Saturday, 29 August 2015

Phil's Pipeline pitch

LocalGovCamp and Fringe 2015 starts on 11th September and the main event on Saturday is the unconference for Local Government. This year I'll be pitching a session about Pipeline, the collaboration platform from LocalGov Digital.

I've already written about what I learnt from Pipeline, but in short it demonstrated a strong desire from councils to collaborate, but a need for a service or community management role to facilitate collaboration.

So how could this role or service be funded? I'll explore some options below.



Ultimately this will benefit all councils, so why shouldn't they fund it? Perhaps eventually they could, but there isn't a proven business case and even if a handful of councils decided to go in together they're unlikely to reap the benefits unless they were all working on the same projects at the same time, which is fairly unlikely.

Asking a few councils to take a punt on something they won't reap the rewards until many more come on board isn't likely to succeed.


National Organisations 

You'd think there might be some scope for a national organisation partnering with LocalGov Digital, however there seems to be little interest in this.

A consortium of six councils applied for funding for Pipeline from one national organisation which was turned down. Another national organisation has since launched a very similar platform in alpha. Others are producing their own studies and reports into cross sector collaboration rather than actually doing something.

It seems promoting ones organisation is of higher importance than collaboration between councils, so at this time, this isn't an option.



Private sector sponsorship could be a viable option in terms of getting the funding needed, but does the platform need to be impartial in terms of choices of solution?

For example, if a bunch of councils were looking for something that a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) might deliver, and a major CRM supplier sponsored Pipeline might there be pressure to steer councils towards their product.

So this is a possible option, but you'd have to ask, what's in it for the private sector?



LocalGov Digital is essentially crowd funded, apart from LocalGovCamp which couldn't happen without generous partners and sponsors. I wrote about how LocalGov Digital is funded in January.

Crowdfunding would provide flexibility and impartiality, but perhaps not sustainability, however once a case has been proven other funding options might be more viable.

That was my pitch for 12th September, if you'd like to find out what happened afterwards, I've written a piece here.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Beyond user needs

This week we published our first Digital Service User Assessment. Whilst this is far from a Digital Service Standard it's a step in the right direction. This is something we're working towards, though I'm wary of us introducing too much bureaucracy or letting "the government inspectors" have the final say.

Digital service redesign and improvement should always be driven by the needs and the assessment of the user and perhaps something greater, which is the subject of this piece.

So to the digital service we've just made live. We've build this based on needs, but what are those needs? To a digital team it might look like this:

As a resident, I want to report dog fouling to the council, so the council can clean it up.

but this isn't the primary user need. No one gets up in the morning looking forward to contacting their local council to report dog fouling.

To see this one needs to take a step outside the digital realm, outside the language of users and think about what residents want, what society wants because as a local government officer I'm paid to serve all residents and their elected representatives, not just those who might use a website.

Whilst a reactive function of the service is to remove dog fouling it goes wider than that and there is a proactive need to prevent dog fouling.

So with this in mind, the resident need is:

As a resident, I want dog owners to clear up their dog fouling, so I can live in a nice place.

and when you start to see it this way, that's when new opportunities arise.

Tom Loosemore asked on Twitter:
and he's spot on, when in effect he asks "justify the creation of this service".

As a council we can do various things to meet the resident needs of living in a nice place when it comes to dog fouling, they include:

  • Installing and maintaining dog bins
  • Installing signage asking people to clear up after their dogs
  • Clearing up dog fouling
  • Investigating dog fouling and prosecuting owners who fail to clean up after their dog

however there was no digital service to help us meet the need of the resident, a simple reporting tool doesn't gather the information we need. Now there is, though at the least it only asks four questions (more if the user wants to tell us more), so it's pretty simple in itself.

We can be proactive and use analysis of the data to put signs and bins in the right place. Not only will this save us money, it'll create a nicer place. We can better investigate reports of dog fouling, clear it up and perhaps prosecute if we need to because we have better information that asks residents specifically about these things.

It's not until you see the resident need and how a digital service could be used to re-design wider service delivery that you'll realise the true benefits of digital service delivery.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Democracy is never out of style

If you've been following the debate around government and digital for a while you'll know like most areas of discussion, it follows patterns and fashions.

Take this year for example. It started with voting and elections, moved on to open data and recently we've seen a lot of debate around Government as a Platform (GaaP). Interest in a topic can be accentuated by events at the time. So voting and elections by the General Election, GaaP by Mike Braken leaving GDS.

