Are we a Digital Council?

The strange thing happened recently, I received an email stating that Devon had been nominated by someone as a Digital Council for the upcoming Digital Leaders 100. Now this was a nice surprise and it was great to think other people believe that we are worth considering as a possible Digital Council of the Year nominee. Initially I was like – yeah, finally we have been noticed, but that quickly faded as I started to think about what we could actually say which was really visible to people.

I started to think about it more and more and looked again at the category criteria, I started to think, it perhaps isn’t the right time for us, we need a bit more time to really show the impact of the work we are putting in.

Now we have made some fantastic progress and worked on ensuring we put the right building blocks in place so we ensure we have a meaningful and transformative impact as we move forward.

The work we have done over the last 12-18 months has been focused on a combination of delivering projects (redesigned public website) as well as focusing on building capacity, growing our understanding through developing new governance approaches and embedding the digital agenda into the heart of our approach to change to ensure end to end service design is embedded in how we work and challenge what we do.

We also have Digital as a key component of the council’s operating model (Digital by Design).

We have a range of activities and projects which underpin our approach to Digital transformation.

We have a new responsive governance board – a Strategic Digital Delivery board – Chaired by the Chief Executive.

We are offering and providing Digital coaching and mentoring to Senior Leadership and Cabinet Members on a group and 1-1 basis as well as a programme of discovery, lightening talks and practical experiential learning.

We have started an in-depth piece of work mapping existing technical capabilities and then reframing these into high level user needs – this work is already starting to allow us to ask better questions of our technology and have a better understanding of our capabilities in terms of how they meet user needs and demand, it has also started to inform “investment” and priorities which has allowed us to start thinking about what work, out of all the work we have to do, is really focusing on improving how we deliver services to people 

We have been working on our public website for the last 18 months working through a process of redesign and then delivering better user focused public information all aimed at better shaping demand at first point of contact. Some examples being:

  • Adult social care with the development of a new public information offer including a local community directory and an online self checker
  • Highways through developing reporting and tracking problems using a simple web application to pinpoint the issue on a map

We (Lucy Knight and colleagues) have continued our work around Open Data and have been developing dashboards with Scrutiny members further developing ad building on our Open Data Champion status.

We are also starting to reference the European Digital Capability Framework within some of our commissioning and procurement activities as we want to be able to look at the market in terms of its maturity around innovation. This is an emergent piece of work and we have yet to formalise anything but we are prototyping some of this within existing areas to better understand how it challenges the market and delivers value for citizens.

We are doing lots of things, too many to list here…What we haven’t done properly yet is deliver significant savings based on any digital agenda, but we are now on a journey to ensure that changes we make are sustainable, appropriate and designed around the needs of people.

I’d like to think we are doing some great things here in Devon, but I’m also very aware that other councils are equally doing some fantastic things…having a category for Digital Council of the Year is counter productive in so many ways – although very flattering that others think we are doing things that make others believe we are digital. I think we would be better off, looking at whether councils who are doing good things are also ensuring the building blocks for sustained improvement and continuous innovation are embedded in their organisations. I certainly believe we are doing that and we are making good progress on this.

We don’t want to simply plug technology into our council and say we are digital – we want to challenge what we do and make sure we don’t make all the inefficiencies, digital inefficiencies.

So are we a digital council…No, but I’m not sure that’s our ambition either – our ambition is to design and deliver services around the needs of people and if we can use digital technologies to make that easier and more efficient for people then we will do, but it will be an informed decision of where technology can play a role and not one driven by the technology opportunity in isolation.






Networks, shared purpose and systemic change

I didn’t attend UKGovCamp 16 this year and haven’t for a while now, which is fine as I still get to consume the many, many posts and reflections from the people who attended…you can’t replace physically being there, but the quality of the outputs certainly helps the wider community develop its thinking and practice.

I read this post last week by Catherine Howe about Networks as a driver for system change and was reminded why I always enjoyed being in Catherine’s company as it resonated with so many things that I’m facing right now.

