The Local GDS question – again…

Last Friday evening conversation started on twitter about a local GDS, the why, what, how, who, where etc.

Now I didn’t have too much time to get involved in the conversation on twitter, although I did post a comment on Ben Proctors blog post on Friday evening – I would have contributed more but was actually at karate with my son and then had quite a busy weekend which included a 1 day kayaking course (which I can highly recommend).   The one thing I did tweet was that I’d be better off writing a blog post about this as it will certainly take more than 140 characters.

When I previously wrote about over on the GDS blog back in March this year I started the post with this statement:

Does local government need a local government digital service? – The easy answer to the title question would be No…but I don’t like easy answers and I believe that No is fundamentally the wrong answer.

I mentioned the types of things that I felt were and still are needed to help move this forward e.g.

  • Leadership and vision
  • Skills development
  • Connecting
  • Standards / toolkits / frameworks
  • Setting the bar high
  • Greater engagement and collaboration between local and central

Also things we should avoid doing

  • measuring / monitoring from a central place
  • force it
  • focus on technology
  • create and acknowledge artificial barriers

I’d recommend reading the post for the comments alone which were really fascinating as are the comments on Ben’s blog

I think I need to clarify things before we can move forward.

First: saying we need a local GDS does not mean that it is a physical team based anywhere in the UK and has paid staff < I’m sure many people would jump at the chance at this kind of thing but in my personal view it isn’t sustainable.

Second: saying that we need a local GDS does not mean that it is restricted to just local government people / staff < events and movements like govcamp demonstrate that a collection of people passionate about solving problems is all you need to make wonderful things happen.

Third: lets not forget that 400(ish) local councils are not easy to co-ordinate and are very different in terms of politics, but that shouldn’t mean we shouldn’t do anything.

Fourth:  there is no silver bullet to what people may perceive to be a local GDS.

Local GDS already exists…so lets move on…

Can we just all accept that Local GDS is already here and has been for years, we just simply haven’t called it that.  I’d say that localgovcamp is probably the best physical manifestation of what this looks like and it meets outside of London.

If I go back to what a Local GDS should do and ask myself has localgovcamp done this then this is what you get….

  • Leadership and vision  < YES
  • Skills development < YES
  • Connecting < YES
  • Standards / toolkits / frameworks < YES
  • Setting the bar high < YES
  • Greater engagement and collaboration between local and central < YES

plus the things it shouldn’t do…

  • measuring / monitoring from a central place < AGAIN YES
  • force it < AGAIN YES
  • focus on technology < AGAIN YES
  • create and acknowledge artificial barriers < AGAIN YES

So if we can accept this, then how do we make it better, scale it, get more recognition and also make the sharing of outputs easier regardless of the local council environment < YES this means we have to accept that some councils work on old systems and we have a responsibility to help those just as much as we have a responsibility to innovate for the rest.

The main issue is that there are a large number of councils who have still had no contact or even heard of  localgovcamp which does concern me as the whole sector needs to transform not just those who are connected.

I personally believe that those people who really want to move this forward should all work together on working out how we achieve the following:

  • better co-ordination and information sharing across all local councils including town and parish
  • a bit of consolidation and rationalisation on the many standards and frameworks which are out there some of which conflict and are legacy from eGovernment days.

There are more things but solving these two would go a long way to making things better.

Just so people are aware, I’ve already spoken with the LGA and a group of people are talking towards the end of September early October on how to move some of this forward.

It isn’t an exclusive group of people and I’m not concerned or precious about this and if other people want to move this forward in different directions then please do – however I want to make a plea that whatever happens – it needs to be practical, thought through and realistic as well as inclusive for all councils to engage with. That will mean kicking some up the backside in order to get them engaged of course.

I am keen on seeing this get resolved as I’m looking to the future of the sector and I’m worried that we will simply disappear and I’d at least want the knowledge to be available to those who needed it.







