At dxw, we have a diversity and inclusion group to help make changes to our organisation so everyone feels included. I’ve been a member of the group for a while and I started thinking about my faith and how it affects me as a designer. So I asked my dxw colleagues to send me questions on what they would like to know more about in terms of my faith and how it impacts my work and personal life.

My aim was to create an inviting way for questions to be asked openly and answered as honestly as possible. So, let’s get into it…

How does your religion interact with your work?

I think my faith has made me a more sensitive designer. An effective designer carefully considers how to create things and the impact on clients. This requires a great deal of empathy and delicacy, which my faith encourages.

Working in tech is most certainly a lifestyle choice, and the passion, commitment and motivation that I have within my faith applies to my work too. Islam is a way of life, which is centred on the 5 Pillars of Islam:

  • Faith (Shahada)
  • Prayer (Salat)
  • Charity (Zakat)
  • Fasting (Sawm)
  • Pilgrimage (Hajj)

There’s a focus on punctuality and time management as we observe regular prayers, and a huge emphasis on respect for others (love thy neighbour) which definitely applies to the way I aim to treat my colleagues.

The 5 pillars help to keep my morals in check, such as not doing what I shouldn’t be doing (lying, gossiping, cheating, and so on), with prayers giving my day structure and keeping me grounded. Charity and fasting make me more understanding of others less fortunate, which also makes me more appreciative of the work our clients do in the public sector and how we make a contribution that benefits all of society.

What are some things it’s helpful for us to know about your experience of working with mostly non-Muslim people?

I want my colleagues to understand that it’s okay to eat around me when it’s Ramadan and feel comfortable doing so. There’s a quote from the Messenger of Allah, Mohammed (PBUH):

If food is eaten in the presence of one who is fasting, the angels send blessing upon him.

During prayer times, trying to find an available meeting room or space that’s private can be difficult. Something else to think about is that social gatherings which are based around alcohol aren’t that inclusive. Being able to accommodate everyone is important. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the food has to be halal but make sure there’s a non-alcoholic, vegetarian option and more focus on activities.

What can we do to help?

Meeting rooms are great but they need to be available and have privacy to be used for prayer. Sometimes meetings run over or people use the room without booking it. This can make it difficult to find somewhere to pray when you need to, which can be quite stressful.

It’s better to have a dedicated quiet space which is only used for wellbeing. Having a quiet room available for prayer, which takes around 5-7mins, really helps. Dividers can be used to section off an area and provide a dedicated faith/prayer space for privacy. This would mean more than 1 person can use use the space for any wellbeing purpose.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is a month of fasting and abstaining and detoxing your mind and body.

Those participating in Ramadan abstain from food, drink, and impure thoughts between the hours of sunrise (Fajr) and sunset. This allows us to focus on prayer and connecting with God (Allah) as well as increasing charitable acts and good deeds throughout the month. Fasting allows each individual to know what it means to go without, to find patience with ourselves and people around us, and to have compassion for those less fortunate.

The act of fasting allows individuals to know the hardships of millions around the world who live in poverty and famine, leaving the participant feeling more grounded and grateful for all that Allah has given them. At the end of the month, zakat (charitable) donations during Ramadan are made then Eid-ul-Fitr is a celebration with loved ones. Eid is a time of feasting and celebration for Muslims, with gifts exchanged.

If you want to know more about Ramadan, please visit the Muslim Hands website.

Tell us about your personal experiences of fasting and working during Ramadan

Sometimes it feels like a long day because we wake up early for morning prayer and you experience high and low energy levels throughout the day. Most importantly the first week of fasting is always difficult, because your body goes from eating as and when it likes then all of a sudden you stop.

But after the first week, there’s an energy shift. You’re more focussed and there’s a clarity of thought because your body gets used to running on stored fat for fuel.

What can be done to be considerate and help you celebrate Ramadan?

I prefer starting work earlier, and finishing earlier, as I’m more energetic during the early hours. Scheduling team activities and meetings during the beginning of the day would be helpful. I like to arrange my annual leave to coincide with the month of Ramadan so I’m often not as available as I normally would be.

It would also be great to be understanding of my mood shifts. I do my best to not let the hunger affect my mood, but sometimes it does get the better of me, especially at times when I’ve been fasting for 19 hours! Generally, the first week is the hardest and I’m usually a lot better once I’ve gotten used to it. I apologise in advance to everyone that feels my hanger!

Thank you to everyone who participated in the questionnaire.

The post Life as a Muslim designer appeared first on dxw.

