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Weeknote 26th April 2024

8 min read

It feels like there is too much for one weeknote this time. Perhaps I need to prioritise but I find all these things fascinating. I keep nudging our teams to focus rather than have lots of things going on in parallel. Maybe I should take some of my own advice! Anyway here goes.


Scoping out a Data Community for Cornwall and, as part of that, a Cornwall Data Challenge event later this year. We are at the strategy and vision stage. I’m more of an engineer than a strategist so I am a bit outside my comfort zone but have some great collaborators inside and outside the Council.

Continuing the work from last week on shifting to the new team structure for the Regulatory Services Review project and helping keep the various teams across the Council aligned. Fairly soon the teams won’t need my help on a day-to-day basis but I expect I will need to help sort out some on-going risks. For example, some of the work involves developing new technology which is innovative and risky. It makes sense to keep a number of technical options open so that we can change direction quickly but this isn’t an approach that many people are used to.

In 2020, the national lockdowns forced us to work in new ways and we are still working through the consequences. We are not going to return to pre-COVID ways of working as the people, pounds and planet benefits are too valuable. We do need to mitigate some of the disadvantages such as helping new joiners feel part of the team and being fair and consistent in how we expect people to work. We’ve been using team charters to delegate making the necessary trade-offs to our service teams. It is time for a refresh as so much has changed over the last couple of years. An example of something we might change is to make the charters more transparent so teams can borrow good ideas from each other.

I got over excited about one of the proposals at our weekly triage session[1]. When I was studying for my degree, speech-to-text still seemed like science fiction. Now we have all the hype about the latest AI breakthrough it is easy to forget that speech-to-text is now a cheap and practical tool. Lots of public sector roles involve a lot of note taking and providing computer assistance could have a big impact on productivity. We have shortages of staff in lots of sectors such as health, education and social care. Imagine helping all of these people be 20% more productive. It sounds too good to be true but even if we can only realise a part of that benefit the payback on the technology would be enormous.

Last year a group of Service Designers launched a professional community for people in Local Government[2]. The community has already passed 300 members with some industry leading experts and some others, like me, who want to learn more. I’m going to help facilitate the next community event and joined some others in the team to work out how we are going to use the lean coffee format[3].


I’m a member of several professional communities focused on the public sector. Twitter used to be a bit of a one-stop-shop for staying engaged with all of these but pretty much all of my contacts now stay away or have deleted their accounts. So far there doesn’t seem to be one platform that has filled the gap. My communities have moved to a mixture of places including Slack[4] and Mastodon[5]. BlueSky[6] seems to be the closest replacement for Twitter but maybe the future will continue to be a mix with different specialisations. It will be interesting to see what happens with social media for organisations. LinkedIn[7] seems an obvious place for recruitment and business to business sales. Maybe the Facebook[8] collection of brands for consumer service and sales?

Our FRED Friday[9] talk this week featured Kevin Cunnington[10] sharing his experience of leading digital public services in Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Government Digital Service (GDS). This brought back some great memories for me[11] and was also a timely reminder of some good tools and practices we can still apply in Cornwall[12].


The Cornwall TechJam[13] went well at the weekend. It was great to have a new volunteer join us to guide some of the young, and not so young, attendees towards interesting challenges and help them complete them. We can always use more helpers so get in touch if you are interested in finding out what is involved. This time we had early access to an artificial intelligence challenge which the Raspberry Pi Foundation and Google asked us to try out. Three people, all girls, had a go. They really enjoyed it and gave us some great feedback. They also have access to complete the challenge back at home.

From the archives

My last weeknote from 2021[14] talked about a public sector collaboration looking at operating models. This started as a discussion at GovCamp21[15] and grew into a self-managed community of interest involving volunteers from 14 different public sector organisations. Over the next 12 months the group created a Guide to Operating Models aimed at practitioners in the public sector which was adopted as an official Civil Service publication. This isn’t the typical way official publications get developed and I think it is much richer and more useful as a result. It was also a really thought provoking example of what a self-managed group of passionate people can achieve.


  1. The triage sessions provide an early opportunity to clarify the value of ideas and proposals and advise teams on some proportionate next steps. It is not a gateway where things are approved or rejected. We won’t have a enough information for definitive decision that early and we don’t want teams putting a lot of time and energy into the wrong things. Instead, we are seeking to clarify and be transparent about the risks and potential value. The next steps are usually determined by the risks, for example, should we get some assurance about security before worrying about other aspects of the work. The value can be shared with the teams that will need to be involved in the work. They can use this to make trade-offs about the urgency of the work and how much effort to commit. This is easier to decide at team level depending upon what else the team has to do. ↩︎

  2. Get in touch by one of the social media links below if you want an invite to join the community. ↩︎

  3. An introduction to the Lean Coffee format. ↩︎

  4. Slack is really a virtual team workspace rather than social media. Membership is usually controlled and there are tools to help people focus on particular things and not get distracted. ↩︎

  5. Mastodon Isn’t really a social media platform but a way for platforms to talk to each other. This is similar to email where everyone can chose their own email provider but can still communicate with each other. This is a brilliant approach but people have already got used to big centralised platforms and the extra effort of picking a mastodon server has put a lot of people off. ↩︎

  6. BlueSky looks like a copy of the old Twitter but without all the noise and nastiness which prompted people to start deleting their Twitter accounts. It isn’t yet clear how BlueSky can get big and not fall into the traps that have hit other platforms. ↩︎

  7. LinkedIn used to be a great professional community platform but it is now quite noisy with self-promotion and paid-for corporate messages. ↩︎

  8. The Facebook holding company also runs Instagram, Whatsapp and, their Twitter challenger, Threads. ↩︎

  9. 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. ↩︎

  10. More about Kevin’s background ↩︎

  11. I worked in Kevin’s team at DWP for a couple of years and, later on, helped with a refresh of the GDS strategy. I was pleased to see some of my work is still on the DWP Digital blog nearly 10 year on. ↩︎

  12. One of the tools that seemed to resonate with the audience this week was the Seven Lenses of Transformation ↩︎

  13. Dates are published on the TechCornwall events page. ↩︎

  14. Final weeknote from 2021 ↩︎

  15. More about UKGovCamp ↩︎

Originally published on by Richard Barton