Learning and developing at GovCamp Cymru 17

Hanging out with Gwilym Owen in my session. Check out Sara Long’s other brill pics https://www.flickr.com/photos/duckiemonster/sets/72157689454383206/with/37038255063/

GovCamp Cymru was brilliant this year. I pitched a session on how learning and development could be fit for purpose for 21st century public services. Putting my pitch together as a blogpost beforehand gave me a good opportunity to think about the key issues that the discussion might look at, and it also meant that people began sharing useful resources with me before the event had even begun.

Sharon Dale shared a post by Matt Edgar which looked at learning in the context of people-centred service design and agile delivery, which is quite simply one of the best things I’ve read on learning in quite some time. That post alone answered a lot of my questions before the session had even begun, which really shows the value of online networks. I love the comparison between old and new ways of learning in Matt’s post:

  • Shared purpose over organisational targets
  • Learning by doing over teaching to the test
  • Social construction over content transmission
  • Designing for diversity over delivering standard courses

At GovCamp Cymru itself

The importance of designing for diversity was certainly something that came through from our discussions, which is probably unsurprising considering we were a room full of people from a wide variety of different public services.

Melys Phinnemore sparked a conversation about learning by doing (another one of Matt’s points) when she pointed out that learning can be painful as it involves questioning what you currently do and think. I worked with Melys in my previous job at the Wales Audit Office, where Melys was doing some great work at the Chartered Institute of Housing on encouraging organisational change through leadership and coaching. We discussed how people need a safe space to test out their learning, and the role of leaders in enabling that to happen. It was really fascinating to hear how Rachel Hughes keeps a morning free in her diary every week for learning and development, and how that example enables her team to do the same. That enabling and coaching role was something that we discussed further as Neil Tamplin shared how Cadwyn Housing are using the mindset that’s outlined in David Marquet’s ‘Turn the Ship Around’ so that people state their intentions instead of issuing orders. It’s well worth reading Neil’s take on the book.

We also discussed how sharing your learning enables you to develop networks and to learn from others. Vanessa Williams told us how DXW have shared their playbook on Github, and she also ran a great session where she shared practice from other unconferences, including James Cattell’s Unconference in a Box, which is really useful if you’re thinking about running your own event.

Learning from digital approaches

We heard about some fascinating approaches from the digital world that could be applied in wider public service provision. We heard about Pair Programming, where two programmers work at one workstation. One writes code while the other considers the "strategic" direction of the work, coming up with ideas for improvements and likely future problems to address. This frees the driver to focus all of their attention on the "tactical" aspects of completing the current task.

We also learnt about how the Government Digital Service use Exposure Hours so that their teams can see user research in action. This ensures that they think about how people use their services as they design them. It sounds like a great way of ensuring that services stay people centred, which makes me wonder about how it might work around co-productive and strength based approaches in social care.

Sara Long shared a completely different approach to digital learning when she shared how Simulation Fidelity facilities are used in medicine, which allows medics to test new approaches in a safe environment. There are exciting possibilities for how AI could be used for learning, and after listening to Sara I’ve realised that I really need to properly get to grips with Google Cardboard so that I can start to test this further.

We also spoke about self-directed learning, which is no surprise really as everyone in the room had given up their weekends to share and learn from each other. We spoke about how learning is more likely to effect change if we buy into it ourselves, as opposed to being forced to access it. There is also value in sharing your own work, which adds that peer to peer learning element. Neil told us how getting decision making processes out of his head helps people to understand how he works. If you’re interested, it’s worth checking out his user manual.

When I brought up online learning, it was interesting to hear that the courses that people have accessed have mirrored the worst of their offline counterparts. They were described as “the online equivalent of someone with a PowerPoint standing up and talking at you”. It was great to speak to Lynsey Jackson after the session, as Lynsey has undertaken a course with Ideo U. The course features an online chat with tutors and other participants, and there is also follow up peer support available through LinkedIn. This structure allows people to interact with each other whilst learning so that they can share ideas and experiences. It’s certainly something that’s got me thinking about how that social interaction can be implemented as part of digital learning, whilst also enabling people them to learn flexibly on their own terms through that approach.

So as you can tell, I learnt boat loads and had so many interesting conversations at this year’s GovCamp Cymru. If you want to learn more, it’s well worth giving their Twitter account a follow, checking out the Storify and having a look at the Pinterest Board of resources. So many people have contributed great resources to them, and if we put their learning into action, we’ll be well on the way to ensuring that we provide the best possible public services in Wales and (in my case) beyond.