Original source – dxw

Hundreds of councils have now declared a climate emergency, striving to reduce their emissions within the next decade. One of the direct levers available to local authorities is incorporating local low carbon energy systems in the new homes being built in their communities.

Decarbonising the energy system isn’t just about building more large wind, solar and nuclear power plants but also one where smart energy systems need to be created more locally. Building new developments or retrofitting existing local energy networks to include solar PV, ground source heat pumps, electric vehicle charging and large batteries means that low carbon energy can be generated and stored locally, relieving pressure on the grid and contributing to local reduction of emissions.

There’s no doubt that energy systems are technically complex. Many council’s lack necessary in-house skills, they have to balance other demands that are perceived to be in conflict, such as delivering affordable housing, and central government policy and investment around the local energy agenda has been unclear and inconsistent. Yet, decentralised local low carbon systems have the potential not only to reduce emissions but also create other benefits.

Working with Project Remedy, a collaboration between energy companies, academics, registered social landlords and local authorities, we’ve been taking a human-centred approach to understanding, not the technical feasibility of these projects but how the desirability and viability of smart local energy systems can be improved by councils taking a more active role in their design and promotion.

Exploring the wider benefits

There’s many teams involved in different stages of developing new housing and the infrastructure that enables it, with some playing the role of gatekeeper, deciding how low-carbon a new development should be. These decision-makers can range from council planning policy teams to energy teams and planning committees. Given their different roles and varying levels of understanding around carbon emissions and the technical solutions to reduce them, they may not be aligned sufficiently well to champion low carbon opportunities.

To support the adoption of local energy systems, councils and wider organisations need to be able to simplify the messaging, talk about co-benefits (such as addressing fuel poverty) and clearly articulate the experience for residents.

Engaging with experts, such as energy teams, can then create powerful internal advocates across the council, helping to digest complicated language around policies. This will save councils time and effort upskilling every staff member involved in housing decisions.

Supporting the right development projects

Some developments and developers are better suited for low carbon energy systems than others. Housing developers with a long-term interest in the communities and infrastructure they build, such as build-to-rent developers and registered social landlords, are more inclined to cater to residents needs and the longer financial payback periods of low carbon infrastructure.

It’s common that this type of developer is building and designing homes for the long term, using more sustainable energy systems that deliver consistent returns to the developer and consistently lower bills to residents.

This is where councils can consider introducing planning policies that create the conditions for developers and developments that focus on longer-term returns.

Engaging earlier with developers

Bringing the idea of low carbon energy solutions late in the planning process such as during a planning application can often mean developers will be pitted against affordable housing requirements and the low carbon elements are negotiated down. The tightening of regulations has already prompted developers to become more proactive in future-proofing their businesses.

By continually engaging developers and reaching out earlier, councils can gain a broader knowledge of sector capabilities, helping show them the lower upfront costs of local low carbon energy systems and be better positioned to evidence their technical feasibility and financial viability in local plans.

There’s an appetite for building greener energy systems from both councils and developers, that’s helping guide the housing sector in the right direction. By growing knowledge internally, choosing the right projects and proactively engaging with developers early on, councils can increase the amount of new homes in their communities fit for the climate era.

Introducing green energy systems locally was originally published in FutureGov on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Original source – FutureGov

Photo collage of Paul Willmott, Joanna Davinson and Tom Read.

I last blogged about our digital, data, and technology (DDaT) ambitions back in August, when we launched the recruitment competitions for the Government Chief Digital Officer (GCDO) and the GDS Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

Summer now feels like a lifetime ago and much has happened since then. The response to coronavirus (COVID-19) has and continues to absorb our energies, with profound impact on our daily lives and communities. The UK has successfully transitioned out of the European Union and our economy and businesses adjust to a new normal. And we concluded a complex and dynamic Spending Review process that was both conservative and transformative; striking a fine balance between the Government’s ambitions and the uniquely challenging context we find ourselves in.

Digital, data and technology have and continue to be central to those endeavours – as with so much government business. And so I’m delighted to announce the new leadership for our Digital, Data, and Technology profession, and the appointments of Paul Willmott, Joanna Davinson, and Tom Read to the Cabinet Office. These 3 appointments, which the Prime Minister personally approved last week, embody the creativity, discipline, and inspiration that we expect from our profession.

Paul Willmott, Chief Digital Adviser at LEGO Brand Group and former Global Managing Partner and Founder of McKinsey Digital at McKinsey & Co., will join us as Chair of the newly established Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO) for Government. Paul is one of the UK’s most talented and visionary digital leaders, with 30 years experience transforming businesses through digital means as an executive and advisor.

