Monday, 21 November 2016

LocalGov Digital rebooted

LocalGov Digital has come a long way in four years. From an idea at LocalGovCamp, to a meeting of council officers at the Local Government Association, to an established group to seeking to improve council web provision, to a network of people creating better, cheaper, local public services, it's been quite a journey.

With next to nothing LocalGov Digital has led the creation of innovations that far better funded organisations have come nowhere near. LocalGov Digital created the Local Government Digital Service Standard (LGDSS) with the help of the Government Digital Service which is being adopted by a growing number of councils. Unmentoring is joining up people across the country and Pipeline is helping councils collaborate and that's just three of many.

But more needs to be done, and faster.

You can only get so far on good will and limited capital through sponsorship, so we're proposing LocalGov Digital becomes a community co-operative that everyone with an interest in thinking, doing and sharing to improve local public service provision can be a part of.

A more formal organisation means you can become part of something real; something tangible. It means the co-operative could bid for funding and it means that whether you work for a council, central government, the private sector, or yourself, you can get involved.

LocalGovCamp could become the co-operative's Annual General Meeting and the network’s regional peer groups would become local membership meetings. The co-operative would ask for a donation of £1 form each individual who wants to be part of the co-operative.

It seems in four years no formal organisation can or will be the change that's needed, so we're proposing LocalGov Digital will.

There are more details here and we need to hear your views, so please do tweet or blog about what you think or let us know through emailing feedback@localgovdigital.info.


Sunday, 13 November 2016

Listening outside of the echo chamber

I've been listening to people outside of my echo chamber and I don't like what I hear.

Wikipedia defines an echo chamber as
A metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an "enclosed" system, where different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented.
The people I follow and engage with from @philrumens are by and large those that I respect. The people I'm friends with on Facebook I have some real-world connection with. The people I'm connected with through LinkedIn I have some sort of professional link to. I operate in a social media echo chamber.

So I thought I'd start another Twitter account. I thought I'd follow and interact with people I didn't agree with. I thought I'd be prepared for differing opinions. What I found was an undercurrent of hate and intolerance I'd never encountered before.

Initially it's a liberating experience. Unbound by any constraints that might be imposed by one's professional role or reputation you're free to say what you like within the bounds of the law. It's nice being able to be overtly political for example.

As you peer deeper though there's a cauldron of hate. There's a mass of people who hate those who don't agree with them, hate those that are different, hate anything that challenges their narrow view of how thing are. Whether truly believed or done just to troll, the effect is the same.

Once a lie enters an echo chamber it's often amplified until it becomes the unquestioned truth. If enough people you know are saying it, it must be right, right? If this were limited to a few people believing untruths it wouldn't be so bad, but the reverberations in each echo chamber have consequences for us all, and our society.

Traditional media pundits still wonder how Brexit and Trump happened. How they got it wrong again and, then again. I think it's fairly obvious. Millions of people form their opinions based on the "word of mouth" of social media. People trust their network over experts and facts, and if their opinion is being influenced by deliberate lies, hatred and Twitter Bots then we're in trouble.

So what's to be done?

The easiest things we can change are those that we control ourselves, so start by acknowledging your own echo chamber and break out. Become an ambassador for the truth and social cohesion. I know facts aren't in fashion right now but put forward your views based on things that are provably legitimate. Engage with others' echo chambers by questioning hate and lies, not in an adversarial manner, but with a tone of reconciliation.

To borrow a phrase, let's take back control.

Friday, 28 October 2016

From peer to eternity

Organising a sustainable peer group

This week LocalGov Digital launched a peer group for the South West of England. Added to the newly created group for the South of England and established groups for London and the Midlands this now makes four.

The groups are primarily there to help regions establish how to work to the Local Government Digital Service Standard (LGDSS), but can cover whatever the regional leads feel would best meet the needs of the group.

This is great news for digital practitioners interested in thinking, doing and sharing to create better public services. What if you're thinking "where's the group for my region?" though, if that's the case then why not start a group yourself.

LocalGov Digital can definitely offer you:


LocalGov Digital can probably offer you:

  • A speaker for your meet
  • Some help organising your meet

You need to offer:
  • A good understanding of the LGDSS
  • A venue
  • Refreshments

Interested? Get in touch @LocalGovDigital or by emailing admin@localgovdigital.info.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Collaborative franchises

Yesterday I was at the Midlands Peer Group, set up to support councils in the region use the Local Government Digital Service Standard.

