A Framework for the future of Digital Local Public Services

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I’ve been thinking a lot recently and actually decided to draw a picture of what I thought a Framework for Digital Local Government might look like…so this post is about that.

The reality is that you can’t really create one just for Local Government as we aren’t designed that way. We are about people and places underpinned with effective democratic governance so any framework needs to be designed in such a way that in encompasses those things and that means it needs to involve everyone.

I’ve been lucky enough to have many conversations with people who have helped/challenged/reflected on which have all helped me refine my thinking and about 4 weeks ago I met Martin Howitt for our usual lunchtime coffee and chat and it was this conversation which sparked a few ideas and helped create a synergy in my head around the stuff I was thinking about and then later that day I draw a picture on my ipad which you can see below (i make no apologies for the quality of drawing :) ).

Since then I shared the picture and explanation with colleagues on the LocalGov Digital Network Steering Group and I received positive feedback so I then decided to share it again and test it wider at last weeks Digital Summit in London and you can read the notes of the session on the public Khub group. On the whole a broad agreement, some people have even created very similar frameworks already which is reassuring but they are looking at it from a different perspective, but yet the underpinning framework is the same, there were some semantic language issues and some challenges about risk, financial landscape and actually making it happen…all great points but I don’t have any answers.  However in terms of risk, I didn’t want to see risk in the framework as it sits around it…your view on risk will influence your view on the framework itself.  The same issue goes for financial climate, if we target savings of 100 million we will only aim for 100 million and we may miss the opportunities which deliver a complete transformation and deliver 1 billion.

This post is about that picture and the explanation about it. The only thing that has actually changed about the picture since i first draw it is the title. I have started to add to it and extend certain bits but I’ve also started to draw more pictures which digs deeper into this picture…more on that in another post.

It is also worth sharing that since I’ve been using this framework I’ve actually discovered that it works just as well when you look internally…starting from the left these represent the key building blocks to ensure that your organisation and people can explore and discover new opportunities and create new services etc. Something that has been validated recently here in Devon with a report to our corporate leadership team around the barriers to digital innovation. The resulting actions have created a massive open door to make progress but we need to ensure that we see the wider picture and framework to help us move forward and not leave anyone behind.

So onto the picture and explanation…

A Digital Climate for Local Public Services – Open by Default, Digital by Design

The following drawing focuses on the underlying proposition that every citizen can and will meaningfully integrate the internet into their daily lives. This level of active and capable participation should allow for new opportunities to emerge which reduce and divert demand to alternative tools which are open by default and digital by design.

The environment will not simply develop, and the transformative opportunities will not unfold, unless people, businesses, service providers, government, community organisations and others fully understand and integrate digital into everything they do.
This requires pervasive digital awareness and education — a ubiquitous digital climate that animates and inspires creativity and transformation and enables growth and wellbeing.

We must acknowledge that a digital climate is different to a transformation programme. It is a shift in thinking in which people and institutions are routinely aware of and constantly incorporate digital technology and opportunity into whatever they do.

Here is a rough picture of how I see this, which I also tested out at the recent Digital Summit.

Digital Climate for Local Public Services Framework v2


Open by Default – Digital by Design

Open by default = Everything we do is open, our processes, our data, our decision-making etc

Digital by design = Digital by default is a channel decision and my personal opinion is that digital by design is a philosophy which we should adopt to ensure that others can build on our open platforms and processes. 

Capabilities

  1. Connectivity:  Access that is high-speed, reliable, affordable and available everywhere (wired, wireless, digital).
  2. Education: Provide access to training and technical support for users to become comfort-able and proficient. Enable a mind shift in citizens that value learning, connecting and communicating through technology, and that recognise the business and other opportunities of expanding Internet participation.
  3. Hardware : every citizen requires the capacity to connect to the Internet and tap into the full range of its resources and content.
  4. Software: that meets the needs of individuals, families, businesses and communities.
  5. Participation:  Access to and participation with local data and intelligence to help shape decisions in communities.

What I want to do with this section is to start to map what activities are happening in each of these areas (internally and externally) to help me understand where we can add value or realign things to increase value. It should also allow opportunities for us to rethink decisions we’ve made in the past which are no longer future proof.

One example here is how are we in the public sector looking to support a greater level of connectivity within communities over and above the broadband roll out…It feels to me that our public sector networks in local government, health and education are providing robust and significantly higher levels of connectivity into communities which we perhaps could unlock. You can have an example where a primary school in a rural area is served by a 10-20mb connection but the community around it is on dial-up or has no connectivity. I know there are challenges with this but we have to and must think differently about our assets.

