Don’t have a digital strategy, execute your strategy digitally
The government has put into the Queen’s speech a commitment to bring forward proposals for a Digital Charter which sort of will and won’t regulate internet content. It’s set out below in the government’s own words from the background notes on the Queen’s speech. The Conservative manifesto sets some context (digital extracts from the document). What to make of this? Here’s a very quick take a couple of hours after the speech.
The Charter is included as a ‘non-legislative’ measure. The language of ‘proposals’ and ‘develop’ sounds like a Green (open consultative) or White (this is what we plan to do) Paper. The government focuses on the harmful effects of one person’s free speech on another. Focusing on harm caused by an electronic communication probably gives the government several options under existing law, much of which is enforced ineffectively by an overworked police force. I did some work on this with Anna Turley MP for her private members bill on malicious communications which suggested moving enforcement to OFCOM by licence but the large internet companies regulating themselves in the UK.
The Charter probably means qualitative regulation – ie people or systems making judgments about what is permitted in a given context and what isn’t. The regulatory stance seems to give companies a chance to help draft a charter, but that it would then be enforced upon them by regulation. As it is non-legislative that means no new regulator now – presumably the role would go to the BBFC or OFCOM or both. The BBFC has been empowered to tackle adult content age verification and are skilled at evidence based content regulation in a national consensus. Leaving the EU could possibly make this easier to develop but then adds to the complexity of negotiation in a swings and roundabouts manner. On the other hand the ECHR issues will remain, assuming the UK does remain a signatory. The government tries to cover off the international angle which will difficult, given widely differing conventions and laws on how absolute free speech is.
If this is a truly non-legislative proposal or only requires action under existing secondary legislation then the measures might not be affected by the government’s lack of an outright majority. It is possible that the DUP, which gives the impression sometimes of being censorious could support these proposals. Whilst the digital and free speech lobby will react strongly, I could well see the government bringing some major civil society bodies onside if they present the measures as correcting harms and primarily self regulation.
It’s going to be a fascinating couple of years.
“proposals for a new digital charter will be brought forward to ensure that the United Kingdom is the safest place to be online.”
• We will develop a Digital Charter that will create a new framework which balances users’ and businesses’ freedom and security online.
• The Charter will have two core objectives: making the UK the best place to start and run a digital business and the safest place in the world to be online.
• We will work with technology companies, charities, communities and international partners to develop the Charter; and we will make sure it is underpinned by an effective regulatory framework.
• We are optimistic about the opportunities on offer in the digital age, but we understand these opportunities come with new challenges and threats – to our security, privacy, emotional wellbeing, mental health and the safety of our children. We will respond to these challenges, assuring security and fairness in the new digital age and strengthening the UK’s position as one of the world’s leading digital economies.
• We strongly support a free and open internet. But, as in the offline world, freedoms online must be balanced with protections to ensure citizens are protected from the potential harms of the digital world. We will not shy away from tackling harmful behaviours and harmful content online – be that extremist, abusive or harmful to children. And we will make sure that technology companies do more to protect their users and improve safety online.
• Many of these challenges are of an international nature, so we will open discussions with other like-minded democracies and work with them to develop a shared approach. The Prime Minister has already started this process, securing an agreement with G7 countries to strengthen their work with tech companies on this vital agenda.
• Britain’s future prosperity will be built on our technical capability and creative flair. Through our Modern Industrial Strategy and digital strategy, we will help digital companies at every stage of their growth, including by supporting access to the finance, talent and infrastructure needed for success and by making it easier for companies and consumers to do business online.
The work of GDS to address the digital diversity problem is ongoing. Part of this effort is making sure that it champions difference. Last year, we decided that “no-one from GDS will take part in a panel discussion of two or more people unless there is at least one woman on the panel, not including the chair”.
To support this pledge, it’s important that we’re encouraging and enabling women across the organisation to feel confident speaking publicly. In this blog post, we’d like to tell you about a new peer-led initiative we’ve been developing to usher more women towards the podium – Break into Public Speaking.
I’m a creative writer at GDS and I led the initiative jointly with GDS developer Rosa Fox and Open Source Lead Anna Shipman, who are both experienced public speakers. Together, we have a solid grounding in what it takes to craft and deliver an interesting, accessible talk. And, how to get accepted to deliver it at an event. With Break into Public Speaking, we wanted to pass on this knowledge, and encourage a new group of women from GDS to go out and represent our organisation.
