Weeknotes w/c 10 September

We’re currently trying out a new approach for the way that Hackney approaches performance management. Research with managers and staff over the last year has shown that the traditional approach based on annual appraisals and mid-year reviews isn’t felt to be working, with the focus too often ending up on completing the form rather than timely discussions about progress, challenges and opportunities. The six monthly cycle is also a poor fit for the work people do, with more frequent and less formal discussion felt to be a better way to do keep track of progress, give encouragement and offer support where needed. Many other leading organisations have made changes to their appraisal processes along these lines too, and we’ve been looking at these to see what we can learn from others’ experience and apply here.

As a result of this, our colleagues in HR are proposing to replace annual appraisals with more regular ‘check-ins’. These are given structure through key discussion points and support is being provided to help managers and staff get the most from these regular conversations. In HackIT we are one of the services that are trialling this to help learn where we can further improve the proposed changes ahead of a wider roll out. This week Cate, Henry and I started to use the new approach for our 1:1s, and I’ve found it was fairly easy to use and helped add a little more structure to the regular catch ups we have been having anyway. It’s also helping us as a management team by prompting some useful discussions about areas we should focus on for our own personal development. It’s all too easy to forget to make time for this, so that feels like a win already.

As well as our own development planning, Cate, Henry, Matthew and I also took some time to think about steps we might take to help support digital skills development across the Council’s workforce and also areas we need to focus on to address digital exclusion in the borough. We covered off a number of ideas and will be doing some more work to develop these further – including following up with other colleagues and partners who we will need to work with on this.

Some of my other headlines from the week included:

  • An encouraging update with Liz and Ruth to talk through the work they’ve done to review business intelligence and data analytics across the Council. I liked the way that they’ve framed recommendations for what we should focus on next, learning from experience elsewhere and building on the positive work that’s already been done here at Hackney. This feels like a really important area that has the potential to help shift from a focus on reporting that tells us what’s already happened to greater insight that can help inform decisions and identify new ways to deliver services that will meet Hackney’s future needs.
  • Some time spent with Jasmeen, Matthew and Nic looking at how we might help other services develop roles that can help them to maximise the impact of the work that we are doing together. We’re determined to make sure that our HackIT team is working as a trusted, strategic partner for services, so it’s really important to me that this doesn’t create a customer / supplier or ‘clienting’ relationship between us and other services. I think we got to a good place with our thinking and Cate’s follow up suggestion that we look at Product Owner roles was a helpful idea too.
  • Matthew and I had a very useful catch up to talk through the work he’s doing to look at how we assess the Return On Investment for projects we’re delivering. This can be hard where baseline data is patchy and where savings will be delivered through other services’ financial planning (we’re keen to emphasise how we are supporting them to deliver their financial plans, not creating a parallel universe of ‘digital savings’). I liked the model that Matthew’s outlined and think this could work well in parallel with the work that Cate is doing to develop our own performance framework for ICT. We’re going to spend some more time on that next Wednesday when we have our management team ‘away day’ (ie day spent in a different Council office to usual looking at bigger picture topics).
  • We’re rapidly approaching the mid-point of the financial year so we’re giving quite a bit of attention to our budget monitoring this month so that we are clear about where we need to focus to make sure that things are are on track for the second half of the year. We have savings that we need to deliver this year and more to identify for next year, so it’s essential that we’re planning for this in good time and making sensible strategic choices.
  • I had some useful meetings with external partners this week, including local NHS colleagues catching up with work to enable integrated approaches for health and social care; colleagues in central government who are working to design the next generation of secure collaboration and sharing of data across government; and colleagues at Homes England to compare notes from the work we’re both doing to improve workplace technology and collaboration.
  • I managed to make time to attend a couple of our project stand ups this week. These were really good opportunities to get closer to the detail with our work to build on the Local Gov Digital Pipeline service to provide a collaborative roadmap tool that can help build collaboration across the sector, and also the work we are doing in partnership with Camden and Southwark to reinvent the process of submitting planning applications.
  • The week ended with a very useful briefing from Keith, Kameel and Lindsay who took us through the current thinking for our future network strategy. This is a vital part of our ‘web first’ strategy which, as well as delivering much needed upgrades to make sure our network is up to date, will also give us the bandwidth, reliability and security we need to make the most of cloud services and enable a managed shift from legacy applications. I was pleased to see how the thinking is developing and we identified some areas to focus on ahead of agreeing the high level design and pressing on with the more detailed design work.
  • I had several ‘welcome’ meetings with new members of our team this week, which were all really good conversations. I discussed service design and the experience of moving to a new organisation with Joanne; data science and an interesting project on analysing case notes with Joe (a bit more about that below); how we are working to develop a structured approach for our service improvements with Paul; and information management and ways to make this responsive to user needs with Jonathan.
  • I also managed to finish this weekend’s Peckham Rye 10k ‘fun’ run in a little less time than I did last year’s Shoreditch 10k. I’m wondering whether I feel brave enough to aim for a time that’s under 50 mins for next month’s return to Shoreditch…

Something I’m learning

I really enjoyed the notes that Joe shared from his presentation about the work he’s doing to look at how we might use data to better understand the needs of Hackney’s vulnerable residents. This is a Discovery exercise and it was fascinating to see how complex it is to understand the context of commonly used terms (for example words like ‘asbestos’ and ‘monoxide’ in case notes might indicate a risk to someone’s health but might also relate to routine inspections / requests for monitors to be fitted). I find this interesting because there often seems to be an assumption that using analysis of data and algorithms to provide services is an easy piece of tech ‘magic’, but it’s actually incredibly complex to understand context and use that to make objective decisions. I think this is a really important area for us to be exploring and I’m pleased to see it being done in a thoughtful way.

Weeknotes w/c 3 September 2018

I think that technically it’s still summer for a few weeks yet *, but there’s definitely an autumnal feel now. I’ve concluded that spring and autumn are my favourite seasons and I’m really liking arriving in Hackney in the morning and walking into the office as the bright sun streams down Dalston Lane.

