Transformation Beyond Digital

This morning I attended the Transformation Beyond Digital session hosted by Shaping Cloud to learn from other Local Authorities about what transformation means to them. Not only did I get to hang out in Microsoft’s very swanky offices, but I walked away with some valuable lessons we can apply to our work at Bucks.

Start with policy; Deliver with digital; Design with data

Geoff Connell, CIO of Norfolk County Council and President of Socitm led an interesting first session on why digital is about so much more than IT.

We are all aware of the pressures local government is currently facing; meeting increasing demand with depleting budgets. For years, I.T. has been used to automate functions and optimise existing processes. However, the budgets no longer exist to enable us to continue working in the way we have been for years gone by. The only way we will meet the increase in demands with decreased resources is if we completely transform the way we work.

Transformation cannot be led by an IT or Digital team working in isolation. It is our job to work with officers, Members, customer service agents and help them to understand the importance of their expertise and the power of combining that with digital tools. Digital tools alone won’t change the world, but used by the right people in the right way they might certainly help.

Connell spoke of success in transformation in a previous role at the London Boroughs of Newham and Havering. At Newham, they started with policy change to drive a movement towards people becoming more independent and resilient. Digital tools were used to provide the platform on which this could occur. But it was data from analytics and case work that enabled them to find the biggest opportunities and target customers. To put it another way, start with the desired outcome (the policy), then use your tools and data to find a new way to meet that outcome.

We cannot work in isolation if we want to effect change. Diverse, multi-disciplined teams are better at problem solving as each person brings with them their own experience and expertise. At Bucks we have an incredible wealth of talent and complementary skills. When we bring those together in the right way, we will be able to find brand new solutions to old problems enabling true transformation. The bread and butter work of automating and optimising services is still needed and will continue, but it is no longer enough to ensure we meet the future demands on the Council.

Transformation needs context

In the first session above, we spoke about the national context of local government and the key pressures we are all facing. As Mike Ibbitson from London Borough of Ealing took to the podium he took this and emphasised the importance of local context.

Within our Councils, or even our business units, we face different pressures and work in different environments: changing demographics; national infrastructure projects; third sector support services; customer satisfaction. The context this provides is integral to ensuring our services are meeting the needs of our residents.

Ibbitson shared a quote from one of his residents who said they like their GP because they know there is more than one way to treat a patient. We need to use that mindset in our roles too – there is more than one was to deliver a service, to meet our resident’s needs, to fulfill our statutory duties. We need to keep the context of Buckinghamshire and its residents at the forefront of our minds while we look to new opportunities for transformation.

Digital fluency and innovative capacity

Traditionally, the role of the IT team was to support the IT infrastructure in an organisation. As more and more people in the workplace become digital natives and increasing numbers of millenials join our workforce, many people will be able to self serve. However, we need to make sure we promote digital fluency across the council and not limit it to those who got there on their own.

At Ealing they have tackled this by replacing the IT Service Desk with a Digital Skills Centre based in the office case. They encourage colleagues to drop in with any questions they have about a work or personal device. It is a centre to share advice and skills, no longer a service desk meant to respond to single isolated errors.

I would like to think that our colleagues in Bucks find the IT and Digital teams approachable enough to come to us with any questions but I’m sure there is more we could be doing to encourage digital fluency across the council. If you have any ideas or suggestions please do get in touch!

In addition to spreading digital fluency, we need to ensure we are combining trust in our work with capacity to innovate. The day to day tasks do need to continue but we need to allow our staff enough space to think creatively and explore opportunities outside of their comfortable remit. Trusting people with the space to think will allow them to find the ways we can transform our services.


Industrial Revolution 4.0

Derrick McCourt, Public Sector General Manager at Microsoft, started his talk looking at the industrial revolutions gone by and what the Fourth Industrial Revolution really means (first was water and steam power, the second electricity and mass production, the third computers and automation).

Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum says the Fourth Industrial Revolution is characterised by

“a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”

and we are in the middle of it right now. This is evident in the increasing use of augmented reality and health apps available to all.

However, this means more than simply having some cool new 3d printed tools. It is changing our world in so many ways. Uber is the world’s biggest taxi company and yet doesn’t own a single vehicle or employ a single taxi driver. Where the typical Fortune 500 company took 20 years to be valued at $1bn, Snapchat only took 2.  The future isn’t mobile technology – that is now. We are living it. The future is something that none of us can comprehend as yet.

In many areas we are still catching up. We need to stop planning for a mobile world and realise it is here. Our services should be ready for the world our customers and residents are already living in not planning to get there in a couple of years!

4 easy steps to Transformation

McCourt broke down Transformation into 4 key areas:

  1. Engage your citizens
  2. Empower your employees
  3. Optimise your organisation
  4. Transform your services

As always, our citizens and customers are the most important. Some of our citizens don’t choose to engage with us, they have to because we are a statutory body. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do all that we can to make sure their experience with us is as good as it can possibly be.

The only way we can do that is if we understand our citizens and engage their interest. However, making a great looking entry point to a service is meaningless if the back end processes cannot meet the customer’s needs. This is where we need to empower our employees and optimise our processes. It is only when we look at these three things together that we will be able to transform our services.


New role, new opportunities

I have come to the end of my third week in a new role as Digital Lead and User Researcher in Children’s Social Care and Learning and I thought I would share some of the things I have learnt so far.

Beneficiaries, customers and stakeholders

Coming into the role I thought knowing our customers and the customer journey would be easy – children, right? And the great news is, everyone I have met is dedicated to improving the life of children in Bucks so we can tick this off as an immediate success.

However, the beneficiary of a service isn’t necessarily the customer. School admissions places children in schools but it is the parents who apply, go through the process and potentially appeal a decision. The fostering and adoption teams need to recruit new parents in order to deliver the service to the children in need of it. The Family Resilience team works with the entire family to protect the interests of the child.

In addition to these customers, we also have stakeholders. These are the people who interact with our services but not necessarily as a customer or beneficiary. Every day this business unit works with the police, medical professionals, headteachers and many more.  We work with the parents, guardians and carers of children. Our social workers and teachers providing frontline support are also integral stakeholders.

So why does it matter? As a council our customers are the residents of Buckinghamshire. In each business unit and service we dedicate ourselves to delivering services to a portion of our residents so we can focus our attention on them and provide the service they need. However, when we are looking at our communications and the processes surrounding our services, we need to be sure they are appropriate for the people we are interacting with at any given point. For example, working with the police will require data security and a level of technical language may be appropriate. Working with families in Family Resilience we need to make sure we use simple language and find accessible ways to share information, perhaps more visually than wordy.

It is easy to fall into a trap of assuming you know who your customers are when you start working with a new service. However, it is integral to take time to understand who the beneficiaries, customers and stakeholders are, their needs, their key issues and how you can work with them most effectively. This will play a key role in ensuring our communications, website content and service developments are successful.

The unknown knowns

When approaching new tasks or projects people often stop to consider three things:

  1. The known knowns (the things you are aware that you know)
  2. The known unknowns (the things you are aware that you don’t know)
  3. The unknown unknowns (what you aren’t yet aware that you don’t know which is always the biggest risk to any project)

Slavoj Žižek proposed that there is a fourth element that we should consider yet most overlook; the unknown knowns – the things we aren’t aware that we know.

In starting a new role you are always faced with the task of figuring out all the information everyone else is already working with – you don’t yet know what everyone else knows. Across the Council, and indeed across all of local government, we have an incredible amount of data about our residents, our services, our website visitors, our internal processes and costs. However we aren’t always very good at using this data effectively.

One of the key opportunities in Children’s Social Care – and across most of the council – is to data together, across services to understand the real opportunities. Each service knows who their customers are but if we can get an idea of how many customers are interacting with multiple services and the key impact that has, we can start tailoring our approach to create a truly successful service.

