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In Our View, issue 41 (Focus)

Featuring coverage of December’s Leadership Academy Alumni Day

Authors and contributors: Mark Lumley, Aidan Matthews, SA Mathieson
Download as PDF Socitm-InOurView-Focus-issue-41 (opens in new tab)

This edition of Socitm’s membership publication covers the society’s Leadership Academy Alumni Day, held online on 7 December. It includes coverage of work by Kirklees Council on digital accessibility, Norfolk County Council’s use of Belbin personality profiling and how Socitm leadership courses have changed participants’ lives. There are also quizzes set by Socitm president Mark Lumley and learning programme manager Aidan Matthews.

Socitm In Our View, issue 41 (Focus)

President’s virtual quiz 

Mark Lumley started the event by asking questions about Socitm, Christmas and technology through an online quiz system. Some of Mark’s puzzles appear below. Q1-6 are about Socitm, Q7-12 are about Christmas and technology.

1. What does Socitm stand for? 

  • Society for Investors, Textiles and Models 
  • Society for Innovating, Teaching and Managing 
  • Society for Innovation, Technology and Modernisation 
  • Society for Innovators, Technicians and Modernisers 

2. How many Socitm alumni are there? 

  • 124 
  • 541 
  • 947 
  • 1,261 

3. How many Leadership Academy courses are there? 

  • 12 

4. What is Socitm’s newest Leadership Academy course? 

  • How to Be an Effective Coach 
  • Managing and Motivating Remote Teams 
  • Place-based Leadership 
  • Valuing Diversity 

5. How old is Socitm? 

  • 37 years 
  • 43 years 
  • 66 years 
  • 85 years 

6. How many members does Socitm have? 

  • 1,342 
  • 1,785 
  • 2,132 
  • 2,712 

7. What colour was Santa’s original suit? 

  • Blue 
  • Green 
  • White 
  • Yellow 

8. What was the first internet search engine? 

  • Archie 
  • Internet Explorer 
  • Google 
  • Qwant 

9. Who invented the World Wide Web? 

  • Tim Berners-Lee 
  • John McCarthy 
  • Anthony Thomas-Jones 
  • Steve Wozniak 

10. In which country do naughty children get rotting potatoes in their shoes at Christmas? 

  • Germany 
  • Iceland 
  • Ireland 
  • Sweden 

11. When was the first Christmas card sent? 

  • 1743 
  • 1843 
  • 1943 

12. H0H 0H0 is Santa’s official postcode in which country? 

  • Canada 
  • Finland 
  • Iceland 
  • Russia 
  • Sweden  

Socitm Institute director Sam Smith won the top prize of a cup of coffee with Mark at next year’s President’s Conference. Answers can be found at the bottom of this page. 

Kirklees helps external providers to improve accessibility

Kirklees Council provides accessibility test results to external providers of online services and publishes a league table, principal IT officer Graeme Murrell told the event.

The council has more than 50 external providers running services within its digital estate. “We run sessions with them to explain exactly how they can use [accessibility testing service] Silktide to see where there are deficiencies with their sites and improve the quality,” Murrell said, adding that a league table of their performance “encourages friendly competition”.

He said that Kirklees helps service providers to address problems by offering a month of consultations with its team which can help them make technical changes. It also publishes its standards and guidance for the benefit of providers and the wider public. The council is widening its focus to help support third sector organisations and is planning to offer them training on this topic.

Murrell said that he thinks interest in accessibility has increased over the last five years. Previously, advice on improvements was often not well-received with people treating it as something else they needed to do. “A lot more people now are genuinely enthused about it,” Murrell said. “The organisation is starting to really, seriously change.”

In 2001 Murrell was the first student placement to join the team and it has hosted more than 40 since then, with the current team of seven including three former and two current placement students through a link with the University of Huddersfield.

“My team is a family and accessibility is our family business”

Graeme Murrell, Kirklees Council

Lewis Pickles joined the team on placement as part of a computing course at the university: “Accessibility was something I wasn’t really aware of,” he said. “There was a massive opportunity to learn about digital inclusion, accessibility and also the workings of the council.” Pickles, who continued working for the team part-time after his placement then joined full-time on graduation, added that that he is interested in the potential to use artificial intelligence in the field.

Graeme Murrell said that Kirklees benefits from students contributing new ways of seeing and working. “Having that youthful nature to our team really keeps things going and keeps things fresh,” he said. “My team is a family and accessibility is our family business.”

Wigan hopes AI will help it be predictive and preventative

Wigan Council hopes to use artificial intelligence (AI) to become more predictive and preventative in how it works as well as using the technology for efficiency, chief executive Alison McKenzie-Folan told the event.

“Our philosophy here in Wigan is to think about digital technology in terms of enhancing humanity in the delivery of our public services, not to diminish it,” McKenzie-Folan said. This means approaching AI positively as an enabler that can allow the council to do more targeted, personalised and preventative work.

