All posts by Noreen Blanluet

Thoughts on digital democracy and what it means these days

This is one of a series of guest blog posts on topics relevant to public services in Wales, written by Leah Lockhart from the Democratic Society in Scotland. Re-posted with kind permission from an original on Medium.

‘I don’t know how to use a computer!’: the stories of our most dangerous public servants

Last month I was invited to Birmingham University to take part in a discussion called ‘✊Democracy #LOL :): digital participation in local governance’ which was hosted by Local Government Studies (INLOGOV). I was invited along to share my stories and experiences of working with local government and community groups in Scotland that are integrating digital engagement into their participatory budgeting (PB) activities.

I shared examples from the past six months of the digital PB project where I have seen very important impact on a public service team or in a community group happen because of their decision to augment their face to face engagement with digital engagement. I also shared examples of things that keep me up at night and send me into a spiral of internal debate.

One of these examples was a story I roll out *all the time* as an illustration of the attitude of public servants to ‘digital’: earlier this year heard a senior civil servant announce in a public forum that she didn’t even know how to take a screenshot so surely ideas about innovative digital solutions for creating better public services would go over her head.

After I went through my slides and stories, we had a group discussion during which I was asked why I seem so frustrated with people in public services who don’t use or want to use digital tools or platforms for engagement. The person asking the question seemed to hear my frustration and my screenshot story as throwing shade at public servants who aren’t willing to jump on a digital engagement bandwagon and burst onto the internet scene to tweet and blog, that I was being a bit cliquey. Fair enough comment, really. I have to hold my hands up and say I don’t always explain things as well as I could, especially if it’s something I’m close to. So here’s a fuller explanation than I managed to spit out on the day…

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When someone in public service says, ‘I don’t even know how to take a screenshot’ I hear, ‘I am a security liability with no interest in knowing about modern ways of working.’ It’s no secret lack of computing skills, including understanding various basic practices around safety and security, are low in public sector workforces. In fact I’d argue public services nurture these low skills and send people down a spiral of de-skilling with their outdated browsers, outdated operating systems and messy IT infrastructures…which may have been procured by the senior person who doesn’t know how to take a screenshot. Snake eating tail. Just recently Martha Lane Fox published a piece about the lack of sophisticated debate about the internet at a UK government level and the inability of policy makers to keep up with the pace of technological change being issues of national security and one of the most pressing issues of our time. Self-effacing comments about not being able to push a couple of buttons somewhere are no joke.

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When someone in public service says, ‘I don’t use social media. No one wants to know what I had for breakfast! *chortle*’ I hear, ‘I don’t have the vaguest interest in understanding how an increasing number of citizens get information or choose to interact.’ The last person you want to let loose on your organisation’s social media is the person who *really* doesn’t want to be using social media. So this isn’t about shading those who choose not to use social media themselves. This is about having an understanding of how social media works, why they are used, what online communities look like and sound like and acknowledging the importance of social media to government for *so* many reasons. Understanding at a higher level means permission for more active or meaningful use of social media over an organisation, including a lift on bans in public services that mean staff sometimes literally can’t see the internet. Because, you know, it’s unsafe (said the public servant who has no real idea what interaction online looks like.) Snake eating tail.

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When someone in public service says, ‘My job is so boring. No one would want to read a blog written by me’ I hear, ‘I am not willing to be open, transparent and accountable.’ Issues around confidence and identity are here alongside lack of skill and institutional cultures and behaviours so this one isn’t straightforward. In my years working with public servants, conversations about working out loud and the honest reflection it requires are some of the most difficult- and emotional. The support our public servants need to change their relationships with the public is heavy and it’s not usually coming from inside- external forces are necessary (that’s you and me!)

The conversations I have with public servants when I’m helping them plan digital engagement always start with purpose, resource and goals and it usually catches them off guard. Planning and reflection? But the internet is magic, right? Asking people to consider the why and the how for digital engagement often surfaces anxieties, barriers and systemic problems that mean *generally* public engagement with a view to involvement are not well thought out or very meaningful. It’s a very exposing process. While there is a lot of discussion and rhetoric flying around the public sector about ‘digital innovation’ and ‘transformation’, these are really high level and don’t ever really address the live issues closer to the front line. The success of the transformation camp is dependent on the success of the confidence and skills camp. How can we bring these conversations closer together?

