The capabilities for digital local public services – participation

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

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.


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…


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

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.

The capabilities for digital local public services – connectivity

Continuing the development of my thinking around the Framework for Digital Local Public Services I wanted to share some really basic thoughts around how the connectivity challenge can and perhaps should be approached. This isn’t really a post about what is happening in Devon either, but i’ll naturally use examples locally to help illustrate the point

This post is really just a set of ideas, I’ve not dug deep into the legislation to see how viable this is as I’m starting to think that it shouldn’t really be the barrier…if something needs to be done to help our communities then we really should be doing what we can to remove those barriers given that over the next 4-8 years we will lose a significant amount of funding and unless we challenge the system we operate it we will only even get what we’ve got but slightly more efficient, which isn’t going to be enough.

In the framework it states:


  1. Connectivity:  Access that is high-speed, reliable, affordable and available everywhere (wired, wireless, digital).
  2. 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.
  3. Hardware : every citizen requires the capacity to connect to the Internet and tap into the full range of its resources and content.
  4. Software: that meets the needs of individuals, families, businesses and communities.
  5. Participation:  Access to and participation with local data and intelligence to help shape decisions in communities.

So I’m going to take each one of these in turn over a few posts and propose a set of ideas which could help us move forward…

So starting with…


Now there is work going on to bring connectivity into the many rural areas across the country and that is a good thing, although many people are arguing that this isn’t good enough, fast enough or even fit for purpose given the challenges ahead – in essence some are saying the work currently under way is short sighted and unsustainable.

I’m not going to get into a political argument around this as I simply want to propose some ideas around how we could think differently to provide connectivity.

The first and most obvious thing in my opinion is to look at all public sector organisations currently providing connectivity to their own buildings and assets which are located in often remote parts of our counties and rural villages – for example Libraries, GP Surgeries and  Schools as well as some council offices.

You may find that in certain communities the public sector network in all its forms, provides a level of connectivity which the community itself has failed to secure as part of any wider commercial offering.  This in my view is not good enough and I know there are some challenges around state funding, but if we are to create a wider public sector system which allows communities and individuals within those communities to access, deliver and even commission services for themselves then we need to redefine what we consider to be a public sector network and therefore what constitutes state funding.

Therefore my basic idea here is to open up what we currently recognise as public networks and allow our communities to piggy back on the connectivity through wifi or via small charges to communities themselves.

This feels like something that we can do quickly if we have the energy and desire to do it and is something that we have prototyped using public libraries for a while so we know it works as well.

We can then focus energy on making sure those areas which literally have no connectivity are connected with a fit for purpose solution.

It is much easier to write then it is to deliver as it does require not just basic change but a change in the system of government in order for these solutions to come to fruition.

With not for

As I have conversations with people about the digital framework and the principles I’ve started to think about more and more examples of where the principles would be used in real life.

This post will focus on the principle of “design with not for communities”

In my personal life this principle could be played out in many different scenarios but I’m going to just focus on a couple of areas.

The first and most obvious is my immediate local community, the second and maybe not quite so obvious is my work environment – the most common places where I spend my time.

My local community is not designed around the needs of the community and I know that because no one has ever asked my family what our needs for our local community look like, nor my neighbours based on conversations with them….more likely it has been driven by random opportunities and passionate people who are pursuing individual projects to fulfil some niche pocket of need.

Also it isn’t good enough to simply advertise a community meeting in the local shop with a few days to do at times when working families with young kids would struggle to attend…nor is it good enough to not have any mechanism to connect with the conversation of those meetings in a format which is relevant and more appropriate to the needs of families.

The issue for me is that my local community isn’t designed to facilitate a greater level of connections between the people who live there…there isn’t a common space where people from all across the community come together – the school is close but its excludes many of the older and vulnerable people in the community. If we could create an enabling environment which in increased and fostered the social interaction within my community we would be better able to identify common needs and issues and collaborate and co-design solutions which we felt as a community were more appropriate and agile.

In terms of my workplace, we have just recently moved office which has been a positive step as we are now in a space where we are less likely to that we are interrupting colleagues and more likely to have more meaningful and creative conversations.

Now not all offices need to look the same and it isn’t an easy situation to be in when we are in a very overt climate of hotdesking and flexible working in which all offices are now designed around flexibility of movement and easy of access to equipment. But this fails to recognise those teams who don’t and can’t work in that way and as research suggests open plan offices are actually counter productive

As a school governor we are constantly reminded and focused on improving standards and exploring ways in which all aspects of the school environment can support this. Now I’m only talking from a primary school context but I’m convinced this applies anywhere although as I type I’m not aware of research or evidence as I’ve not looked.
Anyway one of the key things teachers are now doing is using the physical space to increase opportunities for learning and improve the overall environment to support the objectives which is to help the children engage with learning.

If you think about applying that to a work space then each physical location should be designed to support different types of working pattern and where people are lucky enough to have offices then these should support those people to do their jobs better.

But in order to understand how these need to be developed and created you need to involve people, understand their needs and their outcomes and then work with them to create spaces which enable them to work or learn more effectively.