Month: January 2019

From LocalGovCamp 2018 to UKGovCamp 2019…

From LocalGovCamp 2018 to UKGovCamp 2019…

Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak addressing LocalGovCamp delegates by video

I’m so late publishing my reflections on LocalGovCamp 2018 that it’s now possible to make it an article about UKGovCamp 2019 and my experiences across the two events ?

LocalGovCamp 2018 – my tribe is growing up

Back in 2014, Catherine Howe shared her seven (now 9) tribes model at my first LocalGovCamp. Coming back to Birmingham in September 2018, I felt even more part of a tribe than ever before – maybe because this was the first year since I left Bristol City Council and I’m looking for that sense of belonging more intently.

In the past year I’ve had the good fortune to work for and with a lot of great people – some new, some I’ve known for years. And for me, LocalGovCamp 2018 was mostly about seeing them all and getting the chance to chat, hug and smile from ear to ear over two days. From Cate McLaurin, who I worked for at ACAS, to Rob Miller, Henry Lewis and Matthew Cain, and of course Linda O’Halloran, Paul Maltby and Egle Uzkuraityte of the MHCLG Local Digital Team who I worked with on the Local Digital Declaration and Fund until October 2018.

This was a major part of the event – having Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak choose LocalGovCamp to announce the fund open for expressions of interest demonstrates that people recognise the value of this self-organised practitioner group. Of course the other groups that represent the sector are important – we need to reach Chief Executives and senior leaders through Solace, Councillors through the LGA and IT Managers through Socitm. But we know that digital ways of thinking and delivering change have tended to overtake the traditional bodies in many industries and LocalGov is no different.

That said, it was clear that the people attending LocalGovCamp now are from a broader cross section of the community, and that the majority of them are able to attend on a work day now. I saw Heads of Service, CIOs, and more councillors than ever before. And the intensity of the Friday workshops (and perhaps the night out) were the reason that the unconference on Saturday felt a little emptier and lower energy.

Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak addressing LocalGovCamp delegates by video

Even so, we had some really valuable conversations during the day, including me pitching and running a #Failcamp session at the end of the day that of course I can’t quote directly, but did lead to some really honest sharing. My thanks to those who joined us, especially the colleagues who opened up about their part in the response to the Grenfell fire, in which people from councils all over London piled in and worked whatever hours it took in order to ensure that the skills and things that people needed in the aftermath of a massive failure were found and provided rapidly.

The LocalGov Digital Steering Group is thinking about how we evolve LocalGovCamp in 2019, reflecting on what went well and what could have been better – more news on that soon I expect.

UKGovCamp 2019 – visiting other tribes

And so to UKGovCamp 2019 – I was really pleased to get a ticket in the lottery, and even more so as I spotted friends and colleagues tweeting about theirs. Again, I was looking forward to that sense of belonging to a community with shared concerns and values. Over the past year I’ve met more folks working in Central Government departments and so there were lots of familiar faces to make me feel at ease. That said, I still feel enough of a sense of self-consciousness when I’m in a new place to have been aware of the really positive way that the organisers and Campmakers all worked hard to welcome new people and be there to give people support.

Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak addressing LocalGovCamp delegates by video

I knew before the pitches started that I wanted to spend just as much time loitering about in the corridors and open spaces, chatting to people I already knew, as I did in sessions. The danger of this approach of course is that you can end up missing some great discussions, but that happens even if you go to every session. Dan Barrett has very eloquently said everything I wanted to say about FOMO and wanting to talk to more people – so just read his excellent post 🙂 I had a good day, but like Dan, I always leave feeling that I missed out on many more people and chats (and that includes you Amanda despite loitering to the extent that I felt stalkerish ?)

Cate McClaurin’s weeknotes reminded me of Satori Lab’s reflection questions, and it’s a great idea to use them in a blog post. Like her, I’ll pick a few out…

What held me back?

I was very conscious through the day that I’d taken another step away from my roots as a public servant since LocalGovCamp. I was still working in the MHCLG Local Digital team there, and spent a lot of my time talking directly to colleagues about signing up to the Local Digital Declaration. By the time I arrived at UKGovCamp I had joined my new company, Placecube, and was conscious that I was in a new relationship with my former colleagues. For all that we can talk about being “loyal to the network” and despite feeling confident that my personal values and mission haven’t changed one bit, I can’t help but feel a sense of constraint around talking to people about my new role. I didn’t want people to feel I was selling at them… it would have been different if we’d been sponsors and were chatting at a stand of course – maybe next year 🙂

That said, I feel very comfortable that my new company are there to “do the right thing” and have something of real value to the sector, that will help more councils to work in a way that meets the principles outlined in the Local Digital Declaration. And I am bringing the values, beliefs and behaviours that I developed over 20 years in a council to the work I do. Seeing folks like @jukesie, Mary McKenna made me more comfortable that this is a path well-trodden – and of course Kit Collingwood is just stepping onto it too!

What frustrated me?

Frustrated is probably a strong word for this, but it’s close. Before I can explain what I was “frustrated” with I need to set the scene.

