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:

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.


Looking forward to Leeds GovJam 2017

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Leeds GovJam is a learning and problem solving event kicking off this week at ODI Leeds. Here, participants will form teams and collaborate rapidly in prototyping solutions to public sector problems using service design tools and techniques. Leeds GovJam brings together citizens and people working in different sectors and this diversity is key to unlocking the jam’s potential. This is because Leeds GovJam is like a music jam where people come together to make good stuff that they could not do on their own.

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Leeds GovJam is like a music jam where people come together to make good stuff…


Everyone problem-solving around a global theme

Leeds GovJam is a part of the Global GovJam, which flies around the world every year creating solutions for public sector problems like a murmuration of innovation. These solutions are designed in response to a global theme that is kept secret until jams the world over have seen it. At the end of the two days, teams upload their solutions as prototypes and documentation to the global website under a Creative Commons License. The Global GovJam is organised by WorkPlayExperience, a service innovation and customer experience consultancy, together with volunteers from around the world. The Global GovJam is a non-profit event and a huge achievement considering there is no real budget.

Having serious fun, play with a purpose

I have been volunteering for Leeds GovJam since 2014 because I am attracted by its energy, creativity and the infinite possibilities for problem solving. I love the serendipity, the cross-fertilisation and fusion of ideas made real through prototyping. I love the ambition, innovation and iteration to make things that matter better. I believe that some of the greatest problems we face in this world can only be solved by citizens and different sectors collaborating on solutions. Jams offer a safe space to work towards this greater good. Having said that, the overarching goal of the jam is serious fun, play with a purpose.

Prototyping solutions and new ways of working

Participants learn new skills by doing new things, they meet new people. Ideas and experiences collide and come together in novel ways through interactive prototyped solutions. These prototyped solutions are outputs that get uploaded to the global website. However, the most important outputs are perhaps the changes people experience during and after their jamming journey. This includes how people change the way they work and live. Plus, the relationships that people build beyond the two-day sprint.

A great leveller for inclusive innovation

Starting with people’s needs and problems is a great place to start when it comes to jamming. Equally, starting by recognising the potential of all participants to be creative and innovative is important too. I love jamming because it puts people on a level as Jammers. There is no hierarchy. It is inclusive. It is empowering. In a jam, we are all creative innovators, working on a level.

Learning by doing, doing not talking

Jammers come from different sectors, different organisations, different parts of society. What they all have in common is curiosity, an openness to learn and to be part of something bigger than themselves. Jammers have values such as ‘learning by doing’ and ‘doing not talking’. These values live large through beliefs and behaviours that underpin an energised, agile and open culture.

Being a jam volunteer has helped me to learn lots about service design, teamwork and innovation. It has also taught me the value of culture, common values and a safe space in creating movements and change.

Here’s to a GGreat Global GovJam 2017! Follow along with the fun via ‪#GGovJam

And do get in touch if you would like to help us organise Leeds jams in future 🙂

Lisa Jeffery, volunteer


Leeds GovJam 2016 – thank you

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The Global GovJam is well and truly over for another year. So, well done Leeds GovJam Jammers. You came. You jammed. You conquered. It really is incredible when Jams take shape and ideas come to life through prototypes that are tested with users, refined and developed in a whirlwind 48-hour sprint to the final show and tell.

Well done, everyone 

You can check out all the projects that were created around the world this year over on the Global GovJam platform. You can also marvel in wonder at how Leeds Jammers realised these ace projects in just 48 hours…

Leeds GovJam 2016 projects
Leeds GovJam 2016 projects

Thank you

We would like to take this opportunity to thank our sponsors, DWP Digital Academy, Stick People and UKGovcamp, plus the amazing space that is ODI Leeds, and everyone who got involved in Leeds GovJam 2016.

Kevin Cunnington, Business Transformation Group, shows support for Leeds GovJam
Kevin Cunnington, Business Transformation Group, shows support for Leeds GovJam

Last but by no means least, we would also like to give thanks to the awesome Global GovJam HQ team for starting this thing, growing this thing, and for choosing to spend this year’s Jam in Leeds. It was lovely to have you here! 

A few reviews

Learn more about the experience of DWP Digital Academy at GovJam 2016 in this fab review film that shows Sophie, Ben, Chloe, Becky, Joe and Liz talking about user research, agile techniques, and what they thought of Leeds GovJam.

There is also this brilliant blog by original Leeds host turned Global GovJam HQ team member Matt Edgar – 10 things I learned on the Global GovJam HQ team.

“The jamming movement across the public sector has massive potential, and I have learned loads about making something happen on a shoestring at a global scale…”

And, here’s a write-up about the experience from a volunteer’s point of view by Lisa – Why I volunteer at Leeds GovJam – along with our Flickr photo gallery.

“Being a jam helper has helped me learn loads about service design, design thinking and how small acts of creativity can create bigger change over time…”

Thanks also to Emma Coppack from Digital DWP for sharing her perspective in this excellent blog – Jamming with Lego, not guitars: My experience of GovJam 2016.

“The Leeds GovJam was a wonderful experience, it showed what is possible when you get out of the office, speak to users and work in an agile and iterative way.”

We salute you

If you have a blog, write-up or thoughts to share about Leeds GovJam, please do let us know so we can link up with you in this post.

Thank you – #YouAreTheJam – we salute you!

Sharon, Liz and Lisa.

This is why we Twin Jam

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Leeds Town Hall / Parthenon

An awesome part of GovJam is the feeling of being involved in a global event. That unifying sense of shared purpose as teams all over the world collaborate against the clock to innovate around a global theme. A good way to keep in touch with everyone during the Jam is to follow the hashtag, #GGovJam. Another way is to hook up with a jam that’s happening somewhere else. This is when ‘Twin Jams’ are useful.

