What I think about Local Government and Digital

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Mush of this post was written before today’s Budget announcement which contains a really interesting snippet:

Budget 2015 - Digital ambition extends beyond central to consider local services

I’ll make some comments about this snippet towards the end of this post but want to carry on with my post as originally intended.

In my previous post about Local Government in general I shared my thoughts and journey through local government.

In this post I want to share my thinking about Digital in Local Government. Probably for some a long overdue post but I must admit my views and thinking have not been consistent over the last few years so

To briefly recap this is what i said in my last post around the vision:-

We must demand and create world-class local public services and we simply can not compromise on this….

I believe…

We need demand led local public services that are responsive to the needs of citizens and are based on what people need and how best those needs can be met.

We need open by default and digital by design local public services that are transparent, inclusive and accessible 

We need dynamic local democratic processes that respond to the needs and value the views of local people.

Firstly I want to make the point that Digital means different things to different people and that is in my opinion one of the fundamental barriers to wide-spread collaboration across the sector at the moment, although it should be the biggest opportunity to get people together as well!

There have been many discussions online and in person, some helpful, some not so helpful about what local government should do about Digital and it is reassuring that so many people actually care about the sector to express their points of view. The thing is no one is right or wrong as each person brings a different perspective and a different solution to the table – all of which most likely have a place somewhere.

I don’t claim to know what the answer is, nor do I claim to represent the views of the many practitioners who perhaps want different things. But what I can do is share what I think the problem is, where I think we as a sector need help.

The landscape of digital in local government ranges from aspects of the traditional IT domain to Web/Public Information to skills development and connectivity. It is all these things and much more.

As a practitioner in local government right now working to push digital innovation through my council, the approach I’m having to take is to set very high standards around the areas we have direct control which is the public website and the public information. We are in a process of change here and are currently moving our site to a new platform.

We now control content more than we ever did. We have an evolving approach around how we develop content – understanding what the demand is for a particular service and then mapping this to user needs and looking at how we can reposition the content to meet needs whilst also providing additional content/messages which signpost local community and voluntary services and we do this because that is where people look first.

What we found out is that a good proportion of people don’t look at google first, people ask friends, neighbours, people they know who may have experienced similar situations. Only if they don’t find out any information do they resort to google or think of us as a council – we are seen as almost a last resort.

The problem is that the way we have set up the system of local government so that once people contact us we collectively tend to want to pull them into our systems and processes and manage them as cases, contacts or customers and then we often think about how we can exploit that contact and provide sight of all of their interactions with us in a single view. Who does that really benefit, and who does this really empower…it feels like we still hold the power in this model and that feels wrong. This doesn’t in my opinion treat people as people it treats them like assets which can be exploited.

We need to shift away from this centralised model to one which is personalised, empowering and designed around the lives of people. We need to design and build services which can be pulled when needed / required and or that respond dynamically to people’s lives and transitions that they experience.

We need to design our services to fit into the workflows of everyday people and not around the processes of policy and government only then we will deliver truly radical change.

Digital is not really a set of solutions, it is the symbolic behaviours that go with all that the internet represents.

I do believe we (Local Government) need to share aspects of what we currently recognise as IT infrastructure and we also need to consider how we can provide a consistent but not uniform public interface to the whole of the sector, not just local government but the multiple organisations that deliver local services.

That may mean that we consider and properly review whether a single platform for publishing would actually help make that better or make things worse…I think whilst cost is a driver, we can not make cost the priority focus for making these choices as we either want to deliver world-class local public services which we believe and know will reduce costs or we reduce costs and make the best of what we can…I’d rather start with world-class public services.

Coming back to the snippet from the budget – here are my top 7 things I demand as a Digital Practitioner in Local Government.