Associated reading:
Leah also wrote: Outside in – how the internet is improving public services, and Ben got excited about the Welsh Assembly’s Digital Taskforce report. What do we need to be thinking about to “do” digital effectively in Wales?

Leah Lockhart describes herself as a coordinator, collaborator, guide; exploring social good enabled by digital things; and doing digital engagement work across Scotland with Democratic Society Scotland. LinkedinMedium.


GovCamp Cymru 2017 is happening on 14th October.  Join the conversation online on the GovCamp Cymru Slack. (New to Slack?) Join the mailing list for ticket releases, the first batch will be available on Monday 26th June, 10:00am. Find us on twitter and Facebook!

Do you fancy contributing a guest blog post on a topic relevant to public services in Wales? Get in touch with noreen@satorilab.org.

Getting your head around open data

This is one of a series of guest blog posts on topics relevant to public services in Wales, written by Ben Proctor.

Open data is simply data that anyone can access, use or share. Data, in this context, could be any piece of information. The Open Data Institute has a helpful guide to open data.

Most data is not open. Data might be closed (locked within an organisation or a department), shared (available to people by agreement or because they are in particular roles) or open (where anyone can access it, use it or share it). The Open Data Institute calls this the Data Spectrum.

To be open data has to be published (on a website for example) but publishing it is not enough. To be open it has to have a licence which makes it clear that anyone can use or share it. This means that it isn’t possible to charge people for open data. The format that data is published in also has an impact on how useful it is by different groups of people. There are other factors that can affect how useful open data is. Sir Tim Berners-Lee has described a star-rating system for more and more useful open data

Any organisation that owns data can choose to open it. In the UK, parts of the public sector have opened lots of their data. You can find lots of open data from the UK government on the data.gov.uk portal. In Wales the Welsh Government has published an open data plan and set up a website to make it easier to find geographical data

A key argument for opening data is that it enables people to build services using that data. Because people don’t need to build the infrastructure to collect the data this means services can be delivered much quicker and it enables more innovation. It is not all a one-way street. As people build services on a dataset, they frequently clean and improve the data, spot errors, and mix it with other datasets to generate unique insights. Many public bodies publish open data with the aim of enabling innovative services. Many private companies are also publishing open data for the same reasons. Jeni Tennison (now Chief Executive of the Open Data Institute) wrote about open data business models a few years ago

Some examples of services built, at least in part, on open data include:

  • City Mapper which gets people around London using a combination of open data from Transport for London, its own data and algorithms
  • Mastodon C which has published insights into antibiotic prescribing based on open data 

There is a thriving community working with open data across the UK. Regular Open Data Camps are held, the most recent taking place in Cardiff in February 2017.  At that camp there was a workshop on Open Data for beginners which is written up here

What are your thoughts on Open Data, and how it could help government and public services in Wales?

Ben is the Technical Director of ODI-Cardiff. ODI Cardiff is the Open Data Institute node in Wales and is working to enable innovation with data across Wales and beyond. He is also a director of The Satori Lab. Linkedin. Medium.


GovCamp Cymru 2017 is happening on 14th October.  Join the conversation online on the GovCamp Cymru Slack. (New to Slack?) Join the mailing list for ticket releases, the first batch will be available on Monday 26th June, 10:00am. Find us on twitter and Facebook!

Do you fancy contributing a guest blog post on a topic relevant to public services in Wales? Get in touch with noreen@satorilab.org.

Why should I be thinking about Data Maturity?

This is one of a series of guest blog posts on topics relevant to public services in Wales, written by Dyfrig Williams.

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on the Cutting Edge Audit project for the Wales Audit Office, which looks at how we can challenge our existing use of data and technology and assumptions that we normally take for granted. We’ve been thinking radically about how we might use new technology to transform the way that we work.

I’ve been working on how the Wales Audit Office acquires data to give us deeper knowledge and fresh insight. That’s involved looking at how we produce and make use of Open Data, how we make data accessible and data warehousing.

Why is Data Maturity important?

In the course of my work I’ve come across some organisations who are making fantastic use of the data that’s available to them, such as the Queensland Audit Office. But we’re very much at the start of our journey, so how do we begin?

