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.

#localgovdigital – Content Standards in Beta

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LocalGov Digital logo

[This post has also been published on the Web Managers Group Blog]

Last week LocalGov Digital launched its Digital Content Standard, a carefully crafted first draft – or beta version – and a free resource for local government web and content managers. It supports the group’s overarching principle of encouraging the sector to be open by default and digital by design.

This standard is intended to evolve and adapt to continually meet the needs of the sector as well as raising the aspirations around digital content and services generally.

The standard was a collaborative effort led by LocalGov Digital Steering Group members and has been compiled using a selection of existing guides from the UK and from across the world.

The document has been created in such a way that we hope it can simply be adopted by local councils without too much trouble. In Devon we have adopted them although we recognise that we are likely to need a supplement to allow the local variations and subtle style differences which we have established here.

From a personal point of view the whole document is hugely valuable but you can make sizeable gains from simply getting your existing content authors to consider the following golden rule.

Is the information you’re presenting to the public necessary, readable, original, easy to find and well-presented?

In a checklist:

  • Is the content answering a question that our customers are asking?
  • Is your content easy-to-read and understandable to a layperson?
  • Is the content original?
  • Can the content be found using search words that make sense to the customer?
  • Are graphics and pictures appropriate and do they add something to the page?

I’m sure that there will be many ways we could improve the standards and we would encourage people to comment, contribute and be part of the wider LocalGov Digital network to help raise standards in web and digital across the public sector.

For more information about the Digital Content Standard see this post. You can also download the Digital Content Standard PDF file.

For the latest and to talk with the group follow us on Twitter @localgovdigital, join the KHub group or connect via our G+ Community.

The capabilities for digital local public services – participation

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Continuing the development of my thinking around the Framework for Digital Local Public Services and following quickly on from my previous posts about Connectivity, Education, Hardware and Software. This post focuses on participation and some of the opportunities to think differently around this area.

The framework outlines and considers participation as the following:

Participation: Access to and participation with local data and intelligence to help shape decisions in communities.

But I also think this it is about how people participate generally in their communities to help make it better, the data and intelligence should be helping to identify the issues that need solving but are people actually doing things locally!

The challenge here is to provide opportunities for people and places to connect to the underlying data and intelligence about the people and places and at a time and in a form which is usable and meaningful for those consuming it. Nothing too hard then :)

In the commissioning cycle it is absolutely fundamental to ensure that you have evidence and data which helps you understand needs today and those that are likely to be predicted over a period of time, so that preventative measures can be put in place and therefore reduce future demand on services. We are essentially suggesting that the commissioning and the intelligence behind this is opened up to those people in a community who maybe better positioned to actually understand what could be achieved locally.

The underlying issue for me is that the opportunity and practicality of everyday people (like my mum) to engage in intelligence and data about their community is limited and even if you know where and how, it is hard to make sense of it in a wider context.

It needs to be linked with stories as well as raw data so that there are opportunities to understand the impact of what it is saying other than simply looking at perhaps numbers, graphs or charts.

It seems to me that public libraries or community hubs would make logical places where this data could be accessed and made sense of along with people who can help interpret it without bias – they also make logical places where networks and networks of networks can come together physically or virtually through directories.  It makes sense for community hubs to provide access points as they should really be promoting and acting on community needs anyway…maybe i’m over thinking this aspect of it…of course the access point should be the internet but I’m thinking that if say my mum, wanted to gain more understanding she could get that from the hub or library and then be in a position to share her story about what it means for others…

In terms of whether people are participating locally, some of what I want to say here I’ve written before in the following posts:

But to summarise those posts in this context I would have to say the following.

As this series of posts outlines the key capabilities required when collectively delivered create opportunities for a new climate of growth and well-being to emerge, however that climate won’t emerge unless we ensure that people are actively participating in society.

Reflecting back on World of GovCraft where video Game designer Jane McGonigal speaks about harnessing the power of gamers who have super powers as they are actively participating in games and solving problems…

With these new capabilities how do we ensure and create opportunities for individuals, communities, networks, organisations etc to actually harness the possible and potential capacity that Jane eludes to…this very much links across to the Education post as well about opportunities to solve problems.

To recap she suggested that gamers have 4 super powers:

Urgent Optimism – extreme self motivation – a desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.
Social Fabric – We like people better when we play games with people – it requires trust that people will play by the same rules, value the same goal – this enables us to create stronger social relationships as a result
Blissful productivity – an average World of Warcraft gamer plays 22 hours a week: We are optimised as humans to work hard and if we could channel that productivity into solving real world problems what could we achieve?
Epic meaning – attached to an awe-inspiring mission.

All this creates Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals – People who are individually capable of changing the world – but currently only online /virtual worlds….

….So some observations:

If people have “Urgent Optimism” then what are we doing to tap into that to help solve and tackle obstacles?

if people have a “Social Fabric” what are we doing to build trust with them and do we play by the same rules and share the same goals?

If people have “Blissful Productivity” then what are we doing to mobilise and optimise the people around us in our communities to work hard at solving real world problems

If people can be inspired around “Epic Meaning” what meaning are we providing in our engagement and participation offering?

We should recognise that games are powerful in more ways than we can imagine, we need to think hard and fast about how we can develop the right kinds of games to engage people and to involve people in shaping their future and solving common problems

Expanding on those observations I had before, we need to move to a situation where organisations, communities and individuals can develop relationships and levels of trust to connect them to the networks and “networks of networks” within our local communities and to connect those communities with each other but to also connect them with the problems and narrative around local public services to make it easier for them to interact digitally and create transformational change.