As we’ve had overlapping holidays, this week was my first opportunity in a long time to catch up with Henry and talk through the work that our Platform teams are doing. The Platform teams’ responsibilities cover a wide range of areas that are really important to our service and which underpin the work of the whole division. I was very pleased to see how much progress is being made, despite people being away for the summer holidays. Key highlights from areas we looked at this week included:

  • Confirmation that our PSN Code of Connection has been signed off for another year, very positive news and the result of lots of hard work that the team have been leading to keep our systems up to date and secure. The work to make sure that we’re ready for next year’s renewal starts now as it’s essential that security is something that we are focusing on throughout the year, not just an annual event.
  • A noticeable positive impact on our service performance as a result of the team’s focus on service improvement over the summer months. It’s essential that we focus on the quality of the experience we provide for our users, not just closing calls down on the system to make the graphs look good. I’m pleased to see the thought that Michael, Paul and the Service Support team are giving to this, breaking the work down into manageable chunks and linking the review of calls in with the wider improvement work that Cate D is leading.
  • Continuing the work to make sure that our asset management is effective. This is something that every ICT service I’ve worked in has found hard, as it involves keeping track of a large number of devices and software licences in what are often fast changing and complex organisations. But getting it right is critical so that we can make sure that we’re maximising the value for money that we get from the Council’s investments in ICT and know that the decisions we take are based on accurate information.
  • Planning ahead to make sure that we have a smooth transition from the project team who have been leading the G Suite migration to regular day-to-day support. Again, I was pleased to see that the teams have been working well together and have identified a clear plan with focused priorities, rather than getting bogged down.

Henry and I also caught up with Stephen (Hackney’s director for strategy, policy and economic development) to look at the progress with our strategic thinking re: internet connectivity in the borough, which links to a number of outcomes we are working to deliver in line with the Mayor’s manifesto. We agreed the headline discussion points that we want to focus on at our next update with the Mayor and Cllr Nicholson, and we also agreed the approach we will take for linking into existing Council governance where decisions need to be confirmed.

Other headlines from the week included:

  • I joined the fortnightly Projects ‘Shout Out’ session that Dennis is experimenting with. This is a quick fire stand up where we run through headlines across our projects, with the emphasis on identifying aspects that might impact on other projects and giving project teams the opportunity to ask colleagues for help if they need it. I found that this gave me a very useful overview and will be trying to join the sessions on a regular basis.
  • Wednesday’s DMT covered a number of important updates, including reviewing our service performance, audit plan and work to address actions that audit have identified, and Stephen’s work to review our procurement and contract management arrangements. Stephen has made really good progress with his review and I’m pleased with how this is taking shape.
  • Cate and I caught up re: the apprentice network that we are setting up. Our goal is to work together with other digital employers in the borough to foster networks of support for our apprentices and to help other employers grow apprenticeship opportunities in Hackney.
  • On Wednesday I attended the Local Government Association’s Cyber Security Stakeholder Group meeting. This group brings together people from across local government, central government and other agencies such as the National Cyber Security Centre to help improve cyber security and resilience across the local government sector. We got an early look at the initial findings from the ‘cyber stocktake’ that the LGA are leading on and we discussed how the results will be used to provide additional targeted support for councils.
  • At this week’s Housing Transformation Board we looked at an update that Matthew had prepared giving a summary of the releases we will be delivering over the next two months: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1M6l5RpqDIIBVEen1Iq-wECQopCOlXfS3. It’s brilliant to see really big improvements for customer contact management, incomes, repairs, and tenancy management which will deliver big benefits for residents and colleagues in housing services.
  • Our first set of meeting rooms are now up and running with Hangouts Meet kit so that they can be used for presentations and video meetings. We’re starting with a small group of rooms, including rooms in Council offices elsewhere in the borough, and using this to make sure that we have a good handle on the user experience and support / guidance that users need before we press on with a wider roll out.
  • And this week my introduction chats were with Jasmeen and Emma. We had really good conversations about how we can share our ideas and experience and learn from one another across the team, and also the different organisations that they’ve worked in before and what we can learn from that at Hackney.

Something I’m learning

I’m currently giving quite a lot of thought to how we can work together across the Council to get the most out of the things that Hackney has done to enable a genuinely modern workplace. The combination of modern office spaces, progressive HR policies that are positive about flexible working and trusting managers and staff to get the job done, and the improved technologies that we’re rolling out is really powerful.

I’m keen to make sure that we play a part in building a strong sense of shared direction across the Council to use these to best effect, and there are lots of teams across departments that we can use as exemplars to help show the way. This is much more than an ‘IT thing’, so my main focus at the moment is looking at how we link up with colleagues to develop our approach for this and also make sure that we do this in a way that’s consistent with our agile approach, avoiding the potential trap of proposing a ‘corporate culture change programme’, which Tim (the Chief Exec) is rightly wary of. It’s increasingly clear that this links in with thinking that Matthew’s been doing about ways we might develop a ‘change support agency’ model to help service managers reimagine the way that their services are developed, so I’m hoping we can join those up.

* Although, that prompted me to check and it turns out that ‘it depends’: https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/seasons/autumn/when-does-autumn-start

Weeknotes w/c 27 August 2018 – back to work

I’m congratulating myself for arranging my holidays so that I returned during the bank holiday week. Not only was it nice to have a four day week after my time away, it also meant that my incoming email was lighter than usual, giving me a bit more time for catching up. As a result I seem to have managed to remain refreshed rather than getting a nagging sense of being miles behind with everything as soon as I got back! (I should credit Cate, Henry and Matthew with an important part in that too – as they dealt with most of the things that were sent my way while I was off sunning myself)

I started my week by catching up on progress with our GDPR action plan, including the Digital Action Plan training we’re providing to all of our users so that they are well informed about their data protection responsibilities and know how to get help and advice when they need it. I’m very pleased to see that lots of people have already completed this important training, despite it being the holiday season, and we’ve seen some good examples of where people are taking action as a result. I was also really chuffed to see the content for this training shared openly via our team blog and GitHub while I was away (see Sarah’s blog post here: https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/sharing-our-work-data-awareness-training-content). This is an important example of how we are putting our commitment to the Local Digital Declaration into action. In the past I’ve seen councils charging other councils to use work like this, and I think it’s important that we stop that and work collaboratively wherever possible.

