2021: a series of self-reflections

This is my first attempt to bring together a loose collection of thoughts I’ve been having lately in a structured way. Initially I thought it would be work-related, but what I have learned recently is that, for me, this is so closely connected with my life, values and aspirations — it actually covers the lot.

Some of my colleagues and friends will know that I’ve been doing some self-reflection lately. This hasn’t been prompted by one, but rather a handful of reasons; reaching my three year anniversary in my current role and an openness to what might be next, a recent move to Birmingham from London where we’re currently buying our first home and (like many of us) dealing with the personal impact of covid19 on family and friends. Being on the LGA’s Leadership Development Programme is also a hugely valuable and reflective experience, both personally and professionally.

One of the things I wanted to write about was the new programme I have co-developed with a brilliant group of councils and organisation called Rethink Partners. It offers intentionally flexible and largely bespoke support to councils exploring new approaches to care technology. We are very excited by what we’re starting to see happen in the sector through this programme.

As with all our support to councils, we take a sector-led improvement (SLI) approach. This means that as a sector local government takes responsibility for and supports improvements to its own performance and at the LGA we work with councils to help enable this. As with all our work it’s important that we evidence the benefits and impact of what we do.

Part of our care technology programme is a blended coaching/mentoring offer to a cohort of colleagues leading care technology in councils who are also being supported to develop a community of practice. It’s the first time we’ve taken an approach geared towards personal development as well as service development and one that councils are telling us they hugely value.

Back to benefits. We’ve been thinking really hard about how we do this with our care technology programme. It’s easy to do this with stats (supporting X councils in X regions over X many weeks) or with what’s tangible (like implementing a new solution). But what about when impact is a little harder to quantify?

We recently delivered a masterclass as part of the programme to almost 140 local government colleagues across the country. What really struck us was the way participants started to organically self-organise around certain themes, form voluntary coalitions around shared interests and exchange offers of support to each other during the session. This is the power of sector-led improvement.

“It was amazing to speak to you all and connect with people who are breaking the same ground. Really looking forward to having a space to discuss. Does anyone want to get together to discuss next week”. (Care Tech coaching and community of practice participant).

Why is this important? Being aware of and connected to these groups help us stay close to issues important to councils and people in communities which in turn enable us to input local intelligence into national programmes and policy — a benefit to councils and a benefit to government. It also helps with sustainability as the relationships that originate in a structured or formal programme like ours often go on to live a life of their own beyond what tends to be time limited support.

But I also think that the new ideas, relationships, or skills often nurtured through SLI is something to value and celebrate in and of itself. Mark Golledge (previously at the LGA), Emma Parnell (previously at Snook) and I had similar reflections when we ran our Design in Social Care Programme a couple of years back.

“Because of this programme, I will consider user needs before our own needs” Feedback from councils on the LGA and Snook Design in Social Care Programme 2018/19.

To end on a more personal note, I feel privileged to be part of the local government sector and to work with and learn from brilliantly committed people across the country (including my own team). Now more than ever.

But my recent relocation to Birmingham has also renewed my own sense of connection to place — being ‘part of’ and not just ‘in’ a place (to borrow a colleague’s recent words). The impact of lockdown has most certainly played a part in this too. I recently came across the ‘Floating Front Room’ in the area we’re moving to which provides opportunities for the local community to connect with each other through hot drinks and cake served from the barge-come-café on the canal. It cleverly plays with the concept — and perceived boundaries — of the traditional ‘front room’.

When we move and connecting with people in person becomes a bit easier, I’m looking forward to meeting new neighbours over a coffee.

Snowy Birmingham snapped on our regular canal walk

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Abby Vella

Local gov enthusiast working in social care, health and innovation. Lives in the West Midlands.