A response to the UK Digital Strategy

Dear Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy,

I’m responding to your recent request for thoughts on the UK Digital Strategy. This response is split into two 1) the broader environment and conditions required for Digital and 2) How local public services are designed, delivered and commissioned, although the outcomes of which may have much wider benefits.

1 – Conditions for radical change

I start with the underlying proposition that every citizen can and will meaningfully integrate the internet into their daily lives. This level of active and capable participation should allow for new opportunities to emerge which reduce and divert demand on public services to alternative tools which are open by default and digital by design.

This environment will not simply develop, and the transformative opportunities will not unfold, unless people, businesses, service providers, government, community organisations and others fully understand and integrate digital into everything they do.

We must acknowledge that a digital climate is different to a transformation programme. It is a shift in thinking in which people and institutions are routinely aware of and constantly incorporate digital technology and opportunity into whatever they do.

This requires pervasive and meaningful digital awareness and education — a ubiquitous digital climate that animates and inspires creativity and transformation and enables growth and wellbeing.

Recommendation 1: Actively support grassroot action and education alongside the major players of change.

We require strong visible leadership across all sectors to enable transformation and strong decisions that ensure that we all contribute to creating a climate for growth and wellbeing. The leadership can come from anywhere and should not be restricted to hierarchical positions within recognised national organisations or from a single sector. We must demand that digital leadership be present in all sectors to drive sustainable growth and wellbeing.

Recommendation 2: Support and foster strong digital leadership across all sectors

2 – Co-ordinating and stimulating action

I’m part of LocalGov Digital, a network for digital practitioners working in councils. We’ve done some great things over the past three years like creating a standard for writing digital content, running an unmentoring scheme, running the UK’s leading local government unconference, introducing an online platform to aid council collaboration, and running a workshops to help redesign local democracy to name but a few.

There is however no core funding for coordination and much of our work is done on a voluntary basis in addition to our day jobs. You can find out more at http://localgovdigital.info

Enabling co-ordination and collaboration wouldn’t take a great deal of resource. It really just needs a few people to start to join things up between councils, voluntary and community sector, health, blue light services and central government, and everyone else looking to improve the digital services the public sector offers – benefits might include but would not be restricted to:

  • Accountability for poor local public digital service delivery.
  • A reduction in the duplication of spending and development work across all sectors.
  • Better knowledge transfer between sectors, including standards for data and services.
  • A sharing of skills, assets and resources between organisations.
  • A fundamental role for local people and places to help influence the creation and development of local public digital services

The outcome would be better, cheaper, citizen focused local digital services. There is currently no network or organisation able to deliver this at scale, or it would already be happening.

Recommendation 3: The creation of a new accountable body to co-ordinate, measure and improve local public digital services.

Carl Haggerty

Belated reflections from Beyond the Smart City

Over a month ago now I had a privileged position of being able to chair and oversee a fantastic event at the Met Office in Exeter and since then sat in my To-Do list has been a task to write some reflections…so here they are.

The event: Beyond the Smart City – took place on Friday 26th June and was organised by ODI Devon

A post event review can be found here for those who want to read about the full three days

My reflections:

Firstly as MC (or chair) I had intended to listen harder to make sure that I could pull out the key messages and key points, but the flow of day and the speakers and participants made that role easy as it all just seemed to work.

The quality of speakers was fantastic and I personally found all the speakers resonated with where my thinking is right now. So for me the event was perfectly pitched and really reaffirmed and challenged my thinking which helped.

Here are a number of key reflection points triggered and sparked from the day which I think need further exploration and discussion as well as some experimentation as we move forward.

