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Running remote council meetings

In the past ten days we ran four council meetings completely remotely.

This included our special Full Council meeting on 29th April, with over 40 councillors in attendance, you can watch it below.

We're using Zoom Webinars and live streaming through YouTube, but this piece isn't about the technology, it's about the wider approach we took to enable us to deliver fully remote council meetings.

Here's what we did:
Involved everyone from the start It needed a team effort to enable this to happen. Officers from Democratic, Legal, IT, and Digital teams, and senior councillors were involved in various aspects, including research, drafting guidance, drafting policy, deciding which platform to use, deciding how that platform should be used, and testing.
Researched and built on existing knowledge We'd already live streamed council meetings before starting in 2015, and some councils were already ahead of us enabling remote meetings . This tweet by Peter Fleming, Leader of Sev…
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Creating modern libraries

I've been formulating some thoughts about modernising libraries for while now, and this tweet from Neil Jefferies
Libraries looking to get back to "normal" after this. Realise that this may well be the new normal, the library needs to become a virtual rather than a physical space. Funders, this also means that digitisation is back on the map. Big time. — Neil Jefferies (@NeilSJefferies) April 3, 2020 and a need to take my mind off current work around the coronavirus pandemic for a few minutes has given me added impetus to write about them.

Whilst there's an obvious need for libraries to be digital, offering access to their catalogue, ebooks, and other services online, I disagree with Neil's view that they should become a virtual rather than a physical space. I do however think libraries need to change, and here's why.

Let's start by asking, what are libraries' physical spaces currently utilised for the majority of the time?

The answer to this is stori…

People are not your service, but neither are your forms

A few years ago I was the discussing service redesign with a senior member of staff where I work.

Some of the services they managed were changing from delivery by a member of staff to self-service and online. There were other changes in the pipeline too and they joked, "there'll be none of my service left soon" as if they saw the services they managed as being defined by the people who delivered them.

This isn't the case of course, and whilst we should never downplay the role of dedicated staff who deliver a service, the service is the product of what is delivered, not who or what is delivering it.

Why am I telling something you probably already know?

Over the past couple of couple of years I've noticed some with a "digital mindset" have the same approach as my colleague, albeit about a different medium. I've seen some awful online services offered by central government and councils alike, and it's great we're starting embed a design culture…
Despite discussions of more devolution you may see in the media, slowly but surely local government services are being centralised.  In this piece I'll highlight a few examples, and suggest what this might mean for councils.

The first high profile service to be centralised under the GOV.UK banner was Register to Vote, or more accurately as it says underneath its page title, apply to register to vote. Whilst the creation of this service was good start, it doesn't meet the new Service Standard in that it fails point number eight which is "Iterate and improve frequently", and it arguably doesn't meet a few others too.

Because of this it's never really achieved it's full potential, and not only does it not meet a basic user need of telling people they don't need to register to vote, it creates additional unnecessary work for electoral registration teams in councils because you can register to vote as many times as you like, even if you're already regi…

Digital strategy reading list

I'm putting together the outline of a new digital strategy for my organisation. I have a good idea of what should be included, but to help me to refine this and to fill the gaps, I've been reading the following to inform my thinking:

My organisation's Council Strategy
The most important of the lot. What the administration and leaders of my organisation want everyone to deliver, and what every strategy underneath it should be informed by.

The Local Digital Declaration
My organisation signed up to the commitments in the Declaration, this strategy will help us deliver them.

The Technology Code of Practice:
One of the commitments of the Local Digital Declaration is (where appropriate) every new IT solution procured must operate according to the Code.

The Government Service Standard: 

Collaborative silos and history repeating

I've been thinking about, doing, and sharing collaboration in the public sector for around fifteen years. One thing I've learnt in this time is that things go in cycles, and different people will try and solve the same problem, the same way, over and over again.

This week the Local Government Association (LGA) launched its Transformation and Innovation Exchange and FutureGov launched a library of Service Patterns for Local Government; a couple of weeks ago Nesta announced it was starting its Upstream Collaborative.

The Transformation and Information Exchange now sits alongside the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government's  (MHCLG) database of Local Digital Projects, LocalGov Digital's Pipeline, revitalised by Hackney and now supported by the London Office of Technology and Innovation, MHCLG, Hackney and others, the LGA's own Shared Services Map, and many others.

Service Patterns for Local Government in some part replicates the Government Digital Serv…

Data speed meets business need

Shortly after the 2019 local government elections in England, Dan Slee posed a question in his excellent article, why is it so hard to find out election results.

I'd been meaning to write something about why the speed of data reporting (how quickly and frequently data gets updated and published) varies. and in doing this I can also try to answer Dan's question too.

In almost all cases the speed of data reporting operates at the need of the business, not the end user. Sometimes these are the same, in the case of local government elections they're not. That's why it's so hard to find out election results until days after an election.

On the night the best place to find results was a news organisation's website, radio or TV channel, for example Sky News. Why? Because their business model is built around getting you the facts as quickly and as accurately as possible, and in the case of a commercial news organisation having a reputation for doing this well means se…