  1. Appoint a Chief Digital Officer for Local Public Services, who would have a responsibility to pull together the vision and map out the support required for each area and provide system leadership and direction. This might be a single person or a collection of people given a single mandate and the authority to make it happen.
  2. Adopt a relentless and uncompromising demand led redesign approach to ensure users are at the centre of what we do.
  3. Develop, support and enable a skills development programme ASAP which addresses the fundamental skills gap in local councils and local areas to actually make the changes on the ground happen and sustain them. This might be matched with a framework of approved suppliers who can be used to support who work to a consistent set of standards and approaches.
  4. Demand open approaches, open systems, open practice. We can no longer tolerate design and development in isolation within councils and across councils. Opening ourselves up and sharing the problems
  5. Reward and incentivise collaborative action – We need to be uncompromising in our approaches to collaboration and demand this is designed into funding, rewards and any inspections. It has to be the the rule not the exception
  6. We can no longer tolerate digital ignorance in strategic positions across the local government landscape. If strategy and policy is disconnected from the opportunities we will continue to fail
  7. Fix strategy and policy so that local services are designed around the lives of people and not around the boundaries of organisations

What I recognise is that we all need help, we all need to feel we are not doing this in isolation. We need help to agree an ambitious vision for how local public services can be delivered and then we will need help in relentlessly focusing on delivery against that vision – especially when it gets hard, really hard.  That is what I think about Local Government and Digital.

 

Reflections from We’re not in Westminster – Local Democracy for everyone

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notwestminster
Remember this date : Saturday 7th February 2015, because on Saturday in Huddersfield a special event We’re not in Westminster – Local Democracy for Everyone took place that created the space, time, inspiration and curation to bring together an amazing group of people to discuss and suggest small and big changes to how local democracy works.

Thanks to all the people involved from sponsors, organisers, participants and most importantly the attendees who gave up a Saturday to talk about local democracy – YES they really did…

The format of the day was well structured and professional – the hard work and planning by those behind the scenes really paid off on the day. The discussions and planning around the sessions beforehand allowed them all to have a clear active and action based focus, so all participants were engaged in trying to work through problems and suggest solutions…this approach I think worked perfectly for an event which has a specific focus and required more curation and facilitation than say an event like localgovcamp.
The mix of the day with sessions and lightning talks helped maintain the broader context and purpose around why we’re all there…
So in what appears to be a standard way of reflection on these types of events here are my  reflections and highlights.
  • People will travel to things they care about. Huddersfield for the majority of people is not on any mainline so did take some time travelling to, in my example it was a 6 hour train journey with 3 changes so it was a real commitment to make that journey and many people made the journey to the event which is why it was and is a success. My hat goes off to everyone who made the effort to attend, participate and give their views, ideas and energy.
  • Sharing values and visions doesn’t always mean you’ll share the same opinions and this is a very healthy place to be and we should ensure that we bring in as many different voices into these discussions as possible.
  • Curating events in the manner that was applied to this event is perfect when you want to have a specific focus on a topic and want to deliver value and outputs as it focuses the energies on that which is perfect.
  • It takes more than just money from sponsors to make an event fly, but without them you only have an idea and energy. No one should under estimate the huge amount of effort required to get these things off the ground and huge respect to the team at Kirklees Council in making it happen.
  • A highlight for me was when a couple of councillors from Kirklees in Tim Davies session on 20 ways to work with open data said they would like to see how Open Data could help them deal with a local issue around people feeding pigeons…they found some options and ideas from the group work and I really hope they share their learning and outputs as it will be with small stories like this that things like open data can really start to show some value to the non believers.
  • Another highlight was the clear diversity of people in the rooms – councillors, academics, people off the street, council employees and those passionate around democracy. The quality of discussions I witnessed really showed through because of this.

There are some great insights on the hashtag #notwestminster which i highly recommend checking out – John Popham created a storify if you want to check that out