  1. Above everything else we need smart people to make any investment in smart places truly flourish
  2. As we shift to a more digital world we at least need a recognition that a significant inclusion focus has to be around data itself, especially if we are all supposed to be self resilient people, highly empowered with ‘oodles’ of data around us…without understanding what it means we simply end up relying on corporate organisations to provide interpretation and that might not be in our best interests
  3. The democratisation of the internet goes hand in hand with the above points – the fundamental proposition of the internet as a platform is that it is open to us all. Our collective challenge is how we help make that a reality to everyone.
  4. The focus on open data as an end point is unhelpful, when bad quality data exists within a system that sees no benefit from that data. We must (in local government at least) improve the quality of our data, use our own data and then decide whether to apply an open data licence to it.
  5. Local Authorities as strategic commissioning organisations are fundamentally data rich organisations and we have yet to see any real shifts in infrastructure, leadership and understanding to support this shift…whilst the focus remains on transactional transformation we miss the opportunity for more widespread system change – this has to happen soon or we may end up being driven by the transactional services agenda.
  6. The Internet of things is an interesting area for local services, but we must move beyond simply thinking of it as an investment in sensors and think about it as an investment in connectedness, network flow and demand led transformation.

It is never too late to say a big well done to those who organised the event. So well done to Simon, Martin and Lucy also known as ODI Devon

The slides from the day are available here

 

Coding clubs

As a parent of two young boys who love computer games, the Wii, minecraft (pocket edition and full PC version), lego, swimming and generally most outdoors things. Also as a School Governor at a Primary school I was really interested to stumble upon the website for code club and instantly thought it was such an amazing idea, that i should help ensure that one is set up at my local primary school.

I was reminded of the work the Emma Mulqueeny does at Young Rewired State and thought there is a similarity and perhaps a cross over but that doesn’t matter as the main thing is that kids are getting the chance to learn and practice coding.

Anyway I’ve contacted the IT Co-ordinator at the school and have already searched the site and found three possible volunteers – so will see what we can set up. I think this would be a great opportunity  for the school and the kids.

[Edited – 4th September]

I forgot to mention when I originally wrote this that this is also a really good example of the Education capability as it starts to build awareness, understanding and competency into young people and the wider community.

Public Service Daft Punk Style

I’ve read with interest the recent Policy Exchange publication, which sounds a bit like a daft punk song 🙂  Smaller, Better, Faster, Stronger – remaking government for a digital age and was reassured to read  that there is a similar view of the future in relation to Digital and Local Public Services.

The publication in a broad context looks at government, central and local and makes a number of recommendations which I can’t argue with, nor would I want to. It is an interesting read and one which I’d recommend for those who are working in and around the digital agenda in the public sector.

The bit which aligned with the Digital Framework the most was the second part of the Executive Summary called The future awaits, where it outlines the climate and conditions which need to exist in order to see and enable the level of change and transformation required across the sector and beyond into our communities themselves.

It specifically refers to the ubiquitous climate and some of the capabilities that need to exist in order to support the paradigm shift in thinking and being Open by Default as opposed to simply being digital by default. It also eludes to the outcomes of growth and well-being but this is a no brainer really.

I’ve copied the section below but you can read the full publication here > Smaller, Better, Faster, Stronger – remaking government for a digital age

The future awaits
Over the course of this decade, two fundamental trends will cause us to radically rethink the way government works, with major implications for both policy and policymakers alike.

The first is the acceleration toward ubiquitous availability of general purpose digital technologies. This will make it possible to completely rethink how government organises itself, how it learns and adapts, and how it fosters innovation.

At the same time, a population that is always connected and at ease with a digital world will make it possible to entertain radical changes in the way public services are delivered without compromising on quality, engagement or accessibility.

The second is the shift toward openness as the default, not just in technology but across our economy and society. A genuinely open government that responds to the growing demand from citizens for accountability and participation will deliver better policies and foster stronger communities. And in an open, networked world, we will discover that many of the things that were once the sole preserve of governments are, in fact, sometimes better done by someone else entirely.

Digital connects but behaviours stay the same

Now I personally believe and I am working under the assumption that  – Building a digital framework and infrastructure will enable better democratic engagement and will also contribute to developing social capital and social cohesion.

