On Friday I tripped off to London to spend the day with alumni from the National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP) at the NGDP annual conference.
The title of the conference was all about serving our customers but to be honest the content was more about innovating, challenging assumptions and generally having the courage to tackle the status quo head on and deliver public services in a very different way.
We were also treated to some body language chat from guru Judi James, but more of that later.
As my colleagues did after govcamp I will detail my top takeaways below but before that I would like to make a personal comment. I’ve been finding work troubling lately. I’ve been finding it a little uninspiring and struggling to find the real energy that I used to feed off in my local government job. Therefore, I would like to thank Nick Jankel, the futuregov guys (who it was really nice to meet) and my fellow NGDPers for helping remind me of some of the amazing opportunities we still have even when things are really tough.
So, back to the conference:
Assumptions are the basis of all (most) wrong decisions
Nick Jankel’s presentation was a lot more complex than I’m about to make it seem but my big takeaway was that the best way to make better decisions is to challenge our pre-conceptions and our assumptions. Too often, we suffer from the constraints of what has always been done before and at other times our assumptions about what we are doing prevents us from coming up with any better ideas.
As Nick said (roughly):
Most failures based on assumptions that no longer fit the reality… & yet every decision/model/thought is based on assumptions.
Similarly, the futuregov guys talked about starting with blank sheets of paper to develop better ideas. Starting from scratch forces us to throw aside our assumptions and start thinking about the services people really want and the method of delivery that they also really want.
New ideas are not necessarily needed; just different context in which to implement them:
As Nick Jankel argued; Every idea you’d ever need in local government has already been thought of somewhere in the council. The challenge is opening ourselves up enough to allow these ideas to flourish. This will probably involve working differently.
You don’t have to leave local government to do cool things:
A couple of good friends of mine have been thinking about leaving local government lately. This is not because they don’t care about the sector or about public services. Indeed, some of these people are amongst my favourite local government colleagues. However, many of them are frustrated and many of them think they could make more difference if they went to another place.
Friday reminded me that everyone needs to work together to make a difference in local government; be they local government officers, outsourced contractors, freelance consultants or local politicians. As Dominic Campbell pointed out: We need to stick together and be ‘militant optimists’
There were many things that were really good about the conference but the one thing that seemed a little absent was talk about democracy. Councils are democratic bodies and the democratic element is designed so that members of the public are able to influence the services provided for them. Although we spoke a lot about how we, as officers, could improve services we never quite squared the circle about how we can engage councillors in the process.
Integrity is important:
Judi James helped us understand body language but one comment stood out more than other: ‘have integrity’. If your body language does not match the real you then people can see through it and you become insincere. Think Gordon Brown smiling!
Judi also said that ‘just being yourself’ is not always a good idea so having integrity is not the same as not being different or trying to improve the way you engage with people… But you must have integrity.
I love a good Einstein quote:
Problems cannot be solved by the same level of consciousness that created them
The above can never capture everything that happened at the NGDP conference but if anyone has any other pieces they think people should check out please add them below.