She said that the council is considering how it can test the use of AI in adult and children’s social care, such as for administration, adding that staff are generally curious about its potential despite the technology’s potential to replace jobs as well as create new ones and its ethical issues: “There are risks, clearly, as well as immense opportunities.”

McKenzie-Folan said that she sees AI as contributing to Wigan’s New Era work to tackle inequalities and deliver sustainable public services in the borough, which will involve more co-production with communities.

Courses provided life-changing confidence boost say participants

Three graduates of Socitm’s Leadership Academy courses told the event how taking part increased their levels of confidence, leading them to take on new responsibilities and offer support to others.

Alison Lincoln, ICT senior manager of project and customer delivery at Blackpool Council, took Socitm’s Empowering Women course in 2019. “It absolutely changed my professional, and probably some parts of my personal, life,” she told the session.

She said that before taking the course she had quite low confidence working in a male-dominated team and would often get talked over in meetings. “I was less technical than other people. I had other skills but I didn’t really think that they were important skills at that moment in time,” she said. The Empowering Women course led Lincoln to recognise that she had valuable skills that others did not: “I was so much more enthusiastic, I felt empowered,” she said. “In meetings, I had no self-doubt any more and I made sure my voice was heard.” She changed the way she dressed for work, moving from trousers worn to fit in with the team to dresses and skirts that make her feel more authentic.

“It absolutely changed my professional, and probably some parts of my personal, life”

Alison Lincoln, Blackpool Council

Since taking the course, Lincoln won promotion to the senior management team, has spoken at events and been shortlisted for Blackpool Council’s role-model of the year award. She was recently appointed chair of Socitm’s north-west regional group and led her first meeting at Blackpool Football Club’s ground.
Lincoln has also mentored three girls at a local sixth form college through the social mobility charity Career Ready, helping them to build their confidence through activities including attending work meetings. She has mentored a new manager in her team and encourages women in the council to raise their profiles, such as by presenting at meetings, and helped set up an Empowering Women group within the council’s IT department. She is also running the council’s IT apprentice programme.

Emma Cleal, digital development manager at Elmbridge Borough Council, has taken Socitm’s Top Talent and the Microsoft Change Agent courses. She volunteered for a Top Talent cohort that took place online during the Covid-19 pandemic as she felt it would be useful to hear from others outside her organisation. “I was really excited to find out how things are done differently in other councils that are different from my own small district council,” she said. It was also valuable to find out how much those taking the course had in common, despite having different jobs at different organisations: “I didn’t expect how validating it would be to hear from people facing the same frustrations and the same issues as me,” she added.

“I didn’t expect how validating it would be to hear from people facing the same frustrations and the same issues”

Emma Cleal, Elmbridge Borough Council

Yogita Popat, Socitm vice-president and assistant director of sustainability and insight at London Borough of Barnet, was part of the same Top Talent cohort as Cleal and has since taken the Empowering Women course and a pilot event on emotional intelligence. “You quite often go on courses to find they are quite technical, rather than the softer skills that more and more these days we have to bring to the table,” she said. “I found both Top Talent and Empowering Women really powerful in terms of helping work out where are my values and beliefs and how do they fit.”

Norfolk uses personality profiling to improve team working

Norfolk County Council has adjusted responsibilities and allocated projects using Belbin profiling of the members of digital services management team, head of IT Kurt Frary told the event.

Frary, who is also a Socitm vice-president, said the profiling found he and his boss – director of digital services and former Socitm president Geoff Connell – work and think in similar ways. “That helps us because we can split our workloads,” he said. “It means we can do more.”

Socitm’s leadership programme manager Aidan Matthews responded that when team members have similar approaches this can cause conflicts if they try to occupy the same role. But if they realise this and find a creative solution such as sharing work, they can turn a potential weakness into a strength.

Frary said the profiling also found a team member who had his “polar opposite profile” as someone who likes to finish things, meaning it makes sense for them to work on different stages of a project. “I’ll do the promotion and investigation and selling of a thing, then I step off stage and let someone else take the limelight,” he said.

The team also tries to pair up technical staff with programme managers for specific projects so their approaches complement each other, rather than just matching people who have worked together before or are immediately available. “If you don’t do that at the moment, you probably want to consider it,” Frary said. “It’s paying dividends.”

“I’ll do the promotion and investigation and selling of a thing, then I step off stage”

Kurt Frary, Norfolk County Council

The profiling has also suggested that some staff could work more effectively in different roles, with Frary saying this has led to a couple of team members moving from service delivery to project management. “We were doing them an injustice, they were simply in the wrong role,” he says. “We have seen those people shine – they have moved to more senior roles, seem a lot happier at work and come forward with many more ideas.”

Belbin profiling assesses individuals against nine types of work behaviour: resource investigator, plant (creative free-thinkers), shaper, teamworker, monitor-evaluator, implementer, co-ordinator, specialist and completer-finisher. It has been developed over several decades by management academic Dr Meredith Belbin.

Illustration of a neurodiverse brain with music, cogs and puzzles pieces floating around

Be an ally to neurodivergent staff says Williams

Public sector employers need to ensure they support staff who are neurodivergent, meaning their brains function differently to the typical, Socitm vice-president Carol Williams told the event.