Leadership/Decision Making
We require strong visible leadership to enable transformation and strong decisions that ensure that we all contribute to creating a climate for growth and wellbeing. The leadership can also come from anywhere not just local public service providers
Capacity Building / Networks and Networks of Networks
Stimulating local action and identifying and connecting with networks and networks of networks to generate and create new opportunities and markets.
These connections can and will come from anywhere, this is not solely down to the council or local authority – this is about people and places.

Principles

  • People and communities are unique
    • Design “with” not “for” people and communities
    • Design for Inclusion and accessibility
    • Enable independence
    • Foster health and wellbeing
  • Positive relationships and networks
    • Respect diversity of opinions
    • Connect people and connect networks
    • Co-operate and collaborate
    • Open by default
  • Enabling communities and environments
    • Evidence based research and decision-making
    • Support everyone to achieve
    • Think Local and Global
    • Digital infrastructure for smart communities/cities
  • Learning and development
    • Learn, discover and explore though experience
    • Create space for reflective practice
    • Foster creative and divergent thinking
    • Enable sustained learning

I’ve blogged previously on principles here, here and here and it is something that lead me to the wider framework. Within this section we also need to think about the various ways in which people can discover and explore things…This is where the climate comes into itself. We in Local Government have to accept that we will not be solving the problems we have created alone…this climate and environment is about creating new relationships, new networks, new business models, new value.

One of the biggest hurdles we must get over is we need to stop thinking we have to solve this by ourselves. We don’t and shouldn’t think like that…creating a digital climate allows others to be part of that discovery and exploration and we should focus on creating that above all else.

Value
Everything has a unique value, we should understand this value and look to grow or transform its value.

Basic Example:

A Public right of way (PROW) = value
Local Community Centre = value
Public Transport network = value

We can increase and transform the value of each by connecting them redefining the value and by doing so contributing to a climate of growth and wellbeing.

Outcomes (a possible future state scenario)

Outcomes will always be up for debate and some will argue that these are not good enough and that doesn’t matter…What does matter is that we agree what outcomes our communities want and allow them to achieve them. The outcome of the framework is to create a climate for growth and well-being underpinned through:

  • A digital climate that inspires transformation and creativity
  • Everyone having universal access to meaningful participation and democratic processes
  • Everyone having opportunity to seize new markets and generate new opportunities
  • Everything is inclusive and accessible

So where do I see this going…The LocalGovDigital Network will be using this framework to help guide our work programme in the coming year, I personally will be using this to guide my work in Devon and I’ll be working with others on developing this further so it is used and helps drive change.

I personally believe that people are either contributing to the delivery of this framework or they are not and if not why not?

More will follow in the coming weeks…

Tweets from the Cabinet

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A very short post to share some good news.

On Wednesday the council started tweeting the Councils Cabinet meeting for the first time – which I’m sure you’ll agree is a great step forward and one which was well received.

You can watch and listen to the meeting here as well and you might be interested to know that at 7 minutes and 48 seconds you can hear Cllr John Hart welcome the “tweeter” and recognises that it an important new development and opportunity.

#UKGC12 – Content Strategy WTF!

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A long overdue post…and I suspect it won’t add a great deal to this excellent summary by Sarah Lay, who co-hosted the session with me but I’ll share my perspective nonetheless.

The whole idea of the session came about because of Sarah and myself chatting and constructively challenging each other over what is and isn’t content strategy in local government.

We sort of agreed that it was an emerging area but most (we believed) was already happening in other councils. Some explicit in their approach (Liverpool) and other less so…so may not have even written any of this stuff down before…

So the Friday session was all about (from my point of view) asking and proposing what people thought Content Strategy was all about and why it was very different to traditional web strategies…

My thoughts on the session itself were that it felt like being the odd one out for a large part of the session…explaining that the previous 10 years of eGovernment had basically caused us to think in the wrong way about our websites and that in large parts Better Connected hasn’t really forced us to think differently either…I’m not going to get into a debate here about the merits or not of eGovernment or Better Connected…they served and still serve a purpose…

I captured some additional thoughts about content strategy on a previous post here, but include the specific comments about content strategy below:

Content strategy is a game changer – changing the thinking built up over the las 10 years since the start of the egovernment agenda – this triggered the anti-user approach in developing websites in my humble opinion…it essentially turned sites that were aimed at users into mediocre corporately assimilated content waste lands…lacking in any meaning as to how to build and manager a community and help move aspects of communications and service interaction into more efficient channels…but that is the past…we can learn from it, but we must first recognise the mistakes we made…not everyone made them but most did…this is all just my opinion of course but localgov as a community needs to think about how it develops its online and digital offering better – perhaps in a similar reboot approach taken by the GDS…it does not matter what you call it…but it does need to think about some key principles, for example one might be.. getting content to people and not people to websites…this then provides the drivers for your content in social spaces as opposed to having a specific focus on social media….this does not mean you shouldn’t develop specific channel standards, in fact this reinforces the need for standards within channels…but based on managing your content flow in it and how you might monitor or measure it.