We’re also pushing forward with the work to review how our documents are managed, moving away from dated and hard to use systems and making it easy for our users to get the information they need wherever they are and to work collaboratively, reducing the number of documents that are passed to and fro by email. As you’d expect, this is a mammoth task as it involves lots of teams and millions of documents. We’ve been grappling with how we can best unpick this into bite-sized chunks so that we can make progress and learn by doing, and I was encouraged to see that the approach for this is beginning to take shape. There’s a real appetite among our users to engage with this work and we’ve learned lots more detail about how different teams are working through the migration to G Suite that we’ve been delivering over the summer. I’m hoping that this will stand us in good stead as we move forward into the next phase of this work.

Cate McLaurin and I caught up and went through work that her team are doing to make sure that we’re managing our mobile telephony services effectively and ensuring that our procurement and contract management processes are working well. These are tricky and complex areas, where it’s very easy to get stuck due to the various challenges involved and it’s too easy for a focus on process to override user needs. It’s really refreshing to see how Cate and team are working closely with colleagues across the service and keeping focused on finding practical steps that will move us forward, even if there will still be more work needed later on. That reminded me of something that a former colleague said a couple of years ago when complexity was bogging down our team:

In parallel with that, Cate’s work to develop our governance model is also looking very promising. We’re keen to make sure that we don’t accidentally create a bureaucratic monster and to ensure that we fit in with existing corporate governance. Cate’s been taking a user led approach working with a wide range of colleagues and will be sharing more about the thinking in coming weeks. A key part of that is going to be making sure that we have clearly articulated the principles and standards that we use to make decisions so that we can devolve decision making and make sure that teams are able act with confidence. Some other highlights from the week included:

  • Checking in on our work to improve our FOI performance, asset management and the project to refresh our users’ ICT kit.
  • Comparing notes from our respective holidays with Matthew Cain and catching up with progress across our portfolio of digital and data projects.
  • An introductory chat with Rich, who’s joined us from working in an academic institution. It was interesting to learn about the inner workings of universities and we also discussed email habits, which reminded me of this post: https://bytherye.com/2015/11/02/is-email-here-to-stay/.
  • Getting our annual user survey ready for launch this week. This is an important part of making sure that we are responding to our users and tracking our progress in meeting their needs.

Something I’ve learned this week

While I was away I decided to trim my Twitter grazing down to a much reduced list. I’ve decided to keep this up now that I’m back and to use the spare time to focus on reading a book while I’m on my train into work (I find I’m still dealing with stuff left over from the day on my way home so far). I’m rather enjoying this and think I’m going to try sticking with that.

Week(ish)note — a summer break and a bunch of reading

Following Matthew Cain’s lead, this weeknote is a summary of what I’ve been reading over my summer break. Having the time to actually read whole books again still feels like a novelty and is definitely a parenting milestone!

(I’ve cheated slightly here though, as I was half way through two of these books before we started our holiday and I haven’t finished the last one yet.)

How Democracy Ends, David Runciman (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jun/21/how-democracy-ends-david-runciman-review)

I discovered the Talking Politics podcast (https://www.talkingpoliticspodcast.com/about/) through listening to the talk which led to this book, and that’s now a regular feature in my podcast listings. The book covers lots of ground, from considering whether there actually is anything inevitable and permanent about democracy as we currently know it, to looking at the key threats to that, and then suggesting where we might go from here. Thought provoking and worth a read.

Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jan/14/fire-and-fury-michael-wolff-inside-trump-white-house-review)

Not the most high calibre of my summer reading choices, but entertaining nonetheless.

(I’m considering giving Bob Woodward’s new book a look for another perspective on the Trump White House: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/aug/12/woodward-bernstein-watergate-donald-trump-era)

Programmed Inequality, How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing, Marie Hicks (http://programmedinequality.com/)

This was an interesting social history, which included lots of interesting technology history too. I was struck by the explanation of how social norms and gender stereotypes resulted in the lead in computing that Britain had developed during the second world war being lost afterwards. Notions of ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s work’ meant that the highly skilled women who had been vital during the war effort lost opportunities to progress after the war ended and subsequent generations found themselves categorised into administrative roles with a host of institutional barriers to developing their careers. The negative consequences of this are still all too clear today.

I was hoping to learn a bit more about how stereotypes of computers as a ‘boys’ toy’ from the early days of consumer computing might be influential today, but the book’s focus on business and government from the 1940s through to the 1980s meant that it was silent on that.

Cyber Wars, Charles Arthur (https://www.koganpage.com/product/cyber-wars-9780749482008#)

This book delves into a series of high profile cyber attacks and describes what happened and the repercussions. I enjoyed it and thought that for the most part the book would be a good read for a fairly non-technical audience, getting beyond the ‘it’s all too complicated and scary’ narrative that’s too common in the media coverage of cyber threats and explaining practical lessons that can be learned. This could prompt some useful questions for senior people to ask their ICT teams for assurance about (and also ask themselves, given how often the causes of cyber breaches are prioritising business growth over the time and investment need to get security fundamentals right).

While the book is not a highly technical tome, I thought it would also be a useful read for a more technical audience. The case studies show how fairly straightforward measures such as keeping systems up to date, using effective access control, and training support staff to be careful when they’re asked to reset passwords should be prioritised above some of the more cloak and dagger stuff that people can often become obsessed by.

(All is not lost though, I was encouraged by the section that describes how IKEA are investing in getting the security for their ‘smart’ lighting right, on the grounds that it makes good commercial sense.)

