Photo by Mariia Zakatiura on Unsplash

We are venturing over the Stateside for episode 4 of The Value Exchange. Another impromptu recording, but we were delighted to be speaking with Virginia Hamilton. We first met Virginia when participating in an OECD supported webinar panel, entitled “Human-centred design and local employment services: possibilities, promises and pitfalls”. She says of herself  I’m an experienced public policy expert, with deep knowledge of both content and process skills. I utilize and teach design thinking (aka human centered design) to improve public policy and program design.”

In this episode we discuss some of the exciting workforce transformation work Virginia is leading on in California, the gaps in delivering real ESG outcomes and insights into employment services data, amongst other things.

This was an informal meet, not really recorded as a podcast, but we felt worth sharing, particularly as part of our more mission for more working out loud. We hope you enjoy it!

For more information on Virginia visit –  or


Youtube video – Episode 4 – Conversation with Virginia Hamilton (click to watch)

Podcast – Episode 4 – Conversation with Virginia Hamilton (click to listen)

Transcript –  scroll to see text below 

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TRANSCRIPT – Episode 4 – Conversation with Virginia Hamilton 

[00:01:28.330] – Rob Pye

Hi, everyone. We’ve got Virginia on the other side of the ocean and she’s a very special lady, doing wonderful stuff about employability and people centric work. We’ve had a chat before we were on an OECD webinar. We’ve had a follow up chat. She’s got some European colleagues that she’s working with and this is just a follow up conversation. We have no particular agenda. So it’s Annabelle, Rob and Virginia. So we saw some stuff. You started your project. We had a follow up with Miguel. Lots of ideas. I think we miscommunicated a tiny bit about value exchange in that it’s only been just before the pandemic we started using it for young people who were furthest from the labor market, you know, prior to that, for 20 years, it has been people who have been more experienced and been in the workforce for years and years, and it was a way that we work with social entrepreneurs to help them. What change do you want to build in the world? But the church has been broadening and broadening out and Annabelle is on a mission for world domination. 



Polite disruption is my new phrase. 


[00:03:03.290] – Rob Pye

Yeah, some things are doing with the police in the UK. We attended a DWP webinar yesterday where they have just launched after about two years of incubating. It’s a data portal where they’re engaging people who are working with unemployed people. In this case, it was young unemployed people and looking at how to get evidence for what works. So, basically, they’re loading up the names and addresses of thousands of people who are beneficiaries of work programs and they’re linking them with employment data, with education data, and they’re looking then longitudinally over two years of what the outcomes were for young people who were NEET and then on a program. So the first one they published, it’s quite a long study. The intervention was a six week program with one year’s mentoring, and everybody was waxing lyrical about how there was evidence that this was a fantastic program. But the evidence was that it would actually help people get less than 10% more days working over two years, less than 10% more. And that was still only 50% of their available time working and only 8% less were NEET after one year than two years. And I think that is a terrible indictment of our best programs that still all the cohort are unemployed. And by doing this one year program, we only reduce the chance of being workless by 8%.


[00:05:10.050] – Virginia Hamilton

Yeah, and I think it depends on what that one year program really is. What we’ve seen a lot here is that programs for young people that are very expensive work. Go figure.


[00:05:25.770] – Annabelle Lambert

Funny, that.


[00:05:30.330] – Virginia Hamilton

Deep connections to the employer, community internships, all of those things, they work. But the public


[00:05:38.240] – Rob Pye

As Annabelle says, that why pay people to be unemployed? Why not pay people to do some work? And so the very expensive is why don’t we just employ these young people, create work around them, and then that’s the benefit system is kind of we’ll employ them. We as in society.


[00:06:02.220] – Virginia Hamilton



[00:06:04.770] – Rob Pye



[00:06:07.250] – Annabelle Lambert

This program, I think from what I understood, was that people had to be available for 4 hours in the afternoon for a training, like intervention, I think, for six weeks, and then they got mentoring for twelve months after. So I don’t know how intense that is, really, but doesn’t sound like work experience necessarily.


