2019.30 Making my hand as famous as Rob’s legs…

The third LOTI workshop

One of the great things emerging from #LOTI is an extended network of folk across London local government thinking and talking about the same stuff at the same time. I’d not considered it before: this may end up being one of the biggest benefits from #LOTI.

Through my time in local government it’s always been the case that folk are happy to work together, share ideas and support each other. That sense of being part of an extended team, facing similar (often shared) challenges and with similar opportunities to overcome them is one of the great aspects of working here. The difficult bit has been knowing who’s doing what, and even more complex than that, synchronising what we’re doing so that we can share better.

We’ll always have different priorities at different times across the London boroughs. I (think I) am starting to see the regular engagement and discussions that #LOTI is prompting lead to better alignment, and more conversations about what we can do more effectively together. Long may it continue!

More practically, others have shared their thoughts on the meeting (see http://bit.ly/2GEGNjt and https://wp.me/paWbyS-6u, and apologies to others that I’m not linking to!) which I won’t look to repeat!

Getting away for a day

In a couple of weeks we will have our first away day as the Digital and Data Services management team. It’s been a long time coming and we’ve worked through a lot of change getting to this point. I’m over the moon that our away day will actually be away (thanks to Ben for letting us use a meeting room for the day in his offices!).

Ahead of that, we have been reflecting on what we want to get out of the day, and I’ve been working with our facilitator to design an agenda that will help us get there. We have the beginnings of a plan that we’ll refine and prepare ahead of sharing with colleagues in the next week or so for final comments and tweaks before the big day!


The other thing that has been taking up a lot of my time this week is the recruitment to our Head of Digital Transformation. The application window closed on Monday and we had nearly 50 excellent candidates’ written statements and CVs to assess and review.

On Wednesday I met with the other panel members for the role and we agreed our long-list from the applicants. The long-listed candidates have all been asked to prepare a short video that shows how they will bring different thinking to Camden and deliver on the Camden 2025 vision.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the candidates’ videos and written work next week!

… and onto week 31

Next week will focus on getting to a short-list of candidates to interview, and on the interviews. I’ll also be doing some work around our Digital Future and meeting with #LOTI colleagues to kick-off two project work streams that we’re leading (Information Sharing and common WiFi standards).

2019.29 Scrutinising, welcoming and listening


On Monday evening I attended our Resources and Corporate Scrutiny committee which considered a number of items, including our ‘connectivity journey’ in Camden. The journey started in 2015 and the most recent London connectivity data shows how successful the programme has been with Camden benefitting from above average super- and ultra-fast broadband. (The data is available online here > http://bit.ly/2JHTqMM.)

The data also shows that we need to do more to promote full fibre connectivity in the borough. The discussion at scrutiny considered the public health aspects of connectivity and how we and telco operators better communicate and engage with residents and citizens as part of the programme.

Balancing different needs and opinions is always challenging and it feels more and more important for the telecoms industry to rise to the challenges. The industry needs to be taking more responsibility when it comes to coverage and self-regulation, and to considering solutions that don’t compromise health or the aesthetic of our public spaces.

Inducting new staters

We welcome new starters to Camden once a month. While this can be seen as restrictive, it allows us to have a comprehensive induction including a breakfast with some of the senior leadership group. This month the Chief Executive, the Director of Integrated Commissioning and I joined the session.

I find the sessions fascinating. It’s a great way to meet some of the people joining Camden, and to get a sense of what motivates them personally (and why they chose Camden). Some of the discussion this week touched on what matters in Camden: not just in the council or in terms of the services that we deliver, also in Camden the place. We spoke about the role that businesses can (and should!) play in the borough, part of communities rather than appended to them.

With so many enthusiastic people with so much potential I feel optimistic about what we will achieve and do in the coming months!

Listening to our staff

I joined a conversation with the team in our Hampstead office earlier the week and we spoke about comments from colleagues across the organisation that had been collected as part of the Chief Executive’s “listening box” exercise.