Travelers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism Through the Eyes of Everyday People, Julia Boyd (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Travellers-Third-Reich-Fascism-Everyday-ebook/dp/B06Y63WXM7)

My holiday reading usually includes a dose of history and I find the first half of the twentieth century especially interesting. This book was a change from my usual choices as it focused on civilian life in Germany from 1918–1945 through observations made by travellers visiting the country. What struck me from reading it was that there appeared to be an alarming level of sympathy for many of the Nazi’s policies, which comes across as being the result of a combination of social norms at the time, the group of commentators whose writing was selected for the book (I wondered how representative the people chosen were), a failure to understand the real extent of what was happening, and the extensive use of propaganda.

Weapons of Math Destruction, Cathy O’Neil (https://weaponsofmathdestructionbook.com/)

This book looks at how algorithms and data are shaping our world, in particular the impact this has on locking in social disadvantage and other adverse effects. Recurring themes included the use of proxy measures to determine outcomes (eg where you live being used to set insurance premiums and credit scores being used as part of screening for job applications) and lack of accountability for many of these processes. I think that data ethics is going to become an increasingly important part of how we shape our world and thought that it was interesting to reflect on how the rights set out in the General Data Protection Regulation will contribute to this. I also wonder how we might best educate people so that they are able to exercise these rights effectively.

Turn The Ship Around! David Marquet (https://www.davidmarquet.com/books/)

This has been on my ‘to read’ list for quite a while. It’s based on the experience that the author had as the Captain of a US Navy submarine where he introduced an inclusive leadership approach to dramatically improve the ship’s performance (a big contrast to the traditional command and control approach). I found it an easy read and thought that it suggested some good ideas for ways to make the shift from heroic / command and control leadership to establishing a confident and effective leadership culture across a team.

The Price of Prosperity: Why Rich Nations Fail and How to Renew Them, Todd G. Buchholz (https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062405708/the-price-of-prosperity)

This book puts forward a thesis suggesting why prosperous nations eventually find themselves reaching a point of decline, looking back from ancient Greece through to the modern world. I’m always a bit suspicious when a piece of writing starts out by declaring that it has uncovered the previously unidentified and definitive answer to a question, and some of the conclusions were too neat for my liking. I also felt that the author was too confident that the Western world’s current economic model was the right one and that the challenges we face are primarily to do with other aspects of social integration and cohesion — I doubt that it’s as straightforward as that. But I learned some interesting stuff and overall I didn’t begrudge the time spent reading the book.

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, Brad Stone (https://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/29/books/the-everything-store-jeff-bezos-and-the-age-of-amazon.html)

I’m still half way through, but I’m finding this a very interesting read. It’s easy to assume that Amazon found the magic formula for success from the get go, so I’m finding it interesting to learn more about the company’s beginnings and the different approaches Amazon has had to try out as it has grown. As Matt Ballantine has noted, I’m not persuaded by Jeff Bezos’ approach to management and work / life balance, but then I’m not a multi-billionaire so maybe it’s me who’s getting it wrong…

So, now on to the bank holiday weekend and revving back into gear for work next week! (I’m actually looking forward to getting back up to speed — which I think suggests it’s been a good break.)

Weeknotes w/c 30 July 2018

I crammed in lots this week, partly because I was making sure that I was on top of things before I go on leave. I’ve decided to play with the format for my note and give a bit more focus to a couple of the topics that I thought were particularly important.

Modernising the way that we work securely across government and beyond

I had a couple of meetings this week with colleagues from across the public sector looking at how we can develop the future model for secure collaboration across public services. It’s nearly 18 months since the Government Digital Service made the very positive assertion that ‘The Internet is OK’ (https://governmenttechnology.blog.gov.uk/2017/01/20/the-internet-is-ok/) and I’m keen to see this thinking being put into practice.

The days when a ‘special and secure network for government’ (or at least the bits of government that aren’t dealing in defence and national secrets) was a good idea are long behind us and the reasons why that is a poor fit for modern public services are well rehearsed (my own missive on that is here: https://bytherye.com/2013/11/09/keeping-our-information-safe-using-it-well/).

I’m really interested to explore questions such as:

  • How can we apply a ‘do no harm’ principle to secure collaboration, that makes sure that one organisation’s risk appetite doesn’t prevent other organisations from taking full advantage of the potential that modern technology offers? *
  • How can we make sure that we have properly reflected the complexity of public service delivery (including the vital role that the voluntary sector and community groups play) when we design our security models?
  • How might we learn from modern internet companies, who are able to protect the security of their platforms without mandating hyper-restrictive controls on their users?
  • And how can we shift to a focus on applications and information, and away from large scale network integration?

I’m pleased that these conversations are taking place and while it might sound like it’s all a bit ‘techie’ I think that if we get this right it will make a big contribution to delivering public services that are fit for the 21st century.

* I also think it’s important to note that some ‘risk averse’ approaches actually have the opposite effect and make risks worse.

‘Right sized’ governance that works with Agile

Over the last year and a half we have been working hard to embed Agile and design led approaches in our work. We’re still developing this but are already seeing fantastic results across lots of the areas that we’re working on.

Something I’m keen to do alongside these changes is to develop our internal governance arrangements so that we can match the pace and innovation that Agile is helping us achieve with effective shaping of the work that’s coming into our service, oversight of what we are delivering and clear capture of the benefits that we are helping to enable. And I want to make sure that we do this in a way that doesn’t take away from the pace and energy that we’ve started to achieve.

We already have good work underway for this – including, but not limited to, developing an increasingly clear picture of our pipeline of work and also the thinking that Matthew is bringing together on our future model for capturing the Return On Investment for the work we deliver. On Monday, Cate, Matthew and I had a useful session to talk through this and look at how we are aligning the various threads. I’m hoping that over the coming months we’ll be continuing to clarify our approach and that this will help us continue to accelerate and demonstrate the progress that we are making.

