Small thinking often makes a big difference

It is an old cliché, that you can’t get anywhere without taking a single step and in relation to local government it has been something that has always been at the front of my mind…how do we continually make small steps for a big difference.

Since creating the framework I continually think about how my thinking needs to be challenged using the overarching aim of “open by default – digital by design” as well as the supporting principles.

One area where shifting our thinking away from the “grand plans” and “big visions” to something more simple and essentially smaller would actually present a much better outcome all round is customer relationship management systems…the fact that it is called a system, worries me but that isn’t really where my concern or issue lies. Also it is worth me stating that I do see value in something like a CRM in some areas of public services but we really shouldn’t see it as a panacea across all services just because it suits us or because we are technically able to.

Fellow LocalGovDigital colleague and peer Phil Rumens wrote a very interesting post titled “The Internet of Broken Things”  < this is well worth a read and I suggest you go and visit it and check it out before reading any further really….

…If you did return (thank you) or in fact never left then I’ll continue.

The conversation that Phil and I had, had been along the lines of essentially flipping everything on its head and not trying to create a “system” to manage contacts but in fact adopting an open by default, digital by design approach and see each service request as something that anyone could subscribe to and receive updates – I’ve had conversations with Dave Briggs around similar things where he spoke of local government as one giant bug tracking system, open for all to see – this is essentially that. It was about saying should we care who reports things and stuff – does it matter whether 1 person reports 300 potholes but yet 3000 people subscribe to updates on progress…the important aspect is that a fault is reported and then if we open that up through the web, api’s or via maps etc then anyone could see it and decide on a personal level whether they wished to receive a set of updates.

Phil sums it up nicely by saying:

Rather than raising a new case for every broken thing, it means that people could subscribe to information about specific assets. Rather than 100 reports about the same thing, councils would store 1 report and details of 100 people who have subscribed to receive updates about it.

For me we have focused too much time and money on trying to develop, implement and create solutions to manage customer relationships through complex and simple systems. The focus has been how as a service do you effectively manage a set of requests to provide a response.

However I’d like to suggest that we change that focus and stop trying to push all of our contacts into a single system for us to manage behind firewalls and security layers and start opening up the requests so that everyone can see what actually needs to be done…that way we may find people help each other or subscribe to updates that other people have identified.

The approach in my head is about moving away from a focus on integrating services and applications and instead focusing our efforts on how we integrate data and infrastructure with people and places and how in turn that allows communities to make more effective decisions around the outcomes they want to see and the local public services they require to meet the needs they identify. It is really about how we design ourselves out of the system…

I created a little sketch of this whilst at a meeting convened by NLGN and hosted at O2’s offices in London last week where I was sat next to the wonderful Catherine Howe:

Integration

 

The tension on the right eludes to aspects of local government being an extension of central government delivery and also it highlights again the issues surrounding the PSN and I’m not for a second going to go over any of that here. Others are in a far better position to provide commentary in this space.  However I’m only suggesting it is a tension.

Now one of the additional complexities which I’m yet to square in my head is how local government deals with the multiple roles we play and how these help or hinder communities.

The three broad roles I see are:

  1. Local Government – the collection of services that support local people
  2. Local Council – the accountability, decision-making and transparency
  3. Local Authority – the strategic responsibility surrounding a specific domain (education, highways, transport, planning etc)

The first two are generally the main focus of conversation and also focus within the digital agenda and are the two most facing significant change and challenge, but the third is the more complex area as we have actually designed a level of dependency into the system which creates complex and wicked problems in solving and devolving aspects of the first two. I hope that makes sense…

Coming right back to the beginning…..It is an old cliché, that you can’t get anywhere without taking a single step…I’m thinking about how we can continually make small steps for a big difference in relation to all three of these areas.

Looking back to look forward

Triggered by a range of experiences recently I thought I would reflect on my learning journey. So over the last few weeks I’ve been dipping in and out of my blog posts from the last 5 years and thinking about how things have or haven’t changed or even if some of the things that I thought would happen are happening.

About 3 years ago I started sharing my thinking around the future of local government from a range of perspectives: what it might look like, how it might operate, how we might address the challenges we are facing now and also how we might help shape services…

This post “The future of local government” from June 2010 seems to reflect and hint at the situation I find myself in now – I wrote:

So we could get to a situation (I am making some big assumptions here but after all I’m only sharing some thinking)  –  I don’t believe it will be that long before we see it – where the only aspect of local government which is truly local is the actual service delivery and decision making. The organisation behind it all could well be a mix of local, regional, national and cloud based services all supporting an individual worker (who may not actually be employed by the council) to deliver a service to someone in a community.

To me this will mean that local government is purely going to be a conceptual layer – with greater transparency and openness, radical approaches to service delivery and support services, this will all mean that the only aspect of local we really need to focus on will be the People in the Community. In my view this will be a great outcome, albeit very painful and a political hot potato in some areas. But this approach in my opinion  would drive out the inefficiencies in local government and offer greater local involvement in service design and creation.

The following week I posted a second post titled – “The future of local government – social enterprise council”  – I wrote:

I do agree that there is a huge assumption that the general public would be willing to take over services, but i do think that currently we don’t engage people well enough to activate any desire they may have.

To foster and encourage this kind of active involvement requires a major shift in how people see public services, it requires everyday people to start thinking less about “public” services and more about “community” services and how they can get involved directly through volunteering or indirectly by sharing their views on what’s important to them.

These two posts resonate with me right now and reflect a lot of the topics and conversations I have with people

I’ve also previously blogged about the World of GovCraft where reframing some of the conversations and providing connections for people to engage would help trigger a set of responses and actions. I previously wrote:

So let me try to answer these questions now in the light of this post, I’m not saying that the responses are enough but there is something we can build on and develop further to really engage with people.

