Shifting Digital Sands

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An edited version of this has also been published on the Guardian Public Leaders Network Blog

The landscape of digital is constantly changing and being redefined with every new development, technology breakthrough, success and failure. We need digital public sector leaders who can properly navigate this environment, and ensure that they are connected to outcomes and not traditional organisation objectives.

Here are three guidelines to get your started…(i’ll follow these with more in the next post).

1. Champion open data
We need leaders who can ensure that information and data is open by default, and secure when absolutely required. Too often councils commission digital programmes only to find the data generated does not easily integrate with other systems, or that data is not council-owned and can only be accessed at further cost.

2. Don’t get distracted by flashy products
Leaders must adopt an agnostic approach to technology, and not get seduced by the ever-increasing number of digital technologies and lose sight of real user and business needs.

3. Learn from research and practice
Tales of misplaced IT investments plague the public sector, and senior leaders are understandably hesitant when considering future investments. To avoid causing even more disruption, we should learn from each other and research findings from across the digital landscape.

Making the decision to properly invest in digital leadership will not just improve decision making about digital solutions and strategies. It will also bring in the knowledge needed to navigate the complex security requirements that surround public-sector IT. And it will ensure that practices honed in the digital environment become embedded in the council more generally.

In Devon, for example, we are making sure all the public information and services we offer online are based on the experience and behaviour of users – not an easy shift but its the hard work we should do if we want to make things better. This has led service teams to refocus on the needs of citizens rather than those of the organisation, a subtle cultural shift and we are now starting to see some positive responses from within services. And our experiences of future proofing, agility and responsiveness are informing service design throughout the council.

So what is holding us back?

Across local government there is still a fragmented approach to collaboration, although this is starting to improve and I hope that LocalGov Digital can be a part of shifting the perceived value of informal collaboration away from unprofessional outputs. In central government, the Government Digital Service is charged with providing the right environment for change across all government departments. However, in local government, digital leaders often work alone without a unifying strategy across the sector. It is important to understand and recognise that the Government Digital Service is more than just a team pushing and promoting digital in central government: they are the future of central government, attempting to transform everything – transform how government works as a system.

Initiatives such as LocalGov Digital, NLGN Shaping the Digital Agenda, O2’s Local Government Digital Fund, the DCLG/LGA local digital alliance and the Guardian’s many public sector forums and networks are all helping to push forward debate, spread good practice and build a sense of urgent optimism around the local government digital agenda. But at present there is no equivalent to the unified force of the Government Digital Service.

Local Digital leadership can provide an alternative approach to a centralised local government digital service, after all this is exactly what LocaGov Digital is doing. But do we really want to or can we rely on it alone?

Hack Devon County Council

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As a Council we are at the beginning of our Open Data Journey.

We have used and reused others peoples open data, we have experimented with a hack weekend supported by students from Plymouth University we have set up an Open Data forum on 27th February and now we are taking the next step and taking part in Rewired State’s Hack the Government.

It is happening on the 8-9th March and for more information about the event and the challenges check out the Hack the Government Exeter page

To contact the NHTG Exeter team email: nhtgexeter@rewiredstate.org  or follow them on twitter:  @nhtgexeter

#Localgov Digital Free Usability Dashboard – Beta

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I really do love seeing the informal collaboration that LocalGov Digital has built up to deliver outputs through voluntary involvement from practitioners from across the sector.

This time around we are please to announce the launch of a beta usability dashboard, enabling councils and webteams to gather additional levels of evidence and data to inform their design and development.

All the hardwork and development was done by Simon Gray from Birmingham City Council. As a group we simply helped support him, test and identify ways in which others councils could also use the tool to help them improve their websites.

Full details of the dashboard and the link can be found on the LocalGov Digital website.

LocalGovCamp is back for 2014

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LocalGovCamp – Flickr by #ashroplad – https://www.flickr.com/photos/47624301@N06/

Just a quick post to highlight that LocalGovCamp will be back this year and will be organised by LocalGov Digital.

LocalGovCamp will take place in Birmingham on Saturday 21 June 2014.

The camp will be part of a two day event run by the LocalGov Digital network, with Friday (20 June 2014) activities focused on the network’s work streams including a LocalGov Digital Makers event.

More information will be released shortly – follow the LocalGovCamp Twitter account for the latest updates.

If you are interested in sponsoring or helping out then get in touch on Twitter via @localgovcamp or @localgovdigital, or contact Sarah Lay, as work stream lead organising the event.

Navigating the Digital Climate

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This post is part of a series which will also be cross posted on the Guardian Public leaders Network.

Investment in digital technology is undoubtedly key to the future of local public services – from providing public information all the way through to protecting and safeguarding vulnerable people. Whether you are a local council, voluntary organisation, private company or a community group, ensuring our collective investments are fit for the future also requires identifying and investing in supporting leaders with the digital and managerial skillsets needed to steer the course in a constantly shifting digital landscape.

Within the current financial climate, digital technology is often held up as a means of providing cost effective solutions to a wealth of problems dealt with by local public services. Through digital technologies councils hope to be able to integrate multidisciplinary teams, reduce customer contact, encourage self service, provide digital by default services and internally enable mobile and flexible working so that we can make the most of our estate and property, although that in itself is about opening up our estate where possible to allow others space to work and provide services.

We also look to digital products and services to improve the transparency and accountability of our decisions, to provide efficient and effective communications with citizens, and to foster community capacity by enabling citizens to connect with each other. We are also pushing our staff, officers and elected representatives to embrace and integrate digital into their own lives so we can connect on a more personal level and build new and more direct relationships.

Personally speaking and I make no secret of this, I’m a huge advocate of digital and the opportunities it presents, even in the current climate I get excited by the transformative potential of digital but none of that means anything without a shift in how we think, how we see ourselves as organisations, as employers and how we provide local services. Here in Devon, we recognise that digital is an important opportunity and a foundation for change and will be necessary to secure future savings but no more than recognising that we must change the way we think to ensure we do things differently and do different things. But none of this is easy when we are wrapped in a complex web of legislation and statutory responsibilities and the traditional risk adverse approaches creep back in when uncertainly reigns supreme.

For me digital is much wider than simply products and services and is about creating a climate where digital products and services contribute towards reconnecting people and places to enable problems to be solved. It is about creating a culture where local public services are Open by Default and Digital by Design.

Looking at a couple of examples here at the council we have explicitly stated that digital products and services are key to the success of our Estates Strategy by which we hope to deliver a reduction of 29% in running costs and 35% in occupied floor area between 2012 and 2017.  And targeted investment in digital systems is also key to both our Digital Content Strategy and Public Information Strategy and the service redesigns that will follow our upcoming reviews of council services – which together we hope will enable our citizens not just to ‘self-serve’ but also to ‘self-help’.

This cannot be simply about the technology and its delivery. For this work to really succeed we must invest in the leadership capacity both of our council and of our citizens. We need to make sure we are not just investing in products, but a culture that ensures that the right products are taken up and which allows these products to flourish.