Dominic Campbell - GovConnect Interview

008 Dominic Campbell
(CEO, Future Gov & Interim Chief Digital Officer, Homes England)

Connect with Dominic: LinkedIn|Twitter| Future Gov| Homes England

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Introductions and Background

Andrew Kirk: Hello, I’m Andrew K Kirk CitySourced Chief Revenue Officer and today I’m talking with Dominic Campbell, founder and CEO of Future Gov and the Interim Chief Digital Officer of Homes England the non-departmental public body, which funds affordable housing in England. As our listeners hopefully know our goal with GovConnect podcast is to speak with as many interesting and diverse Chief Innovation Officers, Chief Information Officers and IT and digital leaders in order to learn about their rapidly changing roles in government, Dominic, welcome to GovConnect.

Dominic Campbell: Hi. Thanks a lot for having me.

Andrew Kirk: Awesome. Well, you’re actually our first International guests on GovConnect. So thank you for making the time late there in England and you have a lot to hold up in terms of setting the tone for our International guests. You think you’re up to the challenge here today?

Dominic Campbell: I’m on it. I’m on it. No pressure at all. It’s great great chatting with you.

Andrew Kirk: Well, let’s dive in to your background in your career history. You have a very unique dual roles that you wear now that definitely will want to get into but tell us how you got to where you’re at today?

Dominic Campbell: Sure thing. So, yeah, when people ask that question I tell the story about how I sincerely wanted to work always in city government from about the age of 14. Probably the only person that you’ll ever talk to that will admit to that. Having gone through my wanting to be a priest phase I then decided that I was more interested in city government. So that’s what I that’s what I got into straight out of University got into working in London city government mostly looking at policy about organizational improvement kind of work and then ultimately got into large-scale organizational transformation enterprise IT and restructuring really, but really the thing that struck me during that process was just how at times how sort of robotic that work could be and how this sort of blunt application of very large very monolithic technology didn’t really have the heart and soul of Public Services that I was interested in.

I felt like we’re dealing with some of the most intense emotional Human Services in governments. Things like Child Protection or supporting older adults and applying a very as I say like a top-down blunt instrument of technology change and so felt that was a bit of a disconnect between those two things, became interested in digital and design at that times.

This was sort of 2006. I would say 2007 and essentially. Started to learn a lot around how the internet was disrupting the private sector, the opportunities that might bring in thinking about how it could be used in many ways to bring a more human side to technology into public services. So I in many ways accidentally left local government, city Government after 5 years having spent the 10 years before that wanting to work in it was very strange to then leave it so quickly in many ways, but I wanted to really think about how could these new internet technologies and design thinking human center design be applied to the sector as a whole not just one part of city government.

So that’s when I set up Future Gov as a as a Consulting practice to think to work with local government across the UK and then a bit in Australia as well a bit in the US but mostly in the UK to think about how could these new practices be applied to changing public services to bring a very different approach to how we redesign our governments and make them fit for the 21st century.

Andrew Kirk: So as you mentioned Future Gov I believe recently just turned 10 years old. So congratulations. It’s never easy to go out on your own, but maybe you could explain a little bit what Future Gov does and how you go about your work with government?

Dominic Campbell: Yeah, and I appreciate that. Yeah, I especially as an accidental entrepreneur. It’s it’s really strange to look back and think that it’s been it’s been 10 years that we’ve been at this now and it’s also hard to imagine quite where the sector was 10 years ago where things like Twitter and other tools we’re definitely not mainstream like they are now.

You know, really we started off doing anything we could to try and persuade people in city government that the internet was going to be a thing one day trust us more than just a thing where you could pay your tax or fill in a web form that actually it was going to be really important for human conversations that the proliferation of social media was going to be important in terms of community engagement and and so really it was sort of beg borrow and steal and try and do whatever whatever we could to try and persuade people through small examples of imagine if imagine if if you approach this problem in this different way very much a sort of creative agency thought process at that point around applying internet age technologies to Public Service problems.