Moving on….

The more we spoke the more I guess we sounded a bit like a local council version of the government digital service…and this was reinforced when hearing Mike Bracken and his presentation on the Government Digital Service which directly followed our session in the main auditorium…much of what he said was resonating with me and whether or not others thought the same but for me at least i actually felt like i shared the ambitions of central government when it comes to web…this is the first time since i started in local gov web back in 2003…so a major break through in my opinion.

The big challenge is accepting that we can’t all create the same content strategy, but we accepted that we could all contribute to some form of framework or an understanding as to what the core components are….An idea for a saturday “doing session”…

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Taken by iamadonut at UKGC12

The saturday session for me was not exactly what I had hoped for…this was mainly down to the fact that I had naively assumed that the people who were engaged and committed to helping on friday were in fact not there on the saturday…But that didn’t mean the session didn’t prove valuable nonetheless.

Ok, so we didn’t create a framework, we didn’t get to a comprehensive list of components…but what we did get to was as Sarah refers to her summary was that we should create a “Content Strategy Community”.

So yes, we are planning on pulling together a space for a community to come together…we are currently looking at a set of tools and how these might fit together to best suit the needs of a community as well as more formal and sustainable place for it to be hosted.

If you are in local government and work in and around digital content (web managers very much included here) then please leave a comment below or on sarah’s blog or just DM your contact details via twitter to either of us and we’d love for you to get involved…

Ignorance is no defence

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To start with, I will make a confession, before I started looking at Social Media (about 2-3 years ago), I wasn’t that familiar with the fine details (or small print) of the policies and terms of conditions of service that I was always subject too.

But wanting to ensure that I stayed within “the law” so to speak, I started reading them – and over time – this helped me understand that the best approach here to creating a social media policy was the one that built on the existing policy framework. Also I didn’t want to do something wrong and plead ignorance…

Ignorance is no defence!

…So it is actually well worth understanding the policy framework you work within.

A question posted on the Communities of Practice by Michelle Ide-Smith got me thinking about this exact situation earlier today – the question was:

Does anyone have a social media policy which covers the use of social media in a personal capacity by officers who are also parish councillors?

For example how might you deal with a situation where an officer is critical of a council policy on a parish council blog, whilst acting in their role as a parish councillor in personal time. But the opinions that they put across may conflict with their role as a council officer.

My response to this question was pretty straight forward really, I didn’t really think too much about whether or not the question related to social media but was actually focused on the fact that someone might have a dual role. This clearly in my head meant that it is likely to already be covered by the existing employee code of business conduct.

My council’s employee code of business conduct has a range of policies sitting underneath but one of them is the policy around Business Pecuniary Interests – it is also clearly sign posted and referenced in Section 1 of the councils Social Media Policy – Personal and Professional Responsibilities

My council has strict procedures in place to ensure that the private business interests of elected members are clearly recorded in order to avoid any conflict with their public role as decision makers. It is keen to have in place equally robust and transparent processes for officers. This would include external positions such as School Governor, Parish Councillor, or where you might be engaged by another company, as a member of staff, partner, director, substantial equity/share holder or consultant etc.

I’m pretty sure that this is standard Local Government policy practice so is likely to apply in Michelle’s scenario above.

As an employee of the council I had to declare the fact that i was elected as a school Governor, however as a school governor I also have to declare conflicts of interests in that position as there is also guidance on that side, which is aimed to keep the Governor body robust and transparent. I’m not directly familiar with Parish councillors but if it is anything like a county councillor then they will also have a code of conduct, referred to above, which will also include conflicts of interest.

Our policy states that when a member of staff declares this interest – The line manager in signing the form is confirming that they are aware of the potential conflict of interest and

  • EITHER….. the line manager does not consider that it has a material effect in relation to the work of the employee within the council;
  • OR….. the line manager will work with the employee to ensure that an actual conflict of interest will not arise (this may involve re-distributing work for example).
  • OR….. if a line manager cannot identify an obvious way to avoid the employee having a conflict of interests, then an approval may have to be withheld until a solution can be identified that negates the conflict of interest or in extreme circumstances the council may potentially require employees to relinquish certain responsibilities or interests to remain in the employment of the council.