I also accept that everyday when I go outside I can see that the majority of people don’t really help each other and most people are selfish and ignore neighbours etc and that is fine for now.

One of the many challenges we need to focus on when creating the digital climate is we must acknowledge that a digital climate is different to a transformation programme. It is a shift in thinking in which people and institutions are routinely aware of and constantly incorporate digital technology and opportunity into whatever they do.

I personally believe that within the next 3-4 years we will start to see a greater sense of individual and collective responsibility emerging and that in turn will manifest itself in communities and interesting things will happen.

Those “interesting things” might benefit from some nudging and this is where I believe the principles outlined in the framework can provide some focus – I’ve copied them in below for reference:

People and communities are unique

  • Design “with” not “for” people and communities
  • Design for Inclusion and accessibility
  • Enable independence
  • Foster health and wellbeing

Positive relationships and networks

  • Respect diversity of opinions
  • Connect people and connect networks
  • Co-operate and collaborate
  • Open by default

Enabling communities and environments

  • Evidence based research and decision-making
  • Support everyone to achieve
  • Think Local and Global
  • Digital infrastructure for smart communities/cities

Learning and development

  • Learn, discover and explore though experience
  • Create space for reflective practice
  • Foster creative and divergent thinking
  • Enable sustained learning

So we need to think about how we focus on nudging the behaviours of individuals, organisations, communities etc and help them shift their thinking by helping them connect to a greater purpose and allow the behaviour change to foster any transformation. This is where the work done on the capabilities within the digital framework starts to play out as they all contribute to the wider shift in thinking and in particular the participation capability as outlined in this post “The capabilities for digital local public services participation” start to form a key part of the shift – This comes back to the Super Empowered Hopeful Individuals mentioned in my post “World of Govcraft” and I’d also add in super empowered communities as well.

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….

What we can’t and mustn’t do is focus on the transformation itself as we will only end up creating things that people don’t need and won’t want and services which are not holistic and are designed around current mindsets and thinking.  I’ve said it before that we need a complete paradigm shift  in this post “5 paradigm shifts for #localgov” and include the whole thing below…

1. Culture
Number 1 on any list in my humble opinion – the culture of local government generally is one that often assumes that external changes and challenges will often pass by and that a slower pace of change is sometimes considered as the most appropriate way forward. But that is no longer a valid assumption

The Old Paradigm: “Head down and it will all go away.”

The New Paradigm: “Embrace the new direction and provide leadership.”

2. Mindset

You often get people who simply turn up and literally sit in meetings and contribute nothing…I’ve always been a fan of the rule of two feet, if it isn’t working for you leave.

Old Paradigm: “Just put your body in the room.”

New Paradigm: “Show up with a creative, open mindset.”

3. Group Wisdom

Obvious perhaps, but just because someone has been promoted to the top of the organisations, it doesn’t and shouldn’t mean they know more than anyone else…In my personal opinion most senior people are actually more politically aware than intellectually aware.

Old Paradigm: “All wisdom exists at the top.”

New Paradigm: “Listen and make space for various voices.”

4. Environment

I’ve only really recently appreciated this one, most people are forced into cultures that require them to sit in rows, in quiet offices, without any real social interaction even when the rooms are open plan. I understand that the sector is rationalising property assets and encouraging hot-desking and the like but we really should think about what we are trying to do…

Old Paradigm: “Do what is normal.”

New Paradigm: “Approach space creatively to serve the purpose.”

5. Vision

For me this could have also been called purpose…why do we do the things we do…A recent session at Open Space South West creatively called “reducing isolation and helping those who give a shit”

Old Paradigm: “Work to get paid.”

New Paradigm: “Make your work about something bigger.”

One of the key things for me is ensuring that we avoid replicating and amplifying existing behaviours in a digital infrastructure as this will only ensure we do the wrong thing righter and not the right thing from the start.