Urgent Optimism – The budget cuts in the public sector will mean that some services will no longer be offered or developed – if people (you or I) see these services as important and we want them to continue we will have to start getting involved or risk losing it altogether. The reality of the financial situation will mean that the threat is more real than ever.

Social Fabric – The government has made a big play during the election campaign and since about the Big Society, this is an attempt to unify people to a common agenda and common purpose which previously didn’t really exist in my view.  I do think however we need to go a lot further and start talking and acting more local.  

Blissful Productivity – Social tools are be used albeit sparingly to help mobilise people to get involved and contribute to solving the real world problems we are facing. The government have announced that they want citizens to contribute ideas to how we can save money and which services we should consider reducing funding on.

I think we need to connect the digitally mobile and engaged with the offline folk who traditional get involved to create richer conversations and deeper discussions about how we can shape local services.

Epic Meaning – The mission we have created is to reunite society, reconnect people locally and to provide services which meet the needs of local people. This mission can no longer be just the responsibility of a single local authority.

I think in so many ways the councils Tough Choices programme is starting to address these areas…ok it isn’t in the spirit of a game – as suggested in world of govcraft – but what it does is start to provide a level of urgency, it surfaces connections to existing social fabric, it suggests connections to tools and existing productivity and of course the epic meaning around why we need to come together to collaborate around new models of achieving outcomes.

The real question which remains unanswered is : will it work?

The beauty of blogging and sharing thinking and observation is that we can revisit this post in a couple of months or years and reflect on whether we started to trigger social change and achieve better outcomes.

Networked decision makers

I make no apologies that probably the majority of my future posts will be linked to explaining and exploring in more detail the Digital Framework for Local Public Services.

So this post is focusing on some of the middle area of the picture…in particular the box around leadership and decision-making. This part of the journey is critical not just in a wider context of leadership and decision-making but in ensuring that we have open and transparent local decision-making as well as a clear accountability in terms of local representation.

Digital Climate for Local Public Services Framework v2

To recap I previously explained this area in this way:

Leadership/Decision Making
We require strong visible leadership to enable transformation and strong decisions that ensure that we all contribute to creating a climate for growth and wellbeing. The leadership can also come from anywhere not just local public service providers
Capacity Building / Networks and Networks of Networks
Stimulating local action and identifying and connecting with networks and networks of networks to generate and create new opportunities and markets.
These connections can and will come from anywhere, this is not solely down to the council or local authority – this is about people and places.

Now all this is easy to write and even easier to say, but the practical implications of this are slightly more complicated and require a shift in thinking about what we should expect of our future leaders and decision makers and how we help those people become networked and connected.

Now the great thing about the internet is that you can always find and connect to people who are in a far better position to dig deeper into the thinking and that is exactly what Catherine Howe has done in relation to the Networked Councillors project. It came out of two things:

  • If we are going to have more networked and digital citizens we are going to need politicians with the right skills – we will need networked councillors but we have not yet really explored what that means

  • Just showing people how to use twitter doesn’t solve the problem

I’m really pleased that Catherine has shared this work as I personally think it validates the wider framework and also adds a layer of detail which I was obviously lacking (on purpose of course)

The report on the website is well worth a read and is easy to digest.

I want to pick out another quote form the report which to me helps to proactively link this to the wider framework and the language of the framework which is:

The qualities that the Networked Councillor should embody are found in the way in which Next Generation Users are approaching and using technology. We suggest that the following qualities, which can already be evidenced online, will be inherent:

  • Open by default: This is open not just in terms of information but also in terms of thinking and decision-making

  • Digitally native: Networked Councillors will be native in or comfortable with the online space, not in terms of age but in terms of the individual adopting the behaviours and social norms of the digital culture

  • Co–productive: Co-production is a way of describing the relationship between Citizen and State which brings with it an expectation that everyone in the conversation has power to act and the potential to be active in the outcome as well as the decision-making process

  • Networked: A Networked Councillor will be able to be effective via networked as well as hierarchical power as a leader

This is obviously one part of a wider complex environment and although this report is focused on councillors specifically it also applies itself to future leaders and decisions makers whether a local councillor or not….however for me this is a fantastic start to the discussion and conversation.

A trip to #thatlondon to talk about #localgov and digital

Yesterday I went to London to talk with a bunch of people including Martin Black (Camden) Conor Moody and Kevin Jump (Liverpool) Paul Knight (South Cambridgeshire), Phil Rumens (West Berks), Stephen Cross (Hillingdon) Sarah Lay (Derbyshire), Jason Williams (Cornwall) and Stuart Harrison (Lichfield) – It was hosted by the LGA – Sarah Jennings and her colleagues provided coffee and cake and space to chat and kindly took all the notes and helped facilitate the day.

My thoughts on the day before I went up were around whether or not we’d be able to actually agree any real actions and perhaps it could have been a waste of time.

But it was actually a really very interesting day, lots of honest conversation as well as recognising the many good things that are going on across the localgov sector and beyond. So it was a really good use of time.

My personal view was that lots of people have over the years asked for something more that what exists and the recent discussions about Local GDS have sparked many different views and we spoke in-depth about that yesterday as well.

In relation to a Local GDS, we didn’t say there should be one or shouldn’t be one, however we did say that it requires a universal commitment from multiple stakeholders in order for something like that to come together and to be truly effective.

But in the meantime there are some real practical issues which we need to resolve and move forward and we can do that with the help of others.

I’ll blog again soon once the formal notes come out but on the train home yesterday @georgejulian introduced me to haiku deck so I thought I’d try it out with some of my highlights from yesterday…

http://www.haikudeck.com/p/wWs2xe29en/localgovweb

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.