The first session I attended was “Culture is the problem? Or is it? Why aren’t we in charge?” pitched by Benjamin P. Taylor and Chris Smith. Ben kicked off with a couple of anecdotes – one of which I recognised immediately, as it was about our shared experiences trying to transform Bristol City Council. Indeed he whispered “please don’t heckle” to me with a grin before he started 🙂

The discussion kicked off well following these anecdotes, but then just as I thought we were nearing the point of naming the heart of the issue, we spiralled away from it. It’s not surprising in an unconference that people bring divergent thoughts to a discussion, so it’s no criticism, but this is what I found somewhat frustrating – despite curving back round towards it a couple of times, we never really landed back on what I felt were the core points about leaders as human beings, with their tragic flaws as well as super powers. Of course these were just my key points, and at the time I didn’t want to force them into the discussion, so instead I tweeted my thoughts:

Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak addressing LocalGovCamp delegates by video
Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak addressing LocalGovCamp delegates by video
Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak addressing LocalGovCamp delegates by video
Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak addressing LocalGovCamp delegates by video
Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak addressing LocalGovCamp delegates by video

It’s all too easy for us to expect leaders at the top of organisations to be able to make all the “right” decisions and take the actions that seem so obvious to us. But do we make those decisions and take the right actions in our roles, every day, every week? I certainly wasn’t perfect when I led Digital Transformation. So as we sat there discussing how culture needs to change, and asking why weren’t in charge I admit to feeling a bit frustrated that there isn’t a simple answer to this complex human problem…

What did I learn?

I joined a session on Wardley Mapping run by Jonathan Drew which helped to reinforce my learning so far – but I‘m going to talk about that in a different blog post, or this one will never get published! ?

Whilst in the pub I had the pleasure of spending some time with several very experienced people, who I won’t name as what they were saying wasn’t for public consumption. It was strangely affirming to hear one of them talk about how after a particularly intense stretch of plugging away at transformation, that involved trying to work through and around some very powerful senior people, they had needed a break from wrangling difficult Directors and gone on to work on something much more concrete and tractable. Even superheroes need some downtime, rest and restoration… made me feel a lot better about how I’ve been feeling since leaving Bristol. I’ve certainly been taking care of myself this past year, spending more time with family, working with people who want to work with me, and share my values.

I think it’s time to step up a gear now ? More on that over on the Placecube website…

Placecube’s Digital Place – Building an ecosystem of digital services based on common service patterns

Originally posted on

In my career to date, leading digital for Bristol City Council, and then working with the MHCLG Local Digital team on the Declaration, several things have become clear to me.

  • Our services and the whole business model of local government need to be designed afresh, based on an understanding of user need, if we are to adapt successfully to continued austerity and the impacts of Brexit – the new normal.
  • There has been good work by a small number of leading councils, tackling a small number of the many things councils do. But it’s been limited to those councils and has cost them a lot of money and time.
  • As a sector we cannot afford for every council to spend the budget and elapsed time to design every one of their services from scratch. It just won’t happen… too many councils will fall off the financial cliff edge before they get very far.
  • The answer can not be for the majority of councils to remain trapped in their current forms with their current IT and digital products and services. Nor can it be for one single system to replace the hundreds in use across the UK – there is no political or commercial support for a single Local GDS, GOV.UK or the equivalent of the ill fated NHS National Programme for IT.

So, what can we do?

Working with the MHCLG Local Digital team last year I was privileged to be part of the collective drafting and publication of the Local Digital Declaration. I support the intent behind it – when a Service is designed in the internet age, the user research, interaction and content design / service patterns, data structures, API and integration definitions should all be published openly so that they can be implemented by other councils and by suppliers who want to support this good practice.

Once there is a recognised pattern and model for implementation of the digitally enabled service that meets user needs, councils should expect their suppliers to offer products built on those patterns – and not to extract a premium for it!

Re-use will lead to reduced costs for a better outcome, and if councils across the country can adopt them easily and cost-effectively, it will contribute to a massive reduction in cost across the sector.

The great digitally enabled services that were built by suppliers with councils like Bristol, Hackney, Camden, Stockport and Southwark are largely based on open source code which in many cases has been published openly on GitHub.

But it’s not easy to pick them up and place them down into another council with different technical infrastructure and back-end systems. We need to pay attention to the standards needed to wrap these systems in a way that makes them interoperable and portable, with clean boundaries and well-defined services and interfaces.

If we can define a set of ecosystem standards that enable multiple building blocks to be used together in a way that ensures they will fit – like Lego™ – we will move further towards the vision of local government as a platform that people like me, Dave Briggs and Mark Thompson have been writing about for the last few years.

That’s the vision we have at Placecube – we want to create that ecosystem based on open standards, where we can provide a re-usable set of building blocks “Cubes” based on the work we’ve done with Bristol and Camden, for other councils to adopt easily and cost-effectively.

But unlike many of the legacy suppliers in the local government market, we don’t want to lock customers in and push you to buy everything from us – we want to be able to easily incorporate the best digital services from other suppliers, who have already understood user needs, worked to design services and then realised them with new code.

We invite them to work with us on the common standards needed to ensure services can be composed together by councils who want to re-use the great work that has already been done.

And whilst councils are the democratic centre of the local place, we know that people, businesses and visitors to the area interact with hundreds of other organisations, that provide services, advocacy or information advice and guidance. Our vision of an open ecosystem is more than just councils being able to use better digital services, it is to digitally connect the network of organisations in a place, enabling them to provide or access data, services and to collaborate on meeting community, individual and local business needs.