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Guest post: Learning in Local Government – Part 2

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Following on from part one in our ‘Learning in Local Government through Discovery’ series, part two is a guest post by Helen Gracie, a Business Improvement Advisor for Buckinghamshire County Council. We’re currently working alongside Buckinghamshire County Council to digitalise their public services.

Helen Gracie

As a public sector organisation, we have felt the pressures of government budget cuts. Local government has been encouraged to think more commercially and as such we have been reviewing how we deliver many of our services. It was immediately evident to us that there is a big opportunity to improve the customer journey with the Council through Digital Services.

We started working with Unboxed to research and investigate how best to introduce Digital Services to some of our busiest services.

While Gov.uk have led the way with agile and encouraged Local Government to follow, the reality for BCC is that agile remains a training session some of us went to at some point a while ago. People remain nervous about changing the way they have comfortably worked with each other to deliver successful projects in the past. Unboxed have helped us to flex our agile muscles and put it into practice in a way we can share with our colleagues to improve projects in the future.

We have of course faced some challenges along the way.

Finding our customers

An infamous Council habit is to presume that we know exactly what the customer wants and project that presumption across our services. During Discovery with Unboxed we challenged this and went back to the drawing board (literally) to investigate who our customers are. This was not received well by everyone as some people claimed they already knew who our customer is and this has been done before. Needless to say our findings were different to what had been pushed on us as truth.

Agile working

Another hurdle has been the speed at which we have worked through Discovery and are now working through Alpha. In the public sector it is comfortable to organise meetings far in advance, send emails rather than phone or talk face to face and take a lot of time to make each and every decision. The timeframes we have been working to have not allowed us to work in this way. We have been forced to move away from our comfort zone, leave our desks and find the people within the organisation with the authority to make a decision quickly. Some might call it being more agile. It has worked. We have achieved a lot in a short frame of time and impressed our colleagues sat in their meetings along the way.

Bucks CC team

Thinking creatively

As well as working within quick timeframes, working with Unboxed has taken us outside the realms of project management towards a more creative way of thinking and working. This has not come easily to many of us who have felt restricted by our lack of artistic talent. The first workshop where we were asked to draw was downright terrifying. However, once we realised that we weren’t being graded on our portraiture and had a few chances to practice it became fun. We have even started inflicting this exercise on other colleagues in the Council.

Thinking creatively still doesn’t come naturally to us but working with people who do in Unboxed is beginning to rub off and even carry over to our other work in the organisation.

Sharing our progress

The final obstacle we have yet to solve. While we are working at a very fast pace in a creative and agile manner, it has been difficult to share with the rest of the organisation what we are working on and how much we are achieving. We have started writing a blog about the projects and have made an effort to exhibit our work in busy areas of the office. However, our colleagues still do not really understand what we are doing or why. We will continue to take every opportunity to tell people about what we are doing but we are a big organisation and people working in it are busy with their day jobs managing their own projects. I hope that once we have a finished product to show off our colleagues will be more receptive to our new ways of working and we can start driving change across the organisation.

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