“We have lived through many years of practices and policies that I think have excluded people,” she said. “Our roles as allies are to step up and challenge some of those older practices, to recognise that we have a diverse workforce.” She added that as well as supporting such staff, doing so will help to get the most out of them.

Williams recently took a course on being an ally run by West Midlands Employers, which provides support services to public sector organisations and is owned by councils in the region. This said that one in five people have a disability with four-fifths of these being hidden and one in seven people are neurodivergent.

The course led her to change the way she reacts to issues including staff behaviour and illnesses, she said, adding: “As a senior leader, I have got a responsibility to put an arm around people, to encourage, to enable and to be curious.”

Nations and regions news


Glasgow City Council has invited residents to use an online portal to suggest where they would like to see new woodlands and wildflowers planted, with the service also taking payments for commemorative trees in parks. 


Swansea Council has relaunched its Big Heart of Swansea progressive web app with 26 offers, a searchable directory of city centre businesses, a dining out guide and information on council-run car parks. 

Northern Ireland 

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is leading Northern Ireland’s local authorities in administering the Digital Transformation Flexible Fund, a £7.5 million programme which aims to help small businesses and social enterprises digitise. 

Republic of Ireland 

Limerick City and County Council won an award for Limerick on Foot, which includes a digital walking and running guide, and was named authority of the year in the Chambers Ireland Excellence in Local Government awards. 

North-east England 

Tees Valley Combined Authority is supporting a 5G digital test bed within Teesside International Airport, part of the area’s freeport, that would help carry out trade, goods movements and processes digitally. 

Yorkshire and the Humber 

Sheffield City Council is giving away up to 10,000 day travel tickets to users of its BetterPoints Sheffield app, which it launched in September to promote walking, cycling and use of public transport. 

North-west England 

Greater Manchester Combined Authority is planning to use 5G connectivity and Internet of Things sensors to improve management of its road network and prioritise buses and bicycles, as well as to manage heat pumps in social housing. 

East Midlands 

Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire fire and rescue services have jointly awarded a contract to Saab UK for a new emergency mobilising system, replacing a tri-service agreement that also included Leicestershire. 

West Midlands 

Transport for West Midlands will upgrade road sensors at 32 locations to track the likelihood of near misses with data on speeds and directions, to help the organisation identify dangerous sites and plan improvements. 

East of England 

Essex County Council is introducing a smart voice service as part of a programme designed to help speed up hospital discharge and support people’s healthcare by monitoring activity and providing reminders. 

South-east England 

West Sussex County Council will run a project to support the use of 5G and artificial intelligence in food and drink production following the award of £3.8 million in central government funding. 

South-west England 

Swindon Borough Council plans to make a service that uses generative artificial intelligence to create easy to read versions of documents available to others on an open source basis early next year. 


Lewisham Council has generated £1.2 million in extra pupil premium funds for schools through data analysis that identified more than 500 families who appeared to be eligible then telling them it would apply on their behalf unless they objected. 

Truth or myth quiz

Aidan Matthews, Socitm’s learning programme manager, again challenged delegates to answer his post-truth festive quiz. Can you spot which statements are truth and which are myths? 

  1. Scotland’s national animal is the unicorn. 
  2. The longest place name in the world is in Wales. 
  3. Brazil is home to the biggest Japanese population outside Japan. 
  4. Ablutophobia is the fear of bathing. 
  5. Peanuts are a type of nut. 
  6. The fax machine was invented before the telephone. 
  7. Humans are taller after a night’s sleep than they are before going to bed.  
  8. Men have more bones in their bodies than women. 
  9. Calcium is the most common metal in the human body. 
  10. The UK is the only country that isn’t required to put its name on postage stamps. 
  11. Humans share 95% of their DNA with bananas. 
  12. 31.8% of those living in England and Wales in 2021 were born outside the UK. 
  13. The Sahara is the world’s largest desert.  
  14. Socitm is planning to introduce a ‘Be your own Elvis’ course in 2024. 

Answers can be found at the bottom of this page. 

Local and national events

Discover all of Socitm’s events, programmes, courses, webinars and workshops

View events calendar

Answers to president’s virtual quiz: 1. Society for Innovation, Technology and Modernisation, 2. 1,261, 3. 9, 4. Place-based leadership, 5. 37 years, 6. 2,712, 7. Green, 8. Archie, 9. Tim Berners-Lee, 10. Iceland, 
11. 1843, 12. Canada.

Answers to truth or myth quiz: 1. Truth, 2. Myth, 3. Truth, 4. Truth, 5. Myth (they are legumes), 6. Truth, 7. Truth, 8. Myth, 9. Truth, 10. Truth, 11. Myth (we share about 60% of our DNA with bananas), 12. Myth (16.8% according to the 2021 Census), 13. Myth (Antarctica is larger and officially a desert), 14. Myth, but Socitm will run its Place-based Leadership programme next year.