And then over time we started to build our own technology as we started to see opportunities to demonstrate the kinds of things that could be done to solve these challenges. So things like our Patchwork app, which looks at connecting Frontline workers across the city in order that they can triangulate the relationship that they have with a child in a family get better information and stay in touch as a police officer with a social worker a child protection worker, a teacher, a doctor and really do that sort of really great link thing that the internet is so good at so we build that we did another one called Casserole Club, which was essentially trying to take Meals on Wheels from a blank piece of paper and think about what is Meals on Wheels when you think about it and at its heart it’s a matchmaking service between people who need food and people who want food, people who want to provide food for those people who need it and and the so we again looked at well, what could the internet bring to the situation? And obviously it sounds very much like a dating app, which is obviously a very strong use case on the internet. So we we built a the equivalent of a dating app for communities to help connect people who are willing to cook dinner for people who needed that support. So at that point, we’re very much testing, playing with ideas trying to demonstrate value and over the last three or four years. We’ve done a scaled to towards a hundred people based out of London and we have almost put the pieces back together again going back to my roots which are very much in organizational change and design and so now we work at scale in organizations like Homes England like large County council’s like Essex London boroughs like Hackney where they essentially come to us with large problems, which are often found it around like we are using old-school technology. We have got very expensive service provision, but we just can’t see a way out of this. How can we think differently about this problem? And so we generally put in a sort of multidisciplinary team of designers, researchers technologists, strategists and start to look at how might we how might we rethink the way that this housing service is delivered and how might we better connect communities, how might we help with people and their journey coming out of a hospital admission back into social care environment. What role does organizational change play? What’s the role of digital technology? How do we make that experience as appealing as any other sort of startup experience that we’re all used to whether it’s getting a pizza delivered or ordering a taxi. Where we really believe that public people receiving Public Services shouldn’t be second-class citizens, but should get exactly the same level of experience that we all do in our everyday lives.

Andrew Kirk: So I know when you think about an outside agency at least here in the states, you’re going to get the spectrum of people think it’s a brilliant way to create new ideas versus that’s not really a sustainable model. From your side of that conversation when does it and win doesn’t it make sense for governments to bring in outside agencies?

Dominic Campbell: It’s interesting. It really varies. I think we actually internally we’ve been doing a bit of work on this recently where I think we’ve ended up coming to something like five or six different scenarios in some ways so that in terms of the type types of engagements that we have. So sometimes we have people who are just at the very beginning of their journey and they just want to be inspired or they might you know, They’re a little bit skeptical but interested so they just give you a one-off problem to solve and then they might come back for more. There are others who might be at the other end of the spectrum that they’re fully mature. They have their own in-house designing digital change capabilities, but they just need help with capacity to try and access talent that they haven’t been able to themselves or that there is an additional project on their list that they need doing but they just can’t resource it. And then there’s everything in between but I’d say the most frequently it’s you know, we talked about not wanting consultancy capture quite explicitly. We really are because I think you know my background and our founding principles are around sustainable better Public Service. Our model is very much predicated on like sincerely and like from a point of trust and and hopefully credibility people recognize that our advice is generally to be trusted around, you know, if we’re saying we don’t want to be here forever. We want to build sustainability into your own change process. We try and build this sort of minimum viable intervention. That can help them upscale layer their workforce to be able to take it on themselves to have their own in-house Future Gov with we run a thing called the Futures Academy that allows people to develop their own design and research and technology skills so they can take it on from us.

So for me, I think it depends where people are on their maturity journey. It might just be a sort of suck it and see and come back later If we if we think it’s the right thing to do others might say it’s because capacity but most often people say it is I’m broadly bought in help me make this change, but make sure you leave capacity and capability behind when you go.

Andrew Kirk: So I know you and your organization you’ve thought a lot about design thinking so first just for our listeners who aren’t as familiar with that topic. Could you give us an overview and tell us all so why  applying design to government use.