I was also struck by one of the comments left on the post and wanted to let that sit with me for a few days before I could work out why it didn’t feel comfortable or why it stuck in my head…

The specific comment is available on Catherine’s blog post here. Firstly let me just say that I’m not writing to specifically argue with the comment but wanted to explore the comment further as it is something I’m wanting to understand more.

The comment was this:
I tend to feel like I’m trying to influence and shape the culture of the group, rather than curate it. And the ways I do that are through my actions as a member of the group (the “be the change you want to see” approach); trying to consciously champion/ignore/call-out the good/undesirable/toxic behaviour in others; and thinking up actions/experiments/initiatives which nudge the culture in the direction I want it to head. 

The actual bit of this comment i struggled with is the very last bit – the bit that reads – “nudge the culture in the direction I want it to head” Now I can understand the motives behind this and the sentiment but I am personally wrestling with the implied statement of someones individual direction being a preferred route over someone else.

So the question I asked myself was: Is it ok for someone to push their own agenda through a system or is this just manipulation?

Now I’m not going to hide the fact that, this has been an approach I’ve previously adopted but it hasn’t worked that well in terms of really affecting the whole system, what it did was connect me to people who had a similar view and a similar mindset which has been great. But what all of this lacked was a real sense of system wide change over and above simply connecting people across a system. That is however an important part of how systems change…networks and relationships are critical, but they must have the trust underpinning them to be really effective.

The issue I see in pushing an agenda through a system is that you inevitably marginalise people who don’t initially align with the direction. This then reinforces the echo chambers which end up sitting isolated within a system.

The learning I am going through now is challenging me to think about my role and my contributions within a wider system and what a duration role really means in terms of improving and transforming the outcomes for people and places and how we can see a system change itself informed by a new shared sense of purpose…after all the purpose of the system is what it does!

One chain of thought led me to look at the various styles of leadership and the relative merits of each in particular circumstances and situations but all that did was validate that diversity of thought and diversity of ideas and approaches is at the heart of shifting thinking and shifting to a shared purpose. But the key aspects here are that whatever style, the pre-requisite is that all styles of leaders need to think about a new mode of operating which is open, transparent and authentic. Clearly some leadership styles will struggle with this but that is the challenge we face.


Another chain of thought led me to consider the context for LocalGov Digital and how as a group of individuals who essentially have come together around a shared purpose. So i asked myself what is missing to see systemic change…what is the role of a core group of people to curate and create conditions for people to define the shared purpose in such a way that as individuals we all make appropriate changes which affects the wider system.

To a point i think the network is doing some of this, but it comes to scale and the reach of the network and the perceived lack of “signing up to something”. This has always been an issue for me, I’ve often thought that if people have the same shared purpose then we simply need to connect and help mobilise and enable them to create change…however some people have said that they feel the need to sign up to something…but can’t really articulate what that needs to be.

As LocalGov Digital we often get stuck in a place which tries to define an offer as if the network was a membership as opposed to clearly articulating the shared purpose and playing a role in curating and enabling people to come together around that.  I feel that we are getting better at this, I feel that we need to actively shift the focus on to things which bring people together for a shared purpose to emerge and evolve. Events like UKGovCamp and LocalGovCamp are examples of this, however taking time out and prioritising these types of things isn’t easy when you are essentially locked away in a sub system which has its own priorities which are not aligned to a new emerging shared purpose…

I have no answers but I am actively thinking and practicing new ways of working so I can help others around me – one thought occurred to me is that the greatest contribution I could make is by getting out-of-the-way of others so they can contribute more effectively – realising I might be blocking someone is hard to take as it is so opposed to how I want to work but being open to that means I’m becoming more mindful of my actions within a wider system and letting go of more things all the time to ensure others can grow themselves.

So coming back to the comment…
I tend to feel like I’m trying to influence and shape the culture of the group, rather than curate it. And the ways I do that are through my actions as a member of the group (the “be the change you want to see” approach); trying to consciously champion/ignore/call-out the good/undesirable/toxic behaviour in others; and thinking up actions/experiments/initiatives which nudge the culture in the direction I want it to head. 

