Connecting our network online

Three people laughing while talking at the National Leadership Centre’s launch event
Three people laughing while talking at the National Leadership Centre’s launch event

The mission of the National Leadership Centre is to support leaders as they work together to improve the public services they lead.

We’ve talked in previous posts about the importance of bringing the network together to do this. Most of it will be done face to face — people grow relationships best in person after all. We’re also providing a digital offer to our network, and the first part of it has just gone live.

Starting with our users

The government report that led to the creation of the National Leadership Centre (NLC) recommended:

a digitally-enabled network so delegates can meet up remotely, access practice-sharing opportunities, pool exploration of technologies and other innovations and find the personal support they need to handle tough environments.

This recommendation — and the entire range of the NLC’s remit — is broad, so our first challenge was defining the right scope.

A poster saying “Start with user needs”
A poster saying “Start with user needs”

We know there is always a large gap between what people say they want from digital support, and what they will use in practice. So we went to our users and spoke with people who worked across the public sector and across the country.

We talked to people from the Fire and Rescue Service, the Police Service, local authorities, the NHS, the Civil Service, the armed forces, and non-departmental public bodies.

We spoke to people in Yorkshire, Wiltshire, Sussex, Staffordshire, London, Dorset, and more.

It was brilliant. We learned a lot. And we found our starting place.

Connecting the network

People who head up public sector organisations have good networks — they are in post because they can lead and work across boundaries. But we found that networks were often limited to their own sector or local area.

People are comfortable picking up the phone, emailing, or — when introduced — using WhatsApp or other social media messaging platforms. Nobody wanted a new forum, chat room, or inbox.

But there is no system or structure helping people find peers across the country and across sectors. So our discovery report recommended:

  1. A multi-channel approach to support leaders developing and nurturing their face-to-face networks. The digital service will play a supporting role in making key parts of the user journey easier.

And our key user need was:

“As a senior leader, I want to connect with information, inspiration and other leaders to help me make greater positive impact across public service.”

A table of people in discussion at the NLC launch event
A table of people in discussion at the NLC launch event

We honed in on the idea of a directory, with the key information you would need to connect with a peer. We researched, we experimented, we tested, and we iterated. We dropped some things, found new ideas, and developed what was at the core of our work.

We stood on the shoulders of loads of work that had been done before. We looked into the technology behind directories in the Civil Service, the healthcare sector, the Dutch and Canadian governments, and open source tools. We borrowed where we could, and we narrowed down what we had to build ourselves.

And after an external assessment against the government service standard, we launched the first version of our service, which is called Connect.

A screenshot of the Connect service, showing the ‘Senior Leaders Directory’ — personal details are pixelated
A screenshot of the Connect service, showing the ‘Senior Leaders Directory’ — personal details are pixelated
A screenshot of the Connect service

Connect is the first cross-sector, cross-country directory of public service Chief Executive level leaders. In time, it will include everyone in our network (up to 1,500 people), allowing peers to find each other and key contact information.

In the run up to NLC events, people will be able to arrange to meet. If a name is forgotten after a meeting, that connection will not be lost. If a leader sees or hears reports of great things happening in another part of the country, they will be able to go to the person who is doing it and learn from their lessons. Nobody will need 1,499 business cards; they’ll just need one link, to Connect.

Keeping it simple and scaling it properly

This is an important idea, and we’ve built a simple service. And we’re quite proud of that. It easily could have been a bit too complicated. By focusing on the right balance of information and presenting it as simply as possible, we’re confident this meets our users’ needs.

The next step is scaling it. We’ve passed our alpha assessment, and we’re still limiting its access as we test how it works outside of a controlled environment. We want to grow the service properly — in line with the service standard and best practice for beta development.

For any leader not in the first cohort, the NLC still offers connecting services. Anybody in the network can ask for our help, and we have a form on our website to help people structure their request. Over the next few months, we will grow Connect so it includes the entire network.

We’re always open to feedback, different ideas, and links with other parts of the public sector who are doing this already! So let us know what you think, and get in touch.


National Leadership Centre

We are creating a first — a national centre to support senior leaders across the whole public sector.

National Leadership Centre

Written by

We are creating a first — a national centre to support senior leaders across the whole public sector.

National Leadership Centre

We are creating a first — a national centre to support senior leaders across the whole public sector.

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