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Weeknote 19th April 2024

7 min read

I’m back from a couple of weeks leave (it was amazing, thanks for asking), cleared the usual backlog of messages and got stuck into the projects I am supporting.


We’ve continued to develop the roadmap of improvements highlighted through the review of Regulatory Services[1] last year. These are services which lots of local authorities run and it is pretty clear where the team wants to get to. It is a bit harder to plot out the steps to get there and take account of the depdendencies and constraints along the way. We need to stick to our budgets and meet high standards of service whilst moving work around teams and introducing new technology and processes. Sometimes people compare this sort of thing to changing the wheels on a moving car. That’s probably too extreme but this is very demanding for everyone involved.

There are a couple of places where a roadmap (effectively a picture of our working assumptions) can be more helpful than a traditional plan (usually quite precise and often under formal governance). Developing digital technology is a creative process and so quite risky. We can draw up a roadmap which acknowledges the risk and make it visible but still answer our stakeholders questions about timescales. The answers from a roadmap won’t be very precise but a lot of questions don’t need precision anyway. Roadmaps can also help with realising benefits. One of the early versions of our roadmap showed there was going to be a gap where teams were building things behind the scenes but our customers wouldn’t see much improvement to the service. We kept working on this gap and found some improvements we could fit in early. One of our quick wins improved one of our service measures by more than a factor of 2.

This week we continued to get ready to refresh our Regulatory Services project structure. We are part way through moving from teams organised by phase (things like customer research, design, digital development, change adoption) to one organised around services (things like environment, licensing and planning). This has been going on for quite a while but we are taking care to move things bit by bit and maintain the pace of work rather than interrupt everyone with a big bang change.

Here are some other bits of work I thought were worth sharing.

DLUCH have not validated our figures yet but it looks like we did well against our targets for the Supporting Families scheme[2]. The bar will be raised again next year but there is a great team in place working through the issues. For the last 18 months or so the team have been crunching data so we can identify families that are struggling and proactively help them. Over 1000 families have been helped this way and the goal is to double this over the timescales of the scheme. There will still be a lot of data crunching this year along with all of the careful scrutiny and assurance you would expect for such sensitive information. I’m hoping we can grow the team and do more. For example, the data gives us some clues about how we could coordinate services and prevent some families getting into difficulty in the first place. It isn’t easy to act on these opportunities but the benefits for the families concerned and the council could be enormous.

Many of our FRED Talks guests[3] have talked about the importance of managing flow and I’ve been doing some analysis of our project portfolio. It is pretty easy to capture and visualise the data for this but the reason for doing it now is that our FRED Talks experts have raised people’s curiosity about flow. Without that we won’t be able to improve. Flow accounting is still quite a niche topic and it doesn’t attract the same attention or understanding as a budget variance in financial accounting. Hopefully we can show people how powerful it can be over the next few weeks.


Most of our Digital Futures work is focused on making improvements to our key services but a portion of our efforts goes into learning and improving. As part of this we’ve been looking at how to run trials and experiments and what controls and governance are appropriate for this sort of work. This week a small group looked back over some of the trails and experiments Digital Futures has funded so we can learn lessons for the next batch.

We are used to doing innovative, high-risk technology development but experiments and trials can take this to another level. We are used to scrutinising designs and looking for evidence that they are technically feasible but sometimes the purpose of the experiment is to find out what is feasible so we won’t have this up front. Some experiments are desgined to provide evidence about business benefits so a traditional up-front business case won’t make much sense. Compared with our usual project work an experiment can feel chaotic, disorganised and a bit out of control. I think we were expecting to learn some hard lessons but, in fact, the picture looks pretty good.

Our small group put aside the usual expectations and looked back at the original brief for the experiments, what they were intended to achieve and the guard rails put around them to keep them safe. As always, we can do better but our framework seems to be sound. We probably need to do more to show people what an experiment feels like and provide support to people managing them. Now that we have a few examples we can show, that should be much easier.


We’ve started preparing for our next Race Equality Drop In session in May. As usual, we’ll go wherever the attendees want to go but we will offer up a topic or theme to get us started. We are going to talk about Voluntourism[4] which is a new bit of jargon for me. I don’t have direct experience but my recent trip to Kenya got me thinking about some closely related topics such as white saviourism[5]. It will probably be quite an uncomfortable topic for me but that’s ok. A bit of discomfort will probably do me some good.

From the archives

I’ve recently restarted public weeknotes after a spell writing internal notes and blog posts for our intranet. The last public ones started when I became a public service employee in 2019[6] and stopped when I found I had to put my energies into getting ready for a conference presentation in 2021[7]. Now and again I’ll dip back and fill in some gaps. First up is that conference presentation. In my final 2021 weeknote I was worried that we wouldn’t be ready but it actually turned out really well. I would have been happy if only 10 people had turned up but it ended up being standing room only with some engaging questions from the audience. You can see for yourself in the recording[8].


  1. This covers a large number of things such as trading standards, taxis, waste, foot paths and planning permission. ↩︎

  2. Background to the Supporting Families scheme ↩︎

  3. Every few weeks Cornwall Council invites a guest speaker to share their insights and challenge our thinking. We have had some amazing people come and share their experience of using new ways of working and/or new technology to improve large organisations and the services they provide to the public. ↩︎

  4. Voluntourism ↩︎

  5. White Saviour ↩︎

  6. Blog about backlogs from 2019 ↩︎

  7. Final weeknote from 2021 ↩︎

  8. Cornwall Council’s presentation at Agile on the Beach 2021. You can also hear about how our transformation started in our talk at Agile on the Beach 2019 ↩︎

Originally published on by Richard Barton