Most of the comment above is fine, but the last bit needs to be challenged as people need to learn and identify the positive and negatives themselves…one approach in my view is that there is only a shared purpose and if you have a purpose you are trying to see, share it, allow others to challenge and develop it, make it better, deeper, more meaningful. Accepting that we can only ever have part of a picture means we need to share more, open up more and that makes us all vulnerable…which is ok…as I trust those around me and where trust doesn’t exist, i am actively working on how to develop it.

So my final reflection is this: Trust is the only currency worth focusing on…everything else comes from that…

A LocalGov Digital Day about the Digital Service Standard

On Friday 5th February a bunch of Local Gov folk went to the home of GDS to explore and better understand the Digital Service Standard – the primary purpose was to consider the enablers and blockers to making this a reality for local councils.

Firstly thanks must go to Phil RumensZuz Kopeka, Olivia Neal who were the key people behind making this happen, and the many GDS colleagues who gave up their time to share their insight and learning. Also a thank you to the councils who sent people as this really is a critical piece of work to get right.

Personally the day was a great opportunity to start to unpick the detail of the standard and the practical implications on local government if we collectively adopted the standard moving forward. The conversations were great and I always enjoy listening and learning from colleagues across Local Gov, it reassured me that great things are happening in spite of the overall system we work within and that makes me positive about the future.

My single biggest reflection from the day is this:

“If we truly deliver on a digital standard for local government which can exert the same influence and impact on the delivery of local services as the GDS Digital Service Standard has had on central government services then we will have created one of the most significant enablers for digital transformation – this has to be a priority for everyone who cares about local services”

There is a storify of the tweets and related online chatter here.

A few consistent themes emerged for me though which we need to tackle or address individually and where possible collectively.


The issue of accountability and having a mandate always comes up as a key barrier for colleagues in local government as each council is on a different journey and has different timescales and approaches which means it is certainly a mixed landscape in which we all operate within.

However I think this is where a collective approach can start to raise the bar and nudge the sector forward even by a small amount but it will help. The key action will be for those councils who were represented on the day take an active role in signing up to a slightly amended version of the standard and start to demand a new approach and expectation for local digital services. At least that way we can start to collectively challenge ourselves as well as suppliers of technology to the sector around a consistent standard of “what good looks like”.


Not a word you hear that often to be honest, but we have to be realistic and accept that any change in approach will require an investment of time, energy, skills, money and leadership as well as requiring political investment.

But we need to start proving that this stuff really makes a difference to people, we will have to rethink how we measure success as it won’t make sense that individual councils measure success in isolation. The story needs to be one of coordinated effort and one of scale, this will start to raise the profile and attention to the issues local councils needs addressing.

Skills and Capacity

The most significant area for me is that all of this requires a completely different set of…although some of the skills do exist, they will need to be re-purposed and redirected on to the things that matter to people, not what matter to councils.

I don’t know what the answer is exactly for each council as we are all in different places, but my suggestion is we need to start to share our skills and knowledge more openly and around the foundation of a digital standard as this will challenge us all to deliver on the promise of truly user centered services.

So I understand that the actions from the day are to collaboratively create a version of the standard and to actively promote and push this out to local councils.  This is likely to happen over the next 4-6 weeks. So look out for the updates…


A reply to @EalingCouncil about Digital

I take my hat off to Ealing Council for asking for contributions and help with its digital strategy. You can read the article here >>>

I’m attempting to make contact to feedback but wanted to share here the basis of my feedback as i think the sector is in danger of pushing digital ahead without understanding why.

