took part in filming for the video that’s being prepared for the forthcoming Hackney Leaders’ conference, based on conversations with managers across the Council about their experience from their careers and development into leadership roles. I remembered one of the managers from early in my career who gave me the opportunity to take on the management of one of our company’s largest shops – knowing that someone had the belief that I could do the job well is something that continues to inspire me and I know that I need to remember to do the same for people that work with me.
  • On Friday Ian (the boss) and I caught up with the Mayor for our regular 221 meeting. It was good to report continued positive feedback from users on the service that we’re providing, especially the device upgrades that we’re rolling out (we’re now about 40% of the way through this), and also the projects that we’re helping to deliver across the Council.
  • I wrapped up the week with a mentoring conversation with a colleague from another London council. This was our first meeting so we talked through their career experience, their thoughts on the direction that they’d like to take and spent a bit of time discussing ways to develop their personal profile. I enjoy this sort of thing and always try to make sure that I’m seeing it as an opportunity to learn as well as to share from my own experience.

Something I’m learning

Speaking with some of the other attendees at the Royal Society event I went to on Thursday reminded me how much I have to learn about data science and data analytics. As I said earlier in this note, this is an area where I think we have a huge amount to contribute, but as I talked with people who are much more expert than me I was acutely aware that my current level of understanding isn’t deep enough for my liking. I decided it was ok to ask for an explanation when people used terms I didn’t recognise and am resolved to spend some time learning more about this important field.

Weeknote w/c 17 June: an anniversary

Reflections on getting to three years in

On Thursday I completed my third year with Hackney, it’s amazing how fast the time has passed. * I’m enormously proud of how much we’ve accomplished in that time, building on a strong legacy from previous years’ work at Hackney which provided solid foundations in terms of infrastructure that worked, a real commitment to our residents and users across the team, and a long-standing focus on the importance of data.

Some of the things I’m particularly proud of from the last three years include:

  • The work we’ve done to develop our team: reducing vacancies and hiring great new people into the team, developing new skills and capabilities and launching a sector leading apprenticeship programme
  • Some of the most exciting work that I’ve seen in either the retail or local government sectors, where use of modern digital technology, user research, service design and APIs is helping us to develop dramatically better digital services and reduce our dependency on legacy local government systems
  • The modernisation of our workplace technology, providing users with fast, easy to use tools, devices, wifi and meeting room technology – helping them to work together from any device, anywhere, any time
  • Good progress with continuing to modernise our applications, infrastructure, security and commissioning – setting a strong direction for future developments
  • Big steps forward in getting the most from our information assets, including a growing number of examples that show how data and analytics can support service design and delivery across the Council and great work to embed the principles of GDPR across the Council
  • Continued improvements in the service we provide for our users, especially the introduction of services such as bookable appointments which have received really positive feedback from users
  • Increasingly effective partnership working with other Council services and external partners, getting us closer to strategic conversations where we can make a real difference
  • And I’m also really pleased that our work isn’t just benefitting Hackney – by working in the open across our teams we are getting really useful input from peers in other organisations and also helping other organisations to deliver change

There’s much more that we still need to do and our work won’t ever be ‘done’. But I think we should all feel proud of the contribution we’re making to Hackney and the wider community of public servants who are looking to make the most of data and technology for the benefit of citizens.

With this in mind, the timing of the Quarter 2 retro which Matthew led on Thursday was really good. It was great to see people from across our team come together to look at the progress that we’ve made over the previous three months. David pulled together a slide deck that summarises the highlights from the retro and if you’ve not skimmed through those yet I strongly recommend you grab a cup of tea / coffee / non-caffeinated beverage of choice and take a look: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Z4bu46wT44Jtv6S7twC4r4FcwuU2oxU2CxYMoQf48mE/edit?usp=sharing. There are lots of examples of the important work we’re helping to deliver and I also really liked the honest reflection about areas where we need to improve.

Thursday also saw the show & tell for the end of the discovery phase of the DevOps project. This is a really important next step in how we work as a team. I liked Roo’s description of us as being ‘like a start up’ and the openness that had come out through the discovery work. But along with the energy and team ethos that comes with this, there are also tensions between pace and coordination which we need to work on. I thought that the hypotheses that the team put forward looked like good ones for us to focus on and I’m looking forward to seeing how these develop. What strikes me as particularly important is that every set of standards we put in place must also contain a clear way to change them (often) in future so they we don’t lose sight of the importance of remaining adaptive as our context and technology changes.