Our first job was to look at the issues holding women back from applying to speak that could be tackled in sessions. To do this, we circulated a survey to all potential course participants, asking them about what would discourage them from public speaking.
Some of the concerns they expressed were:
Based on these responses, we drafted a 6-week plan that would allow us to cover these areas over the course of hour-long lunchtime sessions. Our objective was that over 5 weeks, members would be supported in developing, structuring and rehearsing a 5-minute talk, then delivering it in week 6. Staff from across GDS would be invited to come and act as the audience and the talks would be filmed.
We organised Break into Public Speaking as follows:
Week 1: Thinking about ideas for talks, and identifying interesting areas for people to present on.
Week 2: Researching subject matter and making the first drafts of talk structure.
Week 3: Drafting rough talks and arriving on a final structure.
Week 4: Writing talk abstracts which could be used as part of a submission for an event. As well as written abstracts, we arranged for members to be filmed as they delivered their pitch.
Week 5: Final practice of talks, with feedback given by organisers.
Week 6: Delivering and filming the 5-minute talks in front of a wider GDS audience.
After the presentations in week 6, we sent a follow-up survey to the participants to help us plan potential future sessions.
One aspect of the workshops that participants found very useful was having the opportunity to get feedback from experienced presenters, in a forum that felt “safe” and encouraging. All participants said that their confidence in presenting had improved as a result of the workshops.
There were also a couple of ideas for how we might improve in future sessions. One participant mentioned that they would have enjoyed hearing from experts outside of GDS, and also asked for more practical exercises to help them to develop as a speaker. Another would have liked to have had the chance to look at outstanding examples of talks led by female speakers for inspiration.
Overall, we found the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, but one of our favourite comments was this one:
“It was the first time I’ve felt I might one day be comfortable speaking publicly, and maybe even enjoy it! Thank you.”
We would like to run this course again in the future, rolling it out to a wider range of future speakers. We’d like to help members of the GDS LGBT+ and BAME groups get their voices heard. And, we’d love to get more experienced presenters to come and support the sessions, from both inside and outside of GDS. If we’re serious about being the change we want to see, this has to be a collaborative effort.
As for the members of the inaugural Break into Public Speaking, several have told us that they hope to do their first bit of public speaking in the next few months. Three have already been accepted to go out and represent GDS at external events this summer. We hope they’ll be back to Break into Public Speaking in the future too, helping us coach a new diverse crop of speakers.
We set up BIT Singapore nine months ago to continue our mission to deliver rigorous social impact across the world. Singapore’s Public Service is one of the most innovative and effective in the world. We have been fortunate enough to have experienced this first-hand in our joint work on financial adequacy, unemployment, tax compliance, and social cohesion over the past years. We set up a full-time office here so that we could better understand the cultural context of our work and to build a base for work across Southeast Asia.
True to the outward-facing, high technology nature of our new home, our Singapore office is testing new ways of working: using Agile project management as well as a range of new software solutions. We’ve also been able to trial cutting-edge behavioural interventions, for example by using data to segment and better target our communications, as in the example from one of our first trials since the Singapore office’s inception.
Saving the Singaporean tax office time and money
In collaboration with the Public Service Division in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS), we tested whether behavioural insights could be used to accelerate tax payments from the few that fail to pay on time. This group was sent a ‘Demand Note’ letter, which we set about to try and improve.
In this trial, we could vary the new messages based on previous behaviours. IRAS can segment the population, for example, based on whether this was a first-time offence or whether the person in question had become a serial offender. This enabled us to run a series of tests, one for each customer segment, and test the ‘business as usual’ letters (which varied in severity) against a range of behaviourally-informed ones.
The redesigned letters increased payments within 44 days across each taxpayer segment – we found increases between 1.7 and 6.4 percentage points. The largest gains were made in the middle ground – those who had missed a few deadlines (i.e. not paid on time) in the past, possibly due to oversight. IRAS is planning on using the new letters next year.
We are also delighted that this month, the Government of Singapore hosts the fourth Behavioural Exchange conference – BX2017. This major international conference is a two-day event, bringing together leading experts and policymakers, academics, and practitioners in behavioural insights, to explore how they can create better and smarter policies that matter.