While recruiting for the GCDO, Paul was the person that everyone recommended as the best fit for the role. But at LEGO he already has a big, complex and exciting job, and he is committed to his employer. Nevertheless, Paul and I discussed with Ministers his reflections on what success should look like and how to get there, in order to help further focus our search. Like me, Ministers were impressed and, in the knowledge that sometimes we must flex our structures to fit the individual, we explored the potential for other ways to involve Paul, who is instinctively excited by the scale of the challenge and the opportunity for public service. And so we have created the CDDO, to which we are delighted to appoint Paul as Chair.

Situated in the Cabinet Office and reporting to me as Chief Operating Officer for the Civil Service, with ministerial oversight from Julia Lopez, Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office, the CDDO will fulfil the same function and responsibilities that we expected of the GCDO. The CDDO will eventually comprise a council of non-executive experts, appointed by the Minister for the Cabinet Office with the support of Paul, with deep practical experience across the range of DDaT disciplines, from automation to cyber security, cloud and data, product and service design. Collectively, the CDDO will provide professional leadership to the DDaT function, and collectively shape strategy and assure delivery for digital, data and technology across government.

In order to run the CDDO’s operations day-to-day, and provide a strong hand on our cross-government activities, we have appointed Joanna Davinson as Executive Director for the next 18 months. Currently Chief Digital, Data and Technology Officer at the Home Office, Joanna has 30 years experience of technology enabled transformation, and combines deep technical expertise with the understanding of how our system works, as well as the demands of and pressures on our largest and most complex delivery departments, to complement the external perspectives brought by Paul and Council members.

At a glance, the CDDO will:

  • provide professional leadership and support to the DDaT leads of government departments and the wider government DDaT community
  • offer expert advice and counsel to Ministers and Senior Civil Servants on the development and execution of digital, data, and technology policies and strategies
  • build on the challenge and assurance process piloted at SR20 to establish and implement a year-round quarterly business review process that supports departments to deliver against their technology commitments 
  • work with HM Treasury to optimise the government’s approach to funding DDaT initiatives
  • support the Government Commercial Function and Crown Commercial Services to reform technology procurement processes, and
  • support GDS in the development and enforcement of technical standards and strategies to ensure efficient delivery and interoperability of systems.

More detail on CDDO will follow in the weeks ahead but I wanted you all to get the gist of it now.

Tom Read

I’m also excited to confirm that the Prime Minister has appointed Tom Read as GDS’s new CEO. Tom is an experienced leader with a strong background in technology and change. After a period in the banking and media sectors, Tom joined government in 2013 as Chief Technology Officer at the Cabinet Office. Since 2016, Tom has run the Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) 1,000-strong digital and technology operations; one of government’s largest and most complex IT estates, with a variety of essential frontline digital services, used by some of our most vulnerable citizens. This blend of experience at the centre and in the line, combined with his inclusive and progressive leadership style make him an excellent and inspiring choice as GDS’ CEO, and the perfect partner to Joanna as Executive Director at the CDDO, under Paul’s leadership as Chair.

Of course, I must acknowledge here the important contributions of Alison Pritchard and Fiona Deans, whose strong leadership of GDS over the previous 18 months ensures Tom inherits a strong foundation on which to build. Alison has since moved on to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) but I’m delighted to say that Fiona will stay on at GDS, returning to her role as Chief Operating Officer, when Tom starts at GDS next month.

Realising our digital ambitions will not be easy. The challenge is enormous, complex, and the scrutiny is intense. But together, I believe that Paul, Joanna and Tom will provide the inspiration, leadership and vision needed for GDS and the wider DDaT profession as we launch the next phase of digital delivery and transformation so essential to the modernisation and reform of government.

Original source – Government Digital Service

A few days ago I blogged about the need for direct communications to cut through to people.

I’m so pleased to see that others independently had reached the same conclusions.

Why this change of tack?

Because people have grown tired and the messages of last March have blunted with new ones needed.

Reasons to be cheerful

There are things to be encouraged by.

Trust in local institutions remains and there are lots of trust in local voices.

Besides, perhaps surprisingly, the number of people sticking to the rules hasn’t dropped that much. Ask the BMJ who have blogged the results of surveys that show this and also highlight the danger in the circulating the perception this isn’t true.

This means that the right messages can still land if they are refined.

In this stage of the pandemic, the message has become urgently more direct, hard hitting and human.

