Bureaucracy Hack problem no 1: To Collaborate or Not to Collaborate? Oh! If only I had the choice!

To Collaborate or Not to Collaborate? Oh! If only I had the choice!

They’re penetrating the bureaucracy!

We’ve been working with colleagues across government to think about bureaucracy – what is it, when is it needed, and what does good (and bad) look like. We all have examples of processes, rules, myths and behaviours that get in the way of us being able to spend time on doing our actual jobs.

Our hypothesis is that if we can #HackTheSystem and make our working lives easier we’ll deliver better outcomes for our users, and that it is possible to make a positive difference to bureaucracy.

James has written about the overall plan and what we’re thinking about initially:


We have identified several problems as a group. This is the first one we’re exploring to see if it’s one that fits our criteria.

What is the problem that we are trying to solve?

The problem, as experienced by users, can be summed up by our own experience of trying to plan for this event. Communicating across all the organisations where the team members are based, when using an online collaboration tool, was impossible.

The various departmental security policies blocked us and we had to give up and use our own phones instead. The underlying reasons why security people sometimes don’t want to open up systems are more difficult to understand but we hypothesise that it is as much about their interpretation of their main responsibilities (to protect us!) and the departmental culture, as it is about any actual technical issues.

For #HackTheSystem we’re using five criteria to work out if this is a problem we want to include on the day:

Does it happen in lots of different places in the public sector – as in, is it a structural and widely recognised problem?

We know from some early research that James did that our experience was not unusual, and anecdotally we’ve heard lots of examples where permissions, architecture, approach to security, and people’s behaviours means that collaboration is difficult. We’ve all admired organisations who make it look easy, and become frustrated in organisations where it isn’t. We also know that there are examples of where people are subverting their organisation – maybe they’ve simply started using trello and slack without asking for permission.

Is it a problem we can do something about? Is it actionable?

We think the problems aren’t just about technology (but that’s a big part), it’s as much about culture. We know it’s possible to do something because some people have already done it. At Hackney we have made some progress – most of our productivity tools can be accessed easily from anywhere using any device by accessing the internet. Next henry lewis and his team are going to implement a new network design so that all our applications can be accessed in this way.

Can it be solved (or prototyped) in a day?

We think so. So long as we keep the scope manageable, are clear about what we’re not doing, and set ourselves achievable goals. The technology solution is quite straightforward so the focus might be upon how we can share solutions in ways that make sense to colleagues managing security and infrastructure, how we communicate and collaborate rather than the technical details. We might also want to explore why. collaborating outside our organisations is so important – what’s our elevator pitch?

We might want to think about which organisations we could target to share our design solutions, such as the National Cyber Security Centre, organisations that security colleagues work with regularly and trust. Who are our potential advocates?

Will it lead to a real difference – will fixing it give us more time as public servants to deliver value?

Taking the ability to easily video conference as an example, we think that collaboration builds trust between people and teams, and that in turn allows people to achieve more than they can by themselves. This isn’t a public sector only problem – we need to improve productivity generally: making use of 21st century tools would enable us to work more effectively. Thinking about culture, if we can create a culture in our organisations that says “Yes, if…” rather than. “No” that will have an impact beyond the problem we’re trying to solve here.

Is this something that is easily grasped?

A lot of the language used by security experts isn’t very accessible to everyone, so we will need to be careful about the use of jargon. But the core ideas behind Hackney’s technical solutions are quite straightforward to explain in a way that can generate a good discussion on the day. We ran a recent open session with colleagues from other organisations to open our work and get feedback on the design; this worked really well and delegates didn’t need lots of technical knowledge to be able to engage.

Look out for more posts coming soon as we continue to think about what we would like to cover in the hack.

If you’d be interested in coming along on 3 July – block it out in your diary now, and (simple!) sign up details will follow soon.

Weeknotes 27: reading, listening, doing


I had a great conversation with Liz about KPIs, measurement, data and ROI. We’re both working on related bits of how we demonstrate value so it was great to put our heads together and share our thoughts.

Martin Chaney from Greater London Authority came to spend some time with us at Hackney — so I took him along to our new shout out project standup. Dennis is trying out a new way of surfacing blockers, discussing dependancies and collaborating between projects — this was our first try and it worked pretty well. I think it’s partly what Catherine Howe means when she talks about the deliberative layer of governance — looking at issues and decisions that are wider than one team.

