Weeknote X

It’s been 6 weeks since my last set of weeknotes.

It’s not because I’ve lost any enthusiasm for the practice that I’ve had a break/gap. I still believe in the importance of time spent reflecting (for one thing, it boosts productivity). Deliberately taking time away from your to-do list in order to reflect in a journal or blog is right up there with sleeping, walking, and reading.

No, it’s because I’ve chosen to prioritise other things.
In particular, I’ve used the time to write 4 ‘proper’ blog posts.

So if you think what follows represents a particularly busy week, it doesn’t.
Using my set of questions, I’ve selected bits and pieces from the past 6 weeks.

Who did you work with outside your organisation? (1)

DavidBuck from #oneteamgov helped me plan and run an unconference for the senior leadership team at the Food Standards Agency (FSA). I wrote about it here.

As when Sian and I ran an unconference for our executive management team in September, doing it felt like a risk, because I knew I’d be taking people out of their comfort zone. But thanks to the fantastic OneTeamGov crew, it went really went.

Prateek, James, David, and James.

In fact, when I did a feedback survey about the day and asked “What aspect of the day did you like most — and why?”, many people said it was the afternoon’s unconference:

The unconference. It worked well and it was informative to listen to the views of colleagues.”

The unconference session because it exceeded my expectations — very well facilitated and excellent discussions in the sessions

Much to my surprise — the small, unconference sessions.”

The unconference was a great idea and got people talking about different topics / generated fresh ideas.”

The unconference sessions as they allowed open and useful discussions

the unconference because it was great to discuss subjects that might not normally hit an agenda, with other people who want to discuss it too. Less about roles and grades and more about interest in the subject area.”

I had expected not to enjoy the unconference but ended up enjoying it very much.

So, if like I was, you’re wanting to run an unconference, but wondering whether it’ll work, I hope this feedback gives you confidence to try it out.

Who did you work with outside your organisation? (2–6)

One of the key ways in which I learn is by looking sideways and seeing how others are tackling the same or similar issues. I therefore went to meet my counterparts at two other regulators — the Financial Conduct Authority, and the Pensions Regulator — and in DEFRA.

As Sam said, you’re allowed to be nosey, and I find that I always learn something from such visits. In these instances, I learnt amongst other things that as a regulator it’s really difficult to have an accurate up-to-date register of the businesses in the sector you regulate, and that Canary Wharf is not my natural habitat.

I also went to visit the team in Cambridge City Council responsible for regulating food businesses. The FSA sets policy that local authorities implement, and I wanted to get a better understanding of things from a local authority perspective. My visit included shadowing officers on two food hygiene inspections. Both businesses earned the top 5 star rating (‘very good’).

In my last weeknotes I mentioned that the FSA was moving to Windows 10 and Office 365 as part of modernising our technology services for people who work here. Dave read that and got in touch, as he’s leading a similar project at the Intellectual Property Office, and I was able to put him in touch with the key people in the FSA. A small example of #oneteamgov of working and learning lessons across organisational boundaries, and another small win for #weeknotes.

What did you learn?

The new civil service leadership academy offers some great learning opportunities for civil servants.

Through the academy’s pairing scheme, I met up with Alex Galloway, who works on strategy in the Cabinet Office. I’d met Alex briefly a few weeks ago at cross-government transformation network meeting (total coincidence). I found it useful to have more time with Alex and to talk through different approaches to strategy in government departments.

After a coffee, we both went off to the Institute for Government, which was hosting a talk for the leadership academy.

There we listened to Joanne Bradshaw (Programme Director in DWP and Head of the Department’s Project Delivery Profession) talking about lessons learned from delivering major change programmes.

What did you achieve?

I finally finished a blog post on approaching governance as a service that responds to the needs of those who use it, which I’ve been meaning to do for AGES.

Earlier this year, I ran a session at the Service Design in Government conference on ‘corporate governance as a service’. In the session, I shared the story of changes we’ve made to corporate governance at the FSA so that it better supports delivery.

Afterwards I made my slides open. However, I had designed the slides to present them, to show them on a screen in front of a group of people as I was talking. So I had tried to do the work to make them big and clear. I hadn’t designed them as a tool for sharing my ideas. For ages, I meant to follow Giles’s advice and re-write the presentation as a blog post. (As Euan wrote recently, sharing better is a key challenge in an increasingly connected world.) Dan told me I had an interesting story to share and encouraged me. But time moved on. Life, etc.

Yet I still see and meet other people struggling with the same governance issues that I’ve struggled with. And then the final straw, a few weeks ago, was this tweet:

I have been helped by lots of people in shaping what we’ve done with governance in the FSA, starting with Al at the government’s digital academy, who first introduced me to the phrase. I wanted to pay that back: make things open, it makes things better.

Writing the post took me much longer than I expected, and it is much longer than I wanted, but it was the best I could do at the moment without holding on to it for longer, which felt like it would be counter-productive.

As a spin off, I also wrote two other blog posts: a short accompaniment piece about why I see governance as a service and a reading list on the subject.

What made you proud?

Realising how open the FSA is as a part of government.

I met a couple of people from another regulator (not one of the ones named above). They wanted to become more open as an organisation, and Dan from the Institute for Government had put them in touch with me because openness is fundamental to the FSA and how we operate.

I was shocked by just how different our approach is from where they were coming from. At the FSA, our Board meetings are open. By that, I mean that anyone can attend a meeting, anyone can watch the meeting live online, anyone can read the meeting papers in advance of the meeting, anyone can ask a question at the meeting (in person, or online), and afterwards anyone can read the minutes of the meeting, or watch or listen to the video and audio recordings of the meeting.

All of our advisory committees are open.

The same day, I saw this tweet, linking to a new report from the House of Lords constitution committee:

At the FSA we routinely publish the evidence behind our proposals.
And the underpinning data.

This is basic, fundamental stuff for me. As we say in our strategic plan:

Sound evidence, openly published and well communicated is one of the foundations of trust. Our continued commitment to developing the evidence base provides a critical underpinning that enables consumers to access and understand the science behind decisions, and encourages industry to comply with our requests and advice because they know that they are rational in their basis.”

But those two things on the same day were a wake up call for me that I shouldn’t take what we do for granted, and I’m proud of the FSA’s openness.

What did you enjoy?

The workshop Sian and Julie organised on distributed ledger technology, including blockchain.

The workshop, which brought together people from government, academia and industry, was popular. I met loads of interesting people, found the discussions stimulating, and learnt a lot.

The workshop also provoked me to read more about this important subject, including:

The latter report highlights “food standards and safety, traceability and accountability” as a particular area of opportunity for using distributed ledger technologies. As that kinda equates to the remit of the FSA, that highlights why this tech potentially could have such a big impact for the department.

If you don’t know what block chain is but are too afraid to ask, I found this short introductory video helpful:

A short video explaining block chain technology

What did you enjoy (2 and 3)

Finding out that I’ve got a ticket for UKGovCamp next month.

Being taken on a walk across fields to watch rabbits.



Chief of staff (Academic & Government group) @ElsevierConnect. Mainly writing about getting from A to B, teams, & digital product stuff. Personal accountt.

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Richard McLean

Chief of staff (Academic & Government group) @ElsevierConnect. Mainly writing about getting from A to B, teams, & digital product stuff. Personal accountt.