I really can’t believe that I’ve been in this role for an entire year! It has flown by, and yet when I look back, I see how much we’ve done, and I am surprised we managed to fit it all into only 12 short months.
My team and I have written lots of posts updating on the work we’ve been doing and the projects we’re involved with, so I won’t rehash that. I’m going to be really selfish and write about how I’ve found the last year and the Top 5 things that have left their mark on me.
1. A supportive culture
We all know how supportive the digital world is. We work on similar projects and try to solve similar problems. We work in the open, we share, we discuss, and we network. If I need support, there are people who will pile in and respond to a Twitter plea in minutes. I don’t think I was expecting that same sort of culture to be there in Welsh Local Government, in fact people had told me that it was a competitive environment. That may be the case in some areas, but I have seen projects pulling together people from across disciplines, across local authorities, and across organisations and it’s happening more and more. I am really keen to cement this into our Local Government DNA, and to make it something we can all be proud of – the fact that we are combining our efforts to make Wales even better. I think we’re getting there but there’s still some way to go.
2. The rise of Service Design
When I left the Civil Service, we didn’t have any ‘service designers’ in our multidisciplinary teams. The title still felt quite fresh even if the understanding of what they did made sense and was part of delivery. In Welsh Local Government we don’t have a huge number of recognisable DDaT roles, and that includes Service Designers. I don’t think we have many now, but we had a huge take-up for training on Service Design across authorities. The commitment was really inspiring and now people are talking much more about the holistic view of designing services rather than simply combining a group of transactions. This feels like we’re on the road to something properly sea-changing in how services are delivered in Wales.
3. Knowing they’ve got my back
This is so important if you want to make lasting change and embed a culture that’s supportive of what we can do with the tools of the internet age and allows us to try, and to fail, and to get back up. One of the things that attracted me to the role was the commitment to improvement across the entire public sector in Wales. There was backing at the most senior levels with Welsh Government Ministers, Chief Executives and Council Leaders all expressing their commitment for what is a huge digital movement. As you know, saying you support something and actively doing that are two different things. Well, not in Wales. The Welsh Government Local Government Team and Ministers (both previous and current) were supportive from the start. Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for Climate Change but also carrying the Digital portfolio, is an evangelist for digital and a champion for our work. Chief Executives from local authorities have made time for us and shared their hopes and fears for their communities with us. And while digital might not be at the top of Council Leader agendas all the time, we are seeing more and more commitment at cabinet level for support and funding for digital improvement. We are in a good place, one that is open to change and to challenge, and we have the backing.
4. More than sum of our parts
I referred earlier to a digital movement in Wales. And as much as I am talking about my first year in the role as the CDO for Local Government in Wales, I know I’ve not been alone on the journey. Firstly, building my team has been a really positive experience for me. I’ve been lucky that we’ve attracted some great people. The team are as inspired as I am, they are doing the heavy lifting and covering a lot more than in previous roles, but also learning a lot every day. Outside of my team we have the WLGA who host us, this association has been supporting the local government progress for many years. Their knowledge of how it works and who to speak to has been invaluable, not to mention the support for HR, recruitment and all those other things that small teams can’t quite do themselves. And then we have Welsh Government and its CDO Glyn Jones, the CDPS and its interim Chief Executive Sally Meecham, and Ifan Evans who has been the fourth wheel on our wagon covering the Health side while a CDO for Health is recruited. As a group we meet every week without fail. We share, we problem solve, and we challenge. So senior digital leaders for a whole country get together and work together for a common goal. For me that’s a bit special and I’m really proud that we commit to this, and we make the time to share with each other.
5. Acceptance into the fold
When I first took this job, I wasn’t sure how it would land with folks across Local Government. They might think my team and I were there to keep an eye on them, tell them how to do things, interfere even. From the beginning I, and I’m sure my team, have felt welcomed in Wales. There are teams of DDaT folk who do critical, life changing work across their organisations and we took great pains to explain that we are here to help not hinder. We do question things, and we are questioned back. We want to be included, but we also want to be inclusive. We want everyone to share what they are doing, so we try to lead by example and be open and transparent. Because more than anything we want Wales to be a great place to live and work, for our Local Government colleagues as well as everyone else.
So, my final few words are diolch yn fawr, thank you very much. For my next blog post, I’ll be looking forward to what is coming soon from our team in 2022.