Beginning this January, we’ve really begun to get deeper into our work with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and have started to engage with a variety of different stakeholders for the ecosystem mapping project. So a lot of my learning from the past weeks has been understood in the context of the project.
On Saturday 21st January, I attended my first ever unconference: UKGovCamp. I unfortunately missed the morning sessions and so missed out on the pitching for sessions but my experience was still unlike any other conferences I’d been to before. The atmosphere was very inclusive and seemed to actively encourage participation in many different ways.
I attended a session on commissioning technology projects within the Department of Health, which highlighted the difficulties in creating and implementing functional and effective technology. The attendees discussed how issues of timelines, lack of clarity in the initial stages and sometimes lack of capacity sometimes resulted in technology products that did not fulfil their initial aims. They recognised that those working at different stages of the commissioning process were working their hardest and doing their best, but without a clear understanding of the commission, the final product cannot solve the initial problem.
One key issue they highlighted during the commissioning process was that when things are not going so well, there is often a desire for quick improvement. This sometimes means that a nebulous ‘digital solution’ to a problem is proposed, often by those who don’t work in digital services, and there may be some unwillingness to change after this initial solution is put forward. The problem with this, is that you commission the solution and not an outcome.
Additionally, when looking for a particular outcome rather than a solution it could be seen that “commissioning” may not be the right way to describe what you are actually asking for. There is the potential that if ‘commissioning’ included a period of investigation, exploring how better to use existing products rather than creating new ones, considering and investigating other options to solve the problem; it may result in more effective solutions in the long-term.
Although this discussion was in the context of providing healthcare solutions, it provided a lot of insight into the stakeholder engagement and ecosystem mapping work that I was doing for JRF. It highlighted how important it was to have a strong understanding of the ‘ask’, which in this case was the insight infrastructure. Jeni’s ‘What is insight infrastructure?’ blog post was really useful for me to get a clearer idea of what an insight infrastructure was, or could be, and has really helped me in developing a direction for the surveys and interviews we are doing.
It also reminded me that in these early stages of stakeholder engagement, although we are engaging with the aim of developing this infrastructure, it is equally as important to allow the responses of our stakeholders to inform what our ‘solution’ will ultimately look like. Thus, it is equally as important to investigate what solutions the stakeholder suggest, as they relate to their unique problems, as much as it is important to explore what they would like to see from any insights infrastructure that is eventually developed.
UK Poverty 2023
I recently attended JRF’s 2023 UK Poverty Webinar where they discussed the findings of their UK Poverty Report. Whilst, I found the entire webinar insightful into the trends and levels of poverty in the UK; what I found most useful was their constant use of context to accompany the data. Whether that was in terms of describing the general economic environment at the time that the data was collected or including quotes from those with lived experience of poverty, that added level of detail really illuminated and illustrated the figures that they had collected in my mind. From this I learnt the importance of using a variety of methods to communicate information to the variety of audiences that you are aiming to engage with. I believe it’s quite important that in these cases, communication is affective as well as effective, to truly express the significance of the findings collected. I found that the use of visual communications such as graphics and diagrams, alongside the more personal reflections illustrated a more holistic view of the state of poverty in the UK.