Digital Dorset
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Digital Dorset

Weeknotes: week 8

That leadership thing

President Bartlet at the podium with colleagues watching. Courtesy NBC

I’m now two months into my new role in Dorset and I’m going to dwell on the subject of leadership a bit.

Firstly, I’ve never regarded myself as a ‘leader’. It’s always been what other people do as they are smarter and have more experience, and it’s been easier to hide behind that and say that’s someone else’s job. Also it’s felt like being a bit pretentious (for me) in claiming to be something I’m not. Y’know, that imposter syndrome thing again.

But it’s time to put on my big boy pants and admit that I now have a position that means I am (despite my protestations) a leader and I have to get on board with that rather than ducking responsibility. I’m also amongst colleagues that welcome and encourage the idea that we all have a role to play in leading change.

That was reflected in a few events this week.

The day that broke me

If you’ve read previous weeknotes, you’ll know I’ve been struggling to help our Content Designers find some headroom and focus on quality work rather than firefighting. This has been somewhat frustrated by the two opposing forces of dedication to better accessibility and a continual flow of requests to solve accessibility problems.

This came to a head on Monday when I finally snapped. The burden of responsibility appeared completely inequitable. I realised that things couldn’t go on like this and would never change unless something about the relationship shifted. In frustration I pulled together ideas for change and (I admit) ranted a bit about the issue to colleagues. To the organisation’s credit not only was my behaviour indulged but listened to and acted on. By Wednesday I was explaining the proposed change to our Information Governance group and we were on our way into putting policy into practice.

While this was the right thing to aim for, the manner in which I went about it was less than subtle, and on reflection at the end of the week I do feel I threw my weight around too much in getting there.

But the payoff was the reaction of those lovely, supportive, appreciative content designers I work with . In our ‘three things’ round on Thursday (something that stressed you, something that lifted you, a shout out) this initiative was singled out as something that would make a real difference to them. I have to admit I had to hang onto my emotions a bit while listening to that.

So…leadership I guess? I think I might actually like being a manager.

Ambassador Lawrence

One area of leadership I’ve jumped at is in representing the Dorset and shouting about its achievements.

On Monday I took part in the Dr Tech Show on invite from Pauline Roche. Although we’ve met in person from time to time I think this was the longest proper conversation I’d had with Pauline, who’s dedication to her sector always impresses me. In honesty, I could have talked with her and Sweyn for hours, but it did give me a chance to talk about the work Dorset does on Digital Place which I think sets it apart from many other councils in its scope and ambition.

I’d also been roped into a no-prep interview alongside Lisa Trickey with our Exec Director, Aidan Dunn, to talk about what’s happening in digital for our Corporate Service Employee Show. Aidan missed his calling in life as a DJ, and made for another easy conversation, allowing me another opportunity to talk about first impressions of Dorset and how well I feel it compares nationally.

And I’ve also had a heads up about Matt Prosser doing a recorded session for the Innovation and Improvement Network’s Digital December event next week where I get called out a few times.

By the end of the week I started to get a bit uncomfortable with some of this attention. It feels out of line with my degree of influence, the modest achievements I’ve been able to move on so far, and (this is the important one) the real change agents in the council all around me.

So I want start correcting this by giving a huge shout out to our amazing leader, Lisa Trickey. She has slaved away, creating a structure and culture that is the embodiment of what Digital means, the likes of which I’ve always dreamed about being involved in. That success doesn’t happen by accident; it’s having a clear vision of where the organisation needs to move to and creating the circumstances to make it happen.

So if I am able to thrive as a leader here it's because the hard work has already been put in to make everyone’s contribution matter.

Product ownership

This is a new area for me and I’m really just finding my feet/taking my best shot at what it means. But I think it is a form of leadership in creating a shared vision and bringing people along with you.

I’ve been running a set of discovery workshops on the CMS migration; project scoping, moving the data, branding and sub-sites. And on Thursday we were first to go with training on the Liferay platform after our UAT was stood up on Monday. Looking great and feeling like a good fit so far, with a bunch of happy content designers relishing what we can achieve with it.

It’s going to be a tough first phase project to get us to where we need to be in May, and I need to keep in mind that this is just one cog in a much larger machine that will really change how we work.

In summary

  • Digital Dorset Weeknotes has taken on a life of its own with three new recruits this week; Catriona Fountain, Sam McLaren and Matt Prosser himself! It’s becoming something we talk about at work now too. Who’s next I wonder? (Edit: everyone is now weeknoting in Dorset)
  • Had my weekly catch-up with a colleague. Was so impressed by how she’d grasped hold of a tricky situation we’d talked about last week and turned it into real success
  • Caught up with Andy Sandford about networking stuff. He wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t mention his Virtual Christmas Event on December 11 for people to drop into
  • Lots of conversations about spreading the word about Dorset through network events, another festival and podcasting. So much pride and enthusiasm from colleagues. It’s going to be an exciting year.
  • Took part in some user research with Placecube on its community site for its customers. Nice to be asked #DifferentIsTheStrategy
  • Oh, and we finally sorted our house sale after 6 months and will be moving in two weeks. Goodbye Oxford!



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Neil Lawrence

Neil Lawrence


Product Owner with Placecube. Local Gov survivor. All views are my own