Skip to main content

Local government should... (Part Two)

In Part One I offered a rough guide to local government. A quick explanation of how complex this bit of the public sector is compared central government.

In this part I'll discuss how we can move things forward, not by amending existing practices but by taking a new approach. I'm going to use the contentious issue of "one website to rule them all", that is, a single website to publish information from all 6,500ish local government departments that some have proposed.

Local government websites are a good example of change by consensus. Even as little as ten years ago, not every UK council had a website. There's no general legislation to ensure that councils have websites (though there is some around specific content provision), it's just by consensus of user need that they've been created.

They're also a good example of the speed of change. Local politicians have been told by professionals of the need for bigger, better websites for years. This is starting to change, and in 2013 I wrote "How to reduce visits to your website" about how councils will eventually be looking to cut down the number of user journeys to their website. The ultimate outcome of this is that councils don't have individual websites at all. Imagine how confusing this must be to some local politicians, being told the exact opposite of what they've heard for the last fifteen years.

So back to the single website. Many are against this idea, including the Society of Information Technology Managers, I am too, but for different reasons, it's not forward thinking enough and is the wrong model given what's achievable now. Simply amending where local government website content is presented is unlikely to work, changing the model the sector uses to publish content just might.

Back in 2011 I wrote about treating content as a data object rather than a page of text and followed this up with a different look at Twitter in 2012. When you start to break things down to this level, more becomes possible.

Rather than trying to force councils to use a single website and content management system (CMS) , a better approach would be to create a central repository for content with a publicly readable API. This isn't a new idea, nor is it mine. Saul Cozens has talked about "local government as a service" since 2012.

An open service of council content would enable authorities to continue to create local websites should they wish to. Yes, some might see this as continuing to be wasteful but it negates the argument that as independent organisations, councils should have their own web presence, because they still can should they wish.

Another argument against a one website for councils is that it would only need a single CMS and therefore is anti-competitive. With the model I'm proposing, existing management systems could be configured to use the API, allowing councils to still use the CMS of their choice, should they wish to.

This model breaks down the artificial barriers that some have put in place to achieving something new.

Sure you'd need to agree the range of content types but this has already been documented in the LocalGov Digital Content Standards. You'd also need to agree what's stored against each record, but to a large extent this has been done by and LocalGov Digital project Localo is starting to define some of the standards that are individual to local government.

An additional benefit is hyperlocals could create community websites, national websites on a particular topic could be developed (similar to Tell Me Scotland). Put simply, local government content would not be confined to a single website that provides information about services in one geographic boundary, but set free for use by whoever wishes to create something with it.

This approach fits with the idea of government as a platform and is far more versatile than a single website. It means that those that want to get on with doing something new can do so, but allows those who don't to, to migrate across when they're ready, because without legislation this can't be mandated and will only be achieved by consensus.

In Part One I talked about doing things differently rather than trying to re-invent what already exists. Starting to create a local government content API rather than a single website is just one example. I've added this idea to LocalGov Digital's collaboration platform Pipeline, I'm sure other can think of many more, so why not post them on Pipeline too.


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…

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…

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…

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…