Tuesday, 10 February 2015

78. Perform your strategies like jazz

We don't like to talk about strategy making do we?

I don't mean the stuff that the strategies are about, we love talking about that, I mean the business of making strategies; the mechanics of how they actually work. That stuff is boring isn't it? But not thinking about that stuff might be a problem if it means those strategies don't do what we want them to do.

Often strategy making is just 'common sense'. You know, vision is followed by aims is followed by objectives that are followed by an action plan.

Sometimes we have a method. Results Based Accountability and Balanced Scorecards have been popular of late. Driver diagrams are something I've come across recently. You might even try something more bottom up like Appreciative Inquiry.

Of course we never have a methodology (despite chronic misuse of the word) but that's another story.

So where Am I going with this?

As someone involved the writing of community strategies and other partnership plans I think it would be great if, in a given locality at least, we could all use the same approach.

Health plans are made differently to police plans which are made differently to council plans etc etc. This makes it really hard to fit plans together - to make them talk to each other.

Having worked on Single Integrated Plans (the Welsh upgrade of community strategies) I've seen how hard it is to incorporate everything into one strategy. Rather than the tricky task of making 'one plan to rule them all' perhaps it would be more productive if everyone simply worked to the same strategy making principles?

Hence the jazz metaphor.

Jazz musicians improvise, yes, but within a shared key, shared time signature and shared tempo (probably).

In the same way wouldn't it be groovy if partners in a given area could agree to work within a common structure including:
  • Shared definitions (things like aims, outcomes etc)
  • Shared method
  • Shared outcomes
Strategies would be made separately but within a shared framework. The result would hopefully be harmonious.

That would be cool man.

Photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/6wtNC

77. #notwestminster

Carl Haggerty had it right when he blogged yesterday:
Remember this date : Saturday 7th February 2015, because on Saturday in Huddersfield a special event We’re not in Westminster – Local Democracy for Everyone took place that created the space, time, inspiration and curation to bring together an amazing group of people to discuss and suggest small and big changes to how local democracy works.
It certainly felt to me like a game changer.  We talked about practical stuff, yes, but there was also energising, re-energising and inspiring by the bucket full.

This post isn't about the event, excellent though it was (I've already blogged about my workshop and others are blogging as well - here is the Storify).

This post isn't even about all the brilliant people who came together to make it happen (although they are and they did).

It’s about the #notwestminster hashtag – or, perhaps more accurately, it's about the attitude.

When Carl (@gr8governance), the impresario of the event, told me Diane’s (@72prufrocks) idea for a strap-line, I knew straight away it was perfect.

"We're not in Westminster anymore."

Most people know 'We're not in Kansas anymore' is quote from the film The Wizard of Oz.

It gets used as a saying that means, according to the Urban Dictionary:

When you're in a place or situation that is outside your comfort zone or scope of understanding. Strange surroundings.

By swapping Kansas for Westminster it gives you the sense that local democracy is very different to national government - that it's a very different world.  This post about a recent GovCamp by @emilyaturner illustrates that point very well.

It's also a reminder that democracy happens outside of what is, after all, a very small part of the capital city. As John Popham has reflected, the fact that the #notwestminster event took place in Huddersfield is refreshing to say the least.

My hope is that the #notwestminster hashtag continues to be used.  For me it represents:

  • the uniqueness of local democracy
  • the fact you need to live it to understand it
  • the passion that many of us have for all the good stuff 
  • the excitement that there is around change for the better 

Remember, if we are not in Westminster anymore then maybe we are somewhere over the ....

Photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/ot1uRA

Sunday, 8 February 2015

76. Three user stories for local democracy

This is my write up of the workshop I ran at the #notwestminster event.  Here is a lovely storify by John Popham if you want to find out what it was all about.  It was quite excellent by the way.

The workshop looked at how the user story technique might help us to redesign democracy around what people need.  User stories are simple statements always written in the same way:

As a... I need to... So I can... 

You can see the set up for the workshop plus some background links over at the event website here.

