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6 month notes


isle of wight

I’ve been away this week – walking on the Isle of Wight which has been lovely. This post is a wrap up of what I’ve been working on in my head while I was yomping along by the sea.

Nearly 6 months into the year I wanted to check in with the three areas of enquiry I set out on at the start of the year. In short:

  • Democratic innovation; My work in RBKC has kept this at the front of my mind as has my work with Demsoc and the Centre for Public Scrutiny
  • Networked social movements: Less progress and this is where I need to focus next
  • Technology and change: Much more progress which is good as this is the day job!

But this post is about the liminal spaces and ideas which sit between three three domains.

My first point of connection is in the changes that we see to how we get stuff done. In all three realms we see a shift to more design based thinking and iterative practice against a backdrop of a world of work that is moving quickly away from the industrial construct of the human as a cog in a machine to more systems and networked based models. Linked to this – and more specifically – I’ve been thinking a lot about multidisciplinary practice; partly from a personal perspective but also partly because we are talking a lot about ‘t shaped’ practitioners at work. I have a slight disquiet that helping people be ‘t shaped’ isn’t enough without a strong grounding in how to work in multidisciplinary teams. The intent with the t shaped model is that people are able to collaborate across disciplines. My concern is that is gives different ‘tribes’ the model they need to show that they can cover the territory or expertise that is held more deeply in other teams. This is part of the 9 tribes of digital hobby project as well as being one of the connecting ideas for this year. I’m looking for other people who are doing work on this and particularly on the cultural aspects – can you contact me if you have any ideas on this?

The second point of connection is around decision making and accountability; and by implication trust and transparency. I want to look at work being done to look at innovation around democratic decision making and accountability and explore opportunities for alignment with some of challenges faced by digital government practitioners which are wrestling with questions of agile practices at scale. I believe that while digital democracy is often discussed, the action of digital service development on democratically delivered services is less well understood. By better understanding how we make decisions I believe we can strengthen and accelerate work in both realms.

My third connection is made by what is emerging as my theory of change which centres on the need to create systems which are able to devolve power and action to the people closest to the problem but still be able to manage the system scale problems and the trade offs between the more specific problem holders. In short; evolution of change is too slow, revolution is to be avoided and so effective devolution is the best way to acknowledge the needs of the system as well as the needs of the humans which live within it.

It’s less a point of connection and more a powerful point of difference but I am still amazed by the power of the singular mission of an organisation like CRUK compared to the wicked issues faced by local and other parts of government. Beating Cancer is not easy – but it is a singular good compared to the competing goods that colleagues looking to make change happen in government organisations wrestle with. It gives us a clarity of mission which is remarkable.

Creating clarity of mission connections some of my reading this year which has been about reframing the purpose of economics – and particularly the work of Kate Raworth + Marianna Mazzucato on reframing economics as this is such a foundational discipline and one I don’t know much about. The reframing I think I am moving towards in my own thinking is how to reframe the challenge of digital and democracy to be more about how we work as opposed to what we produce. This works against the digital mantra of ‘show don’t tell’ but so many of the ways of working in a digital team resonate with the changes we need to make in the way we work in other realms – if we can close the accountability gap caused by many teams working in parallel with high levels of autonomy and without the organising force of a shared mission.

So here is a half way through the year conclusion: Transformation – in any realm – has to mean power, agency and devolution of tools to people closer to the problem. It needs local control with system shaping and accountability. This only works if we also have people looking after the health of the system and this is where we have the most gaps in terms of rebuilding trust and accountability as new ways of working have made more ingress in smaller spaces.

Next up is figuring out how to test this…..

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