In social care, if we can understand the root causes of people needing our assistance, thresholds for asking for help and what combinations of support are the most effective then hopefully we can focus our resources on people at highest risk and prevent the social care threshold being reached. We have a lot of this information in isolation but it won’t create any hypotheses until all brought together. We are also missing a key piece of information (a known unknown) that will come from user research – qualitative data understanding people’s journeys through our services. I am hoping to work with the Business Insights and Intelligence team on this piece of work to create a strong foundation upon which our Early Help teams can start planning for the future.

While this piece of work is specific to social care, bringing data together across departments and teams to understand in greater detail our customers drivers and journeys will help us create resilience for a Council of the future. Mike Flowers presented a fantastic example that I previously wrote about, of how sharing data reduced deaths caused by fire in New York City. It can be genuinely life saving!

Digital: Beyond technology

The final point I wanted to make is what we mean by “Digital”. Over the last three weeks I have been asked several times what a “Digital Lead and User Researcher” does. On many occasions people have looked for pieces of technology or software to talk to me about.

You may notice that what I have written about so far in this post isn’t to do with iPads, Smart Watches, augmented reality or Pokemon Go. That is because Digital means so much more than those things. The definition of Digital that we in HQ Digital are working to is:

Applying the culture, practices, processes and technologies of the Internet-era to respond to people’s raised expectations.

Nearly half of people using the Bucks CC website are accessing it from a mobile or tablet device so we need to make sure our web content is fit for mobile. Having such easy access to the Internet has meant that people expect to be able to find information in a format that they can understand so that to a certain extent they can self serve. Not only does this apply to the size and shape of web pages but to the words we use. When reading on a mobile device you want information to be succinct and easy to digest.

People’s expectations are higher than ever before. We tend to expect speedy responses, open information and good customer service. Think about how your own opinion of shopping has changed since online shopping has become so easy and delivery so fast. If a shop can’t offer a unique experience, preferential price point or a friendly face then you might as well shop from the comfort of your own home. If we take this approach to our own services, are we providing interactions that people feel satisfied with or are they simply enduring them because we are the Council and they have to? We should be delivering the best experience we can but computers and smartphones are only a tool to use in this practice.

We cannot meet these raised expectations without ensuring our backend processes work in a way that can support this demand. If a customer interface looks cool and slick but the waiting time on a response or action is twice as long then we have not gained anything. When we look at Digital opportunities, we need to look at the end to end process. This is why when I have been meeting people I have asked what the key pressure points are in their service instead of asking where Digital is needed. By looking at where the key issues are, we can find opportunities to start developing the service in the culture, practice, processes and technologies of the Internet-era.

Next steps

I am so excited by the way I have been welcomed into the team and have been delighted to hear of all the work and initiatives already underway. I am looking forward to bringing a holistic and cohesive view to the information available and role of the services within the business unit to ensure we have a resilient business unit that our customers enjoy interacting with.

The power of data to reform public services

Monday 20th May was the start of London Tech Week, a week long festival of live events celebrating tech innovation. Innovation isn’t just for the tech giants, such as Google and Apple, or the Silicon Roundabout start-ups. There is a lot going on in the public sector, and in particular Local Government. That is why I went to the event hosted by the London Borough of Camden titled “The Power of Data to Reform Public Services” to find out what other people in the public sector have been doing and what we can learn from them.

The introduction from Councillor Theo Blackwell, Cabinet member for Finance, Technology & Growth laid out the key challenges for local government. In particular he pointed to the shift from incremental budgeting to outcomes based budgeting where we are required to align our increasingly limited resources to achieve the necessary goal. This is forcing us to be innovative and to challenge the way we work as Councils and local government as a whole. A key way we can challenge what we do is by realising how much data we hold as public service providers and how we can use it to work more effectively.