Later on I went to the housing transformation steering group — a useful introduction to key stakeholders I hadn’t had a chance to meet yet, and insight into the challenges faced in housing (as someone new to local government I’m continuing to learn a lot every week about all the services).


I continued my user research by finding another victim (sorry, participant ;-), this time from one of the application support teams. It was really good to get their perspective on governance, process and change management. Richard then helped me affinity sort what I’ve done so far:

Affinity sorting

Apprentices — Esmay and her team ran an excellent managers session for line managers of apprentices which I went along to — really well thought out and delivered. As a result our master trello board for inducting our apprentices is developing nicely.


Swim #4 of 8. Getting better at this — and the pool is warm even if the air temperature has dropped somewhat.

Then a great show and tell from FutureGov on the work they’re doing with our temporary accommodation team, to see how we can develop a digital service to better support residents and the staff that serve them. The team have done some really good work in the first two weeks. And Stuart Mackenzie remembered my desire for this badge (thank you!)

I am a militant optimist and now I have the badge too

Convivio came in to talk to us about the complex work they’ve done with Cabinet Office looking at how to index, publish and reuse research across government. We’re trying to solve a similar problem in Hackney re: user research so it was great to share insights, approaches and possible solutions.


I worked from home which gave me the chance to look at the great work Stephen’s been doing around contract management and procurement. He’s (almost) as new as I am at Hackney and he’s done a brilliant job of pulling together the information we need, engaging with internal users, and the thinking about what we want to focus on.

I tried dialling into an end of discovery show and tell, which sort of worked. It’s never as good as actually being in the room. Luckily Niall, Amy and the team had done a good set of slides to support the conversation which made it easier to engage with.


Gavin Beckett and I caught up on all things local government, what MCHLG* is doing and the local digital declaration, and local gov camp (it’s my first one in September).

I also had my first Let’s Network Hackney meet up — with Larissa who works on the Pause programme — Hackney was the first local authority to run this programme, and we had a really good conversation about what it does and how it works. Let’s Network Hackney is an online matching app that connects staff to each other so that they can learn about what other teams are doing at Hackney.

What I read this week

I read a lot this week. More than normal because I’m researching and thinking about a few different things at the moment. And because I’m trying out using my commute to read rather than do admin tasks.

I’m reading Tobias Mayer’s book The People’s Scrum. It’s a collection of essays which works well on the train to dip in and out of.

Rob Miller shared this great piece from Catherine Howe on full stack decision making which I referenced earlier. I liked this line:

for most people it’s better to have a well made decision you don’t agree with than no decision at all

This from Beatrice Karol Burks and Jonathan Flowers (part of 3 part series) is great:


And this was interesting reading:

I constantly hear people saying that if they use this new technology, they’ll get better forms. But you won’t, not until you’ve worked out good questions, why you’re asking those questions and what you’re going to do with the answers. Changing technology will never solve the problem of asking a bad question.


Right — the Bank holiday awaits. More next week.


*Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

Weeknotes 25 – managing my time, gaining more knowledge

This was my grandma’s Beach hut, now my aunts. It’s brilliant.


Was a day off — spent at the beach with extended family in the sunshine. Glorious.


I spent Tuesday afternoon out on tenancy visits with Sahena, one of our housing officers. She very kindly let me tag along whilst she visited two of her tenants on one of the estates she manages. I learnt loads from the afternoon — not just about the processes she follows, the paperwork that’s involved but also about the estate we went to, how different services link up, and how users view our services.


At the lido for an early morning swim #2 of 8. I’m hoping I can make this part of my normal routine for the next few weeks.

I met David from the consultation team to learn more about how our ICT survey works and get advice from him on this year’s approach. I’ve spent time this week reading up on previous surveys, talking to colleagues and thinking about the new questions we want to ask this year.

Learning and development was a focus of the afternoon — Matthew Cain, Jasmeen and I had a great conversation about how we might grow and develop our emerging product manager community, I posted a summary of our HackIT learning and development strategy on the HackIT Google+ community along with a new learning tag which we’re going to try using to capture and share our learning across the teams. Later on I met Rory, Luke and Craig from Made Tech to talk about how they approach building capability in their dev apprentices. It was a really useful conversation — and we’ve agreed to get our apprentices together in the autumn to learn from each other.