This year we are particularly excited about the sessions on data science which will showcase some amazing work by GovTech Singapore. BX2017 will also have dedicated sessions on public health and wellbeing, finance, communications, service delivery and enforcement.
BX2017 is now sold out. If you are lucky enough to have a ticket, we hope to see you there!
The self service checkouts at my local Sainsbury’s recently got a refreshed user interface.
Oooo, a new thing to play with. Oooo, how have they improved? Oooo, a new thing to pull part.
Just so we’re clear from the start: In England since late 2015, large shops have to charge 5p for every new carrier bag a customer needs. You can read the detail about this over on gov.uk.
Anyway, on these new Sainsbury’s self service checkouts, when you finish scanning your shopping you tap a
Total & Pay button on the checkout’s screen. The screen then shows:
Please enter the number of new £0.05 bags you’ve used. If you’ve already scanned them, select ‘No Bags’.
This content really, really, really gets to me.
If I had already scanned some bags why doesn’t the self service checkout know already? The checkout is storing an inventory of my shopping as I scan the items. I can see it on screen building up as I scan my shopping. There’s logic work here the system can do instead of putting the load onto the user.
The content could reflect the context more here to be simpler, more clearer. Some starters for ten, trying to stick closely to the question and “number pad” response:
You’ve scanned one new bag already. How many other bags did you use?
You haven’t scanned any new bags. How many bags have you scanned?
The user can then choose from:
Of course, this is obvious. If they could have done that – got the content being a bit more responsive to context – they would have done that, surely.
But, I am pragmatic. So I am going to presume that due to reasons the above is not possible.
In which case the content is even lazier to me. There’s some hard work to be done here to make the checkouts’ users experience simpler, more understandable.
Let’s look at that content again:
Please enter the number of new £0.05 bags you’ve used. If you’ve already scanned them, select ‘No Bags’.
Situation: I haven’t scanned any new bags yet, but I know I have used one. I need to tell the checkout that, and I can, yup. I’ll just press
Please enter the number of new £0.05 bags you’ve used. If you’ve already scanned them, select ‘No Bags’.
Situation: I have scanned a new bag already, but I also used another new bag which I haven’t scanned. I need to tell the checkout I have used another bag. What do I press? It is asking:
Please enter the number of new £0.05 bags you’ve used.
1for that one unscanned bag?”
2because I have two bags altogether?”
Situation: Hang on. I’ve brought my own carrier bag but needed to use a new bag – and I’ve forgotten if I have scanned the new bag. Um. I’ll have to go back.
(I have seen someone in this situation and watching them go back and search through their shop was a jaw-dropper.)
I could go on a bit more, but I won’t. You get the picture. In a nutshell the content is ambiguous, smacks of laziness, just feels the situations haven’t been thought through, let alone tested with users. If this stuff was tested with users, what users?
If design in these situations is humanising technology, people need to know that a given technology will help them, will guide them when needed, clearly. A lot of these experiences are replacing an actual person. There needs to be some sort of understandable, unambiguous commentary.
I find this particularly unusual in the supermarkets sector, where brand and tone of voice are always part of their proposition. Supermarkets rely on their customers, and they’re all fighting for their market share. The marketing plays a part in that. Any potential customer that says “Where shall I shop today?” can be swayed.
Marketing messages and the actual experience of shopping can come undone at the “end” of a shopping trip. And these checkouts dent those experience.
These checkouts, to me, reflect what a supermarket thinks of its customers – and how the supermarket sees technology, especially at the “business end” of the experience, the actual cash transaction. This experience is integral. How does using these machines feel? Forgetting the supermarket’s ‘brand’”, do these checkouts reflect the projected character of the supermarkets you shop at? They reflect a lack of considering the people that choose to go to that shop. They reflect a lack of considering the people that choose to pay for their shopping using those… machines.
My local Sainsbury’s self service checkout user interface feels careless, lazy, corners have been cut. Maybe the software could only be reskinned so far. Maybe there was a deadline. Maybe there budget restraints. Who knows.
But the stuff I am picking up on here isn’t that difficult to solve. It’s just words, you know. They’re easy to replace on-screen. The hard bit is making sure what goes there is worked through, what goes there works. It isn’t difficult. I half-worked this through on my ten minute drive home, then while I put the small shop away, and now as I’ve just banged this post out.
All it took was me valuing the experiences of users, valuing the customers as they hand their money over. That shouldn’t be a big ask.
