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Doing a few good things well

In September the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) invited expressions of interest (EoI) from councils, in their £7.5m Local Digital Fund. This week MHCLG released details of the EoIs they received, and you can see all 389 here.

An unintentional outcome of the volume of EoIs MHCLG received is that collectively they serve as a snapshot of the current state of digital and transformation in local government. David Neudegg tweeted this great summary of them as a whole:
I've taken a look through many of the EoIs and they seem to fall into fall into four categories:

1) Things that shouldn't need funding

LocalGov Digital was formed in 2012, in part to aid collaboration across local government. Since then it's become a national network to share good practice and ideas. If I'm starting anything new including writing a strategy LocalGov Digital's Slack team is the first place I'll start, to research what's already been done by others.

Alongside this there are other organisations such as the Society of IT Managers and the Local Government Association which aim to do the same. There's also the kHub, Twitter, LinkedIn and LocalGov Digital's Pipeline.

Given all these already exist, to see councils bidding for money to create platforms to collaborate on strategies and documentation is a bit disappointing. The simple solution is to get involved with one or more of the existing networks.

2) Things that shouldn't be funded by MHCLG

There's quite a few of these and they fall into two main sub-categories.

Things that already exist, for example an open source Content Management System (CMS) for councils. This was done 15 years ago and called APLAWS, and again less than 10 as the LocalGov starter kit for Umbraco. In addition open source CMS such as Wordpress and Drupal are currently being used by councils including Devon and Bracknell Forest.

Quite a few other EoIs are things that are individual to a single authority. For example a few councils expressed an interest in improving the taxonomy or design of their individual websites. Another wanted to procure a state of the art video conferencing suite, another had procured a customer account "portal" and wanted to work out why no one was using it. That's another blog post in itself.

3) Business as usual

Quite a few EoIs were things that councils would be already be doing if they had the right combination of time, money, technology or personnel. Many were core digital transformation tasks including re-designing processes for the internet-era, to create better and cheaper services.

From highways, to planning, to adult social care, it seems there's still a huge task across the country to transform how councils deliver services.

4) Emerging technology

The last category of EoIs involved things to come. These were almost all exclusively combinations of chatbots, artificial inteligence and voice. It's a direction in which all councils should be heading, but it's not really fixing the plumbing, more like incorporating something like Nest into your heating.

There's an argument to say councils should resolve the basics before embarking on tech research and development, and another to say that this sort of approach might help solve some of the existing problems.

When promoting the Local Digital Fund MHCLG used the phrase Fix the Plumbing, which I take to mean solving the basics first.

Anyone involved in managing digital transformation will know it can at times be an exercise in keeping an ever increasing number of plates spinning. With potentially hundreds of projects, MHCLG have an entire crockery set, so for the next round of funding I would take a different approach.

Do a few good things well.

Perhaps have one project to enable all councils to use GOV.UK Pay, another to enable all councils to move to paperless offices across their organisation, and that's it.

One only has to look at the organic uptake of GOV.UK Notify to see that a more structured approach towards using common GaaP capabilities would really help councils.

Whatever happens it's step in the right direction and shows there's a huge desire to collaborate and to improve local public services. Well done to MHCLG for all their hard work so far.


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