Some of the other things I spent time on this week included:

  • Speaking with Mark at UK Authority to talk about how we want the supplier market to change. The result was this article: http://www.ukauthority.com/articles/hackney-s-call-for-suppliers-to-join-digital-ecosystem/ and more than a few calls from suppliers wanting to chat. My diary will be busy when I get back…
  • Meeting with colleagues from the GLA to talk through the business case they’re developing for the London Office of Technology and Innovation.
  • Some more intros with team members who’ve joined over the last couple of months. This week I caught up with Susan M-L, Lee, Susan S and Michael and really enjoyed our conversations.
  • A very useful overview from Lucy talking through the strategic landscape in adults and children’s services and the work we’re doing in those areas. I like how these sessions are helping us to make sure that we’ve got a clear picture across the work we’re doing.
  • My quarterly update to Hackney Management Team (my report to them is here: https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/committing-to-work-in-the-open) and also update meetings with the Mayor and Ian (my boss).
  • Our fortnightly management team meeting, which included looking at our service performance, user satisfaction and a really useful discussion about the work Cate is leading to help us embed our approach to training and development. This linked nicely with a separate discussion later in the week about Hackney’s work to develop inclusive leadership approaches across the Council.
  • Meeting up with a colleague from Essex County Council to share the work we’ve been doing to use the Digital Marketplace and redesign our service.
  • Planning our user survey which will go out in September and will help us check in on how we’re doing and make sure that we are still heading in the right direction.
  • Catching up on our health and safety arrangements – watch out for a reminder about completing your workstation assessment if you haven’t done it recently!
  • A very useful briefing from Chidi, Kim and Lindsay on the analysis for our database rationalisation work.
  • And also some time spent updating the information that we’ve provided for the Council’s Corporate Plan.

Phew!

Something I’m working on learning

There’s lots of training and guidance for managers on how to have ‘difficult conversations’ and discuss areas where performance needs to improve. I’ve found that there’s less about how to provide useful feedback when things are going well, and I find that I’m sometimes unsure about how to do that without unintentionally sounding like I’m being picky and moaning – especially when I appear to have acquired a completely unjustified reputation for being something of a pedant… 😉 I’m going to give this more thought and look for ways that I can get better at this.

Weeknotes w/c 23 July 2018

Now that we are close to completing the initial G Suite migration (with over 3,000 people moved over and just a couple of hundred of people left to do) we’re pushing ahead with the work on information and document management, and at the start of the week Anita, Sarah, Tom and I went through the analysis of audit tool requirements. This will be an important part of helping us to move our information management approach from the current model which is based on having highly structured file management that is standardised across the Council towards an approach which allows services to tailor their arrangements to better fit their needs and equips our team with tools that will help them guide and support services in managing their information effectively.

And on Friday Anita and I met with Sonia, the Council’s Head of Policy and Partnerships, to look at ways that her team can take advantage of the G Suite tools for their work. This was a very encouraging discussion and there are lots of ways that having access to more flexible technology will make it easier for them to share ideas and develop strategic plans together with partners. It was great to hear how much progress Sonia’s teams have already made and we identified some useful areas that they can explore next.

As Cate and Matthew were both off last week Henry had to put up with more of my chit chat than normal. We had a useful catch up to go through the recent feedback from the Mayor and Councillor Nicholson on the connectivity strategy that we’re developing and we also looked through some of the other areas of work that the Platform teams are prioritising.

Lucy and I caught up with Sarah, director of children and families, on Monday and checked in on our work together with her services. This was a positive discussion and Lucy also gave me a quick walk through the Discovery exercise that’s been taking place to look at how data might help with contextual safeguarding. I was particularly interested to hear how this is helping the teams involved think through the sorts of questions that data can help answer – I’ve often found that reports and data can accumulate over time and the purpose for producing all the data gets lost, so it’s good to see that this work is starting out by considering user needs.

As we’ve committed to support the Local Digital Declaration I was interested to join the Slack chat that Rishi Sunak, the Minister responsible, held on Tuesday. I thought that it was positive to have direct discussion between a Minister and the practitioners whose work will be impacted by an initiative that they’re promoting and highlights from the discussion were captured in this blog from the MHCLG team: https://mhclgdigital.blog.gov.uk/2018/07/24/using-slack-to-askrishi/. I asked whether this would become a regular thing and the response to that was positive.

Now that the school holidays are upon us there’s a bit more juggling to be done with childcare. That took a fun form on Wednesday with a day off and a trip to the theatre.

Back at work, Thursday included the Finance & Corporate Resources Directorate Management Team, where we discussed workforce planning across the directorate and wider Council (with particular focus on how we can plan recruitment effectively and market the excellent opportunities that Hackney offers), and also the Corporate Resilience Forum, where we were pleased to see that the work to update BCP plans across the Council is pretty much complete and test exercises are well under way.

Friday brought with it an interesting conversation with Mark Gannon at Sheffield City Council. Mark’s currently bringing their IT back in house from an outsourced service (which reminded me how fortunate we are that Hackney has already done this some time ago) and is also looking at how the Council can help lead wider digital change across the City. It sounded like there might be some useful opportunities to share ideas and learn from each others’ experience so we’ll be following that up.

Later on Friday I caught up with the work on our device refresh, which should see kit for our user research arriving soon as well as an initial batch of Hangouts Meet equipment which we can use to test out the benefits of extending video meeting capabilities across the Council. We’re going to start with our floor, some other locations in the HSC and Town Hall and also some of our remote sites where we expect to find opportunities to help teams based at those sites save time and be more closely connected with colleagues in the core campus.

My team intros this week were brought by the letter L. On Monday I caught up with Lindsay (who’s joined Hackney as our Infrastructure Manager) and on Friday I finished up my week with a chat with Liz (who’s moved to ICT from the Strategy, Policy & Economic Development division to be our Data & Insight Manager). It was interesting to get their thoughts on how we’re developing as a service, in particular how we connect up across teams, and I was pleased to hear that they’ve both had a positive experience so far.