For me, this also confirms the ages-old truism that news is people. Or to rephrase it, people connect with people. The old lessons I learned in a newsroom as a junior reporter are still relevant.

The human story of the COVID-19 victim

This post from Telford &Wrekin Council punches you between the eyes. It is a real person, a resident of Telford, called Sharn telling her story in her own words in a post shared with pictures.

You see her healthy at Christmas and you see also the images of her deteriorating.

I was admitted last Sunday and Tuesday I thought I was leaving in a box as I couldn’t breathe unattended!! I have never been so scared and alone in my life thinking you are never going to see your children again is torture.Fortunately I’m getting stronger everyday so will be home soon. Sadly not everyone is as fortunate so many bodies leaving this hospital it’s awful… TAKE THIS VIRUS SERIOUSLY GUYS

Sharn, aged 34, Telford, January 2021.

In 20 hours the post has been shared 2,400 times and there have been 1,100 comments. Scrolling through them they look almost entirely positive with messages to Sharn wishing her a speedy recovery.

Sharn gave her permission for her story to be featured.

This is the kind of content that has cut through. Telford & Wrekin Council’s Kellie Thompson who is responsible for the content deserves enormous credit.

The human story of the workers at the temporary morgue

But it’s not just content for Facebook.

All age groups use traditional media the most to find out COVID-19 information, Ofcom say. Surprisingly, eight out of 10 16 to 24-year-olds turn to these channels for their pandemic updates.

In this BBC content, Surrey County Council worked with traditional media to feature the new temporary morgue built in woodland as an overflow as the morgues in the county’s hospitals are full.

In the footage, we see the construction, the empty racks for the dead bodies and interviews with staff who work there. The BBC in this clip are at pains not to film the bodies out of respect for the families of the dead.

The Local Resilience Forum spokesman sets out the big picture and Kirsty the re-deployed Surrey police detective talks about the numbers increasing not decreasing.

Credit to Andrea Newman’s team at Surrey County Council for this.

You can watch the clip on the BBC website here.

The human response in the Facebook post

Also in Surrey, Surrey Heath District Council are also in the eye of the storm with rising infection and death rates. Like many other public sector organisations they’ve been posting the official messages but have been facing the rising tide of abuse, frustration and conspiracy theories.

Credit to Joanne Atkinson Terry and her team for using a very human approach. In the post they dispense with the well worn government graphics and throw their hands in the air. We get it, they say. We’re all fed-up. So are we. But because the rates are so high we have to keep playing our parts.

The response is positive. In 20-hours, there’s been 98 shares, 15 positive comments and 168 positive reactions. This is a good response.


These are three examples of content that capture the current direction of travel. I’m sure there are many more.

Directness can work.

The more direct and human appears to be cutting through to people online. It is, of course, a different matter as to whether or not these messages convert into action.

I’m so impressed at the work of public sector people right now. That needs to be repeated as sometimes those at the coalface don’t always see the bigger picture. If that’s you, thank you for what you are doing.

Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?

We would dearly love to be issuing a Call for Proposals for our normal two day Impacts of Civic Technology Conference (TICTeC), in person, in some beautiful city somewhere, in anticipation of having some great discourse and drinks. Alas, the pandemic means we are not yet in a place to do that.

We also recognise that attempting to hold a two day event online is just too much – we are all suffering a bit of screen fatigue at this point, and we understand how difficult it is to concentrate and engage with lengthy online sessions.

Therefore, we will instead be hosting a series of online TICTeC ‘Show and Tells’ from March until May 2021, which will be short, energetic and to-the-point.

These will be hour-long virtual events that will bring together the global community who use, build, research or fund digital technology that empowers citizens. Speakers will share their real and in-depth research and lessons learnt about the impacts of these digital technologies, and whether their intended outcomes were indeed realised. TICTeC, as it always has been, continues to be a safe place to honestly examine what works, what doesn’t, what can be improved etc, so, ultimately, better digital tools are developed.

TICTeC’s ethos is that every organisation developing and running technology that serves citizens should do so with evidence-based research at the forefront of their decisions, and should examine their impacts. This is to ensure validity and legitimacy, but also to curb and mitigate possible detrimental and unintended consequences.

Apply to present

Each TICTeC Show and Tell will feature five 7-minute presentations, followed by a Q&A session after all speakers have made their presentations. If you have relevant research/experiences/lessons learnt to share, please submit a talk by 14 February 2021.