Dominic Campbell: Sure. I would say I’m quite quite quite proud to say that it’s becoming quite mainstream now and almost at that tipping point of acceptance that it’s how things are done around here. Obviously that’s different in different places, but much more than it’s ever been. It’s accepted as a key tool of transformation and I think the thing that differentiates it from what’s come before is that this is my of their own teams with business analysts with sort of more lean thinkers, business process re-engineering, those have tended to be the tools of choice for making change in savings within government over time. Whereas and that’s very much an inside out change process. It’s very much thinking about let’s assume that the status quo is here to stay. Let’s assume that these systems, these processes these ways of working are broadly in place. How do we make the best of that situation? How do we make it as efficient as possible. Where design comes from is very much about an outside in design approach. It’s very much about what is the lived experience of our service users when they’re interacting with public services. Never mind what’s beneath the waterline. Never mind what’s behind the scenes. Ultimately the only thing that should matter to us is how do we make that as simple and elegant as possible for people who are experienced and interacting with government and so design thinking brings an approach that allows for the voice of those Public Service users to be heard, for them to explain the complexities of the process that they have to go through. To visualize those journeys, to try and express those pain points and opportunities for change and and so essentially that’s what it brings through design research, which is very much ethnographic talking to people watching their behaviors understanding the challenges that they have and then working through to design solutions to make a very joined up and simple and hopefully elegant experience in public services. Prioritizing the customer journey rather than the bureaucratic process.

Andrew Kirk: Great overview. Thanks for that. I want to talk a little bit about something that actually made me laugh when I first heard you say it. You’ve said that every government comes to you and tells you “we want to be a digital leader,” but you think what that leader should actually care about doing is having a healthy sense of self awareness about where their organization really exists digitally today. So, why do you believe it’s important for this realization and what steps do you take to help people kind of walk them down that path of digital reality today?

Dominic Campbell: It’s absolutely fundamental to me in terms of all the work that we do. I mean we can all come up with frameworks. We can come up with strategies, we can come up with, you know, the newest buzzword around AI or big data or machine learning automation and all of that is valid. But none of it is meaningful, ultimately unless that organization understands, you know where they are now like they start from a point of self-awareness rather than delusion so that they can actually move from where they are to where they want to be rather than from where they would you like to be seen to be too somewhere else that doesn’t quite function because they didn’t quite understand how their technology is put together, how their culture is or isn’t working, whether they have sort of a vision and strategy around the organization as a whole not just in a digital sense and without that sort of self-awareness. It’s really it’s really difficult for people to actually to move forward through the stages. I mean we use a a maturity model it’s not rocket science as a former bureaucrat I’m not particularly a fan of Frameworks. I’m not a big fan of two by two matrices and things that try to over simplify the complex reality but interestingly it was city governments who came to us and said it’s all well and good you telling us that what we’re doing isn’t good enough and that we have to try harder and do differently, but where’s a roadmap for change. So we develop this to maturity assessment to allow those organizations to work with us to say in this part of your organization you have paper-based processes in this part you have what we call paper online, which is that dreaded PDF logo, which actually I hate even more than paper because it means I have to find a printer somewhere and then somehow mail back a form to people. So all you’re really doing is distributing the cost of printing to your citizens, but not giving them any meaningful digital service right the way up into being able to make a simple payment online or an end to end transaction online and then ultimately possibly even thinking about business model change. The problem with maturity assessments in many ways is that it’ll if kind of It ultimately says you’re immature or mature as if there is some sort of ultimate Panacea of what a single city government digital city government should look like and it is our belief that we that isn’t isn’t true that there may be reasons why you’ve left certain things in in a paper-based process because legislation says you’re not going to be running that service in two years time so it’s not worth the it’s not worth the investment at this point, etc, etc. So really we try and make sure that it’s much more about. Is it just about understanding where you are and then setting out and aspiration for each of your services and exactly what the nature of digital is for those services in different use cases because not everything has to develop in the same way. So for us that’s super important to help people then develop a roadmap and move forward from that position.

Andrew Kirk: So you hit on it a little bit there as far as a business model reorganization, but you have this incredibly fascinating concept and I actually listen to it a few times over and over again prior to our chat today and it’s regarding how while the tech giants like Airbnb and Uber are thinking about the radical reinvention of the status quo and using digital tools to do that. On the other hand governments are spoofing it as you say and meaning that they’re mostly just thinking about the digitization of status quo. So it’s a pretty blunt assessment that you have and so I guess I would also perhaps may be challenged a little bit because as you’ve acknowledged those private companies, they have the luxury of servicing only groups with money and means to do so and whereas government institutions there are democratic safety net for sure. So given that fundamental difference can governments be expected to make this giant shift?

