Friday, 22 March 2013

What I've learnt about Assisted Digital so far

On Wednesday night I took part in a LocalGov Digital G+ Hangout run by Kate Sahota, another member of the LocalGov Digital Steering Group. The session focused on Assisted Digital, and as well those working in Local Government it included Ben Carpenter, currently seconded to Age UK and John Popham, who's work promotes digital inclusion.

As more government services go, or are created purely as digital, providing help and training for those who are unable to use them will become much more important. Central Government has created an Approach to Assisted Digital, but this is fairly high level stuff and though some individual departments are supposed to be providing Digital Champions for services such as Universal Credit, in reality I'm not sure if this is happening everywhere.

There's an even bigger issue around the digitisation of society and how this is changing the lives of everyone. For example if you aren't digitally literate it'll soon become very hard to obtain music that isn't mainstream and supplied by one of the big supermarkets. Let's not get into this one right now though.

As some people find it increasingly difficult to access government services as they go digital, it's likely they'll turn to the most accessible means of engagement with government in their area, often Local Government. This means that in reality the Digital by Default agenda by Central Government is increasing demand on Local Government services. Perhaps this isn't happening everywhere, but I'm aware that it is in some.

Because of this I've been looking at Assisted Digital in the organisation I work for and found that actually, it's already occurring in all but name in our Libraries, in Children's Centres through Adult Community Learning and through more services we provide to the public. What's more, speaking to Ben and John in the Hangout last night, it seems that in some areas there's already provision for Assisted Digital not only by Central Government, by from the Third Sector too. The thing is, it's patchy in terms of coverage and from my point of view there's no joined up strategy around deployment, but perhaps I just haven't seen it.

So what's next for me? Well the easy part is to help join up what we do where I work and publicise it. When I say easy it's all relative, but getting five or six council Service Units coordinated should be a lot easier than trying to asses what's happening locally, regionally and nationally and then try to help bring this together for my area.

What I think LocalGov Digital can do is start to build a picture of what's available in terms of Assisted Digital across the country, and where there are gaps highlight them. A fuller picture will not only help those who need assistance get it, but show where those who might need to add resource may need to do so.

Assisted Digital is just one of the elements in a framework for digital services and communities and if you'd like to discuss this then you can find me at https://twitter.com/PhilRumens

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Making digital services for dummies

Have you seen the new Government Service Design Manual? It's basically a Making Digital Services for Dummies. I don't mean this in a derogatory sense, in fact quite the opposite. The "For Dummies" books sell millions and it's actually often "dummies", or people that don't have a working knowledge of how digital services are developed that have the final say on how and if they're created.

The thing is, it won't work for some local governments.

Because it's a textbook of how things should be done, the real world sometimes doesn't work like it does on paper. Some local governments don't employ development resource, others are tied into long contracts which means they have to pay through the nose for development and have little control over the process used to create it.

So what's the solution? Adapt the Manual for local governments? Nope. The Manual is by and large how digital development should be done in government, and whilst it's a bit idealistic shouldn't we strive to achieve high ideals? Don't the people we're supplying services to deserve this?

Even formal project management methodologies like PRINCE2 say to use them where appropriate, and not when not, so perhaps local governments should try to use the Manual where they think applicable.

Those who rely on external resource could alert whoever develops their digital services to the Manual and say "we want it done like this" and if this becomes a problem then start to think about whether they've chosen the right people to do this for them.

Longer term local governments who already don't, should probably start to think about employing or sharing some development resource. It's very difficult to go through an iterative process of improvement based on customer feedback otherwise and as any good developer knows, actual use and user feedback is the best way to improve a service.

So there we go. The Government Service Design Manual, perhaps a blueprint not just for Central Government, but local governments to help citizens choose digital.

If you'd like to discuss this then you can find me at https://twitter.com/PhilRumens

Friday, 1 March 2013

Is the council website dead and G+ hangouts.

Last night I ran the first LocalGov Digital Google+ Hangout, inspired by the excellent Out Of Hours Hyperlocal.

The purpose was twofold, firstly to discuss a topic, is there a place for role or task based sites and is the concept of “the council website” dead?

Councils like Devon and Surrey already have separate news sites, Warwickshire has customer and corporate sites and where I work we’re just starting to develop separate digital service delivery and information sites.

I wanted to explore the benefits and drawbacks of such an approach.

What transpired is that the concept of just two or three sites is a luxury to some because as more physical services are contracted out it’s becoming increasingly difficult to offer a unified digital platform.

Whilst it doesn’t matter to many residents which organisation is filling in potholes or fixing their streetlights, reporting them online might become a lot harder if they have to find a separate website to do this on. Multiply this by the number of contracted out services and you can start to see the problem.

Of course with a content strategy that everyone sticks to this shouldn’t really be an issue, but in reality not every organisation in a partnership has the same priorities so it might not be so easy.

This could turn out to be a real issue for many in the future as pressure to create digital services increases, whilst some councils move to become commissioners of services, rather than providers.

The second task was to see if a Google+ Hangout would work for LocalGov Digital and general reaction was that it did. Probably the biggest piece advice I’d give is, if you’ve never taken part in one test your hardware before hand as a few had teething troubles, but once you’ve taken part in one you should know roughly what to expect.

I’ll be passing organising duties to another LocalGov Digital colleague for the next one in a couple of weeks, so check out the Google Community for more details

If you'd like to discuss this then you can find me at https://twitter.com/PhilRumens
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.