I was part of a roundtable forum this afternoon for Digital Leaders week: North West Salon: Citizen Experience. I was invited as one of the keynote speakers along with Stephen Morris, Director of Programmes at UKCloud. The event was set […]
What do you get when you combine the biggest sporting event of 2017, the smallest ever host city, 170,000 visitors, a TV audience of 200 million and some of the most famous names in football? The biggest policing operation South Wales Police has ever undertaken – the UEFA Champions League Final 2017.
by Carly Yeates
Here at South Wales Police, we are very used to and confident in our ability to police large-scale events. The NATO Summit, Olympics, Rugby World Cup, Six Nations matches, FA Cup finals, royal visits, pop concerts – you name it and South Wales has hosted it.
However, this event was different from any of the others we had done before. There were a number of issues; the amount of fans both with tickets and without expected to descend on the city concerns over whether our transport infrastructure could cope, the impact on businesses and residents, the attendance of VIPs, the limited number of hotels and the most significant issue for us, the increased terror threat.
We were all shocked by the terrible terror attacks in London and Manchester in the weeks before the event. A week before the finals, the terror threat was increased to critical and armed officers were deployed across the UK – inevitably, our policing plan was reviewed but also our communication plan. The focus on safety and security was magnified and people were looking to us to provide advice, guidance and reassurance.
Now for the plan. We utilised the usual channels, digital, internal and external comms and decided the best approach for each. As with any large-scale event, a good comms plan is crucial.
We knew that social media would be our biggest asset, so we decided to set up a new Twitter account dedicated to the event. We toyed with idea of using one of our already established accounts but came to the conclusion that a new account would work well. The audience we were trying to reach was very specific and we didn’t want the messaging to get lost in the other campaigns, events and business as usual that would still be going on. This decision proved invaluable in light of the increased threat level as people turned to us as a trusted source of information.
The most important thing for us was to get the tone right. Policing an event of this nature is a huge security operation, in which we are need to ensure the safety and security of over 170,000 people in a time of heightened security combined with embracing the atmosphere and spirit that this iconic event brought to Cardiff.
We got tweets translated to Italian and Spanish, shared partner agencies’ tweets and consistently pushed security and safety messaging, quickly turning around video messages from senior officers to address issues as they emerged.
We had already embraced the visible presence of armed officers on social media the week before and our followers responded well to it, so we decide to continue with the same approach. One of our team was out in Cardiff from the day the festival opened; his role was to capture what our officers do best, community engagement.
Our officers are brilliant, they worked long shifts had rest days cancelled, dealt with challenging situations on a daily basis but when it came to community engagement they nailed it. Always happy to pose for a selfie or let someone try on their helmet. I can only imagine after 12 hours on your feet, in uniform, in the heat, that can probably become a little tiresome but they took pictures, gave high fives, played football with excited kids, all with smiles on their faces – and the comms team were there to capture it all.
Overall we think from a comms team perspective, we did ourselves proud. It was hard work, long days but we had a plan and great team of people around us. Our social media posts were shared far and wide – our dedicated Twitter account had 1000 followers, we sent 715 tweets with 2.9k likes, 2k retweets and 1.2 million impressions, Facebook posts had likes of over 4k with a reach of over 350k and our two videos from our ACC had almost 45k views – all over the course of the event.
Our officers themselves, retweeted and shared all of the content and there was a real feel good factor internally. We hope the public enjoyed what we did as much as we enjoyed bringing it to them.
Carly Yeates is Digital Lead, Operation Draig Goch, South Wales Police
image via South Wales Police
Training and development – we know it’s vital for us all, regardless of our age and role. But in the era of reduced – and often no – training budgets how can you ensure that you and your teams continue to learn and develop? In the latest in our ’10 x 10 Talking Heads’ pieces we asked 10 senior communications leaders for their advice and lessons.
collated by Darren Caveney
Our budget last year allowed for a small sum for each person to align their training, like workshops and other paid-for options, with their objectives but the financial pressures hit at the beginning of 2017 and we had to show savings rather than spending. Such a difficult situation, but one that my team took considerably well. Because of a transitioning team (people going, people coming), our team gains new skills sets fairly regularly to get the things done in the here and now – but we need a better eye on ensuring everyone is expanding their knowledge and skills to become future fit.
