At the last LocalGov Digital steering group meeting Carl Haggerty introduced his idea of an UnMentoring scheme to the group as part of his work on skills and capacity in the sector.

The idea was a little like ChatRoulette (or maybe, as Phil Rumens pointed out, this from Father Ted) in that those who signed up would be paired randomly with each other and agree to have a conversation sometime during the next month. It was based on a model used by Nesta around institutionalised serendipity but there were no rules around what the conversation should cover or achieve.

Of course, it’s not fully random as the people signing up all feel they are aligned with LocalGov Digital and doing things better together for the sector but there’s still a fair amount of variation in how each one engages with this ethos.

I had my first conversation with one of Devon County Council’s content designers. This meant there was common ground as content is my background too, and we both happen to be working on the Care Act at the moment.

We covered how we’d both ended up where were and what attracted us to working in local government and then our conversation was very much of a practical nature and sharing the approach to Care Act compliance in each of our councils. It was fascinating to hear that cultures, perceived risks and attitudes were similar across both organisations but that there had been different work done to come to the same compliance. I was particularly interested in hearing about the user research Devon has been carrying out with different groups in order to understand needs at a high level but also things like language at a more detailed level. I was really inspired by the work the content designer had done (I’m not naming her as I didn’t discuss whether she’d be happy for me to do so. Internet mentions aren’t for everyone) and we’ve agreed to have more conversations between both teams to see what we can share and learn from each other.

My second conversation, earlier this week, was very different but no less interesting. This time I spoke with someone working within a service and not a ‘digital’ worker directly, just very interested in how he could digitise his service (again, not naming as didn’t discuss whether this would be something they were happy with). It was fascinating to hear a frontline view and about channel shift of a service I don’t have direct experience of (because it’s handled by another tier of local government). I think I was able to give some helpful ‘digital’ professional advice but probably most usefully, suggest a couple of people I thought could be of more help because they have shared experience and have progressed on some of the issues being faced.

This conversation particularly, and UnMentoring as a whole, have crossed here with some of the things I spoke about in my first coaching session, where I discussed what my role and value are within (online and offline, professional and personal) networks.

Through those conversations, my own reflections and a few recent experiences (including UnMentoring) I’ve come to realise that my role is mainly that of ‘connector’. And that far from meaning this makes me the Littlest Hobo (matching things and people up then moving on, making new friends but mostly feeling alone) this is a pretty vital role within a network. This article, which pulls on points in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, has been particularly useful in my thinking about connectors. While I’m not sure I am the uber-connector the article / Gladwell describes (or as cool as London in The Littlest Hobo) I do recognise some of those qualities in the way I act within a network, which is really interesting and helping me to understand my value. I want to think about this a bit more, and possibly use my next coaching conversation with Carl to explore further, but feel it’s something I’ll blog on again.

For now, my main reflection on taking part in UnMentoring is that it’s aligned with my love of possibilities, people and shared passion while also leading to practical actions in the work I’m currently undertaking. The more people involved the higher the value to all – so sign up here and maybe I’ll talk to you soon?


Find me on Twitter or leave a comment below. And if you’d rather read an overthought pop music review including the word ‘panopticon’ you can find my words about music on Louder Than War.