[00:06:34.190] – Virginia Hamilton

People are willing to share the data and starting to match up together, which is a long time coming in a lot of places.


[00:06:44.770] – Rob Pye

So tell us what you’ve been up to, Virginia. How you been?


[00:06:50.360] – Virginia Hamilton

Yeah, so we just launched our workforce. We’re calling it the Workforce Transformation Corps. I know that sounds sort of fancy, but just as a reminder to you, we selected five local workforce boards, which are creatures here in the US. That sit between the job centers themselves and the government. And we selected five who wanted to be participants in really moving much more towards a customer focused way of doing business. And then we had 70 applicants for the job of a fellow in the Workforce Transformation Corps.


[00:07:34.680] – Rob Pye



[00:07:36.050] – Virginia Hamilton

And we’ve selected five of them. One is going to be assigned to each of the boards. And we launched the program last week down in Los Angeles. Most of the workforce boards are down in Southern California. So we went down there and we spent the first three days really just getting to know each other, trying to. I mean, they they signed up for this job, which is completely new and amorphous and difficult to describe. Go into a local government and pivot them completely from thinking the government as they are a customer to the and.


[00:08:19.600] – Rob Pye

Where were they from? Virginia? Where were the applicants from the 70? Were they working in government or were they just any 


[00:08:25.670] – Virginia Hamilton

super interesting all over. We actually advertised LinkedIn and a couple other places in addition to just going out into our own networks. So, of the five, one actually worked in youth programs in New York City with the public workforce system and had just moved out to California. One is currently working with older adults in a workforce program in Connecticut. He’s going to move out to California. And then we have a woman who has worked in the community colleges for many, many years, 20 years with the kinds of students that we see in our system as well. A woman who’s done a lot of work in county government with the sheriff’s department and other agencies but hasn’t really been working in the workforce system. And I’m missing someone who is… 


[00:09:33.430] – Rob Pye

We have a flavour? We have a flavour. Just hearing that. So, two things. One of the businesses, organizations we were incubating is about nature based recovery. It’s a wildlife biosphere business and it didn’t have any money and it wanted to recruit a volunteer CTO. So a very hot, highly qualified individual. And we put out an advert and said, look, we’re doing this thing recording the noises of the wilderness to be able to find out what wildlife is out there. And then we’re working with Amazon and AI to then scan all these recordings from the forest, from the wilderness to work out what’s there.


[00:10:33.690] – Annnabelle Lambert

That’s what it’s doing.


[00:10:35.690] – Rob Pye

That’s what it’s doing. It’s incredible. But people had a massive people, maybe 50 or 60. I mean, Ethos is not the government is not a big, no money, no definite sort of equity or whatever. But it was just something people really wanted to do and an incredible lot of applicants. And then another project we’re looking at where it’s a charity that is staffed almost entirely from secondments from big businesses who want to do youth work and help people get into work. And so they’re seconding these highly qualified business execs to be youth workers, essentially, or organizational in a nonprofit to make up the capacity of the nonprofit to transition people into their own organizations, but other big organizations. So there’s a lot of governance, innovation out there that is quite exciting. Hence..


[00:11:39.570] – Virginia Hamilton

I just have to jump in because I got excited when you started talking about nature because one of the things that we’ve done with this project is to really develop well, to develop some design principles that will guide the work of the fellows and the organizations that are based on permaculture principles. And I just came back from Mexico where I went to a resort that’s focused on sort of re restoring the watershed. There’s about 1400 families. They have a huge garden that feeds the restaurant and the hotel but also is teaching women how to be entrepreneurs and not just pick makeup, but also drive them and package them and sell them fisheries where they’re starting to work with the fishermen. All the hotels want a fish that’s only this big because it fits on the plate when they procreate.


[00:12:53.750] – Annabelle Lambert

I might recommend knives.


