For almost two years, I worked for FutureGov, a social innovation company that looked at how the web could change government’s relationships with people, and people’s relationships with their services.

I was lucky enough to be involved in a whole host of projects and events that challenged existing practice, looking to the future to design in solutions for today. I worked with some incredibly inspiring people within the company, the field of social innovation and forward thinkers in government. During my time there I  fell quite helplessly in love with installing the belief in people that change is always possible.

Here’s a few projects that I was part of and that I’m particularly proud of :

CityCamp London

NHS GoLondon

Simpl


Introducing project Print10

Around a month ago, I was part of a team that brought Local by Social to Blackburn with Darwen Council. The idea behind this was to bring together innovators, forward thinking local government people and active residents and community leaders to have a new think about how the web could help them solve, or even better create, new ways to deliver services specifically to the local area.

The day itself was wonderful, and you can browse my full write-up of things here, but this is a quick post to introduce you to the idea I worked on in the afternoon with my team. Say hello to Print10!

Recently there has been heated debate surrounding cuts to council magazine funding. Print10 is a service that aims to fill that space in (hopefully) a collaborative and creative way, recognising that publications still offer a wealth of information that people might not manage to access if allowed to simply disappear. We don’t think sticking it all online is the answer, but we just might think the web could help with both design and delivery. We also think it’s vital to work with a council on all of the above. You can have a peep at our initial *cough: winning* presentation below:

We’re keen to get this moving, and already have a start up project team from local government, the voluntary sector, community leadership and web development that all believe in the idea. You can get involved by visiting the googlesite here, or, if you’d like to chat about all of this in more detail over a coffee, let me know. Contact me in the usual way, below or over here.

When I met the Global Service Jam

A few weeks ago I went along to the London edition of the Global Service Jam. I was there on official Simpl business (which you can read more about here) but also to stretch some creative muscle. It’s important to do something different every now and then, so, Simpl stickers in tact, I headed to LBi. Kudos to the wonderful Ian Bach, who dreamt up some lovely ice breaking games that ensured everyone felt suitably silly, set in their teams and ready for the weekend.

One whole hour to go. Looking deceptively calm.

So, armed with my new best friends we headed to the beautiful Seren offices to embark on our 48 hour service design adventure that involved (in no particular order) a bunch of ideas, a bunch of ideas being thrown away, one (final) presentation, one short film, one million flip chart sheets, various graphs, two brilliant breakfasts and probably a bit too much beer. My group, like all the others (but *obviously* even more amaze ; ) contained a collection of wonderfully creative designers, developers and problem solvers. We did seem to tip more on the doer rather than thinker side of the scales, and once we decided on our idea (a process in which I’m sure we all had a little inner cry) we exercised some brilliantly productive parallel working, with leadership seeming to flit around the team. Well done us.

To top it off, we ended up with (I think) a well thought out project that ticked the what, the why and the how of it all. I’ll be putting the project into a separate post, but I definitely think there’s something around being in a situation where the value is to create and to be brave. More on our bromance service project soon.

So, all in all it was a marvellous experience, but one that I would have loved to of brought more people along from outside the design world as I think anyone who needs to solve problems in new ways could have benefited from, as well as added to, the jam (I guess some of this thinking comes from our Local by Social events). On chatting to the organisers they did highlight their efforts in trying to attract other sectors, so perhaps next time.

Two things that I really liked: One – the mentors that circulated the groups were brilliant, and often shoving ideas back into focus by asking the right questions. Two – I thought each group having to present and share their progress every two hours worked well. By the time the final show and tell came about you’d have presented your project in so many ways, to so many people, each group seemed to have a solid idea with insightful, confident thinking behind it, in a “we can do this! WE HAVEN’T SLEPT” sort of way. Truth be told I was blown away on realising that all the ideas shared could move forward with the right push into the world. You can find all the final presentations here – but below gives a nice snapshot of how things went:

The energy, atmosphere, and sheer amount that was produced was in itself remarkable achievement (you can look at all the projects, over on the Global Service Jam community here), I’m still a firm believer that impact comes with, and is shaped by, implementation. However, on a personal note, the process of the weekend and the pressure of pulling something off, a something with hopefully a future, was valuable in itself. And, after the encouraging feedback I received after presenting Simpl, it seemed many of my fellow jammers felt the same.

p.s If you were one of the jammers who didn’t get a chance to speak to me and would like more info on Simpl (or anything else for that matter) just leave a comment below or send me a tweet and I’ll get back to you 🙂

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Resolutions

Did you miss me?

