I think the reason so many people are talking about a local GDS either for or against or in some cases hybrid models is that everyone cares about local services. That is a good thing and we mustn’t lose that fact as we continue to discuss and debate various options and opportunities.
This also means that everyone will have an opinion and in some cases more than one opinion…that is ok too, but at some point we need to do something…prove the arguments wrong or prove them right…we actually have to shift away from saying we think it will and won’t work to proving it…yes that is risky and yes that requires resource and effort…but nothing will change unless we move forward.
Dave Briggs posted some thoughts earlier, this was a good post and Dave highlights some key aspects around ownership, quality, doing and sharing and this was sparked by Ben Proctors piece in the guardian. I liked Ben’s post and it provided a very good analysis of some of the issues for and against. I made a comment on twitter that it was leading me to take sides, in that we can no longer sit back and do nothing as the worse thing that could happen is that someone somewhere decides what needs to happen in isolation to the outcomes people are working for.
So I’m going to use this post to do two things
1) share my thoughts and they are only thoughts (half baked as usual)
2) commit to actually doing something to move forward – it might not be perfect but I’m tired of the talking and want to shift myself away from falling into traditional behaviours to actually doing something and I hope the more people who engage the doing might actually deliver some value…
1) My Thoughts
For every for and against argument there is a counter argument so we should shift away from pondering what the impact or issues might be and start proving it.
I know that on face value localgov is 400+ independent bodies all accountable locally…but who wouldn’t want to think the unthinkable given the current financial climate and if you were a local politician and you could potentially safeguard some frontline services by letting go of some of the issues around platforms, content and branding then would you consider it.
I’m not suggesting any of this would be easy because it won’t be…it isn’t easy now watching as local services get cut back and in some cases disappear…it isn’t easy watching colleagues lose jobs and communities suffer from the cumulative effect of a reduction in spending…
So let’s do the hard stuff because that will be worth it.
As a starting point I started to think about what some of the component parts of what a local GDS might or could do and consider how this might be progressed. This isn’t a comprehensive list of things but it would no doubt include the following:
1 content platform (public information, advice and guidance)
2 transactional platform (online services and self service)
3 capacity and skills development
4 quality standards
5 assisted access/digital
6 open data / linked data
7 democracy and transparency
What I think would be helpful is to work out how we would begs achieve these things and then do it.
Other people have more informed views on the first two but in my view it is less about a shared single platform and more about improving the quality of provision all round which links to four. It isn’t a bad idea or a good idea, what I do think is that this is probably one of the harder tasks to navigate so let’s focus our efforts on early value whilst we continue to work through those issues. I’ve personally been involved in attempted shared service arrangements around front end web and it failed due to lack of local political support and the perception someone else was always going to do something for free…this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try again as the context has changed and at least we have lots of learning
Number Five is a no brainer in terms of working across sectors in a unified way and the digital inclusion strategy has provided a good foundation for this and the work Go On are doing is a good example. The impacts of the Care Act mean that we really need to address this if we want a chance of creating sustainable options locally given the Act is quite prescriptive about what is expected.
Number Six is linked into one, two and seven and as I said others have better views. However this should not be seen in isolation and can help bridge gaps whilst we address the issues of one and two as well.
So it leaves number three and eight and I think these are linked not exclusively but in ways which I’ll explain.
2) what am I going to so
Well along with colleagues at the council here and a wider range of collaborators I’m committing to making the Change Academy happen in some form or another…this to me underpins all of the above and provides a level of sustainability which can reach out into our communities and have longer term benefits.
I also believe that this is one area where a single approach and a unified model would actually work and deliver value but is also creates local flexibility in terms of provision…so creates a model for some of the other components also.
I don’t claim that this is the right answer or even a good one, but I want to do something and this is what I feel I can contribute to the most at this point in time.
I am of course interested in the wider debate and discussion and I hope that this adds something to it.