Digital Leadership, local government digital

Will the revolution be digitised?

I had a great day on Saturday 23rd January at #ukgovcamp – the wonderful life affirming unconference of enthusiastic geekery bringing together approximately 200 politicians, civil servants, local government officers and technology suppliers.

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Forty sessions were pitched and presented covering subjects as diverse as #blockchain, #dataprotection, #APIs, #OpenData, #agile etc etc the complete list can be found here.

Alongside the more technical focussed sessions it was great to see sessions on “How to bold”, building empathy in government and why we hate the voluntary sector (which was about how public sector can understand and then commission VCS more effectively).

In the penultimate session I found myself in a small group discussing “Will the revolution be digitised?”or how important and useful are digital services in the real world where budgets are being cut?

We discussed a real rural village in the North West which had been affected badly by flooding due to cuts to the promised flood defences. The community was now facing cuts to bus services and closure of its community centre.

We had a really fast paced and creative debate about how to turn round the apathy and the lack of insight that the collective and compound affect of such cuts on a rural community.

Digital can help in lots of ways and we decided that one option would be to encourage secondary school media studies pupils to interview older people and share their videos on youtube and promote those videos through facebook & twitter.

There are also digital resources such as that can be used to learn how to launch and run a really effective media campaign and to connect good causes with individuals and businesses that want to help.


A brilliant session, and a brilliant day topped off with a very friendly and busy #beercamp at St George’s Tavern. Looking forward to 2017 already!



Digital Leadership, Digital Marketing, Email marketing

Is email dead or the missing jigsaw piece in your digital strategy?

“Email is dead. Email is boring. No one opens email.”

“There is no point investing marketing budget in email, it just gets stuck in spam filters”

So say some. But don’t follow the herd – before you wright off email marketing as a waste of time and money – let’s look at the facts – after which  you will be wanting to make sure that email marketing is a key part of your digital marketing activity.

Anyone with an Amazon account will be familiar with their daily email from the masters of digital business. If those emails didn’t influence customer behaviour and encourage us to go back and convert browsing to purchasing, then Amazon simply wouldn’t do it. So the first lesson is that email marketing encourages customers to come back to your site.  At the other end of the digital business scale is Watchfinder, who specialise in high value secondhand watches. Their average sale is £3500 and typically only 1% of customers purchase on the first visit. Email marketing is critical in building a relationship and encouraging customers back to the website.

The second lesson is about personalisation. Customer behaviour has changed hugely over the last few years. The old broadcast marketing methods are no longer suitable for the better informed and more sophisticated customers of today. We need to find away to build authentic engagement. I love the way this video “the breakup” makes the point. And going back to Amazon, emails will typically refer to your previous browsing or purchasing history, or related products which gives the impression of a company that understands customers. Certainly Amazon doesn’t just rely on email marketing alone, the content that you see on the homepage is bespoke to you, based on purchasing & browsing history also reinforcing that impression of understanding.

It’s simply not true that people ignore Email. Message open rates are typically above 20% across all industries and public sector email performs even better at up to 48% for the best performers. Importantly transactional email where people have signed up to receive email, for example after visiting your website sees open rates on average of 45% on and 72% for the star performers!

But it is no use people just opening email, we want them to respond to the call to action. Well here again email performs brilliantly against other forms of online and offline marketing engagement with click through rates of 27.8% on average for public sector services.

This all sounds great but this is expensive right? Well the return on investment for email campaigns is an astounding 2500% according to the Direct Marketing Association UK, or in other terms for every pound spent £38 is generated for businesses serving consumers! And relatively speaking email marketing is cheap – if something doesn’t work it can be changed quite quickly at minimal expense compared to off line marketing.

The puzzling thing is that according to the DMA even though marketeers know that email marketing works companies are not spending time personalising and optimising this channel – and that is your opportunity if people are leveraging £38 per £1 from unoptimised email marketing campaigns – what could you achieve with a little thought and planning?

Email marketing needs to be central to your digital marketing and your multi-channel marketing strategy – get it right and see your business thrive!


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local government digital



I know I have been lucky when it comes to digital skills. Although computers hadn’t really entered the classroom when I left school, I studied Engineering at university and use of computers and programming became “normal”. Just like my fellow classmates, to me the computer became to tool to do everything with, from writing essays to programming machines, to keeping up with friends by email, to playing text based role playing games. Because we were all learning together it was easy to join in, it was fun, we could ask questions and try things out without being scared.

I also had a really good experience on my industrial placement in a factory where computers were used for product design, stock control and production scheduling as well as word processing and email. So I could see how these skills could be used to increase efficiency and productivity.

When I left University I took a year out working in a Charity. I was amazed that there was just one computer, sitting in the corner of the office and very underutilised. It just wasn’t part of the organisational culture or expectation of the employees to use digital (computers). My suggestion that the Charity needed a website was met with complete bewilderment.

In the last twenty years that has obviously changed with more and more computers in the workplace and the expansion in smartphones, tablets, connected TVs as well as computers and laptops for personal use. However I’m really aware that some people have still not had the opportunity to try digital technology in a way that they feel confident and safe doing. That includes many people within organisations who might be happy with emailing and word processing but are only scratching the surface of how digital could transform their work, the work of their colleagues and ultimately the service they provide to the public.