Pushing Government to the Edge

Dominic Campbell: It’s pushing governments to the edge where I think like where where I believe things can be possible because you and you know, the way change works is that if you push them to 20 years ahead then hopefully they’ll get to five years ahead. If you only push him to five years ahead and they’ll probably stick up one one year ahead. Like I do understand that there is an awful lot of underlying complexity around all of that. I mean interestingly so the last nine months I’ve been playing this dual role that you were talking about, which is in Homes England, which is England’s housing agency that is intended to enable the market to increase the development of new homes across the country and within that I’ve been pushing them very much to think about a transformative approach about thinking about again how they’re almost the marketplace for the housing market they owned land and they have investment to put into construction industry and housing organizations in order to make you know increase the velocity and volume of housing in England that’s coming through the pipeline. And again, that’s that’s a classic internet marketplace, you know land plus money equals houses and said of the longer-term vision is how do we become a platform organization that is very digitally driven? And I use that very much as a leverage to get a new organizational vision to get people behind that longer-term goal. But over time what’s happened Is that that pure vision is crowded out by the everyday reality of broken systems along a lot of underinvestment people who are still haven’t used Windows 7 on bad laptops and so I’ve softened my position or essentially created a sort of twin track position which which is something that’s quite common in our work these days which is the the sort of strategy within homes and Technology now is modernized to transform its doing those two simultaneously. What is the money that we have to spend in the next three years to enable and unlock even imagining that sort of marketplace position for Homes England in the longer term? How do we get our data straight? How do we get our systems connected in order that we can then use that data in a very rich very digital era way to connect market demand and supply of housing. So yeah for me, I think the my main frustration is just people approaching change in a very linear way where they think that you have to go through year one to get two year to get to you three, whereas instead actually, really you probably need to twin-track two-year ones two year twos in order that they converge at some point a lot sooner in the future whether there is that fundamental disruption of their business model of their approach? And that doesn’t mean they just wrap a broken organization with broken technology with a fancy new website that allows them to pretend that they’ve actually fix their problems and reduce the cost and complexity. Because people very quickly become sort of satisfied and don’t then make that leap to a transform future. So for me is just about how did you create that that twin-track space, you know, and you see it in models like SpaceX to be honest as well. It might even be that you have to create organizations outside or in parallel to your own in order to jump to a 21st century business model. NASA was not able to massively innovate, massively reduce the cost of deliveries to the space station. They enabled SpaceX to be created. They were then when that succeeded we’re able to switch off the cost of that service within NASA and outsourced it essentially to Elon Musk to do in a much more modern much more efficient much more low-cost way and so it’s tactics like that that I think will get us to the digitized for now, but also at the same time be building the future. Don’t wait for the digitization to happen before you start.

Andrew Kirk: So speaking about that digitization of the future and the models you’re thinking about accomplishing that I know something that you have spoken about is this digital officer as a service and how this could reshape digital leadership. Could you explain this mindset and its impact?

Dominic Campbell: Yeah, I’ve had a very unique opportunity in the last nine months at Homes England where mostly as an outside consultancy and  organization you are essentially sort of bounded in the work that you can do your given quite a tight brief and you’re given and you’re often layered underneath in house leadership. That is very clear about you know, what is go no-go in terms of politics in terms of personal success and progression, etc. etc.

The Chief Digital Officer that I’ve been lucky enough to play for the last nine months is one that we’ve sort of given the name CDO as a service where the requirement of the contracts with Homes England was that I as the boss of Future Gov came in with 20 of my team to be the interim Chief Digital Officer. Not just coming in as an interim, but you’re coming in as a like you’re neither just a consultancy on the one hand nor just an interim but you’re both simultaneously you’re given the keys to the car and you’re given the authority to bring in those modern skills with you in order to add to the in-house team and really demonstrate live what that future mindset is, what that future skill set is in order to not just fix it in point problem with a tech products or solution but actually own the entirety of the technology strategy the culture change within the organization, the ways of working. I’ve done a restructure. I sit on the senior leadership team reporting to the chief executive so actually empowered to make that change happen for real. Rather than just leave behind some nice customer journeys and the strategic document but actually do it for real.

Andrew Kirk: So I know it’s been under a year you’ve been in this role, but I’m sure it’s something you’ve thought about over your career in the last 10 years working in government. What are the biggest challenges you see facing Chief Digital Officers today?

