Spaghetti Labs Day 1 Birmingham City Council

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Monday – the start of a week long jam based out of the Impact Hub Birmingham with the none too small task of trying to tackle the problems faced by Birmingham City Council (BCC) in a vastly different way by collaborating and co-creating.

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There were 4 of us primed to enter the unknown – Tim, Laura and Nick from Service Birmingham and Stuart from Digital Birmingham the sole representative from BCC, although extra help is on it’s way tomorrow in the form of Simon.

The morning was very much the getting to know you session – making sure everyone was comfortable with the other members of the team to create open and honest dialogue in a comfortable environment. I suspect as the week moves on this will be much needed when the pressure is on. It also helps to foster a team spirit between 2 areas that can be seen by the outside world as less than collaborative partners. This is a perfect example of how we should be working together to deliver effective solutions for the citizens of Birmingham.

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Introductions went as far as identifying moments that defined who you are as a person and the biggest influences on your life – in itself it was a wonderful therapy session – even with strangers! Laura must think it is always like this as it is her first day in a new job, what a quirky introduction.

The journey plan over the week was placed on a wall where we could critique, raise fears and ask questions. Every aspect of the day was fostering critical thinking and ensuring no-one jumps to conclusions. It looks like the work ramps up rapidly around Wednesday and Thursday where the real solution design and iteration is created and tested. This early part of the week is really teasing out the problem and looking at what is manageable in a week.

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Post-lunch the theory kicked in – this for me was of massive value. Essentially we are trying to take start-up methodologies and look how we can embed them into traditional corporate culture. Firstly we looked at Dexler/Sibbet’s ideas of creating and sustaining a team. This was followed by putting projects into context – choosing the right methodology for the job, the principles of Wysocki were presented here and very much reminded me of Donald Runsfeld’s known unknowns and unknown unknowns, etc.

The real stand out for me was the “ambidextrous business model” looking at how you  can approach innovation and build it up in a large enterprise whilst maintaining the existing way of doing things to ensure business continuity. The idea of a corporate startup approach is the work of Dr Tendayi Viki, which is about moving from the existing model to an emerging  model.

I think that there is still some work to be done to shift people culturally and crucially contractually away from an existing model to a start up model. Risk is the key and the economic model to  support this is what will  really sell this co-creation way of working to senior people. The existing models do not foster rapid and flexible innovation, these new methods need to financially manage risk and have a legal framework to support this for the contractual side of things.

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With the theory bubbling away we were then visited by Jules from the BCC employment and skills department and Roger from the DWP. The problem we have been asked to pick apart is no small task – getting 31,000 Small, Medium Enterprises to engage and provide work experience for 30,000 job seekers. This is a phenomenal ask, in addition it can be sliced and diced in many ways to provide us with tangible and manageable outcomes after just 1 week. After giving Jules and Roger a grilling we had a post-it note grouping session to try and pull the problem together and provide us with the basis of the overarching problem and give us food for thought on what we can tackle realistically. Perhaps the hardest thing here is not to start designing solutions – the natural instinct is to start working, however greater understanding is what is really required at this point. Plus we need to take stock of the fact that a LOT of people are looking at this, what can we add to existing work in the area.

The potential objectives, the barriers, the key actors were all identified. The interesting part is when looking at a problem this far up is where to start, it is very much interlinked systems – tackling one problem means considering other problems that influence – it is very non-linear.

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To relax the mind we undertook some more team-building, energiser session (I shall leave that part as a surprise for future participants) and an analysis of us as a team – in effect it is setting the ground rules so that we can be honest with each other in a way that is all about moving the team forward in trying to tackle the objective.

So it was a busy first day – but nicely paced, I think after this it will ramp up. Already I can see real benefit to this approach – the chances are that we will develop a workable “product” at the end of the week, not necessarily a physical project but certainly the beginnings of an approach. More importantly though we will have a methodology to really influence how BCC works – and now is the right time to take this forward with the work for the future operating model beginning in earnest where innovation will be the key to moving Birmingham forward in response to the challenges it faces.

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