Something I’ve learned

Liz and I also discussed the use of tools like Twitter as part of working in the open. I’ll confess to having initially been sceptical about the value of social media and it took a lot of persuasion (and coercion…!) from my boss to get me to sign up to Twitter back in 2009. But I’m pleased that I did and I’ve made lots of really valuable connections through Twitter since I joined. (I have, however, ditched Facebook – mostly because I find it annoying, but they do also seem to have stretched the ‘creepy’ boundary a bit too far in my view…)

Weeknotes w/c 16 July 2018

A highlight of my schedule is getting the opportunity to meet new members of our team. This week I caught up with Rahma Mohamed (who’s new to Hackney and has joined as a Service Designer) and Lucy (who’s joined us from Hackney’s Planning service and is now Relationship Manager leading on our links with adults’ and children’s social care) and it was great to hear about the work they’re doing and their reflections on joining the HackIT team. We’ve had lots of new starters following our recent recruitment campaign and I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone.

A major theme for my diary this week was information governance and security. I was pleased to hear that we are continuing to make good progress with our work to make sure that our systems are up to date (including patching and decommissioning out of date systems) and training our users in their data protection responsibilities. I spent some time looking through the arrangements for sharing data across health and social care so that we can work together and provide more effective care services. And I was also very encouraged to see the progress that’s been made with the development of our information asset register and I learned something new – I didn’t realise that local authorities are responsible for licencing stage hypnotism performances, but I now know that we do under the terms of the 1952 Hypnotism Act!

Cate D, Dawn, Henry Lewis and I caught up mid-week to check in on our Health and Safety arrangements, making sure that we have these in hand following our move into the Hackney Service Centre in the spring. We’ve had a good number of volunteers come forward to be fire marshals and first aiders (thank you to the people who’ve volunteered for that) and are making sure that the required training has been organised. We’re also going to be checking to make sure that everyone has complete their workspace assessments so that we know that we’ve identified anyone who might need additional adjustments to make sure that the workspace is comfortable and safe for them.

On Thursday I had my regular catch up with Kay, our director of customer services. Our team have been working hard to support Kay’s service and we reflected on some significant successes, including the infrastructure upgrades for the systems they rely on that were delivered in the spring and real success in the way that we’ve worked together to design and implement a new service approach in response to the Homelessness Reduction Act (Hackney were one of the first authorities to be ready for this, ahead of the statutory schedule, and soundings from other boroughs suggest that the service we’ve designed together with our partners FutureGov is working very effectively when compared to the experience others have had). Looking forward we spent some time discussing ways we can make it easier for residents to access Council services that require authentication and work to make it easier for residents to manage payments for the money that they owe the Council.

I try to make sure I’m making some time each week to learn about new ideas and this week had a number of interesting discussions. These included meeting Patric and Tim from Linkd, a lifestyle brand loyalty startup based in Hackney whose approach got me thinking about the directory of services work we’re doing; Katie and Kris from Amazon Web Services for a broad ranging conversation covering digital platforms, skills and culture; Amy from Public to hear about their Govstart programme which is helping new digital start ups develop public service offerings; and Matt from Stamp to take a look at how his ‘CIO Priorities’ cards might provide a different lens to look at the work we’re doing and help test the way we’re joining these up and identify gaps / tensions.

(The cards are based on common priorities that Matt’s distilled from conversations with CIOs across the public and private sectors. We looked at how these might map to the themes we’re using to shape our work at Hackney and also picked out ones that aren’t aligned with things we want to focus on – the ones at the bottom right. It’s not a perfect fit but I thought it prompted some interesting things to think about in terms of how the themes and our team structures link up.)

The week wrapped up with check ins with Temple, Henry and Michael to keep up to speed with our end-user device refresh work (we’re starting some user research to help us understand what sorts of device will work best for different working styles – thank you to Richard for offering to help with shape that!) and with Steve and Cate to bring me up to speed with Steve’s review of our contracts and purchasing processes (which is helping us identify new areas where we can drive out savings and also opportunities to simplify some of our internal processes).

Something I’ve learned this week

On Tuesday I learned that falling over while running is much more painful in your mid-40s than it was when I was a child and have spent the rest of the week bandaged up and hobbling a bit. And on Wednesday I was reminded how useful it is to be able to use Hangouts Meet video calls to join meetings so that I could give myself an extra day at home to help the mending process without missing out on any important discussions.

Weeknotes w/c 9 July 2018

The week began with the quarterly ‘Hackney Digital’ meeting that Stephen Haynes (Director of Strategy, Policy and Economic Development) and I have with the Mayor and Cllr Nicholson, where we focussed on looking through the latest updates for the connectivity strategy review that Henry Lewis is leading. We had a very constructive discussion looking at the priorities that Henry’s recommending following the extensive engagement with other services and telecommunications providers that he led earlier this year and got some helpful steers for the next steps.

Later in the morning I joined the Housing Transformation Board which covers a wide range of improvements across the housing service, including the work we are doing with housing colleagues to help improve services to tenants and leaseholders. There have been several senior management changes in housing over the last couple of months and Matthew Cain, Jasmeen, Nic and other members of our team have been working hard to help new colleagues get a good understanding of the ‘app’ based approach we’re taking and build confidence in the direction we’ve set. The highlight of the meeting for me was hearing another senior colleague in housing strongly advocating the progress that has been made and the direction of travel – a real endorsement of the hard work that’s going into building a real partnership ethos between our teams.

Also on Monday, I had catch ups with Cate McLaurin, Henry Lewis and Matthew Cain to check in on progress. We have 1:1s every two weeks and alternate between more formal reviews of objectives and a less formal discussion about how work is progressing. I find this helpful as it makes sure we’re taking a rounded view and have time to keep each other up to date.

I think the way we do this is a good fit for the approach that we’re looking to develop across the whole Council for appraisals and performance management. On Wednesday Molly from the Organisation Development team and I presented an update on this thinking to the Senior Manager Network meeting, which seemed to be well received. Our proposal is to switch away from annual objectives and twice yearly appraisal meetings (which can often feel like a form filling exercise and is rarely a good fit for the way that people actually work) towards more frequent ‘check ins’ where managers and their reports get together to look at priorities, progress and development opportunities with a greater focus on having a good quality conversation, rather than complex rating systems. The next step is to trial this as a ‘beta’ with a range of service teams ahead of adopting it across the Council. (We also know that some service areas such as social care have specific performance review needs for their professions so we’ll be taking those into account.)

