The continuing evolution of LocalGov Digital – my honest reflections

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When LocalGov Digital started as a practitioner network back in 2012 I remember the passion, commitment and energy in the room. We were a group of practitioners who had faith that we could collectively collaborate to help make local government better for the people in our communities  – It really did feel like we could change the world.

We were brought together through our shared frustration, shared purpose and shared values.  We have continually evolved from an initial network which was supported directly by the LGA to a network now which is self-directing and independent but rooted in the role of the practitioner. Whilst we were aligned to LGA we received a huge amount of support from individuals that helped us develop new relationships and how to use some of the influence we had started to grow. But I think we were still seen as something created by the LGA as opposed to something that grew out of the sector itself – A true grassroots movement of practitioners wanting and needing to make a difference.

As our journey continued we started to wrestle with some of the “governance” issues surrounding a network and I think we made mistakes in trying to create structures where none needed to be created. Instead what happened was individuals within the network simply made stuff happen, in response to user needs and in response to gaps in the market so to speak. This was a shift which has helped move the network forward and grow its influence more and allow us to respond quickly to the needs of practitioners as the network created the space for practitioners to simply make things happen. Some examples of this include #NotWestminster, Pipeline, The Service Standard, UnMentoring, The Content Standard and the Web Usability Dashboard – all these things were made by and with people in the sector for the sector and we also took over the running of LocalGovCamp

The network now has a level of momentum which previously wasn’t there but one of the challenges we have always had is “how do I know if I’m part of the network?” Until we resolve that we won’t get a sustainable network which continues to provide value into the sector and beyond.

So we have now approached a time in the life of the network where we either accept the informality and the risks associated with that or we look to create something more tangible building on and strengthening the things which have been successful, learning from the things that failed.

So as a network we want to consider plans to become a community co-operative, and want to design this with people who work in and around the sector. Our initial ideas sound very similar to how other cooperatives work, a membership fee, an AGM, membership types etc. We think that some of the things we already have might be able to play a key role in helping to grow the network and the participation such as UnMentoring, LocalGovCamp and Makers etc. We know we need to think about how those individual things work and run so that we can support the wider aspirations of the network. BUT The key thing to remember is this initial consultation is only about the future of the network itself. But if you ahve ideas and views on those other things then please do share them.

The important thing for me personally is shaping something around shared values and principles and ensure that we continue to generate value and continually evolve the network and adapt it to meet the needs of the practitioners and essentially improve services for citizens.  

The co-operative model really resonated as I believe the principles and values of the co-operative match the aspirations of the network and the ambition to grow around these values also make sense. It is interesting to read that a number of former GDS staff are now working for the Coop and I suspect apart from all of the interesting work that needs to be done, one of the main drivers for those people joining were the principles and values.

We know that in moving in this direction it will create challenges and will inevitably mean more work initially, but we also believe that the benefits of doing so are such that it is worth the investment of time and energy in the short and long term.

We know that we currently, we have only engaged a small group of people who have validated our thinking but that isn’t good enough and is often a dangerous place to be, so we are really keen to hear from people who think this is a waste of time, a bad idea – but importantly why you think or believe this. Only through a new understanding of what people think can we be informed in our thinking to make a decision about the future of LocalGov Digital.

I hope that you are able to share your thoughts and reflections and also if possible get involved in making this a reality.

The link to the consultation news item and proposal is on LocalGov Digital.

Further reflections from LocalGovCamp and about LocalGovDigital

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As you can tell I’m all for imaginative blog post titles🙂


Anyway what I would like to reflect on is how I believe LocalGovDigital became more real, more present, more about the network and collaboration as opposed to the steering group at LocalGovCamp and how through the conversations at the open steering group I realised we had finally achieved what we needed to in order to make real and lasting progress.

Let me explain…

For me and for others LocalGovDigital as an unnamed network started at the very first LocalGovCamp and what made that so successful was it created new connections, new collaborations, new discussions etc but what we didn’t really focus on back then was creating collaborative outputs (OK, some were created and some people tried) but nothing has really appeared that has transformed a service.

When LocalGovDigital formally came together nearly 2 years ago now, we came together through a shared vision, shared values, shared aspirations and I guess at the time and more importantly shared frustrations.

We all wanted to see something change, we wanted to think different and do different…so we tried a few things as a small group of people and called ourselves the steering group and it started to do stuff.

However one of the issues for me and others was that the capacity of those within the steering group was limited and therefore we decided (rightly or wrongly) to focus on small outputs, manageable and extensions of the “day job” as we were and still are all voluntary.

As time progressed more and more people recognised the value of the network and the collective voice and action of practitioners. We were a “Thing”, we were seen as formal when we weren’t. We needed and have started to understand what all of this really means and how we can make change happen.

LocalGovDigital has never been about the steering group, it has always been about the network, the people who do stuff, make stuff, change stuff, design stuff and share stuff.