[00:13:00.250] – Virginia Hamilton

Anyway, they’re doing this amazing work and they started explaining the principles of permaculture to me, which I sort of, sort of knew, but not really. And I can send it to you. There are many publications out there with principles of permaculture. But we took them, 20 of them or something, and went through all of them and said, okay, how does this relate to the work we’re doing? What does it mean to maximize yield? That’s not extractive work, it’s actually producing more and reducing waste. And we took all these principles and then said, okay, what’s the principle? How does it relate to the work we’re doing? And then how does it actually relate to the fellow? What can the fellow take from this principle that they can start to weave into their work? And it’s quite fascinating and very aligned. It’s really wonderful. So I think we have twelve design principles, equity, of course, being number one. But other principles about what does it mean to not waste anything? Well, one of the things that means to not waste anything is not waste any people and not waste any young people who are the NEET people that you’ve talked about, which I don’t know why do we don’t use that acronym here


[00:14:32.060] – Rob Pye

But it’s not a nice label. But yeah, the metaphor is a powerful way to open up a dialogue to stop people bumping against the perimeters of their frames of reference that they, you know, they so often we all, you know, we have a frame of reference and we can bump into that. Very similar to where I started my journey in this with EY 22 years ago with something called an accelerated solutions environment, where we had all the board of Coca Cola and we got them in.


[00:15:16.770] – Annabelle Lambert

Lots of Post it notes, many Post it notes, not at all extractive:/


[00:15:23.590] – Rob Pye

They gave us an absolute fortune and we talked about bumblebees for a week and the metaphor of a hive mind, which is great. And so here we are 22 years on wanting to maybe extend the metaphor across boundaries and across silos. So we just interviewed, had a chat with this author of American author of a concept called Working Out Loud. And it’s just the benefit of being very open within an organization. So rather than the hierarchy closing stuff down or having some information or power asymmetry that we treat everybody as humans. And we have a very level peer to peer discussion with everyone. And it’s something we’ve believed very deeply in ethos, but naturally we’ve been quite internal about it ourselves. So it’s a sort of contradiction. Our awakening is that we should talk to everybody about everything and we’re coming out 22 years in the making, but what the hell, you know, here we are. So we had, we had some interesting ideas with Miguel, I think you’re going to hook back with you.


[00:16:46.280] – Virginia Hamilton

later this week, I think.


[00:16:48.850] – Rob Pye

Excellent. So he’s got some ideas about productizing, the work that he’s doing, the work that we’re doing, how that can kind of we had some stuff to offer to give to that not just the value exchange, but what we’re doing with organization. So we have an engagement which is primarily about social value but we will go into a board or a senior level in organization and talk about ESG. So the UN’s SDG, sustainable development goals in the case of a corporate they will produce these wonderful glossy reports about sustainability. Whether you’re BP or Shell or anyone, they have fantastic PDFs that we’re doing fantastic and that good reports, that’s not what we do. But often when you have enough trust, enough openness, enough permission that there are gaps that the organization would dearly love to address. So for example, diversity, working with young unemployed people, disability and an enormous list they actually don’t have a lot of capability to deliver. So we’ve got like a maturity model. You’ll be familiar with the Virginia’s capability maturity model or Rob’s or Annabelle’s, but people get that because it’s a simple zero one two, where are you now?


[00:18:27.350] -Rob Pye

Where would you like to go that sort of resonated with people that organizations that I want the capability, how do I give you some money, some resources in order to achieve this outcome? I’ve tried to do it myself, I’ve tried to do NEET , I’ve tried to do that, but the more I try and do it, the more I know what I don’t know. They’re starting in a state of unconscious incompetence in the model and then it’s sort of like consciously incompetent and I want to be consciously competent and then unconsciously competent.


[00:19:06.210] – Virginia Hamilton

But you’re dealing with competent government workers.