The idea of Twin Jams was developed by GovJam HQ to allow two jams to connect before, during and after the Jam. This gives teams a partner with whom they can share progress and mutual support. You might want to ask your Twin Jam about how they promote the Jam in their part of the world. You may want to ask questions about your ideas. And, you will most likely want to share more detailed feedback on prototypes than is possible in a 140-character tweet. This is important because jamming is not just about arriving at the destination – delivering working prototypes. It’s also about the journey we all take over the two days, developing networks, learning to do stuff better, together.

Hooking up with a Twin Jam can be done via webcam, a Skype session, Hangout or similar. It is often helpful to schedule some time when everyone in your team can gather around the webcam. During last year’s Jam we used Skype to connect with teams in Whangarei, Rotterdam, Milan, Ottawa, Manchester and Tokyo. This was a lot of fun and felt quite Eurovision-esque: ‘Hello, Tokyo, can we have your votes, please?’ Here, the general idea is to ‘show and tell’, to share progress and feedback. Connecting with lots of different jams was great but it took a bit of organising to coordinate calls across all the different time zones. So this year we are excited about having one main partner, our Twin Jam, to share our journey in more detail…


We are now pleased to announce that Athens GovJam (@AthensGovJam) is our Twin Jam for 2015 and we’re looking forward to many happy connections!

Follow the fun via #GGovJam (plus, #LeedsGovJam for Leeds updates and #AthGovJam for Athens).

Also, if you want to join us in Leeds, there are still some tickets remaining at Eventbrite. 

— Lisa Jeffery

How was it for you? Jammers write up their GovJam experiences

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We’ve had a couple of lovely write-ups from last week’s Govjam.

Jammer Rebecca Williams and Team Member Lisa Jefferies (who also took many great photos of the Jam) wrote about it on the Tunstall blog.

So what did we learn? Well, first up, we learned about the importance of playfulness in eliminating fear in teams. We were inspired to try new approaches, to work in new ways and to ‘fail fast’. Ideas blossomed and became real through prototyping. And teams were actively encouraged to take their prototypes outside of the building, to test their ideas (and assumptions) on others, and to invite challenge from ‘customers’. Crucially, the time constraint of the two-day event meant that teams had to keep moving and iterating their concepts at pace in order to improve them. Any organisation can learn from such an approach to service design.

Leeds City Council Service Improvement Officer Andi Elliott made his notes as a document which he’s kindly allowed us to reproduce below. We particularly like his take-outs from the event too:

What value was gained from the day?

The event ‘blurb’ suggests ‘Govjam is a practical way to find out about service design and how it can make a difference to where we work. What we actually learnt from taking part in this event was:

* Ideas, improvements, concept development and communication on a local or global basis can be achieved in very short time frames and with simple tools.

* That by imposing shorter time frames, project decision making be- comes simpler and more direct with less need for meetings.

* Available resources can be adapted rather than always using new ones.

* Any colleague at whatever level can do this.


 And GovJam team member Si Wilson blogged about his experience of the jam:

I was chuffed to bits the event went so well, as did the rest of the team running the event. What’ll be interesting for me will be what the attendees do next, and hopefully those guys will report back at some point in the not-too-distant-future about how some of the GovJam spirit has helped them within their services!

Thanks to Lisa, Rebecca, Andi and Si for their write-ups. If you’ve written about Leeds GovJam, please let us know!

GovJam passports and posters

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Each Leeds GovJammer was given a passport to be stamped for every service design method they tried…

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We made these posters to explain the methods a little more…

As with everything made during GovJam, we’re releasing the posters under a Creative Commons License. Share and enjoy!

Well, that was fun!

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The first ever Leeds GovJam is over. We’ll say a proper thank you to everyone who made it happen over the coming days. For now just look at the amazing services our 6 teams of jammers prototyped – all in less than 48 hours of learning by doing…

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Our Planet Jam site

We’re jamming in Leeds!

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Six teams are working on new public service ideas inspired by our secret theme.

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See the work in progress in Lisa’s lovely photo set on Flickr...

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Twoo weeks to go: join us in Leeds, discover GovJams around the world

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owljam 2 weeks to go

Two weeks to go until the first ever Leeds GovJam! Over on Eventbrite you can see the 30+ people already signed up to be part of it and book your place to join them.

We’ll also be linking up with jams around the world in the Global GovJam. Check out all these places where people will be trying out new ways to rock the public sector:

Want to join us in Leeds?

Eventbrite - Leeds GovJam

Three weeks to go: where will you jam?

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owljam 3 weeks to go

Three weeks from today we’ll gather at the ODI-Node in Leeds to find out the secret theme for the Global GovJam 2014.

People from Leeds City Council, the NHS, the Department of Work and Pensions and MySociety will join freelancers, academics and others – all with an interest in making government services better with the power of people-centred service design.

It’s a great chance to challenge yourself, learn new skills, meet new collaborators, encounter ideas you would never have had if you were alone, and have a great time. We’ll be doing, not talking – building prototypes to make ideas as physical as possible so we can experience, communicate and test them.

And we won’t be alone. Ours will be one of around 20 jams round the world, all working in their local groups to prototype services on the same shared theme. You could take part in Brazil, Canada, Germany, Taiwan, the USA, and in the UK in Manchester or Exeter too. But obviously we hope you’ll join us in Leeds.

Want to know more?

Eventbrite - Leeds GovJam