Well, I’m guessing the world hasn’t noticed the hush hush on the blog, as I’ve been super busy with all my FutureGov work and the like. However I’ve had some interesting thoughts – or at least thoughts on some interesting things – and decided it would be useful to resurrect the blog for some personal thinking, reflection and randomness.

So, I thought my first post of 2011 could start with a few new years resolutions. A little late, you might say, but it’s taken me a while for me to come round to the idea. Mainly due to the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of them, or January for that matter. I have a firm belief that the new year should be changed to September, when I feel a little warmer and a lot wealthier. Plus September has that ‘new term’ feel without the misery of us all suffering festive exile. Alas, no one seems to be listening, so here goes:

RESOLUTIONS

1. Read more

I’ve always loved reading – but I definitely don’t do it nearly enough. There are so many blogs from wonderful people in the world of creative problem solving that I want to learn from, comment on and most importantly keep on top off. I also want to read more novels, stuff that I should have read years ago. I flirted with the idea of a Kindle but I’m just too much of a romantic (lame, I know). So it’s time to hit Amazon/ the library and make use of my commute. Any suggestions re: books I need to read before I die/ blogs that I should check daily would be a great help.

2. Write more

I’ve kept a diary on and off since year six, (coincidently I was cleaning out my room the other day and found an entry from the lower school years entitled ‘Picked for the rounders first/ I am in love’. Deep.) but I’d like to have more personal reflections that have a little thinking about the before, the why and the after rather than just what happened to me that day. I’ll try to post some up here, along with my thoughts around the world that I work in. I’m hoping to do this once a week. Gulp.

3. Buy better

This particular resolution inspired by a blog post from @joesmithdesign. I’ll be honest. I buy a lot of clothes. This in itself, I am not so bothered about. Clothes? Lovely. What bothers me is that I often am tempted by the bright lights of quantity rather than quality. Why buy one dress when I can buy twenty (twenty!) from various high street shops. I used to pride myself on how cheap I could put an item together, a skill I cracked through the university years. But I’m stating to realise that 1) quite frankly, I just don’t need those twenty (twenty!) dresses 2) these purchases have the life span similar to a loaf of bread. Buy less, but better.

4. Etc.

Etc. covers the following resolutions that I make every year: move more, learn french, pick the violin back up, visit Berlin, visit San Francisco, see more of my extended family (including old university housemates), eat better, become new X Factor judge, marry Alan Rickman.

Less self-indulgent posts to follow.

Considering the toxic combination between drugs and politics

The history of drug legislation is a tale of disjointed incrementalism. A drug becomes a social problem, the media pick it up and politicians push something through to prove that they care.

So we have the three main parties manifestos at our fingertips for Election 2010. Covering all those big issues that we need to know about for when we head to the polls if May 6To me, it seems that the issue of drugs has flown a little under the radar. It’s an issue that affects so many others, poverty, children, education, health and of course crime.  With the recent mephedrone legislature that was pushed through surrounded in controversy I was interested in seeing how each party planned on what they could offer Britain and our drug problems. However as I scanned the pages of each I found myself pretty disappointed, and was reminded that we haven’t really moved on or developed a well grounded approach to illegal drug use.

From Labour’s “we will not tolerate illegal drug use” the Conservatives “we will give the courts the power to use abstinence related based drug rehabilitation” and the Liberal Democrats “the focus should be on getting addicts the treatment they need” they all come from a responsive angle and focus on how to handle proven drug addicts. The question of the philosophy behind banning certain drugs is left far behind.

