This week I was excited and honoured to be asked by LGCommunications to be part of a small group involved in a knowledge exchange with a delegation visiting from Telemark Fylkeskommune, Norway to share the work I’m doing at Nottinghamshire County Council and with LocalGov Digital.

First, I think we should all have a look at Telemark:

Looks amazing, right? Right.

So, things which I learnt this week about Norwegian local government were:

  • local government is organised in a fairly similar way to the UK with Fylkes (county councils) and municipalities, sharing responsibility for services in a certain area
  • this structure is being reviewed and may be re-organised to join councils up over bigger areas
  • a lot of the challenges and opportunities around communications and digital are the same as we’re facing, or have faced, here in the UK.

This last point was re-inforced throughout the day and it was astonishing how much of the work, approaches, culture and ethos was shared between the two countries public sector. There were, of course, differences too (Norway has an exciting transparency system where all emails and mail in and out of the council are published as a default) but it was the amount of similarities which made this a vibrant knowledge exchange.

I spoke about the Digital First work at Nottinghamshire County Council (you can read more about this here) including the work we’re doing across the project; specific outputs like personas, content standard and our global experience language tools; as well as the intended outcomes for better user experience and channel shift on appropriate transactions.

As part of this I spoke about social media, as did others throughout the day, and this threw up another difference between our countries, in terms of the networks which enjoy popularity. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat all do well with Norwegians but Twitter is less well used. As the platform which has played a major part in my professional network and development, as well as a significant role in the formation of LocalGov Digital, this was really interesting to learn. We didn’t really get time to explore why preference was for different platforms but it would be interesting to do this sometime.

And I also spoke about LocalGov Digital and had a couple of reflections on this. First, a personal one, that relates to the coaching conversations I’ve been having with Carl Haggerty. This is the first time I’ve presented LocalGov Digital where I haven’t felt strange about calling myself a co-founder or fully owning the part I’ve played in building the network alongside the rest of the group. While I’ve always been proud of the network and those working around it I haven’t always felt able to comfortably accept that I made some of this happen. So, that’s a pretty big thing for me and something I’ll probably reflect on more deeply in another post.

Secondly, it was interesting to consider whether the informal model of LocalGov Digital would work in Norway and whether the practitioner-led collaboration and change would be relevant to the sector over there. Again, time didn’t allow us to fully explore this but I would be interested to. In the meantime the resources we’ve put out there for the UK we’re more than happy for colleagues in other countries to make use of too. So, world, help yourself to our content standard, usability dashboard, style guide and the rest. Feel free to pick up Pipeline, digital democracy days, UnMentoring and event ideas. Just one condition – whatever you take, however you adapt it, let us know so we can share that back. Think. Do. Share. But, JFDI.

I really got a lot of out hearing from others at the meeting too. I was fascinated to hear from Emma Rodgers on the behaviour change and insight work her team are doing at Stoke City Council. And the design thinking approach being tried out with Birmingham City Council by Spaghetti Labs (also, reminded how much I love academia and how much the sector benefits from active research Рmore of this please). The overview of where the sector is at, and possibly headed was sobering from the LGA but some good ideas coming from them to try and communicate on behalf of the sector as well as work with them to innovate in tough times. Then some great internal comms and employee engagement stuff shared by Natalie Corney at Brent Council.

There were lots of great tips but I was interested to hear how they run a random conversations scheme internally to help staff meet and understand the diversity of service within the organisation. This is a macro of the UnMentoring scheme LocalGov Digital are currently running and again I wondered whether, as successful as it is on a council and national level whether this could be taken internationally too? I need to find time to blog about my recent UnMentoring conversations so this is something I’ll probably come back to then.

Overall, it was a pleasure to meet with colleagues from Norway and share with them and peers from the UK the work we’re all doing. I hope it will be the start of many more conversations and possibly even collaborations.

Thanks to Darren Caveney and Emma Rodgers of LG Communications for organising the event and inviting me to take part.