Come on Baby Light my Firebreak

For the past few weeks we’ve been planning a Firebreak event at NHS.UK. The team at NICE put us onto it in the first place and we’re grateful for their guidance, particularly in sharing the lessons they’d learnt. It’s believed that the term Firebreak comes from our colleagues at GDS, but the concept has been around for longer in various forms. The idea is that teams are given a few days away from business as usual to focus on some innovation or efficiency projects that interest them most.

Over the past few weeks we’ve been preparing for our firebreak, by running a number of ‘incubator’ sessions, putting up posters around the place and using an energetic group of ambassadors to encourage us all to get involved, answer questions and go some of the leg work behind the scenes.

The ideas duly rolled in. One idea sparked another and seeing a wall full of ideas seemed to encourage others to add theirs. All these ideas are great, but in order for the firebreak to work in practice, we need people to work on them. We needed to give people an opportunity to pitch their ideas, and for colleagues to pledge a number of days to support. We decided to do this in a hustings format. Our firebreak is going to run over 2 weeks, with a full day show and tell on the final day, so each person had up to 9 days to ‘spend’ on the projects on offer.

Our teams are based in Leeds and London, and in our various incarnations of NHS.UK, hadn’t got together as a team in one place for over 6 years, so the day was significant in any case in helping people put faces to names and building new relationships.

The format of the day was for each person to have a maximum of 3 minutes to pitch their idea or collection of ideas (the record from one person was 6). There were over 50 ideas on offer, so fitting this into 90 minutes was a challenge, but we did it.

The energy in the room was amazing — this was helped by the quality of the pitches, the passion of the communication and sheer variety of ideas.

After a short break for some food, everyone proceeded to go round the room (see one of our videos), talk to the idea owners, to see if their skills matched the idea and make that difficult decision to put a sticker (one sticker = one day) on the ideas cards. The overwhelming view was that there was so many great ideas that it was incredibly hard to pick which idea(s) to get involved in. Do I put all my stickers on one idea or spread myself on two or three?

By the time everyone’s stickers had been expired, around 85% of the ideas had been resourced. It was one of those ‘you had to be there’ days — the vibe was brilliant and it was like we felt we could achieve anything! Many people, including Rachel Murphy, our Digital Delivery Director thought it was one of the best work events she’d ever been a part of.

We take a pause for a couple of weeks before our two-week firebreak starts but there are still things to do:

  • We need work with the idea owners to turn people’s pledges of days into coherent plans so that people who have pledged resources to multiple projects aren’t all expected or expecting to start on day one.
  • Some of our idea owners aren’t normally in the cut and thrust world of delivery and will need some support with planning etc.
  • Last and not least we will trying to carry as much of the energy generated during the day forward to the firebreak itself.

We’ll be doing more blogging during the firebreak itself and looking to share some of the video footage we took during the hustings.

Here’s a video summarising the day:

You can also follow our firebreak progress on Twitter, using #nhsukfirebreak

In the meantime, here’s a Storify from the day — https://storify.com/VirtualEva/we-are-firestarters and a Spotify playlist which provided the soundtrack to the day.

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