The steering groups role was merely an attempt to do the following:

  • Mobilise the existing network, not grow a new one
  • Amplify the voice of practitioners, not simply share it
  • Make and do things instead of just talking and meeting
  • Be networked and collaborative instead of simply networking with each other

So the change I saw at LocalGovCamp this year was that people recognised they were the network, that we are all the network and if we collectively want to see things change we all need to help and give some time to make and do things differently. The steering groups role needs to change and adapt and that has to be about doing those things above and creating the spaces for people to come together to collaborate, to make, to do and share.

We also need to clarify our focus and that has to be about outcomes and not about specific products. I wouldn’t want to get into a situation where we are recommending specific platforms and saying implement that and you will see change as we all know that doesn’t work. However what we do want to do is support good stuff.

My colleague Martin Howitt summed it up very nicely recently, he said:

LocalGovDigital aims to support and collaborate with everyone in and around the sector. We want to focus on outcomes rather than specific groups or people.

That is to say that if someone builds or creates something brilliant and someone else does something similar then that’s brilliant too because we can all learn from it. It’s the learning that is important and not the product or the organisation that produces it.

So my final reflection is about my contribution – what is it I can do to help?

One of the biggest issues for me is the skills and capacity of those in the sector to make change happen…that isn’t to say there isn’t any capacity and skills, but it just isn’t always well-developed, doing the right things or focused on the right outcomes…so my focus is to look at how that can be solved in practical ways.

Reflecting on LocalGovCamp 2014 – Did that really just happen…

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I wanted to post a set of reflections after attending this years LocalGovCamp and fringe events which happened last week (20/21 June).

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Firstly I want to acknowledge the effort and hard work of Sarah Lay – given all of her work in the day job and outside I’m in total admiration for how she managed to make this happen.

Other folk who need acknowledging for there hard work, skills and all round goodness are:
Jon Foster
Phil Rumens
Sarah Jennings
Nick Hill

So back to the event and my reflections and in no particular order

Surprisingly a two day event actually worked, having the practical makers day and leaders summit on the Friday created a focus and energy which carried over to the Saturday even though the people were different

A major realisation that LocalGovDigital has always existed ever since the first LocalGovCamp – the continued support network, the peer to peer sharing, help, advice and collaboration has always been there since 2009, but not as formalised as we are now – we simply made it visible and opened it up.

It never ceases to amaze me how inspired I get from going to these events, there was a time when I felt like the sessions didn’t offer value to me personally so I often just floated around talking (reflecting) I essentially continued attending for the people and conversations – And this year it recaptured the energy, newness and enthusiasm of the very first event back in 2009 – I found the sessions were more stimulating and focused on what can happen now, not what might at some point in the future (in an ideal world) which shows that there is a shift towards a greater clarity of focus…however this was not always the case but you have to let conversations flow

There were more people who hadn’t attended than had previously attended which was one of the things we wanted to achieve. So I’m not sure exactly how we managed to do that but it certainly contributed to the energy and excitement. We also had councillors attending which was also a great success. We need more but we have found a way in which it worked and it feels like we can build on this momentum quickly as well

LocalGov Digital really came to life at this event, it felt like the network was active, present and greater than the sum of its parts. However we still need to effectively harness that and provide stronger leadership as a collective group of people. As Glen Ocsko stated in the open steering group meeting – “we need to grow some digital balls” – that to me means we have to find the confidence to really demand a new relationship, to state our expectations, to share our values and principles and state loudly that “We want, demand and can build something better”. I’m under no illusion that we will need help, but at least we can be honest about that.

Localgovcamp is really about people and places and it just so happens that there is an overt leaning towards technology and some even stated that they felt it was a technology event…we need to address this before we lose people…
For me though I see localgovdigital as being the change makers who can support and help enable a transformation around people and places to create value:

Our focus should be the whole person, whole system and whole place…

By.

– focusing on need
– being open by default
– adopting digital by design
– being networked and collaborative
– by doing and showing
– being evidence and data driven

All of this is underpinned by the democratic accountability which is one of our strengths.

Finally I had one of the best pork pies I think I have ever eaten in the old manor pub – Dave Briggs also had one and can testify to it’s incredible taste, it could only have been improved by adding a good strong cheddar and a quality pickle.

LocalGovCamp is back for 2014

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LocalGovCamp – Flickr by #ashroplad – https://www.flickr.com/photos/47624301@N06/

Just a quick post to highlight that LocalGovCamp will be back this year and will be organised by LocalGov Digital.

LocalGovCamp will take place in Birmingham on Saturday 21 June 2014.

The camp will be part of a two day event run by the LocalGov Digital network, with Friday (20 June 2014) activities focused on the network’s work streams including a LocalGov Digital Makers event.

More information will be released shortly – follow the LocalGovCamp Twitter account for the latest updates.

If you are interested in sponsoring or helping out then get in touch on Twitter via @localgovcamp or @localgovdigital, or contact Sarah Lay, as work stream lead organising the event.

The Local GDS question – again…

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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.