Doing it Differently 2017 Summit

In collaboration with Kinnarps, DragonGate Market Intelligence held a half-day summit at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home on 3 February 2017. The event brought together presenters from the Civil Service Fast Stream, Melton Borough Council, Government Digital Service, The Francis Crick Institute and Hampshire County Council to share stories of new delivery models to support the 21st century public service workforce.

Anne-Louise Clark, Head of Transformation and Change at Bexley, and Ellen Care, a member of her team, attended to share how design and agile project management have helped us to drive change in our working practices after a move to a new office environment.

This blog is a rough transcript of the presentation they gave.

In July 2014, we moved into the refurbished Woolwich Building Society HQ which had been converted into our new Civic offices. Initially this was an accommodation driven decision; by moving staff from 4 or 5 office sites into one main civic centre we were able to save money and release assets back into the community for redevelopment. The move was also an opportunity to modernise our ways of working, and through an upgrade in our IT we were also able to equip all staff to work from home and rationalise space. As a physical space, the new offices were a big improvement on our previous buildings, offering a modern working environment that enabled collaboration through collocation and different styles of work space.

Once we were established in the building we had the opportunity to use it as a platform to thin about the work we were doing there. We wanted to capitalise on the momentum and disruption of change to extend the modernisation of our working practices to be a truly 21st century organisation – and that meant thinking in a new ways about how the service we operated from the Civic Offices achieved outcomes for our residents.

We knew we wanted to deliver change at pace and capture new ideas and ways of thinking, whilst also maintaining a degree of control and grip of the most important issues we faced. We wanted more voices – from staff to service users to partners and businesses – to be involved in discussions about our future, and to focus on the needs of the people we serve and how best to meet them, rather than a set of services that we’ve traditionally delivered.

But we also knew that the future was not going to be easy. Continuing financial pressure, as well as demographic changes and different expectations from our residents are challenging. The need to be self-sufficient by 2020 as revenue support grant is phased out requires a fundamental re-framing of local government, and the exactly what the future will look like is uncertain. There is a danger of simply ‘withering on the vine’, managing a gradual decline of the council, if we narrowly focus on making spreadsheets add up rather than the impact we can have and are having for our residents.

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“Design is the process of deciding on and realizing preferred futures” Cameron Tonkinwise, Carnegie Mellon School of Design

The design methodology gave us back some control of that future and the direction we were heading in. It reminded us that despite the constraints we were operating in, we still had choice. We were able to turn our focus away from the doom and gloom of austerity to the art of the possible.

Design is a 4 stage purpose of discovery, defining, developing and delivering which allows us to broaden and narrow our focus at different stages in the double diamond. It ensures we have a good understanding of the problem, before we leap into trying to solve it, so we don’t spend time trying to solve the wrong thing.

Agile project management has enabled us to break projects down into realistic chunks of work or sprints which means we can work at pace. We reduce the risk in the project by testing in real time and delivering incrementally, rather than waiting until the end of a 6 month project to get to a final finish line. This means we can change course as we go in line with new information and build and iterate our project as we test with real people.

So where has this journey taken us? Here are some examples of what a combination and design and agile have helped us to achieve.

  • In partnership with FutureGov we developed a new model for SEN transport, subsidised by providing additional charged for services which help end the cliff-edge of eligibility
  • Working with RedQuadrant, we’re re-imagining the transition from children’s to adults social services, ensuring the young person’s voice, ambitions and strengths are at the centre of the process
  • We’ve set ourselves the ambition of becoming the easiest Council to pay, and are exploring opportunities to streamline processes to strengthen our balance sheet.

At the heart of all of these projects has been getting to know our users. Talking to the people who use our services is now a fundamental part of our transformation process. Through the insights generated in these conversations, we’ve been able to focus on providing services that meet user needs.

The impact of working in this style for just 6 months has been impressive. Staff across the Council are more confident to try new things, knowing they’re supported by senior managers and that they are working in a process that enables them to learn and change quickly.

Our Members didn’t come into public service to make cuts any more than we did. They now have more options to choose from beyond salami slicing and reducing services, and can be confident that the views of our residents are at the heart of what we do.

We’re being more creative and imaginative about how we use our resources to achieve things for our residents and focusing on outcomes not services.

Ultimately, this means that we spend the money we have on services that people want and can use, and that are solving problems that are important to them.

Agile and design complement each other to deliver these changes, and more traditional project management techniques also have a place to offer reassurance as we explore different tools to aid our transformation.

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“We unleash creativity and innovation by recognizing that individuals are the ultimate source of value and creating an environment where they can make a difference” The Agile Project Management ‘Declaration of Independence’ (2005)

Creating a physical space for people to work in that enabled collaboration, flexibility and a shared identity was the start of this journey. Without the physical move and change in environment, it would have been difficult to make the shift in mind set and modernise our working practices.

But a work environment is more than a building. We know that it is ultimately the individuals who work in that build that will unleash the creativity and innovation that will help us deliver for our residents in an uncertain future, and working with design and agile methodologies has given us a new and exciting path to do that.