Our mission, as with all the other workshops, was to come up with three ideas for local democracy that people could take forward and work on.

Three user stories

The three actions from this workshop came as three user stories (I've simplified a little):

1.  As a local resident I need to see council reports in a form I can easily digest so I can understand the decisions that are being made

2.  As a disengaged voter I need to understand why politics should be of interest to me so I can work out whether to vote and who to vote for

3.  As a council policy officer I need to see through the eyes of the public so I can deliver good solutions to the actual problems people face

The process

It's worth saying a little about the process just because the workshop went a little differently to any I've run before - I have been trying to learn a little from the principles of service design and apply those.

  • I brought a lot of cards with me and put some instructions on the back
  • These were then handed out to people at the event who were asked to write their user stories and post them in the ballot box (provided by @72prufrocks - thanks!)
  • By the time we came to the workshop we had collected about 40 cards which turned out be just right for the time we had
  • For the workshop we stood up in a group and, discussing each card in turn, sorted them and stuck them on the wall under one of four headings; 'mmm, not sure what that means'; 'yes, this need is already met'; 'woah, that will need a big change'; and 'yes, definitely one to think about'.
  • We then sorted the ones we had in the last pile between; 'small difference'; 'some difference'; and 'big difference' piles and we were left with 6 cards which we discussed and reduced to three.
  • This all took about 40 minutes.

I think it worked pretty well and group were happy with the final choices - well done guys!

What next?

Well our challenge is to work on these stories and come up with solutions.  At the end of the event everyone had a chance to sign up to working on things they wanted to change so think of this post as just a first step - watch this space and let me know if you want to get involved.

More stories

Here are some other user stories from the event to give you a flavour of the discussions:

As a person living with a loved one in a care home I need to understand the democratic accountability for his care so I can decide how to vote in a way that will make a difference and know who to hold to account when things go wrong
As a resident I need to be more aware of what my local council are doing so I can have more say in how I live in my home
As a student I need to be more aware of what is happening in local government so I can solidify my future
As a regular traveller I need to find ways to connect with the work of the council so I can volunteer and contribute when I have time available
As a fun loving individual I need to feel that I can be myself in meetings, when writing letters etc... so I can express myself freely
As a youth council coordinator I need to reach more young people so I can empower them!
As a broadcast journalist I need to raise awareness of the local council so I can get people more involved in politics


Friday, 14 November 2014

75. Stand Alone Local Democracy Websites

No council websites were harmed in the making of this post.

The idea here is to have separate websites for local democracy.  At the moment council democracy stuff is incorporated into websites that are mainly designed to support and promote services.  Creating separate sites would bring all the democracy stuff – committee information, councillor details, scrutiny and elections out of the shadows of all that service stuff and into the light!

Parliament has its own separate ‘democracy site’.  So does the National Assembly for Wales.  So why not local government?

Democracy stuff can usually be found in a corner of the council website under ‘Council’ or ‘Your Council’.  Website design rests heavily on ‘top tasks’ and responding to customer needs – it’s job vacancies, rubbish collection details and school term dates that get prominence because those are the things that people look for.

Democracy matters – it needs greater visibility.

Another problem is that the way we interact as customers of services is different to how we might interact as citizens with a local democratic process.  A local democracy site needs to tell me about the things I’m entitled to know – not just the things I know that I want or the things the council wants me to consume.

My argument is that local democracy presents a distinct design challenge – one that can only be properly addressed away from the frameworks of local government ‘service’ websites.  Having separate sites should open up a market for design and, who knows, even lead to open source solutions that everyone can use.

In areas where there are multi tier councils you should only need one site for the local districts and county councils.  Less need for mergers perhaps?

And these local democracy websites need not just be about local government – they could provide a space for citizen bloggers and hyperlocals - and a focus for annual democracy plans.  They could provide a single focus for a range of accountability mechanisms (health, Police and Crime commissioners etc etc).

As a 'user' of democracy I'd like to have everything in one place.  Wouldn't you.