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Weeknote 3rd May 2024

7 min read

Every week includes a mix of successes and frustrations. Most weeks I write more about the positive side of things but this week felt harder than normal - probably because of things going on outside work. I don’t want to carry the frustrations around with me as that doesn’t do any good. Instead I am going to leave them behind in this weeknote.


The vast majority of my work is collaborative. I work with lots of people who are busy on too many things so if I need something unexpected from them my work could get blocked for 2 weeks or so until the next free slot in their diary. Pre-planning, risk management, analysis and prioritisation can help but they can become cumbersome and costly work in their own right. We are trying to make smarter decisions by taking account of these delay costs but it is not part of routine practice.

A related frustration is when people keep great work hidden. This can be due to lack of confidence that the work is actually good enough or lack of trust that others will respond positively. It might be because quality control or some other process forbids sharing. I wish more people would embrace working “out loud”. It creates a lot of small feedback loops that can improve communication, collaboration, skills development, quality, productivity and innovation. There are some genuine cases where working out loud isn’t appropriate but most of the obstacles are cultural.

It is easy for teams to become fixated on an output, like a document or IT system, at the expense of the more important outcomes, like improving the performance of a service. One consequence is neglecting opportunities to make improvements because they don’t contribute to the output.

There are some good reasons for representing opinions in numerical terms. Estimates and forecasts are familiar examples. These get passed around and processed. People who are 3 or 4 steps removed from the original opinion can easily start to treat these numbers as objective data.

Prioritising is a good thing but there are different ways to do it. The effort needs to be distributed with low impact, volatile priorities set by small teams and strategic priorities set centrally and backed by long term commitments. It is frustrating when we mix these up.


A few weeks ago we made changes to the way we handle phone calls for one of our busiest service teams. This had an immediate positive impact but we worried if this would continue after the school holidays. This week we confirmed that the improvement wasn’t temporary and we’ve got some trend data we can explore to fine tune the changes we made. It doesn’t mean we are satisfied but it does mean we can give our customers a better service while we build the processes and technology that will help us go further.

I’m not employed for my programing skills but I’ve enjoyed doing some coding for work. I’ve been analysing some data about our portfolio of change work. Most people would have shuffled and sorted the data in an excel spreadsheet but because I can code it gives me some better options. I also did some volunteer coding as part of a new scheme organised by the STEM organisation[1] and TECgirls[2].

Over the next couple of years we’ve got a chance to improve some services by investing in new digital tools. One of our teams has been looking at our key processes and quantifying the benefits so that we can put our time and money in the most valuable places. I’ve been arguing that we should consider service readiness as well as the usual technical and financial aspects and this has been agreed. Service readiness is about skills, capacity and commitment to get the benefits out of the new tools. It is about considering what the service already has or could practically get. For example, if capacity is an obstacle, can temporary staff fill the gap.


I’ve been part of the Race Equality Forum for a few years now and I think it has done me a lot of good. Some people seem to have a natural ability to analyse big issues, form authentic opinions and communicate them clearly and respectfully. I’m not one of those people. The forum - the members and the events they support - has provided a place to work through some of the issues. The atmosphere is really important. There is an acceptance of the layers and complexity involved and that simple, correct responses might not exist and are certainly not obvious. The forum encourages positive action, even small things, like becoming better informed.

I would like to think we could make a bigger, more public space for some collective effort on big issues like race but that doesn’t seem very likely at the moment. Complexity and subtlety don’t seem to go down very well in politics, news and social media. At times, basic humanity seems to be met with hostility. If you want to talk about stopping fighting and killing somewhere around the world you can expect to be treated as naïve or ignorant. You’ll also be accused of supporting the “other” side and all of the awful things they have done. Could a dialogue create new understanding and reveal new opportunity? No, that’s either naïve or a trick. Reject both of the simplistic “sides” in a conflict? Ignorant or underhanded.

I wish there were some safe spaces to work on these issues. In the meantime I will take sides. My side is made up of the people who didn’t attack, the people who lost a friend or loved one and the people that didn’t get a choice. My side includes Palestinians and Jews, Ukrainians and Russians, conservatives and socialists. So does the other side. My side isn’t defined by the tribes I read about in the news and on social media. Measured by publicity my side might seem like a minority but I like to think it includes 90% or more of the human population. If you think that makes me naïve or ignorant I can live with that.

From the archives

For most of 2023 I published my weeknotes on our intranet and most of those notes concerned my secondment to our Digital Futures Programme as Discovery Lead, or as I sometimes called it, Chief Explorer.

Discovery describes the early stages of a change project where the outlines and indications that were enough to kick-off a project are filled out and refined. Very often the things that are discovered change the direction of the project. People have a well known bias to be optimistic. Discovery often shows the effort and investment will be higher than anticipated and the benefits and outcomes lower. This is not very comfortable but not as uncomfortable as finding out later. Occasionally, we learn the project is unlikely to be worthwhile and it won’t go further. In many cases, changes can be made to improve the chances of success.

I wasn’t leading the discovery stage of the Digital Future programme but leading the development of a new approach to the Council’s discovery work. I learnt a lot about discovery work and a blog post is in the works. There were also a lot of other lessons about how the Council makes big decisions, how we manage changes and why some things are so difficult for us. I’m using all of those lessons now I am back in my substantive role.


  1. STEM Ambassadors ↩︎

  2. TECgirls ↩︎

Originally published on by Richard Barton