We covered a range of topics such as the working environment which is key in supporting our agile and flexible working approach and for well-being and mental health. It was interesting to learn in the conversation that we provide bikes for travelling between sites (and even more interesting that not everyone knew about them!).

I was particularly taken by the discussion on how we work as a team, and the importance of trusting each other as part of the team. Rather than checking each other’s work, or considering how it could have been done differently, our system thinking approach encourages us to take a step back, and focus on how the system as a whole works.

… and onto week 30

Next week I’ll be at the third LOTI workshop, planning the away day for the Digital Services senior leadership team … and thinking about ‘what next’ from our digital future external challenge.

2019.28 Shifting to participation

Getting feedback, as we start to come together as a team 

I started the week getting feedback on our first meeting of the senior management team since we’ve restructured as the Camden Digital Service. At the meeting we shared some of the upcoming work from across the team, and focused on how we need to support each other and our teams with so much going on.

A recurring theme through the meeting was around communication — how we communicate with each other, and how we communicate with the rest of the organisation. Across the team there’s a real appetite for working more in the open. Feedback after the meeting has been positive, with folk celebrating the idea of sharing what we’re doing with each other and working together as a group. We committed to building relationships with our colleagues to strengthen our working as a team and move away from more formal ‘work-style’ relationships. Being ourselves, and bringing our whole selves to work is our strength.

There are some things that we need to do differently, and adjust, too. We’ve started the process of coming together as the management team and now need to think about and ensure that we get the whole team involved. We also need to do some more thinking around our collective and individual responsibilities. I’m looking forward to all of the conversations along the way, and hoping that we’ll see some of the cheese (and wine?!) suggested in the first meeting 🙂

Looking at how we do things, and why we do them the way that we do

When I met with Housing colleagues last week we talked about how we’re looking to focus and extend our apprentice recruitment to our residents and their families. We also talked about starting a review of how we support our residents across all aspects of Housing, and what potential there is for us to reinvent and improve those services, placing the resident at the heart of what we do in Housing.

We deliver a large number of different services to our citizens and residents across council departments. Historically those services have either been managed centrally as part of our customer services offer or locally with limited integration between those different delivery approaches.

Our review will look to understand what our residents needs, and how we can best meet them.

Reflecting since my meeting with Housing colleagues, and in my discussion with PA Consulting, I think of how our narrative in local government is changing and what that means in terms of how we do things. When I first started working in local government, colleagues would refer to our role as ‘stewards’ [often of the public purse]. That evolved into a more cooperative approach, and around 2010 we started inviting our citizens and residents to work with us, to co-design and then to co-create services.

Shifting to participation feels to me like the right next step. It means to empower. It also means that we need to think differently about the way services are designed and delivered; and about how systems support those services. We need to reimagine the system; and for us that will start with our upcoming review.

…and onto week 29

I’m looking forward to attending the July monthly induction session and welcoming the latest intake of new starters to Camden. I’ll also be visiting our office in Hampstead, to meet with colleagues and reflect on their thoughts and observations following our Chief Executive’s ‘listening box’ exercise.

Folk across the office are starting to head off for summer holidays, and we have our last ‘class assembly’ (and end of year 6 show!) at our primary school. We don’t head off for a month or so and the countdown has begun.

2019.27 Kitchen towel with no corners is a thing

Lesson learned

I’m a bit late in getting this #weeknote out – and that is very much reflective of just how busy things have been. Playing catch-up has really underlined for me that I should keep on top of this every week. So, lesson learned, and ‘the big catch-up’ is well underway.

I’ve considered doing a single post to catch-up weeks 27, 28 and 29 but decided against that for 2 reasons: (1) I have a high-level draft for each week already (I draft bullets during the week) and (2) selfishly I’m looking forward to being able to look back on individual weeks.

Working together

Week 27 started with a meeting with Parking and digital/ ICT colleagues from Westminster City Council, and a reflection on our shared work on a system for online parking suspensions. It’s such an impressive story of genuine, collaborative, partnership working and a great example of what we can achieve when we work together.

