Hackney Council was recognised as “the council of the past 20 years” at the UK’s Local Government Chronicle Awards in 2016, reflecting the transformation of the borough to become a leader in the delivery of local public services.
Hackney’s ICT service — HackIT — are working to ensure that Hackney becomes the council of the next 20 years too, harnessing the potential of technology, digital ways of working and data to further transform the borough.
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HackIT is an in-house service which places a strong emphasis on being service-led, working to a commonly agreed standard and focusing on outcomes not outputs. Our multi-disciplinary work has become highly respected — both across the council and outside.
The team also work closely with a wide range of innovative tech start-ups, many based in Hackney, to ensure that Hackney is setting the standard for 21st century local government.
Our HackIT manifesto, shared in the eleven principles below, was developed by the team to describe how we want to work.
We’re here to improve things for people. We believe technology can improve things for people. Let’s focus on their needs.
“People” means many different people: it means the users whose needs we’re here to meet. It means our colleagues, whose expertise we may not share or understand, but with whom we’re here to collaborate and work. It means residents who pay taxes and have ever-growing expectations about what their local council should do, and how it should do it.
Focusing on people means thinking about learning and development, thinking about culture and behaviour, and thinking about communicating beyond the silos we work within. We shouldn’t define ourselves simply within programs of work or funding streams; ultimately, we’re all here to do the same thing: improve the lives of Hackney residents.
More doing, less planning
It’s better to learn by doing — build prototypes, do research, test a hypothesis — than to spend weeks planning what to do.
In an agile team, too much planning can slow everyone down
Planning ahead only gets you so far, and in an agile team, too much planning can slow everyone down. You need to be adaptable and flexible enough to respond to new discoveries and changing circumstances. Only plan what you need to plan.
We’re not saying “Don’t ever plan anything.” But we are saying “Don’t get bogged down in too much planning, at the expense of having time to do any doing.”
Think big, act small
Better to take small, quick steps than embark on long journeys.
Technology is moving rapidly, and we must think big if we’re going to keep up. The best way to do big things is by breaking them into small chunks. Acting small, iterating and building incrementally delivers better results, faster. And if mistakes are made along the way, it’s easier to recover from them and redirect our efforts.
Be open about your work. We’re part of a community.
Everyone can contribute to a better working environment by being more open and honest about what they’re doing. Sharing work with colleagues helps us break down the barriers between silos, and helps us work together more effectively for the residents. Share widely, and share often; share with people who may not have actually asked about what you’re doing (just because they haven’t asked, doesn’t mean they’re not interested).
The more we share, the better our work gets.
Trust the team
We trust teams to do the right thing; team members trust one another to do it well. We achieve more by working in teams than alone.
Trust is essential for good teamwork. At Hackney, teams are trusted and empowered to take responsibility for the work they’re doing, and to make the decisions that need to be made to get it done. No-one knows users better than the delivery teams who work most closely with them. Those teams know what to do. We trust them to do it.
If teams trust other teams, collaboration gets easier
If teams trust other teams, collaboration gets easier. If everyone trusts everyone else, we build a network of trust across the whole organisation that helps us find answers faster and solve problems sooner. Let’s cut down on the number of 1-to-1 meetings, and find ways to work and solve problems in teams and more often.
Make decisions together
The best decisions are made when all the right people are in the same room at the same time.
Decisions are rarely down to individuals alone. More often, they need input and agreement from a range of people – senior and junior, expert and generalist, user-focused and business-focused. It’s much quicker and simpler to make a decision if you get all the right people in one room for a discussion.
Genuine, face-to-face human conversation is always better than email, where nuance and context can be so easily misunderstood.
Fail in a fortnight
The sooner we know we’ve made a mistake, the less impact it will have and the sooner we can fix it.
When we’re trying to do something new and ambitious, we need to take risks. A fortnight is enough time to test an assumption or validate a hypothesis. If you succeed, you feel motivated to move on. If you fail, you’ve learnt a useful lesson — and it’s only taken you a fortnight to get there.
We want to minimise risk and unnecessary costs, so we strive to make the smallest mistakes we can — in weeks, not months.
That’s why it’s important to step back and take stock; to test and measure; to do research and make prototypes that we can iterate and expand upon. As soon as we know we’ve taken a wrong turn, we can retrace our steps and make better decisions next time.
Understand a problem better to solve it. Stand on the shoulders of giants: users, experts, the community.
Research is just as important as writing code or designing services. Allow time for as much research as you need, and if you get stuck, consider doing more. Do frequent user research. Learn as much as you can about the problem you’re trying to tackle.
Just as we trust our colleagues, we also trust the wider network of experts in public sector organisations all over the world who have encountered similar problems to ours, and found ways of solving them. We want to learn from their expertise and experience, and put them to good use for the residents of Hackney.
It’s not wrong to re-use work that others have done before
The more we learn, the better we get at doing our jobs. It’s not wrong to re-use work that others have done before — if credit is required, give it. Say “thank you” publicly, and put that good work to good use all over again.
Share, don’t send
The best collaboration is made of shared experience and perspective.
The best way to work with colleagues is to be open about the things you’re working on, and inquisitive about their work in return. Share what you’re doing with via blog posts, social media, and informal show-and-tell sessions. Look around you, beyond your own team, at what others are sharing. Be curious. Make connections.
And seriously: send less email. Email is a burden for everyone. We shouldn’t send email where it would be better to share something else (like a link to a web page or document).
We’d rather say “Yes, if…” rather than “No.”
We don’t believe that a flat “No” is a helpful answer to any question. It’s better to say “Yes, as long as these conditions are met,” or “Yes, if this data set is made available,” or “Yes, if we can help you start with user needs rather than business needs”. Being collaborative also means being cooperative.
Act ethically, always
Data helps us design digital services that meet the needs of our users. But with great power comes great responsibility.
We are able to use data about our citizens and the way they use our services to improve and personalise digital services. That’s important, but so is earning and keeping the trust that our citizens place in us.
We will make sure that we comply with law and regulations for use and protection of data – but that’s not enough on its own. We will make sure that we are transparent, honest and trustworthy in the ways we use data; we will ask ourselves challenging questions to make sure that we are using data appropriately and for the benefit of citizens; and we will make sure that we ask before we use citizens’ information in new ways.
This was first published on HackIt.
(Picture credit: Unsplash)