At the end of Wednesday afternoon Cate McLaurin and I met up with Cllr Williams, our Cabinet Member for Employment, Skills and Human Resources, to talk through our plans for our apprentice programme. We had a very positive discussion and it was great to hear about the progress Cate has made with taking on the lead role for this since she started a few weeks ago.

Wednesday ended with the termly full governing body meeting at the school where I’m a governor. I find this a very rewarding responsibility which gives me valuable insight into how the education system works and a good opportunity to get first hand experience of public service delivery on the ‘front line’. I’m taking on the role of chair of governors next year which I’m expecting will be an interesting challenge.

Thursday was all about GDPR, as a group of us spent the day in in-depth training about the new Data Protection Act. I was reassured to find that the work on this over the last year has given me a fairly good understanding, but there were some useful details that I hadn’t picked up before so the day was a valuable way to develop my knowledge.

Over lunch I managed to fit in a quick chat with Sarah and Tom to talk through the work to roll out the new Digital Action Plans for officers and similar data protection training for Members focusing on their roles and data responsibilities. Being able to demonstrate that all of our users have had good quality training will be an important part of our overall data protection work, and we are making this genuinely mandatory by advising users that we will suspend their IT access if they don’t complete the training.

The week wrapped up with a meetup event for G Suite users across central and local government, hosted by Google. This was a good opportunity to catch up with colleagues, compare notes and provide feedback to Google on areas that we’re keen to see them focus on.

Something I’ve learned this week

I’ve been reflecting on the importance of setting goals to help with focus. I’m currently finding it harder to motivate myself to get out twice a week for 5k runs than I did for 10k and 21k runs when I was getting ready for the Hackney Half a couple of months ago. I think this applies to work too and while I’m not a fan of over focusing on targets (which I think can often be at the expense of keeping our sights on the bigger picture that we need to work towards) I do think it is helpful to use objectives to focus the mind and make sure that quick progress is made. I’m going to be asking myself whether I’m prioritising the right things and giving them enough focus.

Weeknote w/c 2 July 2018

The week began with a visit from Paul Brewer and colleagues from Adur and Worthing who borrowed our workshop room for the day. It was good to welcome them to HackIT Towers and I enjoyed comparing notes when we caught up at lunchtime. It’s interesting that while there are some differences in the technology approaches we’re taking for our digital service delivery (Adur and Worthing are taking a ‘low code’ platform approach, whereas we’re doing more in-house development), there are also many areas where our approaches are very similar. It was great to hear about the successes they’re having through using design led approaches to rethink services and put users first, and we also had a very good discussion about the work we’re each doing to assess our digital architectures and make sure that we’re considering longer term sustainability as well as the delivery of rapid change and improvement.

I caught up with Ajman, our Director of Housing, this week. He’s keen to make sure that he’s got a good understanding of the work that our teams are doing together to support improvements across the housing service and the benefits that this will provide for residents. I’m pleased that he shares our view that simply switching from one traditional housing system to another won’t improve much at all, but it also emphasised to me the importance of the work that Jasmine, Matthew, Nic and the rest of our team working with housing are doing to help new colleagues understand the approach we’re taking. Taking an Agile and design led approach is different from the ‘Prince 2’ driven approaches used in many councils and it’s essential that we help colleagues grow their confidence in the direction we’re taking together.

Big news on Wednesday was the announcement of the Local Digital Declaration, setting out a cross-sector commitment to collaborative working to deliver better digital services for residents and businesses across the country. I’m pleased that we have had the opportunity to contribute to the shaping of the Declaration and also that our Mayor personally set out Hackney’s commitment to support it. I blogged about our support for the Declaration on our HackIT blog here: https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/in-support-of-the-local-digital-declaration (includes the Mayor’s video message).

Also on Wednesday, we had our latest strategic service overview meeting where Andy gave us a summary of the work in progress with colleagues in Public Realm. These services touch on the lives of every resident in the borough and I was pleased to hear how the working relationship is developing and how we’re working together to identify and deliver improvements. Looking forward, I’m particularly interested in ways that we might work with colleagues in libraries to continue to improve the digital support we offer to residents. Libraries have their origins in the mid-19th century as a means of supporting education and social improvement, and it’s interesting to think about how this purpose is evolving in the 21st century.

One area that every ICT service I’ve ever worked with has struggled to do well is effective asset management, and mid-week I caught up with Michael and Henry to talk through our work on that here at Hackney. As we prepare our plans to refresh our ageing PCs and laptops this is an important area of focus for us and is an area where making services more user focused can also help improve our administration of assets by simplifying processes and improving the way we manage data. I’m pleased that we are linking this with work to look at ways that we can further improve the support we provide for our users. Our bookable 1:1 advice sessions have been a big success and I’m keen to see us explore ways that we can build on the topic based ‘stand up’ briefings we’re currently running to support users as part of the G Suite roll out and support our team in developing their technical confidence with the devices we provide to our users.

After lots of hard work it looks like our ‘WiFi-4-All’ wifi service is beginning to behave better. Further investigation and some updates made last week had resulted in a much faster service by the end of the week and I’m hoping that puts us on a good footing moving forward. Thank you to Lindsay, Keith and the others who’ve been working on this.

Thursday was a day away from the office as I met up with people from several other London councils for a workshop to develop thinking for the London Office of Technology and Innovation (‘LOTI’) that Theo Blackwell, London’s Chief Digital Officer, is leading. It was a long day, but we covered a lot of ground and worked in groups to dig into some of the proposed areas that LOTI might focus on in more detail. The way this is developing fits nicely with the Local Digital Declaration — with the emphasis on purposeful collaboration to explore opportunities for innovation, which I think it more likely to deliver valuable results and move at a faster pace than a more formal shared service approach. It was also good to have our Mayor dash back from the LGA conference to join part of the day — showing his support as the incoming digital lead for London Councils.

