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Collaborative silos and history repeating

I've been thinking about, doing, and sharing collaboration in the public sector for around fifteen years. One thing I've learnt in this time is that things go in cycles, and different people will try and solve the same problem, the same way, over and over again.

This week the Local Government Association (LGA) launched its Transformation and Innovation Exchange and FutureGov launched a library of Service Patterns for Local Government; a couple of weeks ago Nesta announced it was starting its Upstream Collaborative.

The Transformation and Information Exchange now sits alongside the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government's  (MHCLG) database of Local Digital Projects, LocalGov Digital's Pipeline, revitalised by Hackney and now supported by the London Office of Technology and Innovation, MHCLG, Hackney and others, the LGA's own Shared Services Map, and many others.

Service Patterns for Local Government in some part replicates the Government Digital Serv…
Recent posts

Data speed meets business need

Shortly after the 2019 local government elections in England, Dan Slee posed a question in his excellent article, why is it so hard to find out election results.

I'd been meaning to write something about why the speed of data reporting (how quickly and frequently data gets updated and published) varies. and in doing this I can also try to answer Dan's question too.

In almost all cases the speed of data reporting operates at the need of the business, not the end user. Sometimes these are the same, in the case of local government elections they're not. That's why it's so hard to find out election results until days after an election.

On the night the best place to find results was a news organisation's website, radio or TV channel, for example Sky News. Why? Because their business model is built around getting you the facts as quickly and as accurately as possible, and in the case of a commercial news organisation having a reputation for doing this well means se…

Standards and interoperability in social care

Work on standards and interoperability in social care to enable better sharing of data across the public sector has been ongoing for years.

What that means in real terms is being able to provide better, cheaper services by stopping duplication and securely sharing information in and across public sector organisations such as councils and the NHS.

What's important to remember is that IT systems and data are there to support a service, and if services are different, then the schema for data and the IT systems which support the service will be different.

Even when there’s specific legislation such as GDPR, local interpretation can be different, and where there isn’t legislation service delivery can vary even more. So the challenge is really how do we influence the interpretation of legislation where it exists and the overall delivery of services, because only then will we really start to solve this problem.

Whilst this is often posed as a digital or IT problem, it’s a human issue no…

Technology is easy, culture is hard

As statements go, "technology is easy, culture is hard" is neither original nor totally accurate. It was however the catalyst for the first Digital by Design Day, held yesterday at my place.

Technology isn't easy, but it's getting easier.

Creating a new digital service is a bit like baking a cake. In the well stocked cupboards below I need ingredients from three shelves and a couple of things from outside, in the fridge.


It's not as easy as throwing things together in a bowl and hoping for the best, there's some knowledge and skill involved, but following the right recipe, and with the right ingredients success can be achieved.

Building a digital service is similar. Start with the right ingredients, or technical capabilities (some are shown below) and the right recipe, and with knowledge and hard work you can create a great service.


For example using forms, integration, email, BPN and our line of business waste system we've automated over 7,500 requests pe…

How is Pipeline helping to fix the plumbing?

LocalGov Digital is the association for professionals working in and around local government digital, of which I'm currently Chair. We're the voice of local government digital practitioners and offer a range of services to our members for free, to aid collaboration between councils to help deliver better, cheaper services. One such service is Pipeline.

Back in 2013 I wrote about a Kickstarter for Local Government.

The idea was to kick start collaboration between councils by creating a platform on which could councils could publish details of the projects they were working on, and update people as they progressed. Its aim was to stop duplication; doing the same thing separately in hundreds of councils across the country, and therefore reduce waste and cost across the sector.

In 2014 I created the first iteration of Pipeline built in C# on an open source wiki, and quickly roped in Ben Cheetham to help develop it with me.

The initial response was great, with over 50 councils sign…

Building booking capabilities

As a general rule, legacy lock-in and monolithic IT can stifle innovation and make change harder.

You're tied to the road map of one supplier to deliver a whole service, to which you're just a single customer often amongst hundreds. Sometimes this isn't all bad, particularly for a general function such as as finance or HR where there are many mature products on the market, but not often.

One alternative is to build your own services from the ground up. For example around 10 years ago we created our own fault reporting service in C# .NET through which between 60% and 70% of requests for service about the roads and countryside are now raised. Since then products such as Fix My Street have evolved and we were one of the first councils in the UK to create an Open311 Service.

The problem with building your own service from scratch is it takes time and resource. Just adding a couple new fields can take days of coding, testing and deploying.

So if old-school IT is inflexible, an…

Doing a few good things well

In September the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) invited expressions of interest (EoI) from councils, in their £7.5m Local Digital Fund. This week MHCLG released details of the EoIs they received, and you can see all 389 here.

An unintentional outcome of the volume of EoIs MHCLG received is that collectively they serve as a snapshot of the current state of digital and transformation in local government. David Neudegg tweeted this great summary of them as a whole:
An interesting and illuminating list of proposals that highlight the current variation of levels of understanding of digital across the sector https://t.co/PbGPB6w2nU — David Neudegg (@PublicaMD) October 26, 2018I've taken a look through many of the EoIs and they seem to fall into fall into four categories:
1) Things that shouldn't need funding

LocalGov Digital was formed in 2012, in part to aid collaboration across local government. Since then it's become a national network to share …