[00:19:14.450] – Rob Pye

You’ve got the value exchange for individuals, and you’ve got more of a commissioned model for organizations. And they kind of link because actually is about individuals linking with organizations, whatever level they are, whether they’re the customers in terms of design thinking outside the organization, or they’re an employee or they’re a chief exec, or they’re a factory shop floor worker. We’re all humans, right? So it’s kind of that ability to communicate a little bit more efficiently, effectively by having frames that allow people to talk to one another more. So we had some thoughts around Eric Schmidt, the Schmidt foundation, other things that you might you probably haven’t had any time to think more about outside of your California job center stuff at the moment. Other ideas.


[00:20:19.190] – Virginia Hamilton

Well, I’m working on I think I told you that is one project that’s the workforce transformation core funded by one philanthropic organization. And the other project that I’m doing is the work being funded by the Schmidt Futures. And that project we also just launched the week before last, which is sort of transporting the curriculum of a program I’ve been teaching for federal workers to teach to state workers. So here in California. So we did the first two days, we got great feedback. We had, again we had, twice as many people apply as we had room for in the class. And this was an internal recruitment within a very large agency here in California, 15,000 employees or something. And so we’re starting down that road as well, which is to how to take just sort of to your point, the stuff that’s in my brain and get it on paper and start to create some facilitator guides, try to figure out sort of what can be video, what can be real time, what has to be cohort based versus influence. And we’re just starting to work on all of that.


[00:21:45.870] – Rob Pye

So one of the things you expressed as a challenge before is in getting out of your head and generalizing it. And it was quite classroom social groups of people based rather than the Udemy or the online self paced, self learning. And interesting that we’re sort of on a similar journey with what we’re doing to try and generalize, get out of our head, get out of our so we’ve created a community of practice called the Value Exchangers. It’s not anywhere at the moment, but it’s developing. We have ambitions to develop this as a community of practice. So it’s not one organization, it’s a group of people who just are doing some things to work out loud, to do design thinking, to do peer to peer, to work out that future work journey, whoever they are, chief executives or unemployed people. It’s a very diverse group, but also in thinking about how we deliver that. So chunk up the material module segments or whatever, some of it can be self paced. But the idea of a community of practice, of course, is a social thing. It’s an engagement with other practitioners and also to develop a masterclass series.


[00:23:24.390] – Rob Pye

The master class would be Social Value. And I think that it will be quite interesting in looking at breaking the Silo boundaries, not physically, but just having the mix between a community of practice and a master class kind of emerging on social value, because there are lots of gems, you’re a gem. There’s lots of people who’ve got so much deep practice and learning out there. Let’s get some nuggets. How do we kind of surface that and go, look, there’s some great stuff that Virginia has been doing here.


[00:24:00.960] – Virginia Hamilton

And where are you based again? I mean, I know you’re in the UK.


[00:24:05.790] – Rob Pye

We’re south of London, so Annabelle is just north of Brighton, I’m just south of Croydon, so north of Gatwick, south of Gatwick


[00:24:17.090] – Virginia Hamilton

One thing we might want to think about is I got an email today from the conference that I’ve been to several times, which I have been very impressed with, called Service Design and Government. And it takes place in Edinburgh. It’s in September 20th to 23rd, I believe, and I’m planning on going. And so maybe we could figure out, I don’t know, just as we’re thinking out loud of some kind of in person, us in person confab where we do a design day or where is Miguel?


Annabelle Lambert



[00:25:02.850] – Rob Pye

We’ve got the other chap who 


[00:25:05.890] – Annabelle Lambert

Lives next door to Rob yes.


[00:25:07.330] – Rob Pye

Facilitating the conference.


[00:25:08.840] – Rob Pye

He literally is a mile from my house here. He was running that OECD conference.


[00:25:16.950] – Virginia Hamilton 

That’s right.


[00:25:17.580] – Rob Pye

Yeah, he’s just next door. It’s incredible.


[00:25:20.540] – Virginia Hamilton

So maybe we could put together a little unconference meeting of the minds in September to sort of


[00:25:33.930] – Rob Pye

Just remind me What is the name, 


Virginia Hamilton

service, design and government, I can send I’ll forward the email to you. They’re putting out a call for speakers right now and I’m going to try to I tried last year, they didn’t accept me as a speaker, but I’ll try again.


