Reflecting on LocalGovCamp 2014 – Did that really just happen…

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I wanted to post a set of reflections after attending this years LocalGovCamp and fringe events which happened last week (20/21 June).

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Firstly I want to acknowledge the effort and hard work of Sarah Lay – given all of her work in the day job and outside I’m in total admiration for how she managed to make this happen.

Other folk who need acknowledging for there hard work, skills and all round goodness are:
Jon Foster
Phil Rumens
Sarah Jennings
Nick Hill

So back to the event and my reflections and in no particular order

Surprisingly a two day event actually worked, having the practical makers day and leaders summit on the Friday created a focus and energy which carried over to the Saturday even though the people were different

A major realisation that LocalGovDigital has always existed ever since the first LocalGovCamp – the continued support network, the peer to peer sharing, help, advice and collaboration has always been there since 2009, but not as formalised as we are now – we simply made it visible and opened it up.

It never ceases to amaze me how inspired I get from going to these events, there was a time when I felt like the sessions didn’t offer value to me personally so I often just floated around talking (reflecting) I essentially continued attending for the people and conversations – And this year it recaptured the energy, newness and enthusiasm of the very first event back in 2009 – I found the sessions were more stimulating and focused on what can happen now, not what might at some point in the future (in an ideal world) which shows that there is a shift towards a greater clarity of focus…however this was not always the case but you have to let conversations flow

There were more people who hadn’t attended than had previously attended which was one of the things we wanted to achieve. So I’m not sure exactly how we managed to do that but it certainly contributed to the energy and excitement. We also had councillors attending which was also a great success. We need more but we have found a way in which it worked and it feels like we can build on this momentum quickly as well

LocalGov Digital really came to life at this event, it felt like the network was active, present and greater than the sum of its parts. However we still need to effectively harness that and provide stronger leadership as a collective group of people. As Glen Ocsko stated in the open steering group meeting – “we need to grow some digital balls” – that to me means we have to find the confidence to really demand a new relationship, to state our expectations, to share our values and principles and state loudly that “We want, demand and can build something better”. I’m under no illusion that we will need help, but at least we can be honest about that.

Localgovcamp is really about people and places and it just so happens that there is an overt leaning towards technology and some even stated that they felt it was a technology event…we need to address this before we lose people…
For me though I see localgovdigital as being the change makers who can support and help enable a transformation around people and places to create value:

Our focus should be the whole person, whole system and whole place…

By.

- focusing on need
- being open by default
- adopting digital by design
- being networked and collaborative
- by doing and showing
- being evidence and data driven

All of this is underpinned by the democratic accountability which is one of our strengths.

Finally I had one of the best pork pies I think I have ever eaten in the old manor pub – Dave Briggs also had one and can testify to it’s incredible taste, it could only have been improved by adding a good strong cheddar and a quality pickle.

#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.

Shifting Digital Sands

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An edited version of this has also been published on the Guardian Public Leaders Network Blog

The landscape of digital is constantly changing and being redefined with every new development, technology breakthrough, success and failure. We need digital public sector leaders who can properly navigate this environment, and ensure that they are connected to outcomes and not traditional organisation objectives.

Here are three guidelines to get your started…(i’ll follow these with more in the next post).

1. Champion open data
We need leaders who can ensure that information and data is open by default, and secure when absolutely required. Too often councils commission digital programmes only to find the data generated does not easily integrate with other systems, or that data is not council-owned and can only be accessed at further cost.

2. Don’t get distracted by flashy products
Leaders must adopt an agnostic approach to technology, and not get seduced by the ever-increasing number of digital technologies and lose sight of real user and business needs.

3. Learn from research and practice
Tales of misplaced IT investments plague the public sector, and senior leaders are understandably hesitant when considering future investments. To avoid causing even more disruption, we should learn from each other and research findings from across the digital landscape.

Making the decision to properly invest in digital leadership will not just improve decision making about digital solutions and strategies. It will also bring in the knowledge needed to navigate the complex security requirements that surround public-sector IT. And it will ensure that practices honed in the digital environment become embedded in the council more generally.

In Devon, for example, we are making sure all the public information and services we offer online are based on the experience and behaviour of users – not an easy shift but its the hard work we should do if we want to make things better. This has led service teams to refocus on the needs of citizens rather than those of the organisation, a subtle cultural shift and we are now starting to see some positive responses from within services. And our experiences of future proofing, agility and responsiveness are informing service design throughout the council.

So what is holding us back?

Across local government there is still a fragmented approach to collaboration, although this is starting to improve and I hope that LocalGov Digital can be a part of shifting the perceived value of informal collaboration away from unprofessional outputs. In central government, the Government Digital Service is charged with providing the right environment for change across all government departments. However, in local government, digital leaders often work alone without a unifying strategy across the sector. It is important to understand and recognise that the Government Digital Service is more than just a team pushing and promoting digital in central government: they are the future of central government, attempting to transform everything – transform how government works as a system.

Initiatives such as LocalGov Digital, NLGN Shaping the Digital Agenda, O2′s Local Government Digital Fund, the DCLG/LGA local digital alliance and the Guardian’s many public sector forums and networks are all helping to push forward debate, spread good practice and build a sense of urgent optimism around the local government digital agenda. But at present there is no equivalent to the unified force of the Government Digital Service.

Local Digital leadership can provide an alternative approach to a centralised local government digital service, after all this is exactly what LocaGov Digital is doing. But do we really want to or can we rely on it alone?

Hack Devon County Council

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As a Council we are at the beginning of our Open Data Journey.

We have used and reused others peoples open data, we have experimented with a hack weekend supported by students from Plymouth University we have set up an Open Data forum on 27th February and now we are taking the next step and taking part in Rewired State’s Hack the Government.

It is happening on the 8-9th March and for more information about the event and the challenges check out the Hack the Government Exeter page

To contact the NHTG Exeter team email: nhtgexeter@rewiredstate.org  or follow them on twitter:  @nhtgexeter

#Localgov Digital Free Usability Dashboard – Beta

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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.