Dominic Campbell – The Director’s Cut

Today, I was very proud the Guardian published my interview with Dominic Campbell. Here’s the full version if you are interested in reading a little bit more…

Self-confessed government geek, Dominic Campbell is a name you should know if you work in local government. With an impressive 9,000 followers on Twitter, and counting, he appears at number 49 on the Independent’s Twitter 100 and at number 36 on the Local Government Chronicle’s “50 most influential voices in Local Government”. The latter an achievement he is most proud of, “This list meant a lot to me. If I’m able to represent a whole mass of people, the whole group of us just inside or outside local government, trying to make change happen, pushing for a different way of working, taking more reasonable managed risks rather than saying no to everything, thinking more creatively, thinking that local government is more than just the town hall, then that’s ace. There’s nothing more I can ask for than to open the door for people like us to push harder.”

Dominic Campbell

Dominic Campbell, founder of FutureGov

Born in Carlise, Dominic grew up in Birmingham before studying a degree in Geography and masters in Economic Geography in Manchester. From an early age he knew he wanted to work in local government, so it was no surprise he was accepted onto the National Graduate Development Programme. After one year of the two year programme, he was offered a full time position at Barnet Council performing a variety of roles in strategy, organisational development, procurement, IT and programme management. “I was lucky enough to work for a young, vibrant assistant chief executive who was keen to promote the programme and the people on the programme.”

After 5 years, Dominic decided it was time to move on. “By my mid twenties I was on the management team for the Resources Directorate and well-promoted for my age. I was doing corporate change programmes where you end up telling bright people they are wrong and the system is right, or the corporate priority is right or the machine is right and they need to rewire their brains to think differently. That’s not really my style. It’s much more about “you are bright, go off and fix some problems”. But there wasn’t really the space for that and it was clear that there wasn’t much more I could do in terms of promotions, so I decided it was time to move on to seek opportunities, and maybe go back to Local Government at a later date”.

Dominic left Barnet to work for a friend, where he learned how to run a consultancy company, and in 2008 he created FutureGov. His company does a variety of work, mainly with Local Government, but their bread and butter is digital consultancy and using the web to transform the way public services work. “Imagine you’ve got a white piece of paper in front of you, how would you then build a public service based on the modern world you have now?”.

Somewhat unusual for a consultancy, Dominic and FutureGov believe their role is to take an idea, help shape it and then use the talent already in an organisation to deliver. By bubbling up the talent within, the organisation will become more self-sustainable in the long run. “We use our work as a platform for the people inside who aren’t listened to as much as they should be. We give coherence and direction to where those voices might want to get together and make change happen. We help hone ideas into tangible priorities, do some creative thinking with internal resources about how the web, in particular, could be used to innovate around those priorities and come up with some really interesting new service delivery models. After that, our role is enabling you and your amazing, enthusiastic expert officers to go out and do it for themselves.”

Credited by the Local Government Chronicle for “stirring rebellion among local government officers”, Dominic understands the challenges faced by ordinary officers but knows what needs to be done. “Push the envelope a little bit, raise your head above the parapet, take a few risks. There are some really great examples of where that has paid off”. This in turn will make his job a little bit easier. “The powerful thing when I’m trying to sell something to senior management is having those real examples to point to. Even where people are just messing around, or it’s an idea they’re toying with, it’s so powerful in terms of making a case study for change. Chief Executives say “that’s all very good in theory but where is it happening in practice?”. You really need those case studies to make change happen and stick.”

Their proudest achievement to date is about to be realised, with the launch of Safeguarding 2.0, a new approach to safeguarding children. “It started off with me watching a documentary on the Baby Peter case and getting frustrated I couldn’t do anything about it. I thought, realistically, I’m not going to retrain as a social worker, and that’s not the best use of my skills and network anyway. So I blogged my frustration and said “who wants to help re-imagine how we do child protection in the world of the Internet?”. We got 25 people sat around at a kick off meeting where I said “we’ve got the Internet, we’ve got this big problem, how do we put the two together to make this work because the systems are clearly not working right now?”.