In this context, it is irrelevant whether or not we are referring to social media – it is about professional behaviour, whether the medium of social media allows for additional amplification only goes to reaffirm my point about understanding the policy framework you current work within.

I also accept the many cases that say we should simply trust all our staff to act professionally, after all, we have been doing this without social media in these kinds of situations anyway haven’t we?

But we might also have a role in ensuring that we all understand the policy framework we operate in – Doing this will go along way in enabling people to feel empowered and offer a great deal of value in whatever role they play at any given time

Facilitating a Social Media Strategy

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Updated: included wordle graphic

I’ve had quite a number of conversations  about social media strategy at the council recently,  as well as with a number of people via twitter and other networks.

So I thought I’d share my thinking on this and also share the strategy (co-developed by Martin Howitt) which I use to help others as well as a framework to developing a Social Media Action/Implementation Plan.

This is intended to be a reusable framework and strategy – as the detail and local variations will come in your own action plan.

To put this into context the council has already made significant progress around Social Media – In January 2010 the Council introduced a Social Media Policy and Guidelines which states:

Devon County Council is committed to making the best use of all available technology and innovation to improve the way we do business. This includes using all reasonable and cost-effective means to improve the way we communicate, reach out and interact with the different communities we serve.

It includes guidance around personal and professional responsibilities, using social media in different scenarios and key things to consider.

We don’t yet have a formal Social Media Strategy (yet), but the following is what I am personally using and promoting internally as a method and approach to adopting social media within our business operations.

The Strategy:
We will maximise the positive impact of our use of social media in support of the councils business aims and social objectives.

Principles:

  1. The use of social media, like anything else the organisation does, must be informed by business strategy and social objectives.
  2. Social technology does nothing on its own. To create value from social media, it is people and processes that must change.
  3. Becoming a truly social organisation will yield benefits in terms of sustainability, responsiveness, reputation, lower operating costs, and higher social impact.
  4. Social media can in theory pervade every part of the organisation’s value chain. But it should only do so if there are defined and (where possible) measurable positive business impacts.
  5. There is no such thing as a social media project: there are only business projects that utilise social media tools to some extent to achieve their objectives.
  6. A social media capability must therefore be built or adopted specifically to serve the objectives and current projects of the organisation.

Tactics:

  1. Identify which organisational processes / service areas which might use social software or social media tools
  2. For each process / service area – state the key objectives and outcomes
  3. List the available tools and their best-value use cases
  4. For each process/service area identified in (1), identify the most useful tools from (3) and map the potential benefits to objectives/outcomes in (2)
  5. Consolidate the list in (4) by channel and/or by organisational role.
  6. For each role identified in (5), evaluate the cost, benefits, and risks
  7. Create a prioritised portfolio of projects, expected benefits, and Key Performance Indicators based on the outputs of (6)

I appreciate that this may sound easier than it actually is, but to be honest if it were that easy everyone would be doing it and no one would have trouble justifying its use. If you can build this approach into the service business planning cycle you (as facilitator) and the service area will yield higher results in terms of potential Social Media projects supporting and delivering business outcomes – that is the theory anyway :)

As a starting point I’d recommend that you look at your own service area as well as highlighting or at least acknowledging other “high value” organisational processes which could benefit from this exercise, so that you can get familiar with the process and the level of understanding you will need around some of the tools and best value use cases.

It is worth trying to separate the cross cutting processes from the actual service areas for example “community engagement” might be a service area in your organisation as well as it being a cross cutting activity. In my opinion you are likely to identify a better value proposition looking at the cross cutting process of community engagement then the service itself.

In my Council a sample list might look something like this:

Process / Activity Areas

  • Community Engagement
  • Customer Service
  • Staff Engagement
  • Community Consultations
  • Staff Consultations
  • Personal and Self Directed Learning
  • Knowledge Sharing
  • Policy Development
  • Service Planning
  • Emergency Communications
  • Press and PR Relations

I’ve separated the activities of engagement and consultation on purpose as different social value can be created depending on your approach.  By tackling a cross cutting process or activity you can influence and impact a greater number and range of people who can add value when you start looking at this on a service perspective.

Service Areas

  • Trading Standards
  • Libraries
  • Road Safety
  • Highways (roads and traffic)
  • Waste Services
  • Registration Services

The reality here is I could have included a list of nearly all services, but you really need to stay focused and work on a service by service basis sometimes.

I envisage that the best approach would be a twin track approach –  During the prioritisation process outlined in stage 7 – try selecting one activity area alongside a service area to increase the organisational learning opportunities.

Hope this is helpful –  and I wish you luck….I’d be very keen to hear your stories on how this works or doesn’t for you.