We spent some time exploring and sharing ideas to build on our collaboration. While there are a number of stories to work through as part of our shared ‘backlog’ of work there’s also huge ambition to do more. Westminster and Camden have different business models and technical architectures, yet these differences haven’t been a barrier to us achieving together. (Something for me to reflect on as #LOTI cranks up, and we work in more partnerships with colleagues across London and the sector.)

Smart places and the Internet of Things

As we considered ‘what next?’ the conversation inevitably turned to data, making better use of the information and insight that we have, and infrastructure developments that support better insight.

Last week I shared how I met Clare at the weekend, where we talked (a little, it was the weekend and we were with other — not local gov — folk!) about the work that she’s doing with artificial intelligence, assistive technology, lampposts and the Internet of Things in Yorkshire. Clare is fantastic and she’s one of my oldest buddy’s new partner, so an awesome encounter on many grounds.

Turns out that meeting was serendipitous, and very much aligned with where our conversations with Westminster colleagues are heading. It’s interesting how quickly the conversations around data and IoT move to ethics and how we make the best use of the information that we have in a way that is transparent and empowering to our citizens.

This builds on the thinking that we’re doing around data in Camden and this week also saw the last exploratory workshop with directors on our data future. There’ll be more on that over the coming weeks and we’ll be following-up with more conversations around our work in the public realm, the Internet of Things and what we can share with colleagues in Westminster (and Bradford) in the coming weeks.

Developing and bringing in new talent, and finding new ways of doing things

In the digital and data teams we’re changing the way that we work with the rest of the council, and as part of that I’m looking to introduce many more apprenticeships. I see this as a way of providing structured development for colleagues across the team (including leading to formal qualifications), and as a way of making our recruitment more inclusive and diverse.

Among other things, when I met with colleagues in Housing we talked about how we could focus and extend our apprentice recruitment to our residents and their families which will be a great way of brining more Camden people into the council. As a result, we’ll be targeting some of the advertising around our new apprentice roles in our resident magazine and looking to raise as much local awareness of the opportunities as possible when our campaign kicks off.

In the spirit of doing things differently, some colleagues and I visited PA Consulting at their research headquarters just outside Cambridge. There’s a video of the site here > https://youtu.be/Yc3Lawe76So if you want to learn more.

We were struck by the potential of the approach and site. Bringing together traditional process and service design with manufacturing and product allows for agile product (and service) design in a way that we’d not seen before. Ora, kitchen towel without corners, was developed here from concept to product in months.

With all of this ‘thinking differently’ I’ve been giving some thought to my role as a Trustee at the Stoke Association. I met with Juliet and Dom for a (very pleasant) drink on Thursday evening where we reflected on my first few months since starting as a Trustee in September.

Taking stock and getting their views was so helpful! It’s been such a great learning experience for me being a Trustee and, to build on that, I’m hoping to catch-up with a few of the other Trustees over the coming months too.

… and onto week 28

Next week sees the start of the end of primary school for us, and a ‘hello’ to secondary for our youngest. New beginnings seem to have been a recurring feature for me over the last few weeks.

I’ll also be meeting with some of the team to get detailed feedback on our recent team meeting where we discussed how we support each other and work together better.

Next week also sees the first discussion with the board around data and information, raising awareness of the work that we’re doing to empower our citizens to own their information, and the security that we’re putting in place to protect the data that we’re entrusted with.

2019.26 This could be catching, you know…!

Beginnings, and endings

What a fantastic weekend that was! We saw our first red strawberry, albeit very briefly before it was gobbled-up by one of the boys. In our house, the first ripe strawberry has come to signal the start of the summer. We’re only a short few days away from the end of term, manically trying to fit in class assemblies, sports days and all of the other ‘end of year’ goings on. A hectic and busy time, ahead of our yearly two weeks of family time in the middle of nowhere (also known as the Peloponnese) at the end of August.