Lessons from New York City – Mike Flowers

In the first session we heard from Mike Flowers, Chief Analytics Officer at Enigma, formerly Chief Analytics Officer of New York City. Mike started by pointing out that cities (and local government) hold tonnes and tonnes of data but they don’t necessarily know it.However, just having this data isn’t enough. It only becomes a valuable asset if you use it in a productive way. Mike told of his experiences  sharing data between departments in the city resulting in reduced fire risks, improved pro-active measured and more coordinated emergency response resulting in a reduction in deaths caused by fire in the city.

There were obstacles in convincing people to share their data with other departments. To overcome this, Mike and his team manually input data into spreadsheets and passed it on to prove the concept. Once the concept has been proven then digital solutions can be explored. This was a key lesson to learn that we often overlook; data is more important than digital. Similarly, you should only use data if it is relevant and useful. Mike encouraged us all to constantly ask “does analytics bring anything to this problem?”. If the answer is no then move on, don’t waste time and money forcing data that won’t have any impact.

The other key lesson was creating political sustainability in an environment governed by a political body that can change every few years in an election. In Mike’s experience the answer was for the fire service to own the service as they are a non-political permanent branch of the City. More generally, however, Mike advised that the key to driving a project forward is to have a dedicated owner of the problem you are trying to address. This may be in the form of a service manager or a product owner but it needs to be a person who can take responsibility and drive the project forward.

The final takeaway from Mike was that data insight is worthless if it doesn’t trigger action. The example he shared was that you can analyse the best place to park an ambulance in an emergency but at some point you actually have to move the vehicle! A more detailed account of his experiences and lessons learnt can be found here.

A Data Powered Revolution – Janet Hughes, GDS

Next on the bill was Janet Hughes to talk about the next steps in a data powered revolution. She started by noting that the main reason there is a perceived revolution occurring now is simply because there is more data becoming more freely available allowing us to build services using it.

A fantastic example of this is GDS’ Verify service. As residents and consumers we are seeking to access more and more services online. However, it is difficult to prove that someone tapping on a keyboard is who they say they are. GDS work with eight different companies to verify your identity using a wide range of available data including driving licence, mobile phone contract, birth and marriage information, charitable giving etc. The service is made resilient and inclusive by working with different companies and using many different types to data.

There are ten government services currently using Verify but GDS are looking for Local Authorities to get involved and start using it for their own services. It is an incredibly exciting development and will make many digital services a lot more streamlined and easy to access.

Using Data Better – Sarah Dougan, Deputy Director Camden Public Health

The next session was kicked off by Sarah Dougan telling us about the ways data has been used successfully in Islington. There were three key points to take away:

1. We need a to take a holistic approach to data, looking at the bigger picture. This may mean looking across boundaries which will require us to work with our neighbours. Boundaries tend to be meaningless to residents who may travel through multiple constituencies in a day. Our delivery of services and information should reflect this reality if we are able to do so through collaboration.

2. We need to ask the right questions. There are generally key themes to follow – e.g. residents, place based information, business information – and asking the right questions under each is key to making the most of your data.

3. We need to upskill our workforce to do more with data. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to be an analytics expert. Some people in your organisation may be data experts but it is important to upskill others to understand what questions they need to ask and to whom they need to ask them to get the answers they need.

An interesting comment that stuck with me is that the main reason behind Islington’s success is that the drive has come from the business, not from digital services. All too often we rely on the digital team in our organisation to show us the way but it is the responsibility of each of us to make data led solutions work.


The London Journey – Andrew Collinge, City Hall & Eddie Copeland, Nesta

Having heard about New York, Central Government and the story of one London Borough, it was time to hear about the vision for the whole of London. London is very different to New York. It is made up of 32 Borough Councils plus the City of London all with their own powers. New York on the other hand has five Boroughs but they only have minimal executive functions; decision making power lies with the Mayor of New York. This means that London faces a bigger challenge when it comes to collating its data.