We’re looking for proposals relevant to the below topic areas in particular, however, if your proposal doesn’t quite fit into these themes but is still relevant to civic technology we’d nevertheless love to hear from you. We’re also particularly keen this time to hear from users of civic technology about their experiences, as well as researchers, funders and practitioners.

For more advice on submitting a proposal please see our guide.

Sponsorship opportunities

TICTeC really does bring together a truly global group of people, all passionate about examining digital technology’s impact on society. TICTeC events usually bring together participants from at least 30 countries worldwide.  But, as a charity, we need support to make TICTeC convenings happen. We’re currently looking for sponsors to help us continue. If you’re interesting in helping us to continue TICTeC’s valuable work, please see our guide to sponsorship and sponsorship packages, or feel free to contact Gemma Moulder to speak about more bespoke alternatives.

We look forward to reading your proposals, and to seeing you at our Show and Tells!

Original source – mySociety

5 comms and pr ojectives for 2021.png

How is your comms planning shaping up for the year ahead? This new post may spark some fresh ideas for you…

by Darren Caveney

I’m not a big fan of predictions. 2020 showed us that that can be a mug’s game. So I’m not predicting a thing for 2021. Planning, on the other hand, is something we can take more control of. So, now really is the time to think about the tactics behind creating a new comms plan to give you your best chance of success in this unpredictable year ahead.

Here are 5 smart objectives which every team could undertake and try…

1. Make mental health and wellbeing your number one priority

It’s an obvious thing to say. We all know this is huge (and likely growing) issue in our industry. But putting definitive plans into practice is another matter.

At the back end of 2020 I created a Safeguarding checklist for comms teams. I believe that is a really good approach for any team to take on.

But we need to think bigger and better, wider and deeper too. By which I mean the comms team collaborating with other teams – think HR, for one – to lobby your leadership team to make this the number one corporate priority for your entire organisation. Literally, what could be more important?

Then, instead of trying to live up to good practice as a team in isolation, if the whole business is signed up it really does have a chance of taking root. It may not be simple for some but it has to be worth a try.

2. Time to audit your own work

If you haven’t already done so now would be a very useful time to audit your performance. OK, it was a wretched year and all bets are probably off due to Covid but it’s worth assessing what of your original 2020 comms objectives you did/didn’t achieve.

There are many ways to audit your own work – everything from asking your colleagues, teams and customers for feedback, through to number-crunching your performance analytics.

It can be light touch or really in-depth. You’ll know best what is going to be most realistic vs most useful to you and the team.

I created this simple 5 I’s model for self-audits. It might be a useful start point to get you into the groove.

3. Check that your top 5 corporate priorities match those of your leadership team’s

Now your corporate plan may be in a good place and still fit for purpose, or it could have been ravaged and confused by Covid. Either way, it’s an excellent time to check in to see what the expectation of your leadership team are in relation to organisational priorities. Priorities change, and they can be plentiful for many an organisation. But assumptions can be dangerous all-round.

I’ve shared the story many times about a comms review I undertook for a large council. As a part of the intelligence gathering and strategy-shaping I asked the cabinet to individually share with me their top 5-6 council priorities. At the end of the process I totted them all up we ended up with a list of 28! That’s not a criticism, by the way, it’s just a reflection on how many important services a council delivers but for sure it’s not a realistic ask of the comms team to prioritise and deliver against them all.

So, run a session internally with a broad range of key colleagues and ask the question: Where do you want us to focus our communications resource in 2021?

4. Refresh your comms strategy

Now is the perfect time  – OK, best time – to do this. Whether you want it to kick in from January or from the start of the new financial year this is an important time and one which really could dictate how your comms year pads out.

Once you have audited your effectiveness, and checked in with your leadership team on their top priorities, it’s time to shape or refresh your communications strategy.

Ideally you would do this together as a team. Face-to-face. But we still don’t have that luxury but you could absolutely do it via Zoo, Teams or Google Meet.

You could chunk it up into sections save being on a video call all day, and you could split some of the tasks across the team by breaking off into smaller teams or individuals to work on specific sections of your plan. But whatever you do don’t leave it to one person to write up your new strategy.

What if you’re a team of one or two? Well you could ask colleagues from other departments for some input. Comms don’t necessarily have the exclusive rights on all of the good ideas and external insight can be helpful.

You could ask comms pros from other organisations to sit in on a session or two too. You could then return the favour when it’s their turn as type of buddying arrangement. Failing that ask someone external who has created strategies for organisations and understands the pressures and expectations on you. I’ve done this for teams and it’s always an enjoyable, fun and useful process.