For almost every job now there is an expectation that people will apply on line. Most Government and Local Government services are easier and more convenient to access on line. Buying holidays, insurance, food, and even cars can now be done online where very often it’s cheaper than more traditional methods such as telephone or in person. But much more importantly than that, digital technology gives people the ability to access information, to stay in touch with family, to make new friends and reconnect with old ones. We must do all we can to encourage people to learn digital skills, through schools, through libraries, through adult education, through code clubs and more.

Digital.Together isn’t just about digital inclusion though it’s about the public and private sectors working together to learn from each other, to share expertise, to share approaches and to grow the digital economy in Kent. To remain competitive as a county and a country we need to capitalise on the skills and expertise we already have and ensure that we are inspiring the next generation of designers, programmers and business leaders.

That’s why I’ve signed up to be a Digital.Together envoy – I want to ensure that no one is left behind, to take away the fear of digital and to grow the digital economy. Find out how you can get involved after our launch on the 22nd of May.

local government digital

How and why I got into Local Government

I’ve never done this before. But following a thoughtful and challenging post by Carl Haggerty on Friday 13th February I was moved to write this my first blog post.

I left university with an engineering degree with a heavy flavour of “lean” realising that people were much more interesting than machines or computers. This led to five years as a volunteer, then paid member of staff working with people in recovery from substance misuse. I carried my “lean” thinking with me, particularly respect for individuals as part of a wider system of actors and processes, and with antennae attuned to spotting waste and potential improvements. Through this work I came to realise that although the acute therapy was essential and helped people to make amazing life changes, they were still stuck in a wider system of debt, poverty, unemployment, poor housing and often unhelpful social circumstances. Unfortunately this wider system continued to work against the person in recovery.

“Paddling upstream” or trying to uncover the root cause is a key principle of lean which led me on to taking a role with Citizens Advice to work on the “wider system”. My main work was developing policy and management guidance which took me from Durham to Lostwithiel, and Aberystwyth to Norwich. Much of my work was with service users, bureaux managers and trustees, looking at barriers and access to services. This experience led me to believe that services were available for people but the information and access routes were fragmented and confused. Services were definitely not designed with the end user in mind, with the result that vulnerable people often could not access services or apply for benefits which would improve their lives.

In 2007 I joined Kent County Council as part of the Gateway “Front Office Shared Service” team. In a nutshell the idea of Gateway was to create a face-to-face google, a friendly first step where the public could ask anything and not be sent down the road or across town. Someone would listen, take responsibility and offer practical help toward resolution. From the start we worked with partners, districts, boroughs, VCS, central government and we wanted to provide an integrated response not just a brand with a load of concessions inside.

To help us on that route I worked with service designers such as Live:Work, Engine and our own SILK. Working with cross-functional, and cross-agency teams, and real customers to design, to prototype, to guerilla test. It was brilliant, exciting, tiring and rewarding and the results in terms of customer satisfaction and savings through property rationalisation were very good. We even got awarded a green flag by the Audit Commission for the leadership we had shown in working with partners.

Alongside the service design, engagement and ethnography, I also realised early on that we needed to build a complimentary data based evidence model to ensure that we had the right balance of partners in each location. Working with 18 local government partners across northern France and Kent we set up CBOOPSD (in French!) to use anonymised data sets, segmented through Experian MOSAIC to build a predictive demand model by location. The overwhelmingly positive results for Ashford Gateway Plus in terms of footfall, take up and customer perception showed the power of customer insight applied appropriately. This was copying work that big supermarkets and others in the private sector had been doing for several years but it was very new for local government.

Of course we wanted more and we hoped that through redesigning the front end contact we would draw back office services in to redesign conversations. We were trying to blend service design techniques with principles of lean such as citizen customers “pulling” services rather than us “pushing” them. This certainly worked in many areas such as housing, registration, planning etc. Our successful partnership work led us on to putting our hand up to be part of the Tell Us Once pathfinder group, delivering significant customer experience benefits to bereavement reporting.

We also had an aspiration to go multichannel and to take the Gateway service model online and to telephone channels. Then of course in late 2009 and certainly by 2010 the austerity agenda was hitting local government and priorities changed.

Most recently I have been leading a programme looking at our high demand services and redesigning new digital by design services. These are not thin veneer web services with an untouched back office. These are brave and bold redesigns where the back office is removed almost entirely and the fulfilment is as deep and as immediate as possible on line.

This leads me on to a final point and one which I am becoming more and more fascinated by. I’m not sure big “change programmes” work any more. I am coming to believe that every decision at some level is an emotional decision. The role of the change manager is now to “coach” the service manager. To help and challenge the service manager to express what the service aspiration is. To discover together, through the evidence, through user engagement, what the customer need is. To be clear about the statutory duty and what it means. To help the service manager work through the emotional cycle of change, fear, denial, loss, disbelief, through to hope. To have faith in the design process to build something more elegant and which creates more value. To take an agile approach building in direct feedback from service users. To realise potential and to eliminate waste. For the design to be fit for purpose we need to support the service manager through the experience of change. Ultimately the change will only work, and the saving will only be realised if they undergo change themselves. And as Carl said we have to be prepared for change ourselves, prepared to give up some things in order that the wider system can benefit.