#Localgov Digital Free Usability Dashboard – Beta

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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.

That Local GDS conversation again…

Standard

Just about 2 years ago I wrote this post on the GDS blog titled “Does local government need a local government digital service” the answer I gave then as I would give now is “YES” but just like then I outlined the challenges in actually making that a reality and instead focused on some areas where progress could be made.

The last few days has seen us revisit this topic with Richard Copley and Simon Wakeman’s blog posts. Both outlining and clearly stating the benefits such a move could offer the sector but also both state that it is likely to be an aspiration only.

This is fundamentally why I got involved in #LocalGov Digital to start to make something happen regardless of the barriers that stop something more formal happening. The reality is that LocalGov Digital is now starting to create value and make a difference, although not just around the web estate which I originally referred to. It is also why I created the framework and ensured the focus was on people and places and not on local government itself

I’d like to revisit some of the suggested things referred to in my post of 2 years ago and provide some commentary around progress made…clearly more needs to happen but we haven’t stood still since I wrote that post.

The following is extracts from the original post with comments.

Leadership and Vision
There is no strong visible leadership for the local government web estate and the value it creates for users. Many local government web folk provide leadership and certainly inspire me for what they are doing…but its sporadic and doesn’t have the level of influence require to effect a change on a wider scale.
There is a balance to be had between external people and “experts” and practitioner understanding that should be explored..It would be wrong in my opinion to create a completely separate organisation to provide this with no links into local government or central government.

What progress has been made around this, well I could suggest that winning the recent Guardian Public Service Award is a step in the right direction as that is clearly related to the work I’ve been involved in with others around LocalGov digital. But I could equally state that if you look at the people involved in the group they are all excellent leaders who all provide focus and momentum so we have definitely made progress and we continue to make progress…

Skills development (UI/UX/simplicity/agile)
There is clearly a huge skills gap in the local government web community that needs to be addressed…some councils may simply choose to “commission” the web from an external provider and rely on private sector skills.

What progress has been made around this, well the Really Useful Days are continuing to add huge value on the ground and the huge amount of reusable content and learning that has been gathered is a real asset that needs to be unlocked further to ensure we can extend the reach. This is one of the areas of work LocalGov Digital has identified and we are proactively working with LocalDirectGov team to run joint sessions throughout this year as well as looking at how we can run our own events with the help of others.

Connecting
This is an obvious one and there are a range of options already in place here for example the recent UKGovCamps
But there is no continuation of the conversation through online networks other than twitter and on individual blogs. To have a bigger impact, something around co-ordinating this would need to be explored.

The continuing number and variety of camps, jams and the like have made learning and connecting far easier but yet the ongoing community management still let’s us all down. LocalGov Digital will be looking at how it can support and promote more events and look at how the community management and more importantly the ongoing collaboration can continue. The group have already made some great efforts in promoting hangouts, online forums etc as well promoting the revised Knowledge Hub (but we know that needs some work)

Standards / toolkits / frameworks
…the real issue is not whether we share the same technology but what standards we set for technologies in order to facilitate a better web experience.

One of the key pieces of work LocalGov Digital have done here is the content standards, the next piece of work we have already started is looking at how we can work with code for Europe and others to enable better sharing of code and encourage code to be shared more widely.

Setting the bar high
I think GDS has already delivered on this, but hasn’t been explicit or forthcoming in broadening its influence into local government and maybe rightly so…
But we do need to maintain a high standard, why should we accept anything less than a really good online experience…the balance is in doing this in an affordable and sustainable way in small local authorities.

I don’t think anyone in local government has achieved this, the standards have been clearly set by the good folk at GDS and pretty much all local gov web folk recognise that and if they don’t then it’s maybe because they haven’t seen or really understood what they have done…it isn’t just about good design, and user needs, it is about changing attitudes, behaviours and challenging the status quo. This is what has raised the bar and made it more acceptable for local gov folk like myself to stand up and challenge.