The City Data Strategy was launched in March 2016. It is centred around recognising City Data as part of the infrastructure. The strategy is centred around six themes:

  1. Build and operate an efficient City Data Market
  2. Better organisation of City Data is needed if it is to have impact
  3. The value of City Data must be recognised
  4. Build public acceptance through security, privacy and trust
  5. Active governance
  6. A technology road map based on open standards and flexible interfaces

More information on the strategy can be read here but it all comes down to recognising the value of our data and using it effectively. We need to transcend our boundaries that aren’t meaningful to residents in order to make good use of data. As Andrew and Eddie both iterated; we have all the pieces of the jigsaw in the box, we just need to collaborate to put it all together.

A Success Story – Sherry Coutu CBE, Founders4Schools

Sherry Coutu gave the final talk of the day and an excellent example of a simple way to use data for high impact.

Founders4Schools is a charity that connects local business leaders to schools giving pupils the opportunity to learn about different careers available to them. They use publicly available data from LinkedIn, Companies House and their own data generated through reviews to create a resilient database of local practitioners. It is a great example of bringing different sources of data together to provide a meaningful service.


The data we hold as public sector organisations is an asset if we use it effectively. However, it is only effective once it triggers action. To make the most of it and achieve the highest impact for our residents we need to collaborate with our neighbours. but most importantly, we need to be asking the right questions to figure out which problems we should be solving with our data in the first place.

What is Alpha?


We completed the Discovery phase of our Digital Services process before Christmas. This means that we have started the New Year in a new phase: Alpha.

Government Digital Service defines Alpha as:

A short phase in which you prototype solutions for your users needs. You’ll be testing with a small group of users or stakeholders, and getting early feedback about the design of the service.

In the Discovery phase we investigated who our customers are and what their needs are. Alpha is about exploring how we are going to meet those needs.

We started off planning for Alpha by:

  1. Considering lessons learned from Discovery.
  2. Ensuring the right team is in place.
  3. Identifying key risks under the headings of technical, design and business process.

The main focus of Alpha will be on how we are going to meet our customers’ needs. We left Discovery with a prototype of an idea, now is the time to find out how to make the idea a reality.

The risks established in planning are turned into hypotheses which are in turn divided into tasks. We are working in two week springs to achieve these tasks making sure we have a clear idea of what we are working on and the deadline for it at all times. At the end of each fortnight we will carry out a retrospective before moving on to the next.

Working in two week sprints allows you to fail fast and turn to alternative solutions when needed. It means a fast pace is maintained throughout the 8 week Alpha. Regular retrospectives also ensure that everyone has a chance to feedback on what they think is working and not allowing the team to tailor the workstream appropriately.

While we will be largely focusing on technical and design capabilities, the customers’ needs and their journey will remain at the heart of our work. We will continue to carry out customer research and will seek customer feedback along the way. This will be through regular demonstrations to customers and show and tell presentations within our organisation inviting feedback at every turn.

The primary goal for Alpha is Learning. By the end of this stage we will know whether we will continue into Beta and what we will be building in Beta with a business case and the potential risks in hand.

You can find out more about the GDS guidelines on Alpha in this video:

Dot voting

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Working through a Discovery phase with a large team, choosing what the next steps should is best done through common consensus. The problem is with several people in the room each with differing opinions, finding a common consensus can be challenging.

This is wear dot voting comes into its own.

As you will have seen from previous posts, a lot of our Discovery has been done in the form of post-it notes on the wall. Working this way makes our information visual and allows many people to work together and consume the same data. An example of this was mapping our stakeholders: we wrote the roles of the stakeholders on post-its and put them on the wall. This gave us a clear vision of how many stakeholders were involved and how they grouped together or related to each other.

With an idea of who our stakeholders were, we needed to investigate more about them what their experiences, pains and needs were in relation to our current service delivery model in order to drive the Discovery process. However, you don’t need to investigate all of them in detail. Indeed if you were to do so you would never move on from the Discovery phase! But how do you choose which to focus on?