[00:25:49.580] – Rob Pye

It’s quite interesting. So we have a chief Constable who works for EFLs who’s running one of the ventures called Bill Skelly, lives in Edinburgh. But the police have just put a new UK legislation called the Serious Violence Duty. And what the Serious Violence duty means it’s a piece of legislation that has come from Parliament and it addresses serious violence, but it’s a multi agency duty. So it’s a statutory requirement for health service and police and criminal justice and even the fire service to collaborate around serious violence, which is of course a hugely social issue, not just for crime, but for health or for welfare or any other government issue. And there’s something else that we want to do more on with how some of these government initiatives can sustain themselves. Because government, we’re central, local, federal, state spend an amount of money, but then it falls off the edge of a cliff when the money’s gone, money’s gone. Okay, what’s next?


[00:27:20.110] – Virginia Hamilton

I was going to introduce you, I think, to the person that I know at the Ministry of justice who’s been working for two years on the journey of someone leaving the criminal justice system. If I haven’t done that, I will.


[00:27:35.520] – Rob Pye

No, you haven’t. And that will be fantastic because they also did a multi year data project and there are lots of data projects. And another thing I worried about that DWP is that there was no informed, it might be legal what they’re doing GDPR we have in Europe of the Data Protection Act. But I’m not convinced it’s moral or ethical because there was no informed consent from the 1000 people whose names and addresses were given to a government department. I feel uncomfortable about the implications if it was Facebook that suddenly gave 1000 names and addresses to the government because it was socially valuable in somebody’s opinion, to do that, does that make it okay? I’m sure there’d be an outcry.


[00:28:35.750] – Virginia Hamilton

We have a lot of evaluations in the workforce system done here. All anonymized. I mean, there’s a black box in between the Social Security and the Social Security number and the matching that to the wage records from employers. But there’s always an intermediary in the middle who’s anonymizing everything and making sure.


[00:28:59.790] – Rob Pye

That there’s yeah, it’s about the intermediary because although DWP would, I’m sure, be absolutely trustworthy in terms of they’ve anonymized exactly that database Social Security record and it’s totally anonymized. It doesn’t help that the result of it could be detrimental for the individual, even if it’s not attributable to their name and address. So it could further stigmatize a class of people that the government are able to say, and it is a moral dilemma. All the people that have been on that particular journey, we know that they’ve gone on to do this and that’s a good thing or it’s a bad thing. Without the informed consent of the individual, then the individual is not able to go. I don’t ever want to be linked to any other thing that the government would know about me because there will be maybe a cognitive bias or something on behalf of the central federal government that might further label me in some behavioral experiment on me. I don’t want you to do that.


[00:30:25.850] – Virginia Hamilton

You all are better at data privacy than we are.


[00:30:32.490] – Rob Pye

Yeah, we’re not good at it though. Maybe.


[00:30:34.540] – Annabelle Lambert

But no, I mean, it was uncomfortable hearing that they want we want their name, we want their address. It’s brilliant. If we can have their national insurance number, it’s all great. It all comes into our system. Of course. Everything they produce is anonymized. None of the reporting says anything about anybody, but all that is like, we want their narrative. We want to join up all the systems and know everything. And it was just, oh my goodness. Without permission, when we ask the question, are you getting consent? What’s the word? Explicit consent? Informed. It was like, well, no, yeah, there’s ways of doing it. And so it’s like, well, you’re not then, are you? You’re just molding the system to work for what you need.


[00:31:31.100] – Rob Pye

There’s a difference between informed consent and the fact that they may have ticked a consent box on a GDPR compliance when they started the program. Five years exactly. Click, click, click. Did they know you’re going to share your name and address with the government so that the government can track everything you’ve done to help other people like you? And are you okay that’s going into that. These are really tricky issues that in the case of Facebook and Google and other big privacy crises that have come out globally, I think we need to in this pathway to work also be careful. So there is another UK concept that we’ve designed but not executed brilliantly on called a data trust. And this would be that air gap that you talked about there, Virginia, that you kind of set an organization up that literally is firewalled and gapped that would then deal with the beneficiaries on all of those issues and go, well, actually, this isn’t the government. This is just a bubble that they can come in and you can say that yes or no, and we want to do that or not, but at the moment, we tend to socialize all of that data into big government agencies.