The event was expertly facilitated by Julia McGinley and Kurtis Johnson, and built on the success of the London Peer Group and the Summit at City Hall the week before. I don't work in the Midlands, but there isn't a group for the South (yet) and we're starting to use the Standard at my place, so I wanted to hear from, and talk to other councils who are in the same situation.

It's exciting to see councils start to use the Standard, and I've been amazed by the speed of progress. This time last year ago it didn't exist and has come so far already in a short space of time, thanks in part to support from people in organisations like the Government Digital Service. If you work for a council, you can sign your local authority up to the Standard here.

For me the main question now is, how we can enable the creation of more peer groups across the country to help more councils start to use the Standard. Groups for Yorkshire and Humber and the South are already planned and how can we make it easy to establish these and other?

I think a collaborative franchise model would work well, and this is kind of how the Midlands and London groups have operated together already, with the Midlands Group taking what the London Group produced, revising it, and using it in their group.

Current peer group facilitators could produce material together together for each round of peer groups, which would mean:

  • Those organising a regional group have a set of content and a plan for the event to work with, making it much easier to run. 
  • Each round of peer groups would be fairly consistent, though whoever is running each group could vary the content as they saw fit.

On Friday, Carl Haggerty and I will be starting to think about the future evolution of the LocalGov Digital Network. Peer Groups are one of the many pieces in the puzzle of the next iteration, and if you're interested in taking part in a Peer Group or the general discussion on where the Network goes next then please let me know @philrumens or by emailing admin@localgovdigital.info.

Together we can think, do and share to create better, cheaper, public services

Thursday, 22 September 2016

I learnt summit on Monday

The LocalGov Digital Service Standard Summit happened on Monday 19 September and you can see the agenda here. Here's some things I learnt from it:

There's a growing number of people working in central government, who want to help improve local service delivery and are willing to lend some of their professional time and skills.

There's a growing number of people who work in local government who have an interest in doing digital well.

Some IT suppliers are seen as an obstacle to delivering better, cheaper public services.

City Hall, London is a great venue, and there's some great people who work there.

It's entirely possible and relatively easy to put together a panel of excellent speakers on digital, the majority of who happen to be women. If you're going to an event on digital that features mostly men, ask the organiser why that is.

If you're paying to attend an event, someone's probably making money out of you. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but do be aware of it.

I'm reasonably good at putting together events, less so at presenting.

We need to start to re-think the LocalGov Digital Network to make it more sustainable and better aid collaboration across local and central government.

A growing number of councils are signing up to the Local Government Digital Service Standard. Your council can sign up here.


Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Pushing back

Sometimes you have to push back. It won't make you popular, but when business requirements and user needs clash you have to stand up for the user.

Let me give you two examples of this.

A service delivery team wanted a new digital service so that users could register for a permit. Most of the proposed questions were simple and straightforward, but two weren't. They were:

  • Upload a copy of a recent utility bill 
  • Upload a copy of your vehicle's V5 certificate

Asking these questions assumes that the user has access to the technology to scan or take a picture of the documents required, and also the skills required to use the technology. We asked the team to research their service users' skills and their access to technology. At present the service is being created without these two questions.

The second example is where a new law and statutory requirement meant the creation of a new digital service. The service delivery team wanted the digital service to ask around 20 questions but when we researched the legislation it turned out only 10 were actually statutory.

Whilst the 10 additional questions were there to help the service delivery team deliver a better service to the user, we suggested to the team that making users answer them wasn't really fair, given by law people had to use the service to register something. They agreed and we made the non-statutory questions optional.

Standing up for user needs won't make you popular, but it will help you create a better service

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Open standards and the Private Sector

Why aren't the private sector lobbying for the public sector to use open standards? Why would they do that you might ask? Well let me propose why they should be, and what's in it for them.

Take how the private sector sell to councils for example, whether you're buying a product, SaaS or using a paid for service another way, this is generally how it works




Yes, I know that the API might be a database connection and there's lots other ways to integrate a service with a website or app, but let's look at this model for now. So the maximum number of clients the supplier can ever reach directly is 433 because that's the number of Tier 1 and 2 councils in the UK.

So lets make one change that enables another.




Now the API is using open standards. This in turn opens up a new market, as now suppliers can sell direct to the service user, because they can build in the knowledge that the API won't change. So now they've expanded their market from 433 councils to potentially everyone in the UK who uses digital services and even better they haven't lost their original market.

So why aren't the private sector lobbying for the creation of open standards in government?
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.