Speaking of beginnings and endings, we had the first meeting of the new Digital Services senior management team last week. We have quite a lot on at the moment and we used the meeting to share some of the upcoming work with each other, and to talk through what we, the senior managers in the service, need to do support each other and our teams with so much going on.

Communicating more was a recurring theme, both how we communicate with the rest of the organisation and how we communicate with each other. I was particularly taken by suggestions to have regular lunch time sharing sessions, and the suggestion from the floor that cheese has mystical relationship building qualities (something I wholeheartedly endorse, especially if wine is involved!).

What does ‘data greatness’ look like?

I’m struggling to get my head around the gnarly challenge of ‘what good looks like’ when it come to data. How do we adopt and drive best practice in the council, and in the borough? And how do we do that ethically? The questions that I’m mulling over include:

  • how we empower our citizens, so that they control their data that we hold; and whether some form of Community Data Trust may be the right approach
  • how we bring citizen data together to better understand their needs, and whether it is right to use that data to anticipate their needs
  • how we improve consistency across the council, sharing the excellent work and best practice from pockets of the council across all our services
  • whether data is a means to an end, or the end itself … and whether that matters

I’ll share more on this in the coming weeks.

… and onto week 27

I’ll be posting a longer #weeknote next week, sharing more about our External Challenge and the session we had last week. The feedback was great, and it’s going to be a real challenge for us deciding what to pick-up first!

I’m looking forward to meeting with colleagues from Parking team, alongside our counterparts at Westminster City Council. We’ve been pragmatically collaborating together and the teams have achieved some great things together. This will be an opportunity for us to look to what next, and to give thought to how we share our work with our colleagues in #LOTI and across the sector more widely.

Through absolute chance, I met someone at the weekend who’s working on an exciting project that brings together artificial intelligence, street lights and assistive technology. Definitely a conversation to continue in a work setting, and something I’ll be trying to set up next week.

Finally, I’m hoping to start reading a couple of books this week: Invisible Women and Purple Cow.

2019.25 Thinking about data and digital

What a week!

Wowser, they do go past quickly don’t they? I can already see that I’m going to need to be a little more self-disciplined, and allow myself more reflection time during the week if I’m going to maintain a weekly week note.

That said, a lot of my week has been spent reflecting on the work that we’re doing and aligned with that, what will attract people to join our team when we got out to advert shortly. I’ve also been thinking about what we need to do in terms of our data journey and our aspirations to better understand (and anticipate) our citizens’ needs.

Smart meters

While on the subject of data, we had a wobble with our (all new and almost shiny) smart meter at home. It was last Monday, and I wasn’t home. Lucy was, and answered the knock on the door around lunchtime. It was an inspector from the electricity and gas company to check that our smart meter installation had been properly done.

Shortly after arriving he detected a gas leak. He turned off our supply and raised a call with the emergency team before heading off. The emergency team then found more faults, which the out-of-hours emergency team fixed at around 10pm. All-in-all not a great experience (although the out-of-doors team were fantastic), but not really much to do with data or digital, is it?

The story may not be, but the smart meter is — or should be — about data. In our case, it gives us near real-time electricity use, and what I can best describe as a ‘batchy’ and unpredictable gas use. It doesn’t seem to support data export, nor can I connect my phone or laptop to retrieve the data. Any kind of accessible and meaningful trend analysis is beyond me and I’ve found that the only element of the meter that is of any use to me is the little red or green ‘current consumption’ light.

That is a real disappointment, and opportunity missed. (Even if the problem is me rather than the device, and I have read the provided manual!)

Making better use of data

That leads on to something I learned recently. Utility companies hold a huge amount of data about us. They will often know if a customer has any special needs, if a customer is frail, elderly or has young children for example. They use this information to deliver a better service and to prioritise repairs.

As I reflect on the work that we do, I can’t help but wonder what we could achieve if we were able to share that data. The data about utility company customers would be really helpful in so many of our service situations. Data about electricity and gas use (on an aggregate level) would also be hugely useful in terms of our clean air agenda.