Dominic Campbell: I think the main thing is this huge cousin between the past and the future and in every sense so do you almost need to be this sort of 360 degree individual certainly really good at building teams around you to cover your weaknesses to sort of make sure that you have the depth across data technology design, change management, etc. etc. And so you have to be a great team builder and of modern skills of multidisciplinary teams, but you but you also have this pressure on you to be technology fluent be able to articulate a really compelling business model shift narrative, so you’re a chief strategist in many ways you are expected to understand the shifts in the market and way we can draw from Innovation and Innovative practice. So you have to be doing full site and horizon scanning your both changing your own organization, but then in my case expected to be able to keep abreast of what’s happening in the property technology market or the housing technology. So that you can promote that work and and and sort of try and supercharge the the the wider market to move into the 21st century as well. So you’ve really you’ve really got a very broad from out there to the very depths of can I get my my laptop replacement? Type of remit you have to be able to shape a narrative and a compelling strategy that is much more about business need and the future of the organizational strategy supported by technology in a way that the the sort of predecessors to CDO’s the CTO CIO type roles were very much about listen to listen to the business needs and do what they tell you to do by the technology that meets their business design. Well, actually the role of a good Chief Digital Officer in my opinion is to be much more opinionated than that to actually have as much design resource in your back pocket as technology resource to work with the organization to help them essentially, imagine things they can’t imagine on their own and then help them design a blueprint to be able to get there which is a very different role to almost being at the end of a chain of events where you then go and buy some technology and implement it. It’s much more about leading the vision of the organization into that future in order to either if you’re outside a government so that you stay ahead of the market and you keep your market advantage and don’t get disrupted or if you’re in government it’s often about well 21st century public services are better but there are also a lot cheaper. How do you how do you demonstrate that? How do you create that value? And how do you persuade your colleagues that you’re not just a technologist? You are an organizational strategist and someone who’s interested in customer experience as well.

Rapid 3Q’s

Andrew Kirk: Let’s shift and get started with what we call our rapid three questions. CitySourced is all about the power that local governments can have in delivering more services via the smartphone. What type of phone do you use and what’s your favorite personal mobile app?

Dominic Campbell: I’m an Apple Man unashamedly and spend my entire life on slack like probably half the world these days.

Andrew Kirk: Two, what’s one book you most recommend or give away to others?

Dominic Campbell: Yeah, so the book is that we’ve been given away recently and in fact giving away to some of our clients as well is called The Silo Effect by Gillian Tett which is a really great read for anybody who’s very interested in disrupting organizational structure and form. Very much about something I’m interested in about the sort of some of the tactics organizations use knowingly or unknowingly to maintain themselves sort of the organizational immune system and how you can overcome that. So yeah, that’s what we’re interested in.

Andrew Kirk: Three what’s one tool, software or even non-tech hack that you’re using to make your life better?

Dominic Campbell: Interestingly I’m quite old school when it comes to hacks to run my life. I use this combination of notes in my calendar and on my alarm on my phone to keep me in check which brings great hilarity to my wife and other people when when I’m self-managing to within an inch of my life, but then also something that will say gets me in trouble is just the simple notepad on the phone. Because clients will often see me as texting not paying attention, whatever and it I’ve got into the habit now saying I promise I’m not looking at my phone. I’m just taking notes from this meeting.

Andrew Kirk:  Well that ends our episode for today, thank you so much Dominic for joining. Please let our listeners know where they can find out more information and connect with you online.

Dominic Campbell: So I’m most easily found at eat most easily found at Dominic Campbell on Twitter and I’m a compulsive tweeter so that would be the best place to find me.

Andrew Kirk: Perfect. We’ll make sure that we link to your Twitter account on and in our show notes and for you the listeners, if you want to learn more about how local governments are delivering more services to residents through our mobile app platform, please visit us at If you have any feedback about the show, I’d love to hear it. Shoot me an email at Andrew at or on Twitter at Andrew K Kirk. We’re on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play Music and Spotify, please subscribe to GovConnect through your favorite podcast service and leave us a review. It greatly helps us to spread the word that GovConnect is the podcast for local government innovation.

Thanks for listening.