Compare the view of 90-year-old US Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens, referenced an interview in the New Yorker last month, that cannabis laws are “reminiscent of the opinion that supported the nationwide ban on alcohol consumption when I was a student.”

The mephedrone legislation just a few weeks back demonstrated what an highly emotive subject drug misuse can be. Attention towards the issue grew from nothing due to its constant presence in the mainstream media, and politicians across the parties trumped each other with the toughness of the action they promised. Media moral panic leading to hurried legislation? It’s a regular occurrence with drugs as well as dangerous dogs, but this time the experts didn’t come along quietly. When yet another advisor, Eric Calin, resigned from the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) he explained it was due to there being:

“Little or no discussion about how our recommendation to classify this drug would be likely to impact young people’s behaviour. Our decision was unduly based on media and political pressure”

Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats where quick to criticise. Chris Grayling, shadow home secretary labeled the relationship between government and the ACMD as “utterly shambolic” and the Liberal Democrats claiming the decision was based on media pressure.  If drugs, those suffering and those affected are subject to the political, perhaps the political should clearly state where they stand on the issue and but how they are going to approach it within their election promises. As the election polls claim an ever closer race, hopefully we will see each party pushed to make clear their stance on the these uncomfortable, but ever important issues.

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This piece of mine recently appeared in TalkIssues, where people who care about policies, not personalities debate the big issues concerning the upcoming general elections. Follow the hashtag #talkissues on twitter, or contact me if you’d like to get involved.

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Practical Wisdom: Revising the Janitor’s list

Since researching and learning about co production and innovation I find myself having to constantly ground myself in the complex reality of public services. As Paul Clarke mentions in his blog lack of talent and creative ideas are not a problem. How do we get these ideas used? How do you convince people to take a risk?

By happy chance I stumbled acrosee this video of Barry Schwartz speaking at last years TED. He explored the importance of practical wisdom, and my attention was caught when he made the case:

“A wise person is made, not born. You need time to get to know the people you are serving.
Permission to be allowed to improvise.
To try new things.
Occassionally to fail and to learn from your failings.”

So, if we can improve services through wisdom why are we all not very, very wise? Do pubic services need to take more risks, to give flourishing ideas the chance to improvise and improve? According to Schwartz it is due to our commitment to rules, and the fear of stepping out of line that halts this wisdom, and distracts our priorities. Of course, rules are needed- but are they replacing our instincts to want things to be better? Are they compromising our ability to improvise?

Schwartz goes on to illuminate this, by discussing a hospital janitor’s job. The job description- to mop the floors, to make the beds indicates no human relationships- however when intervewed it was evident that the janitor took a different view. Many aspects of the job were embedded in understanding and empathy which tied in directly with the reasons for breaking, and going beyond the rules. Someone didn’t want to hoover whilst a devoted family slept in the visitors loungue. Another skipped mopping a patch of hallway so Mr Jones could do a little bedside exercise. In short to trust our wisdom, through experience when a rule needs to be broken. If done correctly improves compassion, understanding and of course service quality.

This got me thinking. easyCouncil has just launched, headed by Conservative Parliamentary candidate Mike Freer who describes the programme as “a relentless drive for efficiency” getting what needs to be done ‘done’. To me, I see that original janitors list- mop the floors, make the bed. All vital. But by no means everything.

What I would of liked to seen is an aim more broader, and all together greater- effectivness, against efficiency.  A focus on the broader outcomes. An appeal to our practical wisdom. To try things out and to learn.

Perhaps a case for co production could be made here. If we take wisdom seriously, we can use it to streatch the rules, colloborate and perhaps develop within as oppose to outside. It’s a tough ask to appreciate- and the outcomes tough to measure. Do we note everytime the janitor does something not strictly on his ‘list?’ No. But it should be considered, as it appeals to the suprisingly giving nature of people.

Building on the lessons from Gift Economies– strict market rules and incentives based in efficiency sometimes just don’t quite cut it. Problems in services are often ambigous and ill defined, within an ever changing context. A wise person has the ability to appreciate this, and an insight to suggest new stuff that fits better. To me, that’s the biggest reason of all to encourage it.

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