At best at the moment, I share learning I have explored (podcasts, PR blogs, invites to webinars and team members raise an event they’d like to attend. I am hoping 2017 is our year to nail it – each person to go to plenty of workshops, to explore a qualification, and to feel they’ve come on much further than a year ago.
But it does start with us, so I want to complete a marketing qualification, and hopefully inspire my team through actions.
Joy Hale, Head of Communications at East of England Ambulance Service
Firstly learn from each other. Unusually when I took my first Head of Communications role I had no direct media experience. What I did have was an excellent Senior Press Officer and he taught me everything I know. I listened, I learnt and I challenged and, as a result, I’d like to think we both became better at our jobs.
If you haven’t already, engage with social media. Build your networks, watch, join in and you’ll have a world of advice, tips and information at your fingertips. There are also plenty of groups that meet up on a regular basis. Join them. As communicators we have 100s of years of experience between us – let’s share them.
And when you do have a budget, spend it wisely. There are some great paid for learning opportunities out there, look for recommendations and make sure they actually meet your development needs.
Victoria Ford, is a leading, senior communicator with experience across central government
I remember being asked exactly this question at interview for my current role. Recognising how little money is left for training is a real issue for most in local government these days. We try to make use of two important resources: the talent and skills within the team – where we provide internal expertise, support and challenge – and the growing range of low cost opportunities in the sector.
We are members of LGComms, who provide fantastic value for the membership fee, especially in terms of training, (declaration of interest– I’m LGComms’ National Secretary!) and we try to get people to events like CommsCamp, so the team is hearing new ideas, networking and – most importantly – understanding our own strengths. I think it’s important to understand too, that the needs of our customers and clients should guide our development, and also that learning and development is something we should own as individuals, and that we need to take responsibility for our own progress. It can’t be something we expect done to us, or for us.
Eddie Coates-Madden, Head of Communications at Sheffield City Council
Training and development: In the era of reduced/no training budgets how do you ensure that you and your teams continue to learn and develop?
With training in the age of austerity we comms bods have to be a bit creative – but that’s our forte, right? So in a nutshell, a few tips for making sure we continue to learn and develop with limited cash:
Sally Northeast, Deputy Director, Organisational Development Communications and Participation
While budget constraints have clearly impacted on training I think the larger problem is pressure on time because of smaller teams. But in n the modern world development and learning isn’t always formal training. Low cost or even free stuff is all around us through blogs, networks, webinars, thought pieces and how to guides.
You can learn so much from having mentor or coaching sessions so seek out someone in your own organisation or from within the industry to spare a bit of time and offer some practical advice – you’d be surprised how many people will happily help you out.
Aside from that tenacity will often work. Make sure you seek out the right opportunities and can explain to your boss why this development is important to you and what direct benefits it can bring to the business.
Ross Wigham, Head of Communications and Marketing, QE Hospital Gateshead
As funding reduces, the expectations and demands made of comms teams rise. Often faced with cuts to our own teams we have to ensure those who remain are performing to their best ability and are motivated to do so.
It’s worth pointing out to colleagues that training in its traditional sense – an out of the office, paid for experience is by no means the only option available to us. Thinking in terms of personal development can help us to find creative solutions to assuring continual development and improvement within the team.
Once we move from that traditional mind set of what training should be, many options open up. Shadowing another team in a neighbouring organisation is a quick and simple thing to set up and can yield considerable benefits in terms of the broader partnership working agenda.
In house team sharing works well for us in Warwickshire. A member of the team will do a short session on a particular skill or area of expertise they have at the monthly team meeting. We’ve had things such as photography and how our elections campaign was put together and are looking forward to the next one on the use of Canva, a library of professionally designed layouts for social media platforms, which will be delivered by a junior colleague.
Delegation provides a great opportunity to offer colleagues new experiences and alleviate work load on others. Done with appropriate consideration planning for delegating is a useful activity in itself in terms of assessing workload and priorities – there are lots of tools available online and this article in mind tools is a quick and helpful read.
Finally, there are lots of great training sessions and workshops offered by LGComms and comms2point0 which are often free (to members in the case of LGComms). We all appreciate how tricky it can be to take the day out of the office, but personal development is vital not just to our ability to stay on top of our game but also to our sanity and survival!