Once you have a draft, test it with a few trusted sources.

Refine and polish and then, once you’re happy with it, get it on the agenda to present to your senior leadership team. Their feedback – and very importantly, green light to proceed – is key to its internal buy-in and resultant impact.

What are the best approaches, methods and templates?

Well you could go old skool and use ROSIE, or you could go full OASIS. Or could you could try my popular essential comms planning guide, together with its free planning worksheets – It’s been downloaded over 5k times now and it’s still by go to comms planning tool.

5. Review your skills matrix

When was the last time you or your team looked at your skillset?  Staff changes, the impacts of 2020 and new priorities for 2021 probably mean that it’s time to check in on where your team is strong, and where the gaps are and so could use some development.

In terms of strengths make sure they are being applied across the new campaigns you’ll develop and deliver to support your newly agreed priorities.

And we all have gaps in our own skillset and development. It’s totally natural and absolutely not a weakness. But it’s smart to identify what they are and seek out opportunities to address them wherever possible and practical.

Your organisation may have a process or a template for all of this. I shared my own Comms team skills matrix with comms2point0 eMag subscribers last year (what do you mean you’re not subscribed? You can sign up below) Drop me a note if you would like a copy of my skills matrix.


Nail those 5 practical steps and 2021 could be a year of achievement and progress despite the challenges it will inevitably throw at us all.

Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of specialist consultancy Creative Communicators Ltd

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Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

This is a post about multidisciplinary working – something which we rely on but don’t often think about.  Multidisciplinary (or cross disciplinary if you are using the language of research or practice) or matrix (of you are using the language of organisational design) are essentially a bunch of experts trying to get something done together.  The opportunity here is on the getting something done that is greater than the sum of the knowledge and skills combined – the risk is that you end up in semantic power struggles that might be intellectually or professionally satisfying but don’t actually achieve much in the real world.

Its an approach which increasingly accepted in the research and funding world (see the Cancer Grand Challenges or the Welcome Trust or the UCL grand challenges) and is native to how a digital product team works (the classic example here is Spotify but you might want to have a look at this piece from me on this as well).  It reflects a lot of innovation thinking and also a lot of creative work (I love the data art that the ODI commissioned for example).

But you can’t just put a load of experts together and expect them to get on – good multidisciplinary working needs thought and facilitation to overcome what I’d name as the four main challenges for multidisciplinary working as being:

  1. Creating a common frame of reference (more on frames of reference here)
  2. Creating a shared language (remember collaboration has two very different definitions)
  3. Forming bonds of professional respect not just ducking the intellectual disagreements for the sake of all getting along socially (another definition of this would be the creation of psychological safety)
  4. Accepting that there is overlap between different disciplines and that being an expert in a thing doesn’t make you THE expert every time that thing is used 

To a great extent this is the art of multidisciplinary working – active interrogation and discussion of blending professional practices together in order to form a strong team.  I was struck by a quote from Isabella Tree in her book Rewilding:

“One advisor described the effort to gain consensus as trying to get frogs in a bucket… stretch the analogy all of the frogs came from different ponds, and all had different views about what it meant to be a frond what their pond should look like” (P.151) .

She goes on to reflect that her role, and that of her husband, in the work was to hold the process and make sure that the experts operated well within it.  

The process which I try and hold is action research approach which I see as being about keeping the balance between the two elements that form it.  Too much action without theoretical grounding feels too unstructured, to much research without practical action isn’t grounded enough.  This tension reflects the fact that often its not the ideas which are hard – its the change that is needed to bring them to life which presents the challenge.  I use a lot of design thinking tools and approaches as I think this helps bridge into more digital methods but my underpinning approach is a plan, act, observe, reflect action research cycle.

Action research is not just about integrating methods, its also about integrating ideas and world views into something which is practical and actionable – taking things off the page and into the world.  This feels really relevant to a community setting where the intimacy of a community means that to turn up with too many disconnected theories or strategies risks alienating the people you are trying to work with. The same goes with teams in organisations – you need an organising frame and synthesis if you are going to get stuff done.

Looking at Adur and Worthing, systems thinking, design thinking in different forms, asset based working and person centred thinking are all present in our system as well as the fundamentals of digital in the form of agile and user centred design or simply modern workforce practices around flexibility and matrix teams.  There are also profound ideas around climate change and sustainability with ideas such rewilding and returning biodiversity being front of stage in much of what we do.  The organising form that supports these ideas is the concept of government as a platform and the fact that in all of this we, the small bit of government responsible for this place, are trying to figure out how to create the conditions for our communities to thrive rather than thinking that we are delivering these big ideas in isolation.