* Although Matthew pointed out that the Empire State Building was constructed in thirteen and a half months, which puts things in context…

Delivery DMT

On Monday last week, we had our monthly delivery focused DMT (divisional management team) meeting. We use these to look at the bigger picture strategic topics that we need to prioritise, with particular emphasis on cross-cutting pieces of work which depend on the contribution of more than one part of our team.

We agreed that we’d made sufficient progress on a few of the things that we’d prioritised the month before to move them off our list. This included recruitment (reflecting our recent recruitment event and some work that Matthew has planned), the refresh of the ‘HackIT Manifesto’ (Henry has set up workshops to get input from across the team), and the work on applying digital design to improve the user experience of Hackney’s support services (we agreed a way forward for this at our recent away day). We don’t wait until things are ‘done’ before we move them off the DMT list, our goal is to make sure that we’re confident that we’ve set up an approach that brings the right people together to move things forward in the right direction.

Areas we want to focus on this month are:

  • Continuing the work to make sure that our finances are in good order
  • The set up of the new Member led Customer Services board
  • Work on telephony, including getting agreement to the new model for mobile telephony that we’re developing and a tidy up of landline set up to help reduce costs
  • The actions that will be prioritised following the end of the discovery phase for the DevOps work

Other highlights from last week were:

  • We published another four ‘How To HackIT’ guides covering a wide range of topics (you can find the growing collection of guides here: http://hackit.org.uk/how-we-work/how-to-hackit). I’m liking the momentum that we’re developing with this and it’s becoming a useful tool to help align ways of working across our team. I’m also encouraged to see a positive response to these from people elsewhere, which suggests that other colleagues will find them useful too.
  • The updates at our monthly ICT Security Group meeting showed continued good progress with our work to keep information secure. I was particularly pleased with the work to simplify secure email and the results of the latest phishing test, which suggests significant improvement (I was also amused by how hard the team had had to work to get the test phishing email past Google’s built in security protections).
  • I took a half day on Tuesday for a visit to one of the primary schools in the small Multi-Academy Trust that I’m a Trustee for. It was a great visit and I loved talking to the children at the school and hearing what they thought of their experiences there. They were friendly, welcoming and full of interesting ideas. I’m learning loads from my governor and Trustee roles and it’s definitely something I would recommend if the opportunity comes up.
  • Henry and I met with our Cabinet Member for Housing on Wednesday to discuss how we will engage with tenants and leaseholders as part of the connectivity work that Henry’s leading. This was a productive conversation and we got a good steer for how we will develop this.
  • Marian and I met with colleagues from Corporate Procurement to discuss ways that we can help them adapt to using the G Suite tools. We were able to show them some features that they weren’t aware of and discussed some of the concerns they had collated from across their team. The next step will be an exercise to map the main processes across their work so that we can recommend ways that they can get the most out of the improvements that G Suite and other modern productivity technologies can offer.
  • On Thursday evening, a group of us went to the Digital Leaders 100 awards, where Hackney had been nominated as Digital Council of the Year. We didn’t win, but we were in competition with several councils who have long standing records as leaders in digital transformation (Leeds were the deserving winners) and I’m really proud that we were nominated and shortlisted among a group of such inspiring peers.
  • On Friday afternoon, I joined the Infrastructure team to look at work they’re doing to review some of our security controls for end-user devices. I was really pleased to see that they are approaching this with a focus on user needs, not simply as a technical exercise – it was a really positive example of how understanding user needs is for all of us, not just a ‘digital’ thing.

Something I’m learning

Online ordering is a great way to save time travelling to shops and to avoid the faff of dragging children around while trying to make buying decisions. I did, however, wonder whether I’d actually made any net saving as I trudged around at the weekend taking back all the returns from my over-zealous panic shopping. I guess that return on investment calculations apply just as much in the personal realm as they do at work!

Weeknote w/c 10 June: a lorra LOTI

Well, that was a full on week! Lots of good stuff, but I definitely needed to remind myself to pause and breathe on a few occasions.

LOTI launches!

The biggest news this week was the launch of the London Office of Technology and Innovation (‘LOTI’), of which Hackney is a founding member. This is the result of a lot of work by colleagues at the Greater London Assembly and London Councils, supported by 15 boroughs who have committed their time and some funding to get LOTI off the ground.