#LocalGovDigital Steering Group on tour in Huddersfield

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On Friday 6th February a small number of the steering group came together at Kirklees Council and we do what we usually do at the steering group – we think, do and share stuff around the workstreams and it was very interesting meeting in many ways.
Sarah Lay has shared her reflections here and I don’t want to repeat everything Sarah has already said but do want to reflect on how far the group has come and how we have adapted and evolved in response to the people in it and those starting to engage.
So the group came together because of people who were passionate about seeing something change and also how as a group of people who originally felt disconnected and isolated how we could better help ourselves and others connect together to do bigger and better things.
Our vision is something we simply won’t compromise on which is to demand something better, to see world class local public services and to see local democratic process redesigned to meet the the immediate and future demands of citizens and communities.  We may not often articulate it like this but what brings us together as a network is that we won’t compromise on the direction, but we will be pragmatic through iterative developments so we can at least start to see a new model emerge from the grassroots.
As Sarah highlighted in her post, some people have expressed concern about the pace by which we as a volunteer group can affect change. I’m not worried about that as at least we are working on the ground to build a movement, a set of simple tools which will start to address some of the barriers people talk about.
We are not a large single organisation with a mandate, but we are a responsive network, full of people who give up their own time on top of sharing what they do in their work time to do something better.
We can’t do this alone, we need more people to work across the network and if you don’t know how, then simply offer some help, through one of the workstreams…as a network we don’t have any money, we currently struggle accessing money but this won’t stop us trying to work with people to release money in creative ways.
The focus of the network is on practical things…there are a few of us who like and focus on the strategy aspects and less tangible things (myself included) but the primary focus of the network is about practical iterative change…
The steering group is not the network, it is simply the group of people who are prepared to extend their focus to a national level and this is not a fixed group, it has changed significantly in the 2 and bit years we have been going but yet we are still pushing, growing stronger and gaining personal and collective confidence with every event, output and celebrated success that we see.
The network has to adapt, evolve, respond to the environment we work in, we originally set out a number of workstreams where some have made no real tangible progress, not because of the people but because I guess upon reflection they were not actually priorities for people…We have changed the way we work to be even less formal, we don’t have minutes of our meetings, our agendas are crowd sourced on trello and anyone could pitch something for us to discuss or come along and join in.
To ensure that we continue the personal and collective growth of the network we want to introduce something which we are calling unmentoring basically this is a simple commitment by people to give up 30 minutes to think, do and share with someone. It is similar to what the NHS are doing in the school of social care radicals in their randomised coffee trials.
Unmentoring – how will it work?
We have to work out a simple mechanism but we essentially ask people to submit some basic details: Name, phone, email and optional googleID/skype and we provide a tool which randomly connect you to someone else and you commit to having a conversation and then sharing some basic outputs, a tweet or a blog post about what you learned. It is an experiment we want to try and we want to test the assumption – connecting people even randomly will help challenge your thinking.  This has been tested offline already in events like localgovcamp, UKGovCamp and any unconference so we know the benefits exist, we want to know whether an online model exists.
As a steering group (those who were there) have committed to putting ourselves in the pot and would want to invite other to join in.
We just need to rapidly prototype the actual process so we can launch it properly
If you are interested let us know and we will keep you posted…

 

LocalGov Digital – people passionate about public services

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It has been roughly two years now since LocalGov Digital came together – in my personal opinion we surpassed our original aspirations at the very first meeting when so many people committed to doing something together and we were blown away by the interest and momentum which came through at this years LocalGovCamp – it does prove that grassroots collaboration can and does work.

LocalGov Digital has also won Best Collaboration at the inaugural Comms2Point0 UnAwards. Sarah Lay has written a very good post on “We are all LocalGov Digital” which I think explains best what we set out to achieve and how everyone is key in that.

Anyway, here is a bit of a reflective post – what is localgovdigital, why we do what we do and a look back over the last two years and a look ahead…

What is LocalGov Digital?
Simply put, we’re a bunch of volunteers from local government and its partners who care about delivering brilliant user focused public services, enabled by digital where appropriate. Some of us are techies, web geeks, data crunchers etc and some of us aren’t. What we all have in common is our passion for improving public services. We pride ourselves on the fact that we’re a genuine practitioner network that gets things done for citizens in our localities.

The LocalGov Digital pledge:
We have adopted a Think, Do, Share approach to work and this focuses us on making sure that we actually deliver value on the ground, no matter how small, our approach encourages us all to think differently, do differently and share that widely across the network to help and support others.

The LocalGov Digital value:
Our underlying ethos is that local public services should be Open by default and Digital by design.

What we have done:

Since we formed as a network in September 2012 we have:

What we are actively working on:
We are going to continually share and show people how we did stuff, so they can steal and reuse it if it helps.

We know there is a huge amount of work to do and there are currently only a small number of us to get involved and help move things forward. So we have listed the areas where we have active people right now. However if you are working on something else and want to get involved in expanding the thinking, doing and sharing then get in touch.

