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Leadership in turbulent times

Nine simple rules for complex change - start anywhere, follow it everywhere

Authors and contributors: Diana Rebaza, Jon McGinty
Leadership in turbulent times infographic cover

Effective leadership is particularly crucial during periods of crisis, uncertainty and rapid change. It requires a combination of personal attributes, leadership styles and strategic thinking tailored to the context of the turbulence being faced.

Nine simple rules for complex change was created based on Jon McGinty’s (Managing Director, Gloucester City Council) presentation for the Executive Education Programme in Digital Transformation for UK Local Government.

Leadership in turbulent times infographic

Nine simple rules for complex change

1. The importance of use cases

Real change happens in real work. Without a use case, lots of discussions happen in the abstract. Don’t start with the technology, start with the problem you are trying to solve; it is more likely to make a real change.

2. Borrow and collaborate

Local government is great at creativity and innovation, but tends to reinvent things 1,000 times (for instance, online forms for waste bins). Never be afraid to borrow great ideas.

  • Local Digital Fund: Funding for council-led digital projects that address common challenges. The outputs are available for other councils to learn from and reuse.
  • Government Design Principles: Explanations and examples for each of the 10 design principles

3. User-centric design

Service design starts with identifying user needs. If you don’t know what the user needs are, you won’t build the right thing. Do your research, analyse your data, talk to your users. Don’t make assumptions.

Humans are random and individualistic. Run user testing with actual users – you won’t believe how differently they see things.

4. ‘Fix the plumbing’ of local government

Developing common building blocks, local authorities will be able to build services more quickly, flexibly and effectively.

Fix the plumbing’ to break the dependence on inflexible and expensive technology that doesn’t join up effectively. Modular building blocks for IT and open standards improve data usability, making it easier to migrate, link and match, and to develop and scale data standards.

5. Sweat your assets

Asset-based community development (ABCD) shifts from seeing communities for their needs or problems, to seeing them as full of potential. Turn your thinking around your assets. Local government possesses a wide range of assets that can be used in conjunction with the private sector for the benefit of the community.

“Working with your assets does not always involve a massive physical deployment”

Jon McGinty, Managing Director, Gloucester City Council

6. Connectivity underpins everything

When it comes to writing your digital strategy, connectivity should be your first and main chapter. Without it, you cannot deliver all the digital projects you’re planning to (for example, to create digital hubs, digital inclusion and better broadband). It is as important as other utilities, such as water, gas or electricity.

7. The power of data

Let data drive decision-making. Analytics should be built-in, always on and easy to read. Using historical data and predictive analytics to identify individuals or communities at risk of homelessness, debt, or poverty is a valuable application that can help prevent these dire circumstances.

Some challenges faced by local government in the UK:

  • Data silos
  • Data quality
  • Limited resources
  • Lack of data literacy
  • Legacy systems

8. Take the public with you – be transparent!

The public can be quite suspicious when it comes to technology. Don’t assume that because you like technology, everyone else does. By actively involving the public in local government processes, leaders can build trust, gather valuable insights, and develop policies and projects that are more aligned with the needs and aspirations of their communities.

9. Future-proof wherever possible

When buying capital investment in technology (for example, waste and recycling vehicles), think about what they might need in five years. Don’t think about what you need now but in the future. Planning for the future ensures that local governments remain responsive, efficient and capable of delivering essential services effectively.