Debate can be cyclical. The question "Do we need a Local Government Digital Service (LocalGDS)" had been discussed for over four years and was a factor in the formation of LocalGov Digital in 2012. A catalyst for a recurrence of the topic can be someone fresh entering the conversation. For example, someone new to the topic decides that a LocalGDS would be a great idea and makes many of the points that others have before. Take a look at this compilation of what's been said over the years and you'll see there's a lot of repetition.

Given what I've written you might expect this year's LGMakers fringe event of LocalGovCamp to focus on something de rigueur that entices people to attend. It's not. At any time generally the least fashionable thing is what's just been fashionable , which means by running Local Democracy Maker Day, focussing on voting and elections we're running an event on the least trendy topic in digital government.

Here's the thing though. Pushing forward the digital debate by doing isn't about following fads, it's about being relentless in one's vision for making things better. In February 2015 Local Democracy Bytes collaborated with others on the Not in Westminster event and "Uncompromising" was the title of Carl Haggery's lightening talk.

Not only does this year's LGMakers fringe event take inspiration its uncompromising vision from Not in Westminster, it will build on some the discoveries at the event in February . You can have your say on which of the challenges that the day will focus on here.

This is when LocalGov Digital works best, where people with different skills and interests come together to build something together.

There's another factor in the timing too. Now is the best time to analyse all the data from General Election 2015 and I'm delighted that Democracy Club are involved with the event to bring their insights to the day. Elections don't just happen every five years. There are parish and district by-elections almost every week and 2016 sees elections for the Northern Ireland Assembly, the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Parliament, the London Assembly, the Mayor of London, English local government and Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales. Waiting until just before the 2020 General Election would be a missed opportunity.

If you haven't already, book a free ticket for Local Democracy Maker Day in Leeds in 11th September, because democracy should never go out of style.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Stop telling me there's a problem with women in tech

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend time talking with Nadira Hussain. She's passionate about IT and public service, as you'd expect of a President of SocITM. One of the key themes of her year of the presidency is Women in IT.

Women in IT and digital isn't something I've considered much, and I haven't I written on the subject before; this got me thinking. Perhaps this is part of the problem, and in my own small way I'm helping to perpetuating the status quo rather contributing than fixing things.

So I had a think about what's happening and concluded there isn't a problem with women in IT.

OK, here's what I actually mean. There isn't a problem with women in IT, there is a problem however with a sometimes boorish culture in tech which is inflicted on others by a certain section of the sector, the vast majority of whom happen to be men. The problem wasn't created and isn't continued by women.

So how to resolve this, well for one stop talking about a problem with women in IT and start promoting women in IT.

Imagine a publicity campaign for anything else being marketed in the same way. "Come on holiday to Bogchester. It's dull as dishwater but someone like you will liven it up" or "The Nag's Head. You might get punched in the face, but you'll add a touch of class to the place".

If you're a young person looking for a career path and you hear that because of your gender, your views and work are likely to be taken less seriously, that's not going to entice you into the sector, it's going to drive you away. Hearing about positive role models who are doing great things however just might make you want to seek a career in that sector. Let's be positive about things, not promote the negative or confuse the problem.

Secondly, I've seen tech conferences aimed at women and as a man I feel excluded as they're not for me. Perhaps I shouldn't be there I think and I'm betting many fellow men feel the same.

Yes, this is a bit rich, a man compliaing about feeling excluded, but to exclude those who might be unwittingly be causing the problem from an event which is part of the solution, exposure to positive female role models, seems to be counter productive to me.

So how to fix this? If you organise a conference or event, at your next event make the line-up of speakers all female. Hang on though, haven't I just said this doesn't solve the problem? Here's the twist; don't tell anyone you're doing it.

Don't tell the speakers, don't put it in the publicity, don't mention it on the day. When attendees evaluate the event don't ask any gender based questions about the day. If anyone complains or asks, say this was the best panel available. How often have we heard this before when the bias is the other way?

So here's to people like Sarah Lay, Sarah Prag, Linda O'Halloran, Sarah Jennings, Nadira Hussain and countless others who inspire me in what I do, in fact there's a top class panel of speakers right there if you're putting on an event about government and digital.

Don't tell me there's a problem with women in tech, there isn't. There's a problem with the culture in tech. Let's start doing something about it.

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.