Monday, 21 November 2016

LocalGov Digital rebooted

LocalGov Digital has come a long way in four years. From an idea at LocalGovCamp, to a meeting of council officers at the Local Government Association, to an established group to seeking to improve council web provision, to a network of people creating better, cheaper, local public services, it's been quite a journey.

With next to nothing LocalGov Digital has led the creation of innovations that far better funded organisations have come nowhere near. LocalGov Digital created the Local Government Digital Service Standard (LGDSS) with the help of the Government Digital Service which is being adopted by a growing number of councils. Unmentoring is joining up people across the country and Pipeline is helping councils collaborate and that's just three of many.

But more needs to be done, and faster.

You can only get so far on good will and limited capital through sponsorship, so we're proposing LocalGov Digital becomes a community co-operative that everyone with an interest in thinking, doing and sharing to improve local public service provision can be a part of.

A more formal organisation means you can become part of something real; something tangible. It means the co-operative could bid for funding and it means that whether you work for a council, central government, the private sector, or yourself, you can get involved.

LocalGovCamp could become the co-operative's Annual General Meeting and the network’s regional peer groups would become local membership meetings. The co-operative would ask for a donation of £1 form each individual who wants to be part of the co-operative.

It seems in four years no formal organisation can or will be the change that's needed, so we're proposing LocalGov Digital will.

There are more details here and we need to hear your views, so please do tweet or blog about what you think or let us know through emailing feedback@localgovdigital.info.


Sunday, 13 November 2016

Listening outside of the echo chamber

I've been listening to people outside of my echo chamber and I don't like what I hear.

Wikipedia defines an echo chamber as
A metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an "enclosed" system, where different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented.
The people I follow and engage with from @philrumens are by and large those that I respect. The people I'm friends with on Facebook I have some real-world connection with. The people I'm connected with through LinkedIn I have some sort of professional link to. I operate in a social media echo chamber.

So I thought I'd start another Twitter account. I thought I'd follow and interact with people I didn't agree with. I thought I'd be prepared for differing opinions. What I found was an undercurrent of hate and intolerance I'd never encountered before.

Initially it's a liberating experience. Unbound by any constraints that might be imposed by one's professional role or reputation you're free to say what you like within the bounds of the law. It's nice being able to be overtly political for example.

As you peer deeper though there's a cauldron of hate. There's a mass of people who hate those who don't agree with them, hate those that are different, hate anything that challenges their narrow view of how thing are. Whether truly believed or done just to troll, the effect is the same.

Once a lie enters an echo chamber it's often amplified until it becomes the unquestioned truth. If enough people you know are saying it, it must be right, right? If this were limited to a few people believing untruths it wouldn't be so bad, but the reverberations in each echo chamber have consequences for us all, and our society.

Traditional media pundits still wonder how Brexit and Trump happened. How they got it wrong again and, then again. I think it's fairly obvious. Millions of people form their opinions based on the "word of mouth" of social media. People trust their network over experts and facts, and if their opinion is being influenced by deliberate lies, hatred and Twitter Bots then we're in trouble.

So what's to be done?

The easiest things we can change are those that we control ourselves, so start by acknowledging your own echo chamber and break out. Become an ambassador for the truth and social cohesion. I know facts aren't in fashion right now but put forward your views based on things that are provably legitimate. Engage with others' echo chambers by questioning hate and lies, not in an adversarial manner, but with a tone of reconciliation.

To borrow a phrase, let's take back control.

Friday, 28 October 2016

From peer to eternity

Organising a sustainable peer group

This week LocalGov Digital launched a peer group for the South West of England. Added to the newly created group for the South of England and established groups for London and the Midlands this now makes four.

The groups are primarily there to help regions establish how to work to the Local Government Digital Service Standard (LGDSS), but can cover whatever the regional leads feel would best meet the needs of the group.

This is great news for digital practitioners interested in thinking, doing and sharing to create better public services. What if you're thinking "where's the group for my region?" though, if that's the case then why not start a group yourself.

LocalGov Digital can definitely offer you:


LocalGov Digital can probably offer you:

  • A speaker for your meet
  • Some help organising your meet

You need to offer:
  • A good understanding of the LGDSS
  • A venue
  • Refreshments

Interested? Get in touch @LocalGovDigital or by emailing admin@localgovdigital.info.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Collaborative franchises

Yesterday I was at the Midlands Peer Group, set up to support councils in the region use the Local Government Digital Service Standard.

The event was expertly facilitated by Julia McGinley and Kurtis Johnson, and built on the success of the London Peer Group and the Summit at City Hall the week before. I don't work in the Midlands, but there isn't a group for the South (yet) and we're starting to use the Standard at my place, so I wanted to hear from, and talk to other councils who are in the same situation.

It's exciting to see councils start to use the Standard, and I've been amazed by the speed of progress. This time last year ago it didn't exist and has come so far already in a short space of time, thanks in part to support from people in organisations like the Government Digital Service. If you work for a council, you can sign your local authority up to the Standard here.

For me the main question now is, how we can enable the creation of more peer groups across the country to help more councils start to use the Standard. Groups for Yorkshire and Humber and the South are already planned and how can we make it easy to establish these and other?

I think a collaborative franchise model would work well, and this is kind of how the Midlands and London groups have operated together already, with the Midlands Group taking what the London Group produced, revising it, and using it in their group.

Current peer group facilitators could produce material together together for each round of peer groups, which would mean:

  • Those organising a regional group have a set of content and a plan for the event to work with, making it much easier to run. 
  • Each round of peer groups would be fairly consistent, though whoever is running each group could vary the content as they saw fit.