I find it exciting to be somewhere where these big ideas are so present but I find myself asking ‘what if the really big idea is connecting the big ideas together?’

When you are working in place – and often at hyperlocal scale – there is a risk of these ideas colliding with each other.  How do you get the balance right between connection/multidisciplinary working and alignment and having a bag of idea bits too wide to be meaningful?  This can be and is managed both with a hefty scepticism of ‘ism’s’ and with an emphasis on action rather than research – we are minded to get stuff done.  But my working hypothesis is that better alignment between the big ideas will bring greater coherence and consistency and with it momentum and so work on this is valuable and worthwhile if we can find a way to make it practical and also accessible to the communities that we seek to coproduce with.  Both person centred design and asset based practice means working with people as they integrate these big ideas for themselves – which is why shared enquiry is core to the community asset mapping work we are doing.

At the moment I am focused on how we bring asset based working, person centred practice and user centred design together.  Like the different definitions of coproduction these ideas are close cousins but are different enough to cause drag in the system if practitioners are not aligned.  

There is another reason why we need to get this multidisciplinary working right.  I call it the archeology of innovation where the risk is that we end up with new big ideas laid on the corpses of the last idea we experimented with.  Multidisciplinary working and the process of framing and synthesis can help innovation and change build on each success and not compete for oxygen.   The integration and cultivation that multidisciplinary work should bring with its opennesses to new ideas should create a regenerative environment – and somewhere in there is a link to creating a more regenerative system.

Original source – Catherine Howe

This is a continuation of the previous iteration of the map which you can see here.  The enquiry map is an action research process to help me work through the early stages of working out what the actual questions are that need experimenting with.  I’m also going to use it to form a bit of a writing plan as I seem to currently have about a dozen pieces in various states of readiness and I need to think through what I want to get finished first.  Here you go:

And the key:

  • Data  and research questions:  These are questions where can identify a question to a good enough extent that we can move on to gather data and do the analysis work 
  • Democracy and participation questions:  These are questions I’m mulling with respect to the relationship between democracy and participation as I think the big scaling question of coproduction is how you connect it to other forms of decision making and ultimately to the ballot box in some way
  • System questions:  These are questions which I think are about the creation of a shared enquiry with the rest of the system we are working in
  • Communities questions:  These are the most internally focused questions as they are about the role of the communities directorate in the system – which of course makes them the most externally focused questions as well
  • Leadership questions:  This is a bit of a catch all for the questions around how we need to be as a team in order to be effective

Generally I see this as all connected but I am often trying to make sense of the connections.  The map really reflects this Venn diagram which sums up where my head is:

Venn diagram showing the different areas covered by this blog
Venn diagram showing the different areas covered by this blog

Reflecting on the shift in the map I am encouraged by the fact that more has moved in the the getting stuff done and actual experimentation phase.  An action research cycle that does actually get the action is really just admiring the problem.

Its fair to say that this map currently represents my inner monologue this year.  I plan to run this enquiry map process with the Thrive team to develop the wider set of questions that live in that work as what I have here are just placeholders – that should also be a good foundation for working with our communities as it will give us a basis for creating a shared enquiry map.

The map still feels a bit messy – but I think my best approach is to move systematically through each of the 5 areas and see where it leaves me in a couple of months

Original source – Catherine Howe

This is my check in with myself for the year.  It links to other stuff that I do/write in this annual week of reflection / intention setting and cupboard sorting. You can see last years post here and if you interested here is the one from 2019.

How did 2020 go?

Mmmmm…..dare I say unprecedented?  Looking back over what I wrote this time last year I am struck by what has stuck and what has been completely blown out of the water by events in the wider world.  It’s difficult not to look at this year with respect to the small bit of it before Covid and then the rest of the year.  It’s wrapped up in a lot of change for me personally as I changed jobs in the middle of it all. This is an inner world not a wider world post but the interplay between the two feels important.

Looking back, a lot of the things that I need to thrive personally, a theme from last year, are now present for me.  The absence of the commute is still a daily joy and the fact I have been able to spend more time outside, do more exercise and spend time locally is something I wanted so much that I do feel rather sheepish – until I realise that more of this change is down to my change of role rather than simply a Covid lifestyle bonus.  Overall I do feel a better sense of balance and that not just about work/life stuff – it also feels very right to be be doing the work I am doing now with the people I am working with and that brings its own sense of balance and rightness.  I feel very very privileged.