Ealing Council ask the following questions and I’ve provided brief feedback below each one…


  • How do our aims and aspirations compare to comparable organisations both within the UK and abroad?
    Feedback: As a public sector organisation i would like to suggest that there is only one ambition “Provide world class local public services”…Unless the questions refers to something else i can’t see why any public sector organisation would not have this as their not have it is a disservice to our residents/citizens
  • Do our aims and aspirations reflect key trends in technology and take up over the next few years?
    Feedback: Your aspirations around technology should be driven not by what is trendy, or what is popular but what is fit for purpose and meets the needs of those who need the services. This might mean thinking radically different about how and where technology might be used and even who might provide that technology. Don’t be driven by trends be driven by the needs and demands of the people you serve.
  • Do aims and aspirations capture the full range of potential opportunities over the new few years?
    Feedback: My answer is similar to above, don’t focus on the technology or the latest app. Focus on need, outcomes and the people who live in your area…focus on solving problems, not the latest technology. Sometimes the best solution to a problem is connecting a people together and giving them space and time to resolve things independently.


  • What is the right approach to supporting and enabling digital transformation within our own organisation?
    Feedback: There is no right approach. I’d like to ask you how your organisation gets things done now and improves or redesigns services. This is best done by the people who do the work supported by people who understand how to challenge, redesign and discover new opportunities.
  • What is the best funding model to encourage digital transformation and minimise the risk of expensive failure?
    Feedback: The funding you have is the funding you have, you minimise risk of expensive failure by prototyping, iterating and involving people in the design process.  design with, not for people.
  • What governance structures best support successful digital transformation?
    Feedback: I’d suggest that this is dependent on the type of organisation you are now, and how you manage projects and risk…whatever the answer i’d suggest it is probably too much governance. You’ll need to think about how those making decisions can get as close as possible to the work, so they understand why things are changing.

Digital customers

  • How can we use digital technology to support and encourage our customers to do things for themselves?
    Feedback: Firstly do you know what your customers need and want? if not, i’d suggest increasing your breadth and depth of understanding around who your customers are and why they contact you in the first place.
  • How can we safeguard against digital exclusion and ensure inclusive access to our services within a digital by default approach?
    Feedback: As you design new service models, you need to understand how people will connect and interact with it.  If you really understand your customers/users then you’ll be able to see how you can minimise digital exclusion…sometimes that will involve other people and organisations.

Digital council

  • What infrastructure do we need to unlock the potential of the data we and other partners hold and what steps do we need to take to put this in place? How best to address and improve services and deliver savings.
    Feedback: Before this, you need to ask yourself why we collect data in the first place and how does this data improve your understanding on how you can solve problems.
    You might not need any infrastructure, you may need new relationships, new business models before you need your own infrastructure…this is why you need to know what type of organisation you want to be.
  • What level of productivity gains can we achieve through the use of digital technology, in particular the move to mobile platforms?
    Feedback: Whilst i understand the question this is the wrong way to look at it.  You need to focus on how can you better meet the needs of those people who contact you and how can you mobilise your resources (people, money, technology, information etc) to better meet those needs
  • How can digital channels be used to engage more effectively with residents, local businesses and staff?
    Feedback: Digital communication channels offer huge opportunities to engage, but you can’t simply plug these channels in without changing the way the organisation listens and responds to those new conversations. This will fundamentally challenge the core of most public sector organisations and will inevitably impact on local democracy. Done well this will reinvigorate, done badly this will alienate.

Digital place

  • What is the evidence that digital technology drives growth and is there evidence that local authorities can influence growth?
    Feedback: Innovation drives growth, local councils already play an important role in shaping markets, however this is not something done in isolation, it requires a coordinated effort to reshape and change markets to drive growth. This will be difficult for councils to achieve in isolation.
  • Does investing in attracting digital businesses to the area yield demonstrable economic growth and job creation results?
    Feedback: Attracting businesses to an area requires the right conditions to be in place for those businesses to succeed, if they are digital businesses, they will require key infrastructure like high-speed broadband as a basic requirement…you’ll need to also think about education and skills in a broad sense to support that market..

I hope that this is helpful, i’m happy to talk more and there are many people in the sector who can contribute #localgovdigital

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

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