It was unusual. Energising. Thought-proving. And more than a little bit inspiring.

A group of Fife Council and NHS employees – young and older, apprentices and chief officers – came together with Snook and Microsoft to run Fife’s DigiHack. We wanted to explore one question: ‘Can we create a more digital, social workplace across Fife’s public and voluntary services to help improve the experience for the 366,000 Fifers we all serve?’

Ambitious? Yes. Madly optimistic? Probably. But we all agreed there was something in the idea that just might help transform public services for the future.

The concept of a ‘hack’ was new. If forced us into some strange and uncomfortable places filled with free-forming groups, persona building and prototyping. Not quite the usual ‘workshop’ we were used to. And the results weren’t as immediate. It turns out ‘hacking’ can be a bit of a slow burner… less about task and decision and more about experience and opportunity. Great stuff!

So, a few months on here’s seven things we’ve learned so far, and some thoughts on how they’re starting to influence our strategy going forward.

#1  Change the angle

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Turning questions around can deliver a bigger, faster impact on attitude and behaviour. For example, we thought about how we were promoting mobile and flexible working. What if we encouraged people to ask themselves; ‘Do I need to go into the office today’ rather than telling them to seek approval for home working? It seems basic and obvious but it’s not the usual approach. That slight shift in language gives people power and autonomy. It tells them ‘you’re trusted’ and, so far in our experience, it lands big productivity gains. It’s a win-win.

#2  Bring your ‘digital-self’ into work

Every morning, many of us get out the car and leave our ‘digital lives’ behind us. We expect less ‘inside work’ and tend to accept the often antiquated ways of working as ‘just the way we do things around here’. Wrong. We need to challenge ourselves and others more.

We need to bring our digital, social networking mind-set and skills into the office and use them creatively to help change the old ways of doing things – and make the most of what technology and opportunity we do have available to us. Public services will never have the funding to be ahead of the technology curve, but the people who work there could, and we need to encourage that. After all, it’s not the technology that delivers transformation – it’s the way we use is the culture we create around it.

#3 Become great storytellers

If the success of technology hinges on engaging people – then engagement hinges on storytelling. It’s what people and communities thrive on. A great story will inspire, inform and involve you to the point you’re sucked in and feel you’ve invested somehow in the ending.  What’s that got to do with the Hack, and a digitally social workplace? Everything. Through the hack we learned how to layer up a picture about people, identifying their preferences, likely needs and the potential stumbling blocks they might come up against using our processes.  When you add that together with better information on actual customer experience you have a powerful formula for service redesign – and the potential to help nudge people towards better outcomes too.

#4  Quash the myths

Long standing misunderstandings can be well hidden. Apparently we have no Wifi and no conferencing facilities, it’s impossible to get smart-kit and all apps are blocked – or so some of our colleagues thought when we met at the Hack. Not true. Some of these facilities have been in place for years but no matter how well we think we’ve communicated it’s easy to forget some people get missed, or simply forget. Everyone is bombarded with information and messages these days. Keeping things simple, social and visual is the only way through…emm, now we just have to work out how that fits-in with our ‘public sector’ culture!

#5 Put staff firmly in the driving seat

Extend self-management to get the most out of technology – routing, planning appointments and scheduling work needs to be as automated and accessible as possible. We’re rolling this out in Building Services and Home Care so tasks and case work can be carried wherever staff go. They don’t have to shuttle to and from depots and offices anymore. It’s not just making life easier – it’s driving up performance and delivering bankable savings.

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#6 Respect the pace

Not everyone gets technology or even wants to live with it every moment of the day. But love it or hate it, it’s the new norm and we need to support each other to deal with the overwhelming pace of change. Peer support, digital gurus, training and informal coaching and support mechanisms is part of our new Competency Centre approach going forward. It’s changing the way IT services have been designed and managed – and in time we hope it will help transform the business.

#7 Measure success differently

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The DigiHack gave us the chance to step back and think, explore opportunities and identify common issues. Using small-scale examples, we were able to identify strategic issues without getting bogged down in theory. As ever, many of us went into the event thinking we’d get designed products agreed by 5pm.  Perhaps we could have – but the result would have been short-sighted. We’re used to measuring success often by the speed of our action and this just isn’t the place for that. Sustainable innovation take time, and the slow-burn value that has come from the Hack and the process behind it is just the kind of event we need more of to spark new thinking. That said, our experience through this work has already contributed indirectly and positively to some critical plans – the council’s refreshed vision for 2020, the organisational development programme to support that and the IT strategy for the next three years.  Perhaps not that bad for a days work after all.

Want to know more? 

Contact Val Millar, Communication and Customer Insight Manager, Fife Council