One of the blockers to large scale transformation in an organisation is the lack of a corporate vision of what the future is going to look like. It’s a reasonable argument that goes “if we don’t know where we are going, how can we ever get there?”.

In an organisation like a local authority this is especially tough as they are such disparate entities. Think about it, in what strange universe does it make sense for a single organisation to collect taxes, deliver social care, pick up bins and operate transport? None of these and many of the other services councils deliver have much to do with each other, apart from the coincidence of local delivery.

Coming up with a single vision or operating model for such an organisation is pretty tricky therefore, which makes it less likely that transformation teams are going to get one. So, without a clear destination, what should they be doing?

I think the key is to think of councils – and other similar organisations – as groups of individual businesses, rather than a single cohesive organisation. Accept that one idea is unlikely to work for all of them – and treat those that say they have such an idea with scepticism. Instead focus on a flexible approach to transformation and technology that can support service managers in deciding for themselves what the right operating model should be for their service, and how that translates into modern, digital native processes.

Fundamentally, taking the approach of user-centred design, focused on meeting needs and delivering outcomes, delivered in an agile way that breaks up big, hard problems into small, easier ones has to make sense, whatever the context. As systems leadership teaches us, we can only ever make progress, and will never be able to truly fix the complex issues that our services help to manage. So start small, iterate often, learn from mistakes, and be flexible rather than putting too much faith into single ideas or technologies.

Dave Briggs
IT & Digital Strategy Manager, Reading Borough Council