The basic idea

  • We need to change the way we think about data and our connections to it and how we can help each other make sense of it through stories.
  • We need to identify networks and networks of networks and then connect them.
  • We need to create content and share stories which provoke conversations that will lead to bigger transformational actions.

The capabilities for digital local public services – hardware and software

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Continuing the development of my thinking around the Framework for Digital Local Public Services and following quickly on from my previous posts on Connectivity and Education. This post focuses on Hardware and Software and some of the opportunities to think differently around this area.

The framework outlines the following:

Hardware : every citizen requires the capacity to connect to the Internet and tap into the full range of its resources and content.

Software: that meets the needs of individuals, families, businesses and communities.

Taking all the capabilities together can be seen a like looking at a whole system and we are essentially trying to change the whole system.

Nesta recently published a Systems Innovations discussion paper and I highly recommend it.

The description states:

Over the past few years there has been growing interest in systemic innovation. We are defining this as an interconnected set of innovations, where each influences the other, with innovation both in the parts of the system and in the ways in which they interconnect.

Yet rather than simply theorising, we want to make this practical. We want to explore the potential of systemic innovation to help tackle some of the key challenges the UK currently faces, from supporting an ageing population to tackling unemployment.

I’ve found this discussion paper helpful in defining some of the challenges these framework wishes to address also.

On page 39 of the discussion paper it states:

System innovation involves a powerful combination of new:

  • Products, services and technologies (tablet computers, containers, stamps, digital projectors);
  • infrastructures that make these innovations widely available;
  • alliances of partners who provide complementary services, software and assets;
  • consumer norms and behaviour, which often emerge peer–to–peer, through a process of social learning, copying and emulation.

these basic common ingredients of systems innovation, however, can be combined in many
different ways.

The first two points are really what the hardware and software components are looking to foster and address, whilst the rest are also picked up by other areas of the framework.

Hardware:

Like connectivity if we focus on public sector organisations, we currently all provide staff with a range of computers and those inevitably need recycling or replacing and we need to start questioning where those are going – this would be PC’s laptops; smartphones etc.

We should think about how we can capture the needs within communities around access to appropriate hardware and we should prioritise the needs of our own communities first and connect the devices and equipment with them.

As a new system of local public services emerges communities and individuals will need adequate hardware to access and connect to that system in order to be able to engage with it.

This pretty much leads into the next area of software…

Software:

The software that underpins any new system of local public services has to be open and available for communities and individuals to create new services and opportunities to access and deliver local services. This links very much with having access to open and linked data, but critically means that we need to be able to ensure that people have the ability to connect to the system of local public services.

If we see public services as a system, we can’t simply do more within the current system as that won’t work – we need to change the purpose of the overarching system of public services and do things differently.To re-purpose and re-frame local public services we have to open it up in order to allow it to change.

It can be seen like the android or apple ecosystems – Apple and Google provide a system for which stuff can be created, developed and delivered and it only requires people to resolve the connectivity and education aspects in order to actively participate with those ecosystems in order to gain the wider benefits and value that being part of them brings.

We all need to start questioning how these things can start to be realised and not wait for other people to make them happen as i don’t believe that will be the case. What we need to do more of and quicker is open up the system to be challenged and disrupted as well as allowing people to take ownership of parts of the new system of public services.

The capabilities for digital local public services – education

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Continuing the development of my thinking around the Framework for Digital Local Public Services and following quickly on from my previous post about Connectivity. This post focuses on Education and some of the opportunities to think differently around this area.

The framework outlines Education as:

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.

So this post will focus on some basic ideas and build on existing stuff that is happening now.

Most of what needs to be done here around people and skills is happening to some degree, although the key missing point in the wider Education is that we are currently not really educating people to access and meet service needs themselves – a bit of a comms and marketing job required as well as actual education in terms of being able to help themselves.

The really good stuff that is happening locally for people and communities such as social media surgeries, digital mentors etc need to be scaled wider and more quickly. This can and should link with schools as pretty much every school primary and secondary have access to computers and the internet, also libraries could and do already play a key role here.

The real challenge is providing a wider context for people to actually want to learn and engage with the internet in its broadest context, plus we need to ensure that those people who we essentially classify as digitally excluded are engaged in the education in some way.

There is a long way to go before we can get to a pervasive and ubiquitous climate – however what we need is for this to happen more visibly in peoples communities.

So my basic idea here is that we try and create opportunities for people to problem solve and understand how the internet can play a role in that – it doesn’t require people to directly have access to the internet now or understand it but it does require people to come together and help solve local problems and to understand through that how the internet can help transform how those problems can be met.

My recent experience with XJamGov was a similar thing, in that there were people there who whilst having smartphones etc, weren’t always looking to the internet to solve the problem, more that they focused on what needed to be done and then through conversation, exploration and prototyping came to understand how the internet could play a role.

These activities and events can in turn help others understand how the internet can help solve problems in a practical way and how there is still a major need for real people to play critical roles in digital public service provision.

I’d also like to see schools play a greater role in helping people access and understand the internet – As a parent I’m always hearing how my kids use the internet and digital technologies to help them through their work, they understand – even if they can’t articulate it – that the internet is a resource, a platform and a tool to help solve problems.

We should open this process up and be more inclusive in how we engage schools and communities in solving problems…after all they are the future users of all these services.