#LocalGovDigital – A day with @GDSTeam

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Me, Mike Bracken, Tom Loosemore chatting at GDS – part of the LocalGov Digital Visit

On Thursday 10th April a small group of the LocalGov Digital Steering Group visited the GDS offices to share our journey, share our outputs, ideas and challenges and start a conversation around how we might be able to work effectively together moving forward.  We wanted it to be an open and honest conversation which I believe it was, we were very open about our strengths and vulnerabilities and also learnt and discovered new strengths and vulnerabilities through the day.

For some of the steering group it was their first visit so we had to take the tour and get the plotted history and detail about the journey not just of GOV.UK but of the Government Digital Service itself. It helped us all move away from just seeing GDS as a website and I think we all knew it was more but getting the low down on what they do helped us understand and see that they are changing and transforming government and that isn’t always easy and straightforward but it is possible. This resonated with the group as it is something we aspire to within a local government context.

I had put together a rough agenda to help focus the day but what was good was that it was far more conversational and discussion led then simply us “showing our stuff” and asking “so what do you think?”. I think it was a really good opportunity for us to share some of the ideas we have, some of the outputs we have created as well as some of the challenges we face. The conversations were always constructive, positive and focused on moving beyond the reason why we can’t to seeking opportunities around how we can.

We were also lucky to be able to grab some of Nicola Gill’s time and she shared some updates around digital inclusion which we feel is a really important area that we can work on and is something we feel we have missed out of our workstreams so we have agreed that we should have a workstream to look at how we can work effectively on this area.

We were also keen to understand and get some context around the Electoral Role as this is an area which links nicely with our focus on local democracy. Pete Herlihy kindly gave up some time to the group and also some additional time to some of the group who wanted to pick his brains about some specifics.

For me personally the whole day was a turning point for the group and I’d like to share my personal reflections

  1. We seemed to start the day slightly nervous and lacking in confidence and ended feeling energised and empowered even more to push forward transformation in local government. A challenge is how do we get others to feel as equally motivated whilst they are busy doing the day jobs…
  2. Thinking is no longer the barrier, doing different is the barrier and that requires strategic and political leadership to provide the focus and momentum locally in councils which has clearly been a success for GDS. We need to share stories of how people have worked around this to deliver success on the ground
  3. We should not underestimate the challenge ahead but we should allow ourselves to  get paralysed by it either. There are plenty of people who really want to help local government. We just need to start asking around and working better together to allow this happen and quickly.
  4. As a group we need to celebrate our informal strengths and understand and acknowledge the vulnerabilities more so we can be clear about who, how and why we need help from others.
  5. Influence is something that happens in conversations and we need to have more conversations
  6. Lets not get hung up on the website debate, transformation is so much more than a website. We need to as digital leaders take the conversation to the strategic leaders in our councils and get the conversation focused on transformation.
  7. We need to stop feeling like we are the poor cousins in this space. We should stand up and be proud of who we are and that we work in local government and we should expect to be treated equally and been seen as peers (even if some people think we are just practitioners) Tom tweeted this on Thursday evening and i think this sums up why I think we should be proud.

So what next…

The main action is that we agreed to continue the conversation in an open and honest way to develop trust between both groups. We also identified some areas initially where we thought we could both add value. We’re starting this by becoming one of the partner organisation’s to the Digital Inclusion Charter launched today (Monday 14th April). One of the areas we are looking at in the short term is some basic skills development for practitioners – basically a show and tell for localgov practitioners to learn some of the key issues and skills around topics like analytics, user stories and service manager training.

Overall I’m feeling really positive about continuing an active conversation with GDS and finding ways we can support each other to support local government through digital transformation, collaborate on tools to support practitioners day-to-day and for LocalGov Digital as a network to provide its knowledge to what they’re doing; a real two-way partnership of peer groups.

I’d like to finish by thanking Tom Loosemore and Benjamin Welby for looking after us during the day and being our hosts. Thanks also to Mike Bracken, Nicola Gill, Pete Herlihy and Joshua Marshall who gave their time to share what they were doing and to answer our questions and more importantly challenged us back.

So gov.uk is now live…

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Stating the obvious and in case you didn’t know GOV.UK is now live.

Congratulations to all those who got it this far  - a big thumbs up:)

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I could leave it there, it has been a long time coming and now it is live, I’m sure many people can sit back for at least a second or two to acknowledge the huge first task they have completed, but I suspect the scale of the task ahead is focusing the minds.

Mike Bracken explains in a post why GOV.UK matters, it’s focusing on user needs, its faster, clearer and is now a platform – all this stuff is really important. But the most important thing that Mike does say is this:

Our upcoming Government Digital Strategy will address the urgent need to redesign our mainstream transactions.

I wouldn’t for a minute under state the task that has been completed and the scale on which it has been completed. It has certainly provided a number of great resources via the GDS blog which my council and my team have benefited from and as Mike explains it is already improving the experience for users…

This morning however it appears that I may have offended or at least annoyed a few people by tweeting:

Now if you believe “veneer” to be a negative word then this would naturally offend people, however I don’t think veneer is a negative word, I personally believe it is a positive component of redesigning services and is an often understated tactic.  It has its downfalls and challenges but it is a valuable approach

In Devon we often employ the veneer tactic to help people understand how things can look, how language can be used to improve the usability and how it can help users engage better – we have now started using that tactic in a more open way by employing a beta environment and sharing our thinking about how we build stuff – similar to how GDS approached their early stages -  instead of an old approach which was to simply use pictures to inspire.  It took some hard work to get to this point here for us.