We often think of the data that we hold, and struggle to pull it all together. I wonder how we can start to bring together the wider data set, that isn’t exclusively ours, incrementally. It could really help with some of our place shaping, and better understanding of need could hugely improve the services that we deliver to our citizens; and how we deliver them.

Joining the dots, and a new charter on data?

At the Stroke Association board meeting I had the opportunity to meet and hear Professor Tony Rudd CBE recount the story of stroke and care through his career. It is amazing how far we have come, not just in how we care for stroke survivors but also in how we work across organisations to deliver care.

People hold that together across organisations, joining the dots and doing the right thing. The promise of data, people data and place data, is to do that reliably and repeatedly. And that needs a different approach to data.

I don’t know whether Data Trusts are the way forward, or whether Solid is the solution. We need one source of truth and clear personal ownership and control of our data (we each need the ability to share and to stop sharing our data for example). We need clarity on how our data will be used, and trust that it will only be used as specified.

… and on to week 26

I don’t think I’m going to get much time to reflect on my #weeknote this week (could that be a recurring theme?).

Looking to next week, I have my first meeting with the new Digital Services senior management group, feedback from our External Challengers, a workshop on our data future with Accenture, and a workshop on artificial intelligence.

I’m also looking forward to reading this interview.

2019.24 …and so it begins

#Weeknotes, eh?

It’s Rob’s fault. He nudged me to give #weeknotes a go; and because it always is Rob’s fault. It feels narcissistic to indulge in telling the world what I’ve been up to every week (and it is), yet I’m curious to test some of the (less self-indulgent) reasons why it is worth doing.

The why of weeknotes by @jukesie resonates for me, and I’ll be checking-in every now and then to remind myself of some of the other reasons for indulging and see how I’m doing on those. Of all the weeks to start with #weeknotes, week 24 of 2019 (London Tech Week) has to be one of the best.

I’m not sure how I want to structure my #weeknotes, and rummaging around the Internet hasn’t helped to settle that… So, in the spirit of being agile, I’m going to dive in and give it a go, and I’ll let my style and the structure of these notes evolve over time. (And I expect the bigger challenge is going to be to get a note out every most weeks!)

Thinking about digital, and what it means for us

I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about what digital means, and what it means to be a ‘smart’ place. I’ve been reflecting on the conversations that I’ve been having as part of our external digital challenge, in the office and while out-and-about, and through London Tech Week (watch this Bloomberg video).

I’ve been reminded of how easy it is to get caught up in the detail of the work that we’re doing, to the extent that the work becomes the thing that we’re trying to achieve, rather than the means of achieving things. Technology is amazing. At its best it brings people and communities together and empowers and connects them. It can bring about transparency and fairness; and give us insight. It can be the means for more people to access and participate in debate and discussion in our communities.

In opening a wider and more inclusive participative approach, we have the opportunity in local government to broker trust around our citizens data and the use of their data. I’m interested in projects such as the Alternative Camden Community Data Trust. Reflecting on how we empower our citizens, we are turning to what we can do to outline their rights to control and manage their data and understand who and where it is being used.

Our digital external challenge

Our digital external challengers have spent this week working across Camden, meeting with citizens and officers and looking into three hypotheses: (1) accessibility, (2) inclusivity and participation, and (3) understanding needs. The discussion at the sessions I’ve been able to join has been really insightful.

I’ve learnt a lot about the challenges that our citizens face in accessing our services; and the excellent work that officers do across the council. There has also been a lot to reflect on in terms of how this insight, technology and the better design of digital could help to improve things. As Theo notes in the Bloomberg video: “imagine if we could bring those two forces [data and design] together” (it’s at 23m45s in the video).

… and onto week 25

Reflecting, I’ve found in a difficult to keep things succinct, and to avoid just transcribing my diary in prose. Hopefully in pulling out lots of detail I’ve kept this easy and quick to read, while also giving a sense of what I’ve been up to (and what I’ve been thinking).

Please let me know what you think!