With the choices on the wall and in sensible groupings, hand each team member a marker pen and invite them to place a dot on the post-its that represents the direction they would like to go in next. Each person has 3 votes cost by drawing 3 dots. Once everyone has finished, you can see which post-it has the most dots.

You are likely to end up with three to five leading choices. In the case of stakeholders, we took these labels and started developing personas. However, we also applied this method to deciding which features to take through a design studio. In fact, you can apply it to anything.

Dot voting. A quick, simple way to gauge a common opinion among a group and decide which way you ought to go from here.

dot voting

Design Studio

Once we have a set of validated personas in place the next step in our Discovery process is to understand the journey for each person.

We started by each adopting a persona and walking through the current journey making decisions as they would. By putting yourself in each customer’s shoes and stepping outside of your role as a BCC employee, you are able to objectively experience the process that we ask our residents to go through.This enables you to get a good idea of what is working, what is not and what our customers actually want.

Next it is time to get creative.

We gave everyone in the team a pen and a piece of paper folded into 4 quadrants, set the timer to 10 minutes and asked everyone to draw what they’d like the process to be. It doesn’t matter whether you can draw or not, the point is to get stuck in and share your ideas.


At the end of the 10 minutes take it in turns to talk through your drawing and your thoughts. It is likely that you will find some common themes between people. It is also likely that somebody will offer an obscure yet genius idea that resets your thoughts about the whole process. Through the group presentation and discussion you will gain a common consensus on which ideas should be taken forward.

On a master sheet of paper start bringing together those ideas and sketching an end to end process. By the end of this you will have a visualisation of your goal ready to turn into a prototype.


Retrospective: Looking back to move forward


Most project management manuals encourage you to look at lessons learnt or perform a “root cause analysis” on any problems that occurred. This is usually done at the end of the project or significant project stage to gather learnings before going on to the next. It often takes the form of a document  with an executive summary, scope, review, and next steps.

Here in HQ Digital, we are working to improve the digital services we offer. We are doing this in 3 distinct stages; Discovery, Alpha and Beta. We have come to the end of the first discovery of the first service, and are about to start our next. Therefore, we thought it important to take stock of our journey so far and gauge how the team were feeling about things in a Retrospective.

adjective; looking back or dealing with past events
noun; an exhibitions or compilation showing an artist’s work over time.

Rather than produce a lengthy Lessons Learnt document we put the headings “Happy”, “Sad”, and “Mad” on the wall, gave everyone a pen and some post it notes and added our thoughts under the appropriate headings. Instead of taking only an objective view to write a report from, we complemented this with a subjective view on the impact that the way we are working has had on the team.

This process enabled everyone on the team to voice their successes, praise teammates and also raise their concerns and disappointments. We took time to congratulate the team on the notes under “Happy” and recognised the elements of the process that everyone had enjoyed with a goal to replicate them in the next discovery process. We addressed the disappointments under “Sad” and frustrations under “Mad”, discussing different points of view and resolved how we would avoid repeating these incidents in our future work.

By going through a Retrospective in this format, we gave all team members a voice and picked out the things that impact a team as well as a project. This allowed us to discuss changes we needed to make to our environment and working styles to create a productive yet enjoyable working team. Some of this came from quick wins like changing the layout of the chairs and tables. Others will come from the way we approach challenging situations in the next Discovery process we run.

We left the session with a clear idea of what we already do well and what improvements we need to make. We also left as a more resilient team, knowing that frustrations we had felt had been shared, listened to, understood and hopefully would be prevented in future.  

A lot of projects will require a written Lessons Learnt document in a set structure. However, running a Retrospective exercise beforehand will give the opportunity to learn from your peers and collectively review the process providing invaluable insight and raising lessons that perhaps you hadn’t thought of before. Give it a go.