Richard and the user research team led the weekly ICT standup this week – with a great talk about the work they’re doing and the tools/techniques the team are producing to share with us.

Richard presenting about how we’re testing the language people use and understand

We had a first show and tell for the pipeline project from Rainmaker Solutions, they’re starting to sketch out what the developed design might look like so that it meets the user needs we’ve identified so far. There were loads of great questions from colleagues which was ace and made for an engaging discussion. I’m really looking forward to seeing this project develop over the next few weeks.

Lydia from Rainmaker

The afternoon was filled with conversations with awesome ladies — firstly Sam Villis who writes great weeknotes, thinks amazingly about problem solving and is helping me think about how we might get local authority people more engaged with One Team Gov. Then Rebecca Kemp who is well, brilliant. It was great to catch up with her on our respective new jobs, how we might collaborate, and where we can support each other.

Finally in the evening Philippa Newis, Rebecca Scott and Cheryl for a quiet (1) drink and a catch up.


I started my day early at City Hall talking to a delegation from local government from Shenzhen about HackIT and the work we’re doing at Hackney to build services, so good people want to use them. A really interesting meeting – I learnt more about the Smart City London plan from Stephen Lorimer, and about customer payments from Mike at TFL. Great questions from the delegation and then an opportunity to take photos from the balcony:

The marvellous view from City Hall

Working from home in the afternoon enabled me to pull together a draft set of questions for the 2018 ICT survey, and catch up on outstanding admin tasks.


What I read this week

This from Kit Collingwood was ace, brilliantly written, and I’ve been reflecting on my own habits as a result.

View at Medium.com

My colleague Rahma Mohamed has started writing weeknotes — check them out.

This from Ian Ansell on we are citizens advice was really thoughtful piece about data, why its useful and why we need to be careful when we collect it.

View at Medium.com

Lastly — I look forward to reading Dan Barrett’s weeknotes every week — and the season finale s02e17 were excellent, thoughtful, honest and amusing all at once. Thanks Dan.

What I’m struggling with this week

Diary management. My diary management was awful this week, which meant I missed more than one meeting, was late to others, and had to rearrange some things last minute. There’s no excuse(2) and I’m grateful that colleagues were so forgiving. So — some micro actions I’m going to take that I know will help are:

  • Check what’s happening for the week on the previous Friday, and plan accordingly
  • Get into the habit of checking what’s already happening before and after a meeting invite before accepting said invite (google shows this on the right hand side which is brilliant)
  • Block out travel time between events
  • Make sure I know where I’m going . . .
  • Stop thinking that I can ‘fit it in’ (2)

(1) quite quiet.

(2) if there was an excuse it would be that I’m getting used to the new diary and email at work but I don’t think that’s a very good excuse, so I’m not using it.

(2) this will make Michelle Bayley chuckle wryly . . .

Weeknotes 12: Goede Dag from Groningen

It was another short week – I took a couple of days off to go to the Netherlands which is always fun*

I managed to pack a lot in to Mon-Wed though. . .


I met Richard McLean for a coffee. I was unforgivably late and he was both immensely forgiving and very helpful – sage advice about strategic transformation and making space for change away from business as usual activity. I’m hoping we’ll be able to catch up again soon to carry on the conversation.

At work we talked about KPIs – what are the best things we can measure and how can we do this most effectively? We’re building an open performance platform for our digital advice service but trying to decide what’s needed as MVP and what we’ll need as we grow the beta site. We don’t have to publish on the gov.uk platform but we’re committed to meeting the GDS standard in this area. So far ONS seems to have done lots of similar work that we can borrow from – but if anyone else has ideas it’d be great to catch up about it.

I did my coding for girls homework in the evening – and set up some lunchtime homework sessions for Philippa, Cheryl and I. I think it’s the only way I’m going to make sure I keep up.

Hacker Coding GIF by Monstercat - Find & Share on GIPHY


I had great conversations with the team about the project and how it’s going, and a good discussion with the submit a notification team about plans for beta. We have some great feedback from our alpha assessment that we want to work on before we start the beta project with contractors. That way we’ll start in the best place possible in June, once we’ve procured a team to help us.

