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Why we ditched 60 online forms

Whenever I read that a council is reaping the benefits of a digital transformation programme I go to their website and use one of their basic services. I go through the process to report a pothole, to apply for a new bin, or something similar right up until the point I would have to submit the request.

Generally the user experience is mixed and includes combinations of poor design, superfluous questions, jargon, wordy guidance text, and a requirement to create an account. Give it a go yourself and see how much user centred design played a part in their digital transformation.

At my place we have over a hundred online forms now. In some cases they send a simple email, in others they're the front end of a complex business process incorporating other services and applications. I'll be writing about the work we've done for waste services some time in the future.

Last week we finished removing 60 forms from our digital platform. Most had been online for four years, a few were a…
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Low code isn't no code

There's been a lot of talk about "low code" over the past couple of months. At my place it's an approach that's starting to enable us to prototype and build new digital services a lot quicker than if we created everything in a framework such as .NET or Django.

We're near the start of our journey, and councils like Adur and Worthing are way ahead of us with this this approach, already creating line of business systems with a low code approach.

Whilst low code is often sold as an approach that means you don't have to write a single line of code, that isn't true. What is really means is that you write the code once, and you don't have to be a programmer to utilise it many times.

Take this example


This all you need to send a postcode the user has entered in an input box and return a list of addresses. Many services need a postcode lookup so we've utilised this quickly and easily tens of times.

Is it low code? Yes. Is it no code? No.

Below is the c…

A rough guide to central vs local government digital

More than ever there seems to be a willingness for civil servants and local government officers to work together to build digital services. Because of this I thought I'd put together a rough guide to councils and digital, for those working in central government digital.


There are lots of governments

First off, local government isn't a single government, it's hundreds, in fact over 420. There are blue, red, yellow (two kinds), green (but not that kind) and purple governments, some with no overall control (equivalent to a hung parliament) and one independent. More on this later.

To make matters more confusing, there are lots of networks, representative bodies and events too. I made a graph commons of all those I think relate to digital because I've tried to explain how I saw the relationships between them all so many times.

If you're looking for a single voice to talk to there isn't one because there is no Local Government, just local governments.


It's politica…

New plan, same idea.

At UKGovCamp in 2012, Sarah Lay and Carl Haggerty had an idea.

After a discussion with Sarah Jennings, a group of council officers were invited to London to talk about local government, digital and collaboration; I was lucky enough to be one of them.

We discussed the inadequacies of the annual Better Connected survey, what the new Government Digital Service might mean for local government, how we could work together to produce better websites, and a whole lot more.

Another meeting followed, and with the help of the Local Government Association, LocalGov Digital was created.

The idea grew and became LocalGovCamp 2014, and 2015, and 2016 and 2017. It became Unmentoring, the LocalGov Digital Slack Team, the Local Government Digital Service Standard, five local peer groups, and much more. We accomplished amazing things as a network with next to no funding, but we only got so far.

This is why in December 2017 we adopted a formal constitution which means LocalGov Digital is now an associati…

Let's not create a new legacy

Wouldn't it be great if all of government used open source technology? Imagine a catalogue of open source code, and organisations having the time and resource to use it.

Unfortunately, in the lower tiers of government that don't have large development and support teams, and which need to move quickly, it's not economically viable to do so. This is especially true where there are mature products and services that are easily consumable and available through markets like the G-Cloud.

Something arguably even more important than open source is open standards.

Whether you're using a standard for APIs like Open311, or writing code in open languages like JavaScript or open run-time environments like Node.js it means you can share integrations and developments. This week at my place we announced a Digital Collaboration Agreement with another council, and what's really going to help with this is the fact we're using common platform elements with open APIs, and building t…

Back to the future?

Remember the Local Digital Alliance?

Formed in 2013 it was heralded as a collation of the willing and included the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), the Local Government Association, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, and the Society of Council IT managers. Lots of organisations with multi-million pound budgets that were supposed to be leading on digital in local government, plus a few others.

What about the Local Digital Coalition? Born from the ashes of the DCLG's Local Digital Programme in 2016, it included the Local Government Association, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, and the Society of Council IT managers. Lots of organisations with multi-million pound budgets that were supposed to be leading on digital in local government, and a few others.

And what did these groups of sector leaders with big budgets deliver? The Alliance (to my knowledge) produced nothing and the Coalition produced an Action Plan and that's pretty …

LocalGovCamp Unconference 2017 - Turning words into actions

LocalGovCamp is the unconference run by local government, for local government. I was part of a team of volunteers that helped put it together in 2017, and it was great to see six months planning culminate over two days and one night. I plan to write something about Fringe Friday later, but this piece is about the main event on Saturday.


I learn a lot every year, but yesterday felt a bit different.

The start of a productive day came via my first session entitled "Help, I'm an elected member", hosted by a cabinet member from a welsh local authority, asking for help and advice. I've run a session like this in the past, and if the discussion is well facilitated (as yesterday's was) it can be infinitely better than being talked at, or a death by a hundred slides type presentation. Both the host and the participants learn something, as I did yesterday.

We need more councilors at LocalGovCamp, and this was a step in the right direction, seeing an elected member not onl…