On Monday evening, Cate and I went to the Bloomberg offices in the City along with our Mayor and Ian (the boss) for the official launch event. There was real energy in the room and it was good to see Hackney at the forefront of many of the initiatives that LOTI will be focusing on. I was sufficiently excited about all this to write up a short blog when I got home, with some thoughts about why I think LOTI could be a really important development for London: https://bytherye.com/2019/06/10/why-im-excited-about-the-launch-of-loti/.

Hackney Tech Week fringe

Last week was London Tech Week, and we held a series of events in Hackney to link in with that. The first was actually run by FutureGov, not the Council, and was held in Hackney Town Hall. This brought together over 200 thinkers and doers from a wide range of organisations to explore ways that we can reimagine local government for the 21st century. I enjoyed meeting lots of new people, as well as old friends in local government digital, and was also really impressed by the work that our digital design team did in their day long design sprint looking at ways that we can support community led action.

On Tuesday we hosted the launch of the very first LOTI project, where colleagues from across the LOTI boroughs came together to look at what we need to do to grow a pan-London digital apprenticeship programme, with a working target of 100 digital apprenticeships across the LOTI boroughs by September 2020. I was particularly impressed by the excellent presentation that Darrell, Erdem, Micah and Nana gave about their experience of starting apprenticeships with Hackney and also Mal’s talk sharing a manager’s perspective.

And on Thursday, Matthew and Cate hosted a breakfast event for SMEs who are interested in working with local government on digital innovation projects. Increasing the share of work that we commission through SMEs is another important part of the way we are working in HackIT and Matthew’s blog here shares some of the things that we learned from the conversation: https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/working-in-partnership-with-suppliers.

Other highlights from last week were:

  • Joining Ian for a meeting with Cabinet members to discuss the approach we’ve suggested for bringing them closer to the Council’s work to design digital services for our residents and businesses. We had a good discussion and hopefully we’ll have this up and running soon, linking together work across services and using that to help accelerate pace.
  • An excellent walk through the Spacebank prototype with Philippa and Richard. We talked through the things we’ve learned from the team’s user research and how that’s reflected in the prototype. The team held their service assessment on Friday and it’s reassuring to hear that went well, reflecting the team’s hard work to move this forward.
  • On Wednesday we had our quarterly DMT Away Day, where we discussed a range of strategic topics, including checking in on the actions from our finance review, engaging with services who are exploring ideas for new technologies and services, and the next steps in the work we’re doing to modernise Hackney’s workplace technology.
  • On Thursday morning, Henry and I joined the Mayor and other Cabinet members for our quarterly meeting to catch up on the work to improve digital connectivity in Hackney. We discussed the work that Henry and team have been doing to design the approach for engaging with residents to develop the thinking together with them and also the areas of social value that we will be looking to maximise through the work (eg improved connectivity for social housing, new business opportunities and support for digital skills).
  • And I also worked with Cate to move our finance work forward, with a strategy stand up to help the team understand more about how our finances are managed and a workshop with cost centre managers to dig into the way we manage recharges so that we can do these efficiently and effectively.

Something I’m learning

Unlike the previous week, where I felt that I’d managed to keep lots of time for focused work, last week was almost the exact opposite. As a result, I felt that I was falling short on a number of the areas of work that I wanted to move forward. There are inevitably trade offs like this, and I think it’s important to recognise that focusing on one of set of priorities will mean that other things will pause. But I think the things I prioritised were the right ones and I’ve kept a bit more clear time in my diary next week so that I can try to catch up.

Why I’m excited about the launch of #LOTI

Today has been a great day in local digital collaboration.

It began with our friends at FutureGov * holding the London event of their ‘Designing 21st-Century Government’ series of conferences / unconferences in Hackney Town Hall. (Check out the tweets from the event here to see what was covered: https://twitter.com/hashtag/DesignForGov?src=hash)

And it wrapped up with the launch of the London Office of Technology & Innovation (‘LOTI’), of which Hackney is a founding partner.

These were opportunities to meet up with colleagues who we work with closely and also new allies in the mission of delivering great local services which make the most of the potential offered by technology, data and service design.