Training and development was another area of focus last week. As well as our forthcoming apprenticeship programme we are also looking at ways that we can make sure we get the most out of the training and development strategy that we agreed through our recent restructure. As part of that Cate McLaurin and I met with Emily from the Organisational Development team to discuss ways that we might be able to use Apprenticeship Levy funding as part of supporting development opportunities for our existing team. There are some potential ways we could do this that would fit well with the priorities we’ve agreed and we’ll be doing more work over the summer to explore those further.

Finally, a theme for Friday was connecting in with colleagues across other areas of the Council (I think that Hackney does this rather well). I met up with a colleague from the Resident Sustainment Team in Housing as part of the ‘Let’s Network Hackney’ programme and learned more about how her team are using the new tools we’ve been providing to spend more time with residents and get access to the information they need more quickly. And Matthew Cain and I took time with colleagues in the Strategy, Policy and Economic Development division hearing about work they’re doing to encourage work shadowing in their teams and talking about ways that we might participate in that to help further develop the links across our services.

Something I’ve learned this week

I’ve got a number of favourite tools that I like to use to organise myself and make sure I’m getting the right things done (although sometimes it can feel like that’s mostly about tracking the things that I haven’t got done and carrying them forward for another day….). This week I was trying to pull together the objectives we’ve agreed to prioritise at our recent management team away day. What I’ve learned is that simply because I prefer a certain set of tools that doesn’t mean that others prefer them too (and if this is genuinely going to be a shared work plan then I need to take account of other people’s needs and preferences as well). I am going to need to give more thought to how best to do this. I thought that I’d figured out a good way to do it using Trello, but on further examination that was going to end up messy and I want to make sure it’s easy to check and update progress, not a chore.

Weeknotes out in the wild…

We appear to be stepping boldly into a brave new world where we publish our week notes in the open *, so not wanting to be left behind I’ve popped this up on Medium too.

Highlights from last week

  • The week began with welcoming Cate Mclaurin to our team. I’m really pleased to see our new colleagues coming on board to help us crack on with the next stage of the work we’re doing, and I’m very much looking forward to working with Cate and learning from her experience in central government and ACAS.
  • Our office became a film studio twice last week. On Tuesday we produced a short set of clips which featured several of our people talking about what it’s like to be part of the HackIT team — we’ll be releasing the video this week to support our apprentice recruitment. And on Friday afternoon the Mayor was filmed in our meet and greet space for a video statement setting out Hackney’s support for digital collaboration across local government. (Watch out for more about this later in the week…!)
  • We’ve had lots of interest in our apprenticeship programme, and I’ve had several calls over the last week to share more of the background to that with colleagues elsewhere. I talked through the background (as per my recent blog post: https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/delivering-digital-change-for-the-long-term-with-apprenticeships) and shared more details about the roles that we’re recruiting to. So far the feedback has been very positive so I’m now even more aware of the pressure on us to make sure that the programme is a success!
  • I’ve also been having follow up conversations with the people who took part in our Mayor’s Digital Advisory panel a few weeks ago. I’m using these to gather their ideas for how we can develop this and use it to help guide our digital direction for Hackney.
  • Thursday was our quarterly Divisional Management Team away day, where we set aside time to discuss some of the bigger picture issues and opportunities that we need to think through. I find these very useful sessions and we covered some important topics that we’ll be focusing on over the coming months.
  • I have regular catch ups with other directors and at the end of the day on Thursday afternoon Lucy and I caught up with Sarah, our Director of Children’s Services. I was very pleased to hear the positive feedback from Sarah about her teams’ move to our new productivity tools last week and it was particularly encouraging to spend the time discussing how they’ll be able to use these to work in more flexible and collaborative ways. We talked about how we can share learning from the changes we’ve made to our ways of working in ICT and how we might provide topic based support and advice sessions for Sarah’s teams to help them explore new ideas for their service.
  • We’re hard at work preparing for the procurement of our new end-user devices and I was pleased to see that we’ve been able to make a significant saving on licencing through good timing and smart procurement. We’ll be doing the work to buy hardware soon, but before we do that we’re making sure that we dig in deeper to understand user needs — particularly to help us figure out where teams’ working styles would make laptops the best option and where flexible desktop access would be the better fit. Designing this through working with users is a really important part of our commitment to follow the Local Government Digital Service Standard: https://localgov.digital/service-standard/point/understand-user-needs.
  • Delivering up to date software tools and hardware is only part of the changes that we’re making to help modernise our workplace at Hackney. Equally important is helping colleagues think through how they can best use these to manage their information effectively and this is another area where understanding user needs and learning together is really important. We know that introducing whole organisation level file plans is very difficult and is often a poor fit with the way that services work, so on Friday Anita and I spent time catching up with the Exec Support and Mayor’s Office teams getting up to speed with the good progress that they’re making and helping to identify areas where we can provide additional support.
  • I wrapped up the week with a conversation with some colleagues in HR planning ahead to a presentation that we’ll be giving together at next week’s Senior Manager Network meeting. This was a good opportunity to show how we can use video meetings to meet up quickly without all needing to be in the same place at the same time. It worked really well and we were able to agree the way forward in a brief meeting, rather than lots of emails having to go back and forth.

Something I’ve learned this week

I’ve been taking time to check in with people who’ve moved over to our new productivity tools to see how they’re getting on. I find it useful to make sure that I’ve got a good understanding of how changes that we’re delivering are bedding in and have never liked the notion that senior managers shouldn’t make the time to understand detail. While it is important to have a big picture view I think that needs to be connected with the reality ‘on the ground’ too, as otherwise it’s easy to make decisions without understanding the potential implications. I’ve realised that I need to make sure I explain that, as quite a few people have been surprised that I thought it was a useful use of my time to spend half an hour with them looking at how they’re using their email.

All the best,

Rob

* Cate got there first (by many weeks!): https://medium.com/@cate.mclaurin/weeknotes-20-week-1-being-new-being-welcomed-a134aec8ef45 and Matthew’s made the leap this week too: https://medium.com/@mcaino/week-notes-v2-0-969645acac80.