Our content strategy reinforces this approach by explicitly saying that we will focus on content and design, experiment in open and share our thinking and refresh our infrastructure. We have a separate strategy for applications and how we will tackle and improve the overall transactional experience as this is a longer term game for us but it is an important part of shifting our whole web estate to be user focused.

It is much, much harder dealing with applications and transactions and I don’t want to for a second suggest that GOV.UK is a failure – it is completely the opposite, it is a success, but not for the release today.  In my view the biggest contribution to public sector digital, is the “permission” that sharing your thinking, sharing your code, exploring ideas and asking users in a very open environment can work and does work.

My only remaining question is where will the beta environment live now – the continuation of the testing in public, the sharing of ideas, the continuing tweaking and updating, which needs to be sanity checked before a live release.

GOV.UK used to be the beta, but it is now mainstream…so will we see beta.gov.uk (as of today there is no site at this address)

A trip to #thatlondon to talk about #localgov and digital

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Yesterday I went to London to talk with a bunch of people including Martin Black (Camden) Conor Moody and Kevin Jump (Liverpool) Paul Knight (South Cambridgeshire), Phil Rumens (West Berks), Stephen Cross (Hillingdon) Sarah Lay (Derbyshire), Jason Williams (Cornwall) and Stuart Harrison (Lichfield) – It was hosted by the LGA – Sarah Jennings and her colleagues provided coffee and cake and space to chat and kindly took all the notes and helped facilitate the day.

My thoughts on the day before I went up were around whether or not we’d be able to actually agree any real actions and perhaps it could have been a waste of time.

But it was actually a really very interesting day, lots of honest conversation as well as recognising the many good things that are going on across the localgov sector and beyond. So it was a really good use of time.

My personal view was that lots of people have over the years asked for something more that what exists and the recent discussions about Local GDS have sparked many different views and we spoke in-depth about that yesterday as well.

In relation to a Local GDS, we didn’t say there should be one or shouldn’t be one, however we did say that it requires a universal commitment from multiple stakeholders in order for something like that to come together and to be truly effective.

But in the meantime there are some real practical issues which we need to resolve and move forward and we can do that with the help of others.

I’ll blog again soon once the formal notes come out but on the train home yesterday @georgejulian introduced me to haiku deck so I thought I’d try it out with some of my highlights from yesterday…

http://www.haikudeck.com/p/wWs2xe29en/localgovweb

Bringing content to people, not people to websites – Gov2Radio

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As referenced in my last blog post, here is the podcast embedded below…I didn’t realise that I sounded so Devonian :)

A very open account and it comes from the heart as you’d expect..a good edit considering we spoke for just over an hour…for those who know me, getting me to shut up isn’t that easy…

Thank you to Allison for the opportunity to share some thinking and the conversation.

Enjoy….

http://gov20radio.com/2012/06/content-to-people/

The cookie monster…

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Cookie Monster

Cookie Monster - By dnnya17 from Flickr

Following on from my previous post about Cookies and with less than a month to go, I’d thought I’d expand some of my thinking and the “pragmatic” approach I’d like to adopt here in Devon.

Firstly I referred to the guide developed by the Government Digital Services (GDS) “Implementer Guide to Privacy & Electronic Communications Regulations (PECRs) for public sector websites” [ pdf warning ] and I really suggest you download it and read it  - it is in my opinion a very helpful and pragmatic document and provides more practical help than the Information Commissioner’s website

The following quote for me represents the bigger challenge which I feel web managers also need to invest some time in…

The preferred method of compliance with the new regulations i.e. least disruptive to the user experience, would be one based on users’ “implied consent”. In this context “implied consent” can be taken to mean that a user is aware of the implications of taking a certain action and that by choosing to take such action are implicitly giving their consent to the related outcomes.

However, the ICO does not believe it is possible to take such an approach at present because “evidence demonstrates that general awareness of the functions and uses of cookies is simply not high enough for websites to look to rely entirely in the first instance on implied consent”.

This emphasises the need to raise the awareness levels amongst users of government websites about the uses and functions of cookies. Consistency in the presentation of cookies-related information will help towards achieving the aim of educating users, so this document sets out a recommended template for departments’ ‘Use of Cookies’ policy

So two points come out of this which are important to acknowledge, the first being implied consent, which sounds like the most logical approach and one which will impact the end-user the least and second Awareness – yes, awareness of what cookies are, what they do and why people need to understand this as they move about the internet.  So as it states the ICO state that you can’t really do implied consent if the levels of awareness of so poor that people are clueless as to what cookies are in use on a given site.

However  - It’s worth remembering I’m trying to provide a pragmatic solution here –  my personal preference is that we in fact do adopt an implied consent model but support with communication and awareness across our site which helps to mitigate any concerns.

I’ve started to experience the “click box” approach on a few websites, the ICO’s included and it really is a nuisance and doesn’t actually demonstrate people understand what they are clicking and what that means to them and disappears once you click on it once, so it fails to address the awareness issue as well in my opinion and is really a worse approach as on return to the sites I visited there isn’t really any clear and visible links to the cookie usage and privacy policy.

So one of the things we will be doing to help with a sustained level of awareness and communication is linking to content which explains what cookies are in a balanced way – Two good examples of this are AboutCookies.org and its Cookie FAQ section and CookieCentral’s FAQ section.

In support of this we will also be linking to content which helps explain how people manage cookies within their browsers and again AboutCookies.org provides some really good resources here.

We will also be communicating that our use of google analytics as a service improvement tool will be on the basis that we do not share any data as described in my previous post

I think as a web community we really should offer a consistent approach to communicating about cookies and in my view we shouldn’t be writing or creating this individually. This should be delivered either through a consistent approach to some common and reusable content which can be syndicated or a consistent approach to linking to the same resources. What ever we do the message and awareness should be the same.