That Local GDS conversation again…

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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.

Small thinking often makes a big difference

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It is an old cliché, that you can’t get anywhere without taking a single step and in relation to local government it has been something that has always been at the front of my mind…how do we continually make small steps for a big difference.

Since creating the framework I continually think about how my thinking needs to be challenged using the overarching aim of “open by default – digital by design” as well as the supporting principles.

One area where shifting our thinking away from the “grand plans” and “big visions” to something more simple and essentially smaller would actually present a much better outcome all round is customer relationship management systems…the fact that it is called a system, worries me but that isn’t really where my concern or issue lies. Also it is worth me stating that I do see value in something like a CRM in some areas of public services but we really shouldn’t see it as a panacea across all services just because it suits us or because we are technically able to.

Fellow LocalGovDigital colleague and peer Phil Rumens wrote a very interesting post titled “The Internet of Broken Things”  < this is well worth a read and I suggest you go and visit it and check it out before reading any further really….

…If you did return (thank you) or in fact never left then I’ll continue.

The conversation that Phil and I had, had been along the lines of essentially flipping everything on its head and not trying to create a “system” to manage contacts but in fact adopting an open by default, digital by design approach and see each service request as something that anyone could subscribe to and receive updates – I’ve had conversations with Dave Briggs around similar things where he spoke of local government as one giant bug tracking system, open for all to see – this is essentially that. It was about saying should we care who reports things and stuff – does it matter whether 1 person reports 300 potholes but yet 3000 people subscribe to updates on progress…the important aspect is that a fault is reported and then if we open that up through the web, api’s or via maps etc then anyone could see it and decide on a personal level whether they wished to receive a set of updates.

Phil sums it up nicely by saying:

Rather than raising a new case for every broken thing, it means that people could subscribe to information about specific assets. Rather than 100 reports about the same thing, councils would store 1 report and details of 100 people who have subscribed to receive updates about it.

For me we have focused too much time and money on trying to develop, implement and create solutions to manage customer relationships through complex and simple systems. The focus has been how as a service do you effectively manage a set of requests to provide a response.

However I’d like to suggest that we change that focus and stop trying to push all of our contacts into a single system for us to manage behind firewalls and security layers and start opening up the requests so that everyone can see what actually needs to be done…that way we may find people help each other or subscribe to updates that other people have identified.

The approach in my head is about moving away from a focus on integrating services and applications and instead focusing our efforts on how we integrate data and infrastructure with people and places and how in turn that allows communities to make more effective decisions around the outcomes they want to see and the local public services they require to meet the needs they identify. It is really about how we design ourselves out of the system…

I created a little sketch of this whilst at a meeting convened by NLGN and hosted at O2’s offices in London last week where I was sat next to the wonderful Catherine Howe:

Integration

 

The tension on the right eludes to aspects of local government being an extension of central government delivery and also it highlights again the issues surrounding the PSN and I’m not for a second going to go over any of that here. Others are in a far better position to provide commentary in this space.  However I’m only suggesting it is a tension.

Now one of the additional complexities which I’m yet to square in my head is how local government deals with the multiple roles we play and how these help or hinder communities.

The three broad roles I see are:

  1. Local Government – the collection of services that support local people
  2. Local Council – the accountability, decision-making and transparency
  3. Local Authority – the strategic responsibility surrounding a specific domain (education, highways, transport, planning etc)

The first two are generally the main focus of conversation and also focus within the digital agenda and are the two most facing significant change and challenge, but the third is the more complex area as we have actually designed a level of dependency into the system which creates complex and wicked problems in solving and devolving aspects of the first two. I hope that makes sense…

Coming right back to the beginning…..It is an old cliché, that you can’t get anywhere without taking a single step…I’m thinking about how we can continually make small steps for a big difference in relation to all three of these areas.

Looking back to look forward

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Triggered by a range of experiences recently I thought I would reflect on my learning journey. So over the last few weeks I’ve been dipping in and out of my blog posts from the last 5 years and thinking about how things have or haven’t changed or even if some of the things that I thought would happen are happening.

About 3 years ago I started sharing my thinking around the future of local government from a range of perspectives: what it might look like, how it might operate, how we might address the challenges we are facing now and also how we might help shape services…

This post “The future of local government” from June 2010 seems to reflect and hint at the situation I find myself in now – I wrote:

So we could get to a situation (I am making some big assumptions here but after all I’m only sharing some thinking)  –  I don’t believe it will be that long before we see it – where the only aspect of local government which is truly local is the actual service delivery and decision making. The organisation behind it all could well be a mix of local, regional, national and cloud based services all supporting an individual worker (who may not actually be employed by the council) to deliver a service to someone in a community.