[00:32:58.720] – Rob Pye

That’s where it lives. It’s living within the government databases.


[00:33:04.250] – Virginia Hamilton

Yeah. We’ve had some funding to communities around the country here to develop data trust specifically for Workforce Development System. There’s a fellow at the University of Chicago who’s sort of been running this. There’s a company called Bright Hive, that’s Bright Hive, circle back to bees here, and they’ve been funded by I don’t know who, but they’ve been funded to set up some data trusts in some communities to start to learn about this and understand how it would work and what the implications are. I haven’t talked to Matthew in a couple of years, but

[00:33:59.790] – Rob Pye

We would one Day love to meet. So we’re doing something. There’s a county in Somerset with a young person’s charity there that is being called a Young Somerset Digital passport. We need funding for it still $150,000. But the idea is that the data trust comes from an individual perspective, so every time that individual touches the system, they get a passport, if you like. You’ve got to fill in a form, there’s data, you’ve got to do this, there’s data, you’re arrested there’s data. And of course, the individual has the right to that data, but rather than big data, the system joining it up. Individuals can almost, like, carry their digital USB key around with them through a trusted intermediary, the data trust, where the individual can have all of that. So when you’re talking about an expensive program, a homicide would cost the police one and a half million pounds to just investigate. Just the police just investigate. And this is a horrible story, but the good story is that where you have a data passport that would indicate adverse child experiences, worklessness, social issues, whatever, that actually you would give permission. Then you can unlock a huge Pandora’s box of tricks and treats that doesn’t have to be topped down.


[00:35:42.480] – Rob Pye

It could be, again, individual centric, designed around what the individual wants, and no amount of expense would seem expensive when you contrast it against a journey that goes terribly wrong. You know, right. Forgetting the human cost of this, but just the public service cost of stuff like this. We’re, we’re, we’re on our 34 minutes, but it’s a brilliant conversation.


[00:36:15.270] – Virginia Hamilton

Brilliant, exactly.


[00:36:16.630] – Rob Pye

We’ve got lots of never ending things.


[00:36:19.460] – Rob Pye

We’d love to talk to the Ministry of justice, we’re talking to a number of government agencies on social value, and I think this is all part of the community of practice around social value. The sort of expert, what do we know, young, old, rich, poor about this social value issue. To put together some master classes, I think, would be quite an appeal, not just within one organization, but between different types of stakeholders in different countries, in different contexts, because it doesn’t feel like it’s a problem we know how to solve, collectively, at least.


[00:37:04.230] – Virginia Hamilton

Yeah, not yet.


[00:37:07.510] – Annabelle Lambert

Give us a week.


[00:37:09.210] – Rob Pye

We’re going to send you a link to this recording and if you want to use it in any of your websites, in any of your work, it’s yours.


[00:37:20.350] – Virginia Hamilton

I love the working out loud, just the phrase. It just says so much I have to say. I am a reader, and if I have a choice of listening to a podcast or reading, I will read. And I’m more and more understanding that most people like to listen.


[00:37:49.110] – Rob Pye

The result of this will be a transcript video. So we’ll do all of that because we recognize that people I like to talk, annabelle likes to think. Some people like to write. Some people like to read. I listen to all my books on a podcast. I get them read by a computer, and I go out in nature and.


[00:38:15.680] – Virginia Hamilton

Listen to books and listen to books instead of nature.


[00:38:19.870] – Annabelle Lambert

I know.


[00:38:22.110] – Rob Pye

So until the next time Virginia will bring the girl and other people into this. Thank you so much for this, and we shall catch up soon.


[00:38:30.160] – Rob Pye

Thank you very much.