Two months ago, I started as a Project Director for FutureGov. Coming hot on the heels of an intense and rewarding couple of years at Doncaster Council, I’ve had the chance to reflect on what it’s like to go from being on ‘the inside’ to being ‘on the outside’. From bringing in creative people to help get stuff done, to being the person that’s brought in to do the doing.
I want to share some of the important lessons I learned. In part, in solidarity with those in local government, and partly because catharsis is a good and healthy thing!
Making the move
Doncaster Council is an amazing place to work — my experience there will live long in my memory. I had the opportunity to do a lot of great work and it wasn’t uncommon to work across 12 exciting projects at once pulling 70 hour weeks. Driven by a heady mixture of coffee, adrenaline and a desire to change things for the better, I pushed myself to do more and do it better than before. It was good, meaningful work that created tangible improvements in the lives of our residents.
I also had the opportunity to collaborate and work alongside some great agencies. Each brought depth and rigour to projects, which helped free me up to drive the wider case for a design-led approach to policy and strategy. They made my life easier and I wouldn’t have been as successful without them.
Looking back, I think I spread myself too thin. No one can be 100% effective with too much on the plate, and I am no exception. I’ve learned that I’d rather move three things closer to completion than 12 things to a lesser extent. One of the things I am most excited for in this new role is the ability to really focus on a couple of big projects, knowing that I can add more value to a select few than if I was spread across more.
Building meaningful partnerships
Working in Doncaster has made me more reflective about my choices and the impact good design can have. The questions I’m asking myself now, are: what does good design look like in a local authority? Is breadth or depth better? How can the public sector and agencies like FutureGov forge really meaningful partnerships?
It’s so important to help people see the change that’s possible. In Doncaster, it felt like I’d won the battle for discovery and prototyping, and that lots of people ‘got it’. But moving past that and into the realm of sustainable change feels pretty essential to me now.
It’s about sticking around long enough to see things through, and focussing on the skills, vision and leadership that mean service design work can really begin to stick.
This is what a really great partnership between an agency and a local authority should look like. Bringing my local government experiences and design knowledge to a wider audience, I look forward to getting in more places, getting more people on board and helping us all become the creators of sustainable change.
It doesn’t matter if you’re on the ‘inside’ or ‘outside’. I don’t think there is really a difference. Regardless of our organisations, we are a group of people trying to make things better for the residents. There were times when it felt lonely doing what I was doing — I wasn’t always sure if my work was wanted, despite feeling like it was needed. But I’ve always been fortunate to have key people around me who wanted the same thing.
I’ve always been passionate about the potential of public service, and will always work in and around it as a result. What the move to FutureGov has brought home for me is the difference between work that has meaning, and making my work mean something.
There are plenty of agitators, innovators, Kaospilots — call them what you want! I’m excited about the future as we come together to share a collective energy, ideas and optimism in a way that can only mean good things for councils and citizens.
Want to talk more? You can find me on Twitter @ayredw.