To me this will mean that local government is purely going to be a conceptual layer – with greater transparency and openness, radical approaches to service delivery and support services, this will all mean that the only aspect of local we really need to focus on will be the People in the Community. In my view this will be a great outcome, albeit very painful and a political hot potato in some areas. But this approach in my opinion  would drive out the inefficiencies in local government and offer greater local involvement in service design and creation.

The following week I posted a second post titled – “The future of local government – social enterprise council”  – I wrote:

I do agree that there is a huge assumption that the general public would be willing to take over services, but i do think that currently we don’t engage people well enough to activate any desire they may have.

To foster and encourage this kind of active involvement requires a major shift in how people see public services, it requires everyday people to start thinking less about “public” services and more about “community” services and how they can get involved directly through volunteering or indirectly by sharing their views on what’s important to them.

These two posts resonate with me right now and reflect a lot of the topics and conversations I have with people

I’ve also previously blogged about the World of GovCraft where reframing some of the conversations and providing connections for people to engage would help trigger a set of responses and actions. I previously wrote:

So let me try to answer these questions now in the light of this post, I’m not saying that the responses are enough but there is something we can build on and develop further to really engage with people.

Urgent Optimism – The budget cuts in the public sector will mean that some services will no longer be offered or developed – if people (you or I) see these services as important and we want them to continue we will have to start getting involved or risk losing it altogether. The reality of the financial situation will mean that the threat is more real than ever.

Social Fabric – The government has made a big play during the election campaign and since about the Big Society, this is an attempt to unify people to a common agenda and common purpose which previously didn’t really exist in my view.  I do think however we need to go a lot further and start talking and acting more local.  

Blissful Productivity – Social tools are be used albeit sparingly to help mobilise people to get involved and contribute to solving the real world problems we are facing. The government have announced that they want citizens to contribute ideas to how we can save money and which services we should consider reducing funding on.

I think we need to connect the digitally mobile and engaged with the offline folk who traditional get involved to create richer conversations and deeper discussions about how we can shape local services.

Epic Meaning – The mission we have created is to reunite society, reconnect people locally and to provide services which meet the needs of local people. This mission can no longer be just the responsibility of a single local authority.

I think in so many ways the councils Tough Choices programme is starting to address these areas…ok it isn’t in the spirit of a game – as suggested in world of govcraft – but what it does is start to provide a level of urgency, it surfaces connections to existing social fabric, it suggests connections to tools and existing productivity and of course the epic meaning around why we need to come together to collaborate around new models of achieving outcomes.

The real question which remains unanswered is : will it work?

The beauty of blogging and sharing thinking and observation is that we can revisit this post in a couple of months or years and reflect on whether we started to trigger social change and achieve better outcomes.

Networked decision makers

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I make no apologies that probably the majority of my future posts will be linked to explaining and exploring in more detail the Digital Framework for Local Public Services.

So this post is focusing on some of the middle area of the picture…in particular the box around leadership and decision-making. This part of the journey is critical not just in a wider context of leadership and decision-making but in ensuring that we have open and transparent local decision-making as well as a clear accountability in terms of local representation.

Digital Climate for Local Public Services Framework v2

To recap I previously explained this area in this way:

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.

Now all this is easy to write and even easier to say, but the practical implications of this are slightly more complicated and require a shift in thinking about what we should expect of our future leaders and decision makers and how we help those people become networked and connected.

Now the great thing about the internet is that you can always find and connect to people who are in a far better position to dig deeper into the thinking and that is exactly what Catherine Howe has done in relation to the Networked Councillors project. It came out of two things:

  • If we are going to have more networked and digital citizens we are going to need politicians with the right skills – we will need networked councillors but we have not yet really explored what that means

  • Just showing people how to use twitter doesn’t solve the problem

I’m really pleased that Catherine has shared this work as I personally think it validates the wider framework and also adds a layer of detail which I was obviously lacking (on purpose of course)

The report on the website is well worth a read and is easy to digest.

I want to pick out another quote form the report which to me helps to proactively link this to the wider framework and the language of the framework which is:

The qualities that the Networked Councillor should embody are found in the way in which Next Generation Users are approaching and using technology. We suggest that the following qualities, which can already be evidenced online, will be inherent:

  • Open by default: This is open not just in terms of information but also in terms of thinking and decision-making

  • Digitally native: Networked Councillors will be native in or comfortable with the online space, not in terms of age but in terms of the individual adopting the behaviours and social norms of the digital culture

  • Co–productive: Co-production is a way of describing the relationship between Citizen and State which brings with it an expectation that everyone in the conversation has power to act and the potential to be active in the outcome as well as the decision-making process

  • Networked: A Networked Councillor will be able to be effective via networked as well as hierarchical power as a leader

This is obviously one part of a wider complex environment and although this report is focused on councillors specifically it also applies itself to future leaders and decisions makers whether a local councillor or not….however for me this is a fantastic start to the discussion and conversation.

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