Greater engagement and collaboration between Local and Central.
Direct engagement with local government practitioners needs to go beyond the localdirectgov database and into skills, sharing and learning. Raising the profile within local government circles as to the value added and the efficiencies achieved of gov.uk – this might be an easy step to take and in some ways this already happens but is informal and sporadic at best…no fault of anyone here…just the way it is right now.
There is also a lot of learning and experience from us local government folk which can and should be shared back into GDS. After all, there are many levels of government and we all have a stake in making it a better place. Whilst GDS do have a strong mandate and have clearly attracted a huge amount of talent, there is in my humble opinion a huge amount of talent in local government which could do with some support , direction and engagement.

I’m not sure we have cracked this yet…but one of the things I’d like to do this year as part of the LocalGov Digital is to have proactive and constructive conversations with GDS about how we can work better together to improve the whole of government top to bottom, from the ground up.

So coming back to the recent conversations, I still think that a Local GDS would be good, it would be effective and it would deliver value, huge value. but i still don’t see how we can get the diverse and individual local councils and local service provider ecosystem to provide an overarching mandate to make this happen.

I firmly believe and it is why I so passionately support LocalGov Digital that good leadership, great collaboration, adding value and most of making a difference will kick start and model for the future. If this results in some ambitious councils coming together and creating a LocalGDS amongst 5-10 councils and the outputs are so good then why wouldn’t others follow in these tough financial times.

This won’t be the last post on the subject as I’ve not really touched on the area of transactions and that is where the real collaboration is and not just across local councils but with social entrepreneurs and communities themselves.

Looking to the future – A 30 year prediction

Standard

Back in December the LGiU published an interesting document looking at how local government might look in 2043 to coincide with their 30 year anniversary titled “The Future Town Hall“. It is full of very interesting predictions, hopes and aspirations for the future and I’d recommend reading it.

I thought I would write my very own prediction here as a virtual contributor to the publication.

In 2043 I’ll be 67 and most likely still working, probably still sharing random nonsense and I’ll probably have some kind of internet connection built into my body or at least on my body, integrated into my clothing providing me with up to the second information about my health, wellbeing, finances, activity, my appointments, work, and my friends and family’s activities.

My kids already grow impatient when the playstation, Wii, or laptop shows a “loading” sign…the ever increasing expectations, always on, multi-device, multi-connected world we already inhabit is likely to change the way we live, work and see ourselves to such a point that we will have to revisit what it means to receive and fund local services

If the demands and expectations of my kids are anything to go by, then these predictions are not far fetched or even radical enough to meet the potential demands in the future, when I was a kid I grew up waiting over 90 minutes for manic miner to load on a ZX spectrum and was in awe of the 8bit world even though it didn’t always load or work – As a citizen of 2014 I simply want something that works and is reliable…in 2043 I will demand more (rightly or wrongly), I’ll want something very personalised, very responsive and always on…I will want to decide when I switch off and most of all I will want ownership of my data.

I say this because all these things will have a profound impact on local services and local governance as the one thing I will say is that if local government is to have a future it needs to stay connected with local people and local places to stay relevant, even if this means reinventing itself.

First and foremost I see the purpose of local government being about one thing and one thing only. The Health and Wellbeing of people in its communities. Everything else is secondary and an added value.

I’m going to consider the future in relation to the following three areas of local government as I see it.
1) local government (local services and commissioning)
2) local authority (planning and strategic influence)
3) local council (accountability and decision making)

1) When it comes to local government and local public services, the data that I’m collecting will be mine and available only to those I choose. I will give permission to local providers of services to access relevant data sets to help me make informed choices around the services to ensure I stay active, healthy and in work. I will see the service providers as partners, enabling and supporting me and my family.

2) In relation to strategic influence and planning in the local area I live and the communities of interest I participate and belong to. The local authority will have a key role in ensuring that key infrastructure projects are pushed forward, that the area I live is championed on a National, European and Global scale, however I don’t see the same structures existing, I suspect and hope that this will be a mix of hyper local and sub regional activity as local places redefine their strengths and explore the global potential of the social capital that exists to support health and Wellbeing.

3) From a local council and a democratic perspective the ever connected citizen will demand more and more openness and transparency and will want more of a say on a range of issues. This would likely be facilitated through some kind of online micro participation / engagement platform where I connect my identity and choose to associate a range of personas and identities to allow me to vote, contribute or debate Local, National, European or International issues.