LOTI’s launch feels especially momentous. There are many reasons why I’m pleased to see it launch today and why I am optimistic about what we can achieve together. The three most important are:

  • Lots of people have talked about collaborating on digital, but the reality is much more complicated. Shared services have their place, but too often they descend into highly complex governance and relationship challenges. And too often traditional peer groups can drift along without a clear purpose or meaningful outcomes. There is incredible talent across London’s councils, but we need to find more agile and nimble approaches that can help us innovate at scale while also reflecting the local nature of local government. The model that LOTI has taken, based on a ‘coalition of the willing and able’, feels like it has the potential to help us get the best from sharing while minimising the risk of becoming bogged down in complexity.
  • There are some things we can only do really well if we do them together. The rapid pace of technology change can make it hard to keep up. And testing out ideas without over-committing (with the risk of expensive mistakes) can be very difficult, even with the scale of a large London borough. LOTI provides the potential for us to pool our experiments based on agreeing common ways that we can learn together. This could help us dramatically accelerate pace and allow us to test out bolder ideas than we would if we are working alone.
  • Our areas of expertise vary widely, and together we can be more than the sum of our parts. In the conversations this evening I found myself hugely impressed by the expertise across the LOTI group of councils. While I’m really proud of the work we’re doing at Hackney, there’s only so much we can focus on at one time and I’m really keen for us to learn from the work that other colleagues are doing too. Obviously, there’s nothing that stops us sharing our work without LOTI being in place, but setting this up together creates a catalyst for collaboration that feels much more energetic than the previous groupings.

I thought that Eddie (LOTI’s incoming Director who starts in a few weeks’ time) summed it up really well:

During the discussions to set up LOTI there was a lot of debate about the return on investment that our councils will get from this joint investment. I think the potential is huge but it’s down to us to make the most of that. To mangle a phrase from John F Kennedy – ‘Ask not what LOTI can do for you, ask what you can do to make LOTI a success for London’. It really is too important an opportunity for us to miss…

Tomorrow, Hackney will host an event to kick off the first LOTI project off the blocks – a shared endeavour to scale digital apprenticeships across the core LOTI boroughs, with a working goal of 100 apprenticeships. This is a big step in laying the foundations for the digital skills that London will need in future, and I’m delighted that we are able to help get this under way.

* We’ve been working hard to open up our digital procurement to a wide range of SMEs over the last couple of years. If you’d like to supply digital expertise to Hackney then please make sure you’ve registered on the Digital Marketplace and check out the opportunities we post: https://www.digitalmarketplace.service.gov.uk/digital-outcomes-and-specialists/opportunities?q=Hackney. We’d love to hear how you can help us deliver great services for our borough’s residents and businesses.

Weeknote w/c 3 June: management team update, thinking about mobiles and more

This week I felt that I managed to spend more of my time than usual on the bigger picture things I want to focus on. Partly this was luck of the draw with a slightly less back-to-back diary, but I am continuing my efforts to try to remember to make sure that important stuff doesn’t get sidelined due to ‘urgent’ things. I’m wondering whether I should try having my own personal ‘waste snake’ to keep track of distractions… *

DMT conversation points

A few people have been asking for details on the discussions we have at our Divisional Management Team meetings. A while ago I tried out sharing a link to meeting notes, but I’m trying to spend more of the time I spend in meetings paying attention and participating, which is tricky to do if I’m also writing up notes that will be easy to read for people who weren’t in the meeting. I am keen to make sure that we work in the open though, so here’s a summary from this week’s meeting. I’d welcome feedback on whether it’s useful and suggestions for things I could add.

Finance

We started by catching up with Dawn from finance to look at our revenue budget forecast. The budget monitor for May is currently being prepared, so we were looking at working figures not the final forecast. These were in line with the picture we established from our finance review work and we are going to have to make sure that we complete the follow up actions so that we monitor our budgets effectively and address the budget pressures we identified. What’s encouraging is that we are now working with clearer budget figures much earlier in the financial year than we were last year. (Cate and I will be talking through the finance review at this Thursday’s HackIT strategy stand up – make sure you come along to find out more about how we are managing our money)

Investment

We followed that by doing some more work on our investment budgets. I’m working with finance to update this as the current investment budget is made up of capital funding, but as we shift to using cloud services and helping to deliver service transformation, the way that we are spending the money means we need most of it to be revenue budgets. Finance have asked us for some more information about the work we propose to prioritise and the governance processes that these align with, so we went through this and updated the details they’ve asked for. The feedback I’ve had from finance colleagues sounds encouraging, so hopefully we’ll be able to wrap this up soon. Getting this right will be important for future years too so it’s one of my main priorities at the moment.

Audit

Finally, we caught up with Michael, who heads up our audit service. Henry’s the HackIT lead for all things audit and I was encouraged to see that we’ve made good progress with the audit plan and follow up actions. We also looked at the audit plan for this year and discussed ways that we can make sure that audit work is actively helping us drive improvements in our work, not just ticking a box.

