48 hours to rock the public sector

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Written by Leeds Jammer Neil Owen

22 May 2017 08:46am

I was part of the Global GovJam for two days this week. Here is my experience. #GGovJam

GovJam is a small teams of people working for two days building solutions to problems faced by the public sector. They upload their results and publish them for the world. This year there, 21 countries in 33 locations were involved. Many of them, like me, were new to GovJam.

Why I did it? A few reasons.

I would feel uncomfortable. I was a Business Analyst early in my career. A role I enjoyed almost as much as when I delivered the internal mail using a shopping trolley at the leccy board. I was keen to experience how user engagement and the design of solutions had changed. GovJam would be an opportunity to learn by doing. Finally, it was on my doorstep in Leeds.

We met between 6pm and 8pm on Tuesday at the Open Data Institute in Leeds. I felt uncomfortable. I’ve come back with some great ice-breakers (sighs from the team). We all waited patiently for the same ‘secret theme’ that each of the 33 locations would tackle.

It was basically a noise!

We wrote down, yes on post its, what came to mind. We grouped them into themes. I forgot to mention we made stick people on arrival. We all put our stick people on a theme. Met our group. Went home. Baffled.

Using stick people to self-select themes

Throughout the next 2 days, the 8 or so volunteers suggested, coached and motivated each of us to try new ways of working, change our perspectives, experiment with new ideas, collaborate with new people – learn by doing. A big thank-you to those volunteers.

When we set about defining problems for our theme, it took ages. We eventually time-boxed, tossed a coin and voted on our key problems. What about some real people that might have this problem? We could draw some ‘personas’ help us narrow down who might have the problem? Didn’t help much at this stage. We eventually, confidently, because we debated for a while, went out to talk to real people about the crucial problems we were going to solve for them. We were last out of the building.

Have you ever been approached by some stranger in the street asking ‘Errr…excuse me, do you have a minute’. Think on Neil next time you get approached. I felt very uncomfortable. And so, our problems were not problems at all.

We learnt about some potential other problems through. Did it all again. We produced a lot of work on the next problem. I’d even got on the phone to Age UK and researched some of their publications on-line. Our prototype bombed when we tested on real people in the streets again. So our next problem, well that wasn’t a problem either. And that was the end of Day 1.

Day 2 started and apparently we’d done really well. Today was about asking everyone to break their prototypes and test their problems. And we’d already done that. Good work. I think you’re getting a sense of process.

We got ourselves a problem. A problem I’ve actually experienced when I reflected on it. We had a person to sort it for. We came up with a prototype. We went out again to those people that would have the problem. And keep going. Yep we were on to something this time.

Deadline for our pitch and ‘show’ not tell to the group was 3pm. It wasn’t perfect, that was sort of the whole point. You can check it out here, along with the all the other prototypes: http://www.govjam.org/jamsite/23514/projects

Just 2 days before, 35 odd individuals (many more around the world) had a sound played to them. Now 7 teams all ‘showed’ 7 prototypes that had been tested multiple times with people on the streets of Leeds. It was fantastic to see how far people had come in just 2 days.

So what did I learn. That it wasn’t about the prototypes, the problem, who was the best – none of the ideas may ever go any further, I went into this thinking they would! And that was the point. The event was about working differently and letting go a little. In trying, we all saw the value that this can bring.

In the right environment, people are creative, innovative, driven, deliver and have fun along the way.  As someone said, they worked liked they ‘didn’t have to think about it’. And wouldn’t that be nice.

And finally, speaking of driven teams. Thank-you to our teams this week. A professional and speedy response to put in place additional security measures as we reflected on the international cyber security attacks. Many working throughout this weekend. Well done and thank-you.


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    […] 48 hours to rock the public sector by Neil Owen […]

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