Jayne Surman, Communications and Marketing Manager at Warwickshire County Council
Obviously I’m going to do a blatant plug here for LGcomms – aside from the fact the seminars are free to attend if you’re a Member there is also the excellent Future Leaders course which is worth the membership fee alone in my opinion. Throughout my career I’ve also found the Local Gov network of people and knowledge you gain through meeting them as valuable as any training course. I’ve learnt many lessons from being around amazing people and watching how they handle things and sometimes not very amazing people how they don’t!
Reading is also a great way to expand your knowledge – books, magazines, blogs all provide insight and learning. It is also worth remembering that just within your own team people have experience and knowledge that is valuable, and making sure that get shared is important.
There is so much information and knowledge out there now for free that training and development doesn’t need to happen in a ‘traditional’ way with a certificate after an expensive day spent listening to experts with PowerPoint presentations.
Eleri Roberts, Assistant Director, Communications, Birmingham City Council
I’d say don’t forget informal networks and think about approaching training and development in a different ways. One of the best things I ever did was ask for a week’s secondment in DCLG’s media office. I learned a lot, particularly about the relationships between ministers, special advisors and civil servants.
Also, don’t discount the value of a bit of wider reading or watching, particularly in terms of giving you a context for work. The other week I went to see a dangerously nerdy documentary on Jane Jacobs, the revolutionary urban activist and planner. She worked in New York in the 1960s, but there was so much relevant to the modern cities agenda particularly around creating a sense of community.
Finally, I’ve lost count of the number of courses I’ve been on which were, well, just not very good.
I still remember attending a course on PR soon after I moved into communications in which a tutor – and a degree level one at that – suggested sending a fax to a newsroom because journalists took more notice of them!
This was in the mid-2000s, well after the email revolution!
If you find yourself on a duff course with a duff tutor then just don’t go back. Life is too short and there’s too much learning to be done by doing.
Will Mapplebeck, Strategic Communications Manager at Core Cities UK
When your organisation’s facing a budget cut of £40m over the next two years, the comms team’s budget for training and development is unlikely to be much of a priority. But though your budgets may be shrinking, the need to sharpen up the skills you’ve got and acquire new ones has never been greater.
Luckily, public sector communicators are a generous breed, happy to share their time and experiences for the benefit of others. There a huge depth of expertise out there and there’s always someone willing to help out and support less experienced members of staff. This happens internally within the team and also across networks such as LGComms, CIPR and, of course, comms2point0. All of them have a brilliant range of resources accessible online at no cost, including toolkits, guidance and case studies.
It’s important to take the time to look at development in the context of workforce planning, so that individuals and teams are developing the skills the organisation will need in the future. Here we try to encourage everyone in the team to take a creative approach their own personal development. This has led to team members visiting other organisations to find out how they do things, attending user and special interest groups and sharing skills across the team members themselves. Getting away from the office to learn from practitioners in other sectors, take advice from mentors and network brings huge benefits and the opportunity to look at new ways of doing things.
Local government communications and digital teams in Scotland worktogether nationally too, collaborating on training and development activities across Councils to bring economies of scale. Recently Falkirk Council has led the launch of a national user group for the Firmstep product and we’ll be hosting over 30 Council representatives here in September to share experiences and skills.
The local government communications group for Scotland also plays an important part. We deliver an annual conference, with delegate fees kept to £100, and guest speakers are in regular attendance at our quarterly meetings.
Caroline Binnie, Communications & Participation Manager at Falkirk Council
Many thanks to our 10 communications leaders for their insight and advice.
Talking Heads 10 x 10 will be back next month with a fresh new discussion – ‘Working in pressurised environments: Top tips for remaining calm under pressure’
Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd
image via the Library of Congress
As this year marks a ’round’ anniversary for both of these awards, I thought it worth a post (and am hoping to encourage someone with a closer connection to the process will write something for the Libraries Taskforce too!). This annual event (full details of all books featured, on this link) is always a pure celebration of books for children – and a means of thanking authors, publishers, teachers, librarians and of course, the children for whom all this material is produced.
The event this year was held in the gorgeous art deco surroundings of RIBA, on Portland Place. Before the official award ceremony, there was the opportunity to mingle with authors and illustrators (many of whom were pleased to sign my CKG poster – which is now a very special piece of paper!)
On to the awards – and first was the Amnesty-CILIP Honour – which is decided from among the 8 books on each shortlist. This year both winners were very topical: first, the Italian author and illustrator Francesca Sanna’s The Journey – which tells of a refugee family and their flight to find safety. She talked movingly about how this issue was real for her – especially as there have been so many refugees crossing the Mediterranean and landing in Italy.