And I caught up with Paul and Joanne Brown from our technology team to talk about governance and how we’ll manage IT change projects more effectively in the future. I shared with them the blog James Abley shared with me about documenting architecture decisions.



Was mainly taken up with meetings – our transformation board and the weekly get together of senior managers with our CEO. At the transformation board we had two of our change champions sitting in and participating – I find the best way to get the most out of a meeting is to involve the right people from across the organisation in it, so that we get the most value out of meeting together.

DILBERT © 2011 Scott Adams. Used By permission of ANDREWS MCMEEL SYNDICATION. All rights reserved.

What have I learnt this week?


This – from Leonard Cohen via a cafe in Groningen sums up what I’ve been thinking about taking on new challenges, trying new things and imposter syndrome (but see Gavin Elliott for really good work on this if you haven’t come across him already).

@jukesie wrote a great piece on digital being about people – and tech. Really well articulated.

Amazon knows me better than I know myself — apparently my life consists mainly of Sharpies and chilli sauce. Not far off tbh.

*being in the Netherlands is a mix of love and frustration. It’s a great place, and in another life maybe I’d have made my home here but I don’t speak Dutch as well as I used to** which is frustrating.

**I have a degree in Dutch. It’s a long (and quite interesting) story.

#weeknotes 6 inspiration, learning and reflection

I’m trying the questions format again this week — it’s been a really busy week this week so it feels like maybe the Mon-Fri format would be easier. But here goes . . .

What inspired me this week?

This week I had time to go and visit Office of the Public Guardian in Nottingham along with our associate delivery manager Curtis and Chris, who’s joined us as a product manager to look at how we could manage cases in Acas in the future and what technology we’ll need to help us to do that. Kaz and Simon from OPG were incredibly generous with their time and shared their experiences with us. It was inspiring to see an organisation that’s made the journey we’re just starting on, and the generosity of colleagues in other departments in helping us avoid some of the pitfalls and blind alleys. OPG have done amazing work on their services, their back end systems and building capability.

I also got to ride the tram in to work at our Nottingham office (always fun) and I’m now the proud owner of a Robin Hood travel card*

What did I learn this week?

Jonny, our user researcher on the digital advice beta project did a great bit of research into our initial information architecture using treejack testing. James and Charlotte had already done some additional user research between alpha and beta on where users would expect to find what they’re looking for using card sorting exercises. Jonny has taken that to see if we can find out more using this method. He wrote some great slides for us to explain what he was doing to the team so that we can all learn. I hadn’t heard of treejack testing before so it was good to learn more about it.



When I started writing weeknotes I promised myself I’d write about good and bad, success and failure. So — in that spirit — Monday. I know Monday gets a bad rap most weeks, but this week, meh. No single reason – a combination of not sleeping well, the weather (sleeting rain anyone?), and an ill teenager at home meant that the day I’d planned wasn’t the day that happened. A couple of things at work annoyed me, unreasonably so. What I learnt though was that a) it’s ok to have a bad day (as it says on Giles Turnbull fantastic team poster) b) the team are incredibly supportive (thank you!) and c) I got a chance to reflect and review what happens for me when things don’t go according to plan.


Later on in the week though . . .

James, the technical architect on our digital advice beta gave us some really useful homework this week to read up on:

This piece from Dan North was excellent —

In praise of SWARMing

and that piece led me to this talk which is worth watching/listening to and ref the Richard Gurnall 5 stages. . .

The journey of change screenshot from Dan North talk ref above, shows resistance over time, people, tools, governance, customer, money, organisation.

I’m also further through Conversations of change, by Dr Jen Frahm, and am inspired (and reassured) by the building change capability chapter, mainly because I think our team are doing a lot of this already.

Learning by doing

I also went with our submit a notification team to the workshop that GDS ran for us — and it was hugely useful as most the team haven’t been to an assessment before. This is our first transactional service to go through an alpha assessment and we’re all keen to make sure we’ve met the GDS standards. Not everyone made it down from Nottingham because of the snow, so we made best use of tech to get everyone connected and talking. There were loads of great questions from the assessors and great feedback for the project team for the final sprint (and the real thing at the end of March).

*I’m originally from Nottingham so am predisposed to be proud all things Robin Hood branded.