Central Government Partnership Network (CGPN) Conference 2023

Last week I spent a brilliant two days at Heathrow with the Cross Government Partnership Network (CGPN), chairing two amazing days as government departments and agencies from across all the mechanisms of government came together to share, collaborate, and build for the digital catalyst of change.

All through the two days I kept hearing how much departments want to and need to collaborate to build great services for citizens, colleagues who work in government digital transformation are desperate to build a set of solutions that are future ready and built to move from mediocre to great, a phrase I latched on to and somewhat fell in love with.

Key conference themes

  • Digital Transformation & Data– Leverage data for innovation & improve services. Establish data governance and management best practices.
  • Workforce Challenges– Build a skilled, diverse workforce that can adapt to changing tech & practices. Attract digital talent & upskill employees.
  • Collaboration & Interoperability– Drive collaboration & partnerships for digital transformation across departments & stakeholders.
  • Citizen Engagement & Experience– Design digital services that engage citizens, improve services, & increase satisfaction.
  • Cost Constraints– Implement cost-effective digital transformation initiatives to deliver value for money & maximize ROI.

Key messages and themes going into the conference.

I wanted to really think about the theory of the rise of the collaborative sense maker and how I can keep trying to bang the drum about the importance of this in the way we all need to work in the future.

‘The collapse of expertise and rise of collaborative sensemaking’ is a body of work from David Holzmer, a consultant on workforce engagement, creativity, and resilience and something that I keep coming back to to lean against as I try to build what we need to look like to be great in the future.

The focus is on how leadership approaches to the role of authority and expert knowledge can help organisations thrive in turbulent times. Ultimately the question posed to leaders across the conference was what does it take to be a bold leader and the majority of the answers focused on authenticity always and collaboration every time.

So if we apply Holzmer to Bold Leadership what do we get:

Theory: Organisations must surrender many longstanding assumptions about expertise (that there is only ‘one best way’ and that’s the ideas of the expert. That there should be ‘thinkers’ and ‘doers’) and quickly start leveraging the power of collaborative knowledge. New mindsets about authority, expertise, and the generation of strategic knowledge, are needed. Collaboration is key and collaborative knowledge generation – or sensemaking

– is “essential for staying attuned to compete with the complex, ever-shifting landscape that defines our hyper-connected universe.”

A tangible DWP example: We are looking at how we use generative AI services to innovate our public services. In essence we are testing advanced assistance technology that will partner with our colleagues on the frontline to get the right information and the right advice to customers more quickly. It’s important to stress that this work is all proof-of-concept and is always with the consent of anyone involved in the scenarios. Explainability, information governance, data sovereignty and citizen consent are at the heart of every part of this work.

Theory: However, authoritative knowledge counts: while collaborative sensemaking is crucial, the role of the expert has value and needs to be integrated with the broader perspective and enduring insight afforded by more rigorous and tested thought.

At DWP Digital, we don’t think that all the skills, for example user-centred design or coding, aren’t important to get the right solution for customers. However, any recruitment issues can impact delivery and therefore we need to turn over every rock to try to find the solution to every problem. Across every department at the event this came through as a pain point but one we were all clear on, by collaborating we can and should be able to tackle this.

People in positions of authority should see themselves as decision-making architects here to create cultures and contexts in which mutually empowering decision-making processes become the norm. But, decision makers should always reach into the organisation to test and learn from colleagues, from customers and from peers. Feedback as is said, is a gift.

How to make this work?

  • Look for pockets of resistance – we as leaders need to practice listening skills and facilitating collaboration.
  • Change and adapt your story – revise how you talk about the power of expertise vs. workforce input. Use inclusive messaging valuing everyone’s knowledge.
  • Use collaborative platforms for problem-solving and strive every day to listen to as many views and opinions as possible.
  • Adopt a ‘social mindset’. Have a dynamic and integrative way of seeing the world.

At DWP Digital the Innovation Lab is a concept for democratising innovation – by having more diverse groups of people working together in this way we can come up with better solutions, but equally by having the expert involved you also come up with solutions that are more likely to be ‘operationalisable’. We don’t want a single Innovation Lab; we want and need innovation to happen in as many places as possible and as close to our colleagues at work and our customers in need as we possibly can.

The goal of innovation in a job centre is to create solutions that are simple for our colleagues and intuitive for our customers, solutions need to answer the problem statement and can’t be digital led. Wherever possible solutions need to remove friction from how we do things now and allow the next service that is needed to benefit from the information collated, ideally regardless of government department if the citizen is content.

We are committed to providing a caring, compassionate, and efficient support to customers and new technologies can help us do that at pace and in a joined up way.

In the past we would have asked what the problems were, then we would go and build the solution. Innovation and collaboration is about bringing people into the process. The innovation team work directly in jobcentres, rapidly building and iterating solutions in a very practical way cocreating systems that colleagues and customers can test and work with. Getting feedback, testing it in place and then iterating it to come up with a slightly better version.

We are already scaling our digital capabilities in Advanced Analytics and AI to deliver high-quality, customer-centric services that improve customer experience and staff efficiency always with the customer and colleague at the centre of every consideration.

All in all, we are trying hard to be that place where collaborative sensemaking grows and on the AI frontier it is essential it thrives in a manner that is always ‘humanly’ aware of the possibilities and the constraints that we can create value within.