Skip to main content

Two ideas for the #UKDigiStrategy

This is a response to the call for ideas towards the UK Digital Strategy.

It was written with help and advice from Simon Cook, David Durant, Carl Haggerty and Paul MacKay, however it doesn't necessarily represent their views. A huge thanks to them for their input.




Dear Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy,

I’m responding to your recent request for thoughts on the UK Digital Strategy. Whilst this response relates mostly to how local public services are delivered, the outcomes may have much wider benefits.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) have achieved some amazing things and the funding announced in the recent Spending Review will allow them to do more of their great work, transforming government departments and services. Local government was not so fortunate.

Poor service harms the reputation of all that might be associated with it, so when someone has a bad experience paying their council tax or reporting a broken streetlight online, they might think twice about renewing their passport or taxing their vehicle through GOV.UK.

From using a public car park, a library, a leisure centre or one of the other hundreds of services offered by councils, this is the tier of government most people have some sort of interaction with on a regular basis, so it figures that it has the greatest influence over the reputation of government in the UK.

I’m part of LocalGov Digital, a network for digital practitioners working in councils. We’ve done some great things over the past three years like creating a standard for writing digital content, running an unmentoring scheme, running the UK’s leading local government unconference, introducing an online platform to aid council collaboration, and running a workshops to help redesign local democracy to name but a few.

There is however no core funding for coordination and much of our work is done on a voluntary basis in addition to our day jobs. You can find out more at http://localgovdigital.info

To build on the work LocalGov Digital and others have done I would like to suggest two things happen:

The creation of a new body to co-ordinate and improve local digital services.

It wouldn’t take a great deal of resource. It really just needs a few people to start to join things up between councils, central government, and everyone else looking to improve the digital services the public sector offers. Benefits include:

  • A reduction in the duplication of work across councils and government
  • Better knowledge transfer between councils, including standards for data and services.
  • A sharing of skills between councils
  • A bigger role for local communities to help influence the creation of digital services

The outcome would be better, cheaper digital services. There is currently no network or organisation able to deliver this at scale, or it would already be happening.


Extend GDS’ remit to work formally with local government

LocalGov Digital is already working with GDS and we’re running a workshop in February to see how the successful Digital by Default Standard might work in councils. Things like this are few and far between though.

I’m proposing extending both GDS’ expertise and platform to local government, allowing them to work with councils.

For example allowing councils to use the payment platform GDS are developing would undoubtedly save the taxpayer millions of pounds a year whilst providing the public with a better service, and that’s just one small element of GDS’ work.

Another example is the sharing of data through registers, which would reduce duplication, not only between councils but central and local government too.

GDS work in the open, and some councils already use the resources they have online such as the Government Service Design Manual, however extending GDS' remit to local public services would provide hands-on expertise in delivering world class digital services locally. This could be co-ordinated by the new body, and so GDS didn’t have to visit all 400+ councils regional networks or hubs might be created.


So how does this fit in with the bigger picture of a UK Digital Strategy? The millions saved can be re-invested in local communities which could be used to aid digital literacy or access to digital services. As more services in the public and private sectors move online, digital exclusion will become a growing problem. This funding could help fix that.

Whilst now companies sell to local authorities who then offer digital services to their residents, collaboration and the use of common standards in local government opens up the possibilities for new markets, with companies selling their digital products based on government as a platform direct to residents. There’s the potential for creating a huge new marketplace for local digital services here.

There’s also huge potential in local authorities participating in the sharing economy, with councils becoming not a supplier or a commissioner of services, but a facilitator, connecting local people to help them help each other. Add to this the approach of councils who are using digital to better share their own assets.

So that’s it, two simple things, a new body and the extension of GDS’ remit to work with that body and local authorities to create not only better public services, but greater community cohesion, better use of public assets and new marketplaces for digital innovation.

Yours Sincerely,
Phil Rumens

Popular posts from this blog

Digital best practice checklist

This week I finished the draft of a digital best practice check-list. It's not digital strategy, in fact I'm increasingly thinking organisations don't need a digital strategy, they need a delivery strategy.

My draft has check-list of seven questions and recommendations, with one overall recommendation regarding best practice for delivering digital. Ideally it would be incorporated into a wider service and information delivery strategy.

Below I've omitted the bulk of the content, the reasoning behind arriving at the recommendation from the question because it's still in draft, but here are the seven questions and eight recommendations:

1. Is the council properly promoting its digital services and content, to reduce avoidable contact?

Recommendation: Establish a “digital first” ethos to the promotion of services and better targeting what, when and where they're promoted.

2. Are the digital services the council offers, especially where the design and development ha…

Pipeline Alpha

In September 2014, officers from 25 councils met in Guildford to discuss a platform to enable collaboration across Local Government. A "Kickstarter for local government" is the missing part to Makers Project Teams, a concept to enable collaborative working across different organisations put forward by LGMakers the design and development strand of LocalGov Digital.

Based on the user needs captured at the event, LGMakers created collaboration platform Pipeline and by October people from over 50 councils had signed up. Pipeline is an Alpha, a prototype set up to evaluate how a Kickstarter for councils might work. It is a working site though, and is being used as the platform it is eventually intended to be, at present without some of finer features a live offer might have.

So what have I've learnt in the eight months since we launched Pipeline?

There's a strong desire to collaborate 

LocalGov Digital isn't a funded programme. I wrote about how much it LocalGov Digita…

Superfast highways

You may have seen this slide I put together to help explain digital transformation

This week we launched a new beta service to report speeding traffic. It looks fairly simple but to give you an idea of what's happening in the background I thought it might be useful to show you the before and after.

So here's the before

and as you can see it's completely a manual process. Stuff might be recorded electronically but it takes someone to do something seven time to make the process work and send it to the parish or the district.

Here's the after

What this doesn't tell you is that it's basing whether the request is for the parish or district on three questions. It's also doing a spatial look up to find the parish and returning the parish clerk details using the Modern.Gov API.

Because these are already part of our platform this is data that we currently maintain, so there's no additional work to keep this up to date and we've reduced the human interactio…

Defining transformation to a wider audience

For the past month I've been putting together a paper on the next steps of digital transformation, for the organisation I work for. I'm proposing we look at two capabilities and two business areas, and if approved I'll be writing more about it.

It's been a great exercise in gathering my thoughts and helping me to define digital transformation to a wider audience and how it fits into the bigger picture of service improvement.

Here's some of the stuff I've learnt or had affirmed:
Transformation, digital or not, starts with understanding the needs of the user through research. This should be obvious, but in local government too often I've seen "build it and they will come" approach applied.

It's unlikely a commercial operation would launch a new product without first researching the market, so why would a digital service be any difference?
A couple of years ago I wrote how the phrase "digital transformation" was hindering digital transf…

Carl's Conundrum of Internal Influence

I'm writing this partly as a reply to an excellent piece that Carl Haggerty published about the disconnect between internal and external influence and partly due to various conversations over the past month about how to make using tools like collaboration platform Pipeline common practice.

This isn't really about Carl though, or Devon County Council, or any other council specifically, it's more a comment on the influence of digital teams in local governments, or lack of, and how to resolve this.

So here's the question that prompted this piece. How can someone who's been recognised nationally for their work, first by winning the Guardian's Leadership Excellent Award and who has more recently been placed in the top 100 of the Local Government Chronicle's most influential people in local government, "sometimes feel rather isolated and disconnected to the power and influence internally".

First, let's consider whether is this a problem to unique t…