And next was The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon. Zana is from Australia and her story tells of life in a detention camp. As she said “I didn’t start out wanting to write a story with a message, I wanted to tell the stories that haven’t been told.”
Each of these awards was followed by a short film of children talking about the books, and what they meant to them – both were very moving and emphasised how they were the audience that really mattered.
The next award was the Kate Greenaway medal – which celebrates illustration in children’s books. The winner in the award’s 60th year was There is a Tribe of Kids illustrated and written by Lane Smith. This American writer and illustrator made everyone laugh when he talked about how his career started – and when he realised that many of the illustrators he most looked up to were British.
Lane with Cerrie, and the award judges chair: Tricia Adams
Finally, we came to the last award, the Carnegie medal, awarded to the writer of an outstanding book written in English for children and young people. The shortlist contained some fascinating titles (I’d like to read most of them), and the award went to: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. Her story is based on a historical event that is now almost unknown: the German ship the Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk in 1945, with the loss of 9,000 lives – more than the Titanic and the Lusitania combined. Ruta is herself the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, and talked with feeling about how history always makes sure we know the names of the villains, but we seldom know the names of the victims. It is through stories that we can find out how things were (or are) for people, and this message was also summed up by Tricia Adams, the chair of the judges: “The books that have triumphed demonstrate the vitally important role literature and illustration play in helping children and young people to understand the world around them, be that through a historical lens or through the natural world around them.”
My post is really just a photo essay. Others have reported the awards: the Guardian has an article too (with a much clearer photo of the winners!) and the Bookseller also published a piece. Finally, as mentioned at the start, for all the background and full information about all the books on the shortlists – take a browse through the main website.
I’ve been a School Governor now for about 5-6 years and continue to enjoy the experience. I am currently a Chair of Governors at a Primary school local to me as that is where both my children attended. My oldest son has already moved on to secondary school and my youngest is in his last year and will be making his transition to secondary in September.
So I wanted to take this opportunity to share what I have learnt, what I’m thinking and some of the questions I have. Over the last few months I’ve started to reflect on my time as a governor in the following areas and have unpacked these further in this post, they are: the purpose of primary schools, the role and effectiveness of governors locally and nationally and the opportunity for professional and personal learning within schools as a governor.
Are we clear on the purpose of a Primary School or is this being compromised?
In my time as a school governor I’ve seen first hand that schools are challenged to meet multiple demands and multiple expectations and on the whole, the staff do amazing work in trying to balance all the pressures of daily school life which are on top of actually providing education for children.
In the School where I am a Governor, we define our purpose as “help and support every child to be the best they can be” This has helped us to define our priorities and our approach including, thinking about how we use and deploy staff, how and where we invest money for impact and intervention and importantly how we know we are doing the right things.
Schools are doing so much more than just providing education (in a traditional sense) – they are active in providing social work, health intervention, family support, community development and now in increasing financial austerity fundraisers and business managers. I’ve witnessed that all these things are absolutely critical to get right especially as all children’s lives (indeed everyone’s lives) are complex and to ensure that children are ready and able to learn you need to invest time and energy in the other areas to help and ensure children can be the best they can be.
For a number of years now there has been an even greater focus on austerity which has led to some instances of decisions being driven by money as opposed to being driven by what is the best outcome for the children. This by default makes the purpose “manage the money” as opposed to providing education…the significant drive and focus on money is so strong in the current climate that it makes it extremely difficult to stay focused on the true purpose.
It is clearly fundamental to ensure you stay financially stable but a trend in forcing schools to operate more like businesses is creating additional pressures and work which schools are not necessarily resourced for and this simply puts direct pressure on Head Teachers, teachers and support staff which in turn increases the pressures and stresses in the system. So I ask myself how much activity and work is actually focused on meeting the primary purpose as opposed to meeting false purposes such as managing money?
In addition a wider question I ask myself is – if you have these multiple pressures and demands then does this affect the purpose of a primary school or its ability to meet its purpose? My experience and observations tell me this is the case.