Dominic is clearly not someone who just talks the talk, his remarkable projects are being brought to life and changing how local government can operate in the modern world. With his drive to change and innovate, Dominic is not content with just doing this in the UK and has taken FutureGov to the USA to tackle the challenges of American government. “My aspiration is to go top to bottom on a local authority and transform the way it works from start to finish. To actually build a council that is fit for 2011, rather than 1990 at best.”

Dominic is speaking on “How Information Technology is changing the UK” at the SmartGov Live event on 14th and 15th June 2011 at ExCel London.

Warwickshire Apprentice – becoming a reality

After some positive noises about my previous post I have some rather good news…

I bit the bullet and emailed our Chief Exec, Jim Graham, yesterday lunchtime to outline my idea. Kudos to him, he replied within 15 minutes to say “It’s certainly worth a look”. So off I trotted to one of his seminars soon after this email exchange. After his talk, he opened the floor to questions and the usual tumbleweed ensued. So he used this to ask what people though of an idea he’d had emailed through to him earlier that day about the idea of running an Apprentice type scheme within Warwickshire County Council. With a wobbly hand and a slightly red face I explained I was the culprit behind the email and an interesting discussion ensued with quite positive noises in general.

After the seminar, the head of HR came up to me and asked me to take it up with the head of OD to see about taking it forward. I’ve actually taken it one step further and agreed with the Strategic Director for the directorate I provide IT services for that we will definitely run this for our directorate and offer it corporate wide if they want us to.

The Advancing Women Programme I am currently on have been looking for a project to get their teeth into, so we have agreed that we will devise, implement and deliver this.

I am absolutely chuffed to bits that I JFDI and as a result might get to do a project that could have a real impact. Plus, we may even have the opportunity to film our efforts after a kind offer (yet to be confirmed!) from John Popham.

The Local Government Apprentice

briefcase

I’m very excited at the prospect of the new series of The Apprentice on BBC1. I love the drama, the arguments, the madness, the hopes being raised and then dashed. Secretly, I’ve always fancied having a go at it, but I am a terrible saleswoman and that’s all Alan Sugar seems to care about.  But it’s got me thinking about opportunities in Local Government…

Something that really gets on my wick is the widespread belief that anyone who is very good at their job is “too good for local government”. I’ve heard this used on many occasions about colleagues, and quite frankly it’s a load of old tosh. Why shouldn’t local government have good people working in it? Why should local government try and live up to the non-truths that we are slow, unable to change, 9-5’ers? If we keep telling all the good people they are too good for local government, they will just leave and we’ll end up with fewer and fewer good people.

This is why we end up in the situation with quite a lot of (but not all) group managers, service heads, directors and the like not actually being of the calibre we need them to be. Simon Whitehouse recently introduced me to the Peter Principle and that really rings true with me. The good people are leaving because Local Government isn’t good enough for them, and the remaining ones get promoted – unable/unwilling to take risks, push for change, challenge where things aren’t right because they don’t want to risk their job or potential for furthering their career. Local government doesn’t seem to reward people who are passionate and want to make a difference, if anything they punish you for it (OK, well maybe that is an exaggeration). So we have this vicious circle that we are unable to break as the people who can have a very protectionist mentality.

So, back to the Apprentice. I’m wondering about asking our Chief Exec and the Strategic Directors to think about running an internal version of the Apprentice. The final job on offer could be as an assistant to one of the directors or service heads (or Business Unit Managers – look at the acronym, no joke!). That would start a ripple in the internal job market, in a time where everything is static. Maybe this post could be just for one year, when another apprentice, is sourced from within the council. There could be a post for each of our 3 directors and 1 for the exec. That could open up secondment opportunities for those vacant posts within the authority. All in all, quite an interesting development opportunity for all involved.

Will it work? Will they take on board my suggestion? Am I a fool? Is anyone else willing to see if their authority will do the same?

Watch this space, “don’t tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon”.

Image by Lludo on Flickr