Data Maturity is the journey towards improvement and increased capability in using data, and the concept gave us a tangible vision for our work. We began looking for frameworks that could be helpful (and there’s more out there than you can shake a stick at), and we found Data Orchard’s Framework to be particularly simple and user friendly. It’s especially useful as it’s looking at what this looks like for not-for-profit organisations. I particularly like this breakdown of it from a great post by Ben Proctor, as it’s so easy to understand:

  1.     Ad-hoc gathering of data in some areas
  2.     Pulling data together centrally
  3.     Starting to use data looking backwards
  4.     Using data in real time to manage the organisation and move resources rapidly
  5.     Modelling the future before making decisions to enable better decisions to be taken
  6.     Modelling the future the organisation wants and working backwards to understand what needs to happen now to deliver that future

This framework has really informed my thinking. It’s helped me think about how we get to point 6, where we’re modelling the future that the organisation is working towards, and ensure that the things that I’m working on set us out on the right path beyond the lifespan of the Cutting Edge project.

Learning and sharing

Throughout this project, we’ve been talking to other organisations to learn from what they’re doing, and we’ve been able to learn from good practice and from what they’d do differently if they had their time again. It’s been great learning about how the Office of the Auditor General for New Zealand have reduced the complexity of their systems by making them open by default. Our project has also been working iteratively to produce small tests and prototypes so that we can build on our successes, but also learn from our failures.

This is where unconferences like GovCamp Cymru are really useful. It’s a unique opportunity to meet people who are passionate about improving public services, who share what’s worked well and what they might do differently if they had their time again. If you’re making the most of the data that’s at your organisation’s metaphorical fingertips, please do give me a nudge at GovCamp Cymru – I’d love to have a chat with you so that I can learn from what you’re doing.

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Dyfrig Williams is a Good Practice Exchange Officer for the Wales Audit Office, where he encourages public service improvement through knowledge exchange. He is on Twitter as @DyfrigWilliams and blogs about public service improvement at http://medium.com/@DyfrigWilliams.

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GovCamp Cymru 2017 is happening on 14th October.  Join the conversation online on the GovCamp Cymru Slack. (New to Slack?) Join the mailing list for ticket releases, the first batch will be available on Monday 26th June, 10:00am. Find us on twitter and Facebook!

Do you fancy contributing a guest blog post on a topic relevant to public services in Wales? Get in touch with noreen@satorilab.org.

Wales as an innovation nation

Last year our platinum sponsor PA Consulting investigated the landscape and opportunities around innovation in Wales. They began with insights from delegates at GovCamp Cymru 2016, and continued by talking to individuals and organisations who want to see Wales on the global innovation stage.

In their report published in January 2017, these were their conclusions:
– Wales is punching below its weight;
– Wales needs to focus its attentions in key areas of competitive edge;
– Wales needs to see Brexit as a game-changing opportunity to impact the self-effacing nature of delivering success for and in Wales.

Click the link below to view &/or download a summary of the PA Consulting report that began at GovCamp Cymru 2016.

PA Consulting report summary: GovCamp Cymru Innovation Report January 2017

Do you agree that Wales could do better at innovation? What should the focus be for the next few years?


GovCamp Cymru 2017 is happening on 14th October.  Join the conversation online on the GovCamp Cymru Slack. (New to Slack?) Join the mailing list for ticket releases, the first batch will be available on Monday 26th June, 10:00am. Find us on twitter and Facebook!

Do you fancy contributing a guest blog post on a topic relevant to public services in Wales? Get in touch with noreen@satorilab.org.

What does Wales’ public sector look like in 2022?

We’ve been having discussions with various people around what would constitute positive outcomes for the upcoming GovCamp Cymru 2017.

Beyond useful networking and fruitful conversations, which are always good (we know this from past feedback), some thoughts emerged around how the conversations taking place at the event could/should feed into the formal socio-political agenda.

In 5 years’ time, if the topics we are bringing up at GovCamp Cymru 2017 have made it onto the formal/traditional/official agenda, then we will have achieved!

What important aspects of civic life are missing from the formal policy conversations and need to be on decision-makers’ radars?

What will be part of the public services, democracy, and local and national government landscape in 2022 – in an ideal world where these topics will have been heard and brought in to the formal agendas?


GovCamp Cymru 2017 is happening on 14th October.  Join the conversation online on the GovCamp Cymru Slack. (New to Slack?) Join the mailing list for ticket releases, the first batch will be available on Monday 26th June, 10:00am. Find us on twitter and Facebook!

Do you fancy contributing a guest blog post on a topic relevant to public services in Wales? Get in touch with noreen@satorilab.org.