15 thoughts on “The Local GDS question – again…

  1. “a bit of consolidation and rationalisation on the many standards and frameworks which are out there some of which conflict and are legacy from eGovernment days.”

    The Local e-Government Standards Body (LeGSB) could easily be the focus for this – but it needs more practical support.

    1. I agree, I identified them as key players as are a range of other orgs who are doing bits and pieces but no links and co-ordination between means the wider benefits are not being realised.

  2. Carl,

    At the risk of upsetting the entire local gov community: don’t forget that, at the moment’ real, deep innovation in tech dev/use of tech tends to come not from teams within local government or large, private sector organisations but from small shops or even individuals working alone.

    Before all the toys get thrown out of the pram – as an ex-CIO of Essex County Council (I left in 2008 to set-up a focussed, high-tech software outfit – what I’m now doing) and prior to that Head of ICT Strategy and Architecture for Kent County Council, I do have some experience around this. In 2007 – way before gds or lgds was even thought of – I set up an agile, business focussed development team in Essex to enable software developers to work directly with end users (social workers). We called it the business transformation unit (BTU). Incredibly successful – until agility hit internal audit and internal politics.

    The lesson I learnt was that if you want to be highly innovative, agile and flexible, you have to do it ‘outside’ of formal environments. You can change yourself but you can’t change local government – at least, not in any reasonable timescale.

    Maybe something to think about when pondering this – the problem is not getting techies, geeks and nerds to be fast, flexible and innovative. That’s second nature.

    The problem is getting local government to recognise and then make the space for and support geek-ness when they see it.

    Maybe that’s the role that LGDS could fill ?

  3. I was reading your post Carl and couldn’t find much to add as strongly support where you’re coming from. Aside from not trying to replicate GDS in terms of structure, I would also suggest that what you’re describing is different in terms of breadth and depth to GDS, just by looking at their strands of work.

    Because local authorities are in practice (whether they like it or not!) closer to people, just in terms of geography and the diversity of services they provide. What this means are more customised approaches to different types of users and residents.

    But then I read @davidsocialsp post provocatively entitled “the best apps you’ve never heard of and wouldn’t want to buy” (and which echoes Ben’s point above) about how local authorities don’t bite the bullet when it comes to actually bringing on board digital services / products which have been worked up by entrepreneurs in innovative ways with service users. I could bring up various examples of councils that have done this, but it’s fair to say there aren’t many.

    Perhaps the LGDS can also be that “in between space” between intrapreneurs (sorry!) & entrepreneurs? Call it the “inbetweeners”?!

  4. “The problem is getting local government to recognise and then make the space for and support geek-ness when they see it.”

    Or another way to describe the same problem: The problem is getting geeks to recognise and then solve problems for local government when they see them.

    Isn’t it the case that, if developers were solving genuine problems for their employers in useful ways, that local government would value its geeks?

  5. Hi Carl,

    You’ve made so many good points in this post and your blog for GDS and we’re in whole-hearted agreement at Local Directgov.

    We’ve always tried to position ourselves to provide a collaborative link between central and local. One of our most recent initiatives has been the Really Useful days. These are a way of getting localgov people meeting each other, collaborating and sharing learning between themselves and central gov.

    We’ve got a group on the Knowledge Hub (, where we’ve put up all the work from Really Useful Days on model customer journeys – around 70 councils have put their heads together thinking about the best way for 16 customer journeys to work, and we’re encouraging discussion around these. We’ve also recently put up a guide on Cookies and Privacy ( – it came out of a workshop with localgov and central gov working together, and is for the benefit of all.

    So we’re trying to keep the conversation going and we’ve been looking for a while at how we can help the localgov community work more closely together and provide some more tangible support. Perhaps we can work with you to facilitate that point of contact that you seem to be looking for? We’d be very happy to discuss.

    1. Hi Abby,

      Thank you for commenting on the post. I’m always happy to chat about how we can actually move things forward…I’ve emailed you my contact details…the next few weeks are crazy for me but we should talk soon.


Leave a comment or share your thoughts...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.