1. Skills and capability – does the sector have the skills, capacity and capability to deliver real change in public service delivery?

We’ll do this through:

  • prototyping a “change academy” – this is about providing experiences / opportunities / moments to support people to meaningfully understand the tools and techniques to make change happen.
  • Working with partners co-hosting a Service Design discovery day – Warwickshire, 20th November – what are the needs that local gov has on service design?
  • Encouraging, supporting and promoting Service Jams and the Global Gov Jam Series
  • Creating a resource hub, pulling together existing resources and linking to them
  • LocalGovCamp – our annual gathering to support networking, hacking, leadership debates and sharing
  • Continuing to encourage and support practitioners to join LocalGov Digital Voice and share their thinking and doing.
  • Performance/digital dashboards – build on the existing work by councils who have worked with GDS and Socitm
  • Working on breaking down the language barriers around digital and open

2. Democracy – is the sector supporting its decision-makers to understand and promote digital service delivery?

We’ll do this through:

  • Different with Digital – this project aims to introduce new thinking around how local democracy might change as a consequence of digital. It is an experimental collaboration between specialist local government academics from four universities and local government practitioners working with LocalGovDigital
  • Democracy Camp – February 6th / 7th 2015
  • Produce user journeys for online democracy
  • Local Democracy Discovery Day

3. Making – helping define best practice and joining up the creation and sharing of design and development of digital services, where common aims and local user needs align:

We’ll do this through:

  • Localo – a set of common standards for transactions and data transfer to join-up IT and digital service delivery systems.
  • Pipeline – a “Kickstarter for the public sector” to help those working in around local governments solve common problems through collaborating on the creation of digital solutions.
  • Pulse – a resource to help find re-usable code and open resources designed by local government and the wider public sector.
  • Future hack and discovery days focused on technical design and development.

What we’re not going to do:

  • Create a single website for local government – we’re a practitioner network supporting local services in our areas
  • Force people to do stuff – We will influence through showing and doing

What we know we need help with:

  • Influencing decision-makers
  • Getting our message out to the right people so they listen and don’t keep making the same mistakes in the digital arena (e.g. procurement)
  • Financial support to get some things done – volunteerism only goes so far, we all have a day job to do
  • People from all sectors who can offer mentoring and coaching to practitioners

Do you want to get involved and Join us!
We know how many people there are out there in local government and beyond who feel the same as we do about creating real and sustainable change in public service delivery.

We know there are loads more people who could easily sign up to the LocalGov Digital principles, because they’re already working on transformational service redesign enabled by digital. If that sounds like you, then take our pledge to think, do and share with us. Real change comes from within.

3 simple steps to getting involved

  1. Use twitter or a blog so you can think, do and share in public
  2. Start sharing your work or thinking with the hashtag #localgovdigital and connect your blog to localgovdigital voice
  3. Connect to your peers around you inside and outside your organisation and organise meet-ups to start thinking, doing and sharing in groups.

Getting involved with the LocalGov Digital Steering Group

We operate on the principle that people earn their way into the steering group through thinking, doing and sharing activity and providing local or regional co-ordination.

If this sounds like you, get in touch and share what you are doing.

WTF! > Straight in at number 48 in The #LGC100

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IMG_0610.JPGThis evening saw the LGC100 list announced and I am very proud and also nicely surprised to be included and in particularly in making the top 50.

This is a huge nod to the achievements and recognition of the work of the people around me at the council as much as it is for me. This is also a huge nod to the group of volunteers who work in and around LocalGov Digital.

The LGC 100 list looks ahead to who the panel of judges believe will exercise most influence in 2015. According to the LGC website the judges were instructed to consider who will have the greatest influence, rather than who they would like to see holding power. Phew as I’m unlikely to be anywhere near the top 100,000 if it were about power :)

The bio about me was nice and I didn’t even have anything to do with it, it said:

In an environment where more and more councils aim to bring about “channel shift” in order to give the public better access to services and cut staffing costs, his work could be significant over the next few years.

One judge said: “Carl is a driving force behind the digital reinvention of local government. He is also an active online social media promoter of local government.”

To say I’m proud is an understatement, it is a great achievement and I only hope I can live up to the expectation and promise over the next 12 months. I certainly have clear aspirations to do exactly that. :)