Developing the thinking for our future approach for mobile telephony

Cate has been working on the recommendations for our future approach for mobile phones. We had really useful feedback to our recent survey and it’s helped us think through what we should recommend when we take this back to HMT (the board). Headlines from this are:

  • We will need to differentiate between services for whom mobile phones are a core work tool (which is mostly field based teams who use mobile phones to receive and update work) and other teams for whom mobile phones are a general productivity tool (ie where mobiles are used for email, calendar, messages etc).
  • In the former case we are likely to still provide corporate devices but in the latter case we want to recommend that we go ahead with paying an allowance instead. There’s a strong case for this because of the bureaucracy and effort involved with managing the issue, return and reassignment of devices and also the clear feedback from users that the traditional corporate device model doesn’t meet their needs.
  • We do, however, need to think about the amount of the allowance we offer. Because an allowance is taxable the amount we had suggested wasn’t seen as being enough to incentivise people to use their own phones. Cate and I are going to remodel the figures to see what might work.
  • To support this we will also need to pull together simple advice for users on how to keep work and personal personae separate on a single device. There are simple ways to do this but it’s clear that a lot of people aren’t currently aware of what’s available to help them do this.
  • And finally, we will need to improve the app for access to the corporate phone system. The current one isn’t good enough and I’ve been very disappointed with the beta for a new app that the provider has given us to test. But as this affects access from the current corporate devices too it needs to be a priority irrespective of any changes we make.

We will hopefully take our final recommendations to HMT before the summer break.

Other highlights from last week were:

  • A very encouraging meeting of the Housing steering group. We still have more work to do to embed a shared understanding of agile delivery (specifically what makes a ‘minimum viable product’ viable and the advantages of delivering in rapid iterations over a ‘big bang’ of a ‘finished’ product), but I was really pleased to hear colleagues in the housing service articulating the tangible benefits of the work we’ve been doing together. This included big reductions in faff for staff and strong evidence that the new digital products are helping to deliver service improvements for tenants and leaseholders.
  • I joined the HMT update on the development of the Council’s workforce strategy. Lots of the work we are doing in our team links in with this and it’s good to see that the thinking includes focus on digital skills and the wider markers of progress in the direction we want to take, not just a tick list of tasks. There are some amazing examples of innovative thinking being demonstrated by teams across the Council and showcasing these will be part of the way forward too.
  • Mid-week I joined colleagues from MHCLG, a number of councils and other sector bodies to reflect on progress with the Local Digital Declaration and share ideas for next steps. I’ve been very impressed by the quality of the outputs of the recent Local Digital Fund projects and think that some of those could deliver significant benefits across local government if they’re developed further.
  • Felix ran an excellent workshop looking at our ‘transition into service’ approach (we are looking at how we might move beyond our historic ‘ITIL’y approach and achieve a smoother flow and more engaged model for the support of new systems and Software as a Service packages after the initial project completes).
  • I took some time to plan out the work for the review of our salary supplements which is due next April. This is a really important part of making sure that we have a sustainable service for the long term and remain competitive. Over the coming months we will be doing benchmarking using a range of sources (including market surveys and comparators from other councils). It’s some way off but I’m pleased that we’re starting this now so we can do a thorough piece of work.
  • Colin updated me on the good progress that he’s made bringing the Macs that are used by some teams across the Council into a consistent management set up. This will improve the user experience and also save money from historic external support arrangements.
  • I met with some colleagues in Adults’ Social Care who are looking at how Assistive Technology might help support people in living with greater independence. I like the approach they’re taking, which is focused on smaller scale experiments to explore ideas rather than a big ‘technology X will solve all our problems’ approach. I also thought that this would be an area that would fit well with LOTI, ** so I sounded out colleagues in the core LOTI group. Their response was positive, so we’ve added this to the list of ideas that will be considered for prioritisation.

Something I’m learning

I always enjoy finding out about colleagues’ interests outside of work, because I think it gives a more rounded picture of the people you work with and makes the workplace more interesting. This week I went to a colleague’s leaving do and discovered that they’re the lead singer in a band who perform Rage Against the Machine style songs. This caught me by surprise but made for a very entertaining evening as they performed a set of their own work and covers!

* Our dev team are trying this as a technique where they jot down a Post-It for everything which takes time away from their core priorities.

** The London Office of Technology & Innovation, which launches on Monday 10 June.