There are two habits, reading and writing, which are still not where I want them to be.  The 500 words was actually going well but ironically less easy without the commute as that was my time boxed time for it.  I’ll pick that up this year.  The reading is actually better but clearly I didn’t do the monthly book write up that I intended to hold me to that one – but I will try and pick this up.  I usually think that these intentions have a bit of a half life and if you haven’t managed them you need to reflect on why – but with these I will give them another go as they are important to me and seem like a puzzle worth solving.

I also looked back at the thinking/practice work I did last year with respect to leadership – this has taken a significant bit of energy over the last year as I shifted roles and while I am am aware of change and development its really brought home to me how leadership must be seen as a craft to be practiced and not a skill to be learned – you have to use your skills to make sure they don’t atrophy.

Lots to report on the actual meat of the year with respect to democratic systems – will pick that up in other posts.

I still haven’t finish that sock….but I have done a lot of things I am not good at in the craft department so the intention was met!

What about 2021

As I sat down to think about this year I was drawn to a need to explore the relationships between creation, production and consumption.  This is, I think, rooted in two things;  a increased focus on a belief in a need for regenerative systems and also thinking about the relationship between how you (and the system you are in) can thrive and the abundance needed to make that happen.  This is just a thumbnail but the kinds of questions here are about the focus of time, how we shift that balance in a system wide way away from consumption and how we at the same time avoid creating a system full of noise.  I’ve attempted to put some early thoughts down in this here but spoiler alert I am looking for a wider definition of consumption that the industrial economic model.

I also want this year to be about the intersection of theory and practice.  I am in the rare and privileged position of being able to take action on a lot of the things I have read, written and thought about and I don’t want to waste this.

Leadership will again be a focus for me – it would feel wrong for that not to be the case given what I do.  I want to work on some specific areas and polarities this year which I will pick up in separate posts:

  • How to make sure I show up for the team when I can’t actually show up a lot of this lockdown time
  • The tension between overt and covert power
  • The different roles for hierarchical and networked power
  • How to be a system leader when lots of people don’t actually know they are in a system

As previously trailed those old favourites the 500 words a day and more reading will ride the intention train again – but to be more specific I am going to try and use the extra time I get in the morning not to Do Work but instead to work on these things.  This will involve a return to the mindful diary which is has still not been achieved

I want to spend time on my wider network.  Its easy to get consumed by the main system you are part of – but so much richness comes from without it so I want to be out on the world as well at least virtually.

And finishing that sock of course…..

Original source – Catherine Howe

This is just a short intro to this blog to explain what its about.  Its also a bit of a user guide for people I work with so you can understand what I am doing here.

It started as effectively the field notes for my doctoral research.  As I was researching social media it felt important to be part of it and after a bit of trial and error it became the place where I shared my work in progress and where I published all the initial pieces that went into the first draft of my thesis (which ended up taking about 8 drafts to finish but we got there in the end).  The community I found here was so massively support as critical friends and cheerleaders to that work I can honestly say I would not have completed the PhD without them – so if you are still reading THANK YOU.

Writing and thinking is now part of how I work and while I don’t have the discipline I had during the PhD I do tend to use this as a space to explore ideas and to put my views into the world – its my little corner of the public sphere.  I tend to tag the posts as ‘thinking out loud’ or ‘open practice’ as thats exactly what I am doing and I see it is on the periphery of the excellent weeknotes community that you can see around LocalGov digital.

I’m conscious however that because my work and my thinking are again happily closely aligned it can be confusing for people I work with – and I’ve been reflecting on the fact that the more senior you are the more likely that it causes confusion.  The main thing to undedrstand is that what I write here is unfiltered by internal conversations, planning or indeed often practical considerations and unless I say explicitly it reflects my current view on something and things I am turning over in my head rather than something I think we will necessarily do.  If you do like what you read then let me know – similarly let me know of you don’t!

I’m posting this because I’m starting to write about the work we are doing at Adur and Worthing so I thought I useful to give context.  This is very early days for me to be writing about this as I am really only now starting to think my way into what we might do and so subject to change but there are some things I want to be thinking in the open on:

  •  a piece giving the background to the community asset mapping we are about to commission
  •  a reflection on the Thrive work that is central to the communities approach we are developing
  •  and this piece about multidisciplinary working

I plan to build on this over the coming months and this enquiry map offers a bit of a clue as to where I expect to go with this all.  Finally working out loud is to invite a conversation so please do get in touch if this sparks any thoughts.

Original source – Catherine Howe