Adler suggests that there are three objectives of children’s schooling: (Adler, 1982)
The interesting thing to me is that the main external high-level measure of success is focused on the Key Stage 2 SATS results (Maths, English – reading and writing etc). This is often directly related to whether a school is rated highly within the inspection framework. So I ask myself how do attainment results tell me that a school is meeting its purpose and how does the inspection framework tell me a school is meeting purpose? Unless the purpose is ‘make the attainment results come true’ or ‘meet the numbers’
The importance of measuring success and being clear about what good looks like is critical if we want to see primary schools developing the foundations of learning, the disciplines of personal growth, self-improvement and personal mastery. If we want to see schools creating environments where tolerance, respect and equality are promoted as the basis of being good citizens and if we want to support and invest in the future by stimulating the minds of children so they are curious, courageous and compassionate to face the challenges of the future in relation to our society and economy.
I guess what I am saying is I’m not seeing any evidence that the current external measures of success in schools tell anyone whether we are creating those things stated instead I see measures that focus attention on money and test results? Before I become a governor my only really measure of a school was an inspection report and grade, but now after being a governor, I have developed a deeper knowledge and understanding of what really happens and understood the purpose in a different way. There is a big disconnect here which is driving the wrong behaviours!
The role and effectiveness of Governors and how do we know we measure success effectively
Sometimes in my time as a governor, I have felt like a proxy inspector as opposed to an effective and active part of the school leadership. This behaviour is not explicitly encouraged but becomes implied when you understand the inspection framework but this is counter productive as inspecting the school as a governor does not promote or create a culture of continued and mutual learning. I see the role of a School Governor as the following:
The inherent pressures of inspections and the inevitable price that is paid by people (mostly Head Teachers) when the inspection reports are not as good as the inspectors would want to see is unfair and simply promotes a culture of fear and drives activity to “cover your back”. This is made even worse in the context of the academies agenda as the pressure to be seen to be meeting the targets is creating perverse behaviours and the consequences of which are directly affecting children we should be focusing on. In the current landscape if your school is seen by the inspection framework as failing then the likelihood of that school being forced to become an academy is increased significantly and in most cases, this is the only action to be taken. The assumption underpinning this action is that Academies are better at delivering good or outstanding schools. I’m yet to see the evidence that supports this.
In reality, the evidence I see and can validate is that school leaders, teachers, support staff and everyone working in and around schools is lots and lots of hard work to try to create new and different experiences for children on top of all the activity which is expected by the current system drivers of “meet the numbers and targets for testing.” But what I can’t say with confidence is whether all of the work they are all doing is meeting purpose and is contributing effectively…What I need to understand is what really gets in the way of a Primary School meeting its purpose and what can I do as a governor to remove the barriers and blockages.
This dilemma and conflict can only really be resolved by leaders and this is something I find fascinating. The question I find myself asking here is, ‘does the system know who the leaders are, what are current leaders doing to understand and build their knowledge of why the current system is the way it is and are those leaders connecting with each other?’
Personal and Professional Learning and the opportunity to develop insights into organisational change and culture.
In my day job, I work in Organisational Change and my role is to support leaders to see and think differently so that services are designed around understanding what matters to citizens and clarity of purpose.
The opportunity I have as a school governor to develop my practice and learning is incredibly rich and diverse and this as a side benefit of wanting to help and support my local school keep me motivated and determined to be the best I can be.
The learning, however, is not simply one way. I had originally held an assumption that I would be offering my time and energy and wouldn’t really learn anything other than “school governance”. However the more I understand the thinking and approaches being used within primary schools the more those models become more visible to me in an organisational change context.
An example of this is the way in which primary schools have mainstreamed reflective practice and focusing on mastery of self. In my previous role as Digital Lead, I used to think that the most significant impact on organisations in the future would be technology and the disruption of that technology. Clearly, those disruptions will be present a fundamental challenge, but for me, the behaviours and values being promoted and recognised which underpin the approaches in Education will have a deeper and more profound impact unless organisations recognise the deeper cultural shift that is symbolised by the age of the internet.
Another example is promoting a growth mindset for children, the shift in the school now is that it understands that unless adults model and understand the growth mindset aswell children will not believe it as they will mirror and model the behaviours of the adults…this is exactly the same dilemma in organisations where leaders are not living the values and behaviours they promote.
On the whole, being a school governor has helped me develop and practice skills and learn new and different ones too. Schools and in particular primary schools are a fascinating place to be and I would highly recommend connecting with your local school and asking whether you can help in some way. if you are passionate about the future of our society, primary schools are a great place to learn about and experience what the future looks and feels like.