On Friday, Carl Haggerty and I will be starting to think about the future evolution of the LocalGov Digital Network. Peer Groups are one of the many pieces in the puzzle of the next iteration, and if you're interested in taking part in a Peer Group or the general discussion on where the Network goes next then please let me know @philrumens or by emailing admin@localgovdigital.info.

Together we can think, do and share to create better, cheaper, public services

Thursday, 22 September 2016

I learnt summit on Monday

The LocalGov Digital Service Standard Summit happened on Monday 19 September and you can see the agenda here. Here's some things I learnt from it:

There's a growing number of people working in central government, who want to help improve local service delivery and are willing to lend some of their professional time and skills.

There's a growing number of people who work in local government who have an interest in doing digital well.

Some IT suppliers are seen as an obstacle to delivering better, cheaper public services.

City Hall, London is a great venue, and there's some great people who work there.

It's entirely possible and relatively easy to put together a panel of excellent speakers on digital, the majority of who happen to be women. If you're going to an event on digital that features mostly men, ask the organiser why that is.

If you're paying to attend an event, someone's probably making money out of you. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but do be aware of it.

I'm reasonably good at putting together events, less so at presenting.

We need to start to re-think the LocalGov Digital Network to make it more sustainable and better aid collaboration across local and central government.

A growing number of councils are signing up to the Local Government Digital Service Standard. Your council can sign up here.


Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Pushing back

Sometimes you have to push back. It won't make you popular, but when business requirements and user needs clash you have to stand up for the user.

Let me give you two examples of this.

A service delivery team wanted a new digital service so that users could register for a permit. Most of the proposed questions were simple and straightforward, but two weren't. They were:

  • Upload a copy of a recent utility bill 
  • Upload a copy of your vehicle's V5 certificate

Asking these questions assumes that the user has access to the technology to scan or take a picture of the documents required, and also the skills required to use the technology. We asked the team to research their service users' skills and their access to technology. At present the service is being created without these two questions.

The second example is where a new law and statutory requirement meant the creation of a new digital service. The service delivery team wanted the digital service to ask around 20 questions but when we researched the legislation it turned out only 10 were actually statutory.

Whilst the 10 additional questions were there to help the service delivery team deliver a better service to the user, we suggested to the team that making users answer them wasn't really fair, given by law people had to use the service to register something. They agreed and we made the non-statutory questions optional.

Standing up for user needs won't make you popular, but it will help you create a better service

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Open standards and the Private Sector

Why aren't the private sector lobbying for the public sector to use open standards? Why would they do that you might ask? Well let me propose why they should be, and what's in it for them.

Take how the private sector sell to councils for example, whether you're buying a product, SaaS or using a paid for service another way, this is generally how it works




Yes, I know that the API might be a database connection and there's lots other ways to integrate a service with a website or app, but let's look at this model for now. So the maximum number of clients the supplier can ever reach directly is 433 because that's the number of Tier 1 and 2 councils in the UK.

So lets make one change that enables another.




Now the API is using open standards. This in turn opens up a new market, as now suppliers can sell direct to the service user, because they can build in the knowledge that the API won't change. So now they've expanded their market from 433 councils to potentially everyone in the UK who uses digital services and even better they haven't lost their original market.

So why aren't the private sector lobbying for the creation of open standards in government?

Friday, 22 July 2016

This week I have been mostly doing...

I thought I'd write a quick summary of the main things I did this week. Yes, in many respects this is a narcissistic mixture of self promotion and self congratulation, however I'm doing it for two reasons which I'll explain later.

So here we go:

  • With a couple of my team, spoke to our Civil Contingencies Team about creating a new digital service to record information about emergency shelters.
  • Attended our Capital Group to ask for a new fund to be created.
  • Attended a meeting of our Education Service's Senior Management Team.
  • Attended a Digital Transformation Project Group meeting.
  • Spoke with our Consultation Team about forthcoming user needs research.
  • With our Planning Policy Team, launched our Register Your Self-Build digital service.
  • Attended a meeting with the company doing the Libraries Needs Assessment for our authority
  • Attended my team meeting.
  • Amended the code for our search engine.
  • With one of my team, met with Human Resources about offering a better digital service for Disclosure Barring Service checks.
  • With my council's Chief Executive, spoke with another council's Chief Executive via Skype
  • Spoke to someone about running an unconference for learning and development.
  • Did some work on setting up the Local Government Digital Service Standard Summit.
  • Made a few changes to what our public analytics page displays.
  • With one of my team, met with Head of Children's Services about their digital services and content.
  • Spoke to someone at another council about collaborating on our Case Management/Tracking Capability work on the phone.
  • Spoke to a group of councils about their experience of online booking capabilities. 

So do I want, a medal for having a busy week or something? No, there's two reasons for publishing this:

If you also work in local government digital, is this how your week looks too? I know some are doing more than this, but generally how does this compare with the variety and volume of what you do? I'm keen to compare notes.

I want to highlight the varied array of things that someone in local government digital might do, to those who might be interested in working in a council digital service. So if that's you, does this make you less or more likely to want to move to work in local government digital?

Saturday, 9 July 2016

To code or not to code

There's an ongoing debate on the LocalGov Digital Slack Team about the merits of a low code approach to building digital services.

A low code platform is one that enables you to quickly create and deploy digital services usually by dragging and dropping a selection of predefined plug and play elements. These could be anything from a text input box, to a database or API call, to a bit of logic based on answers to previous questions.

Where I work we've been using a low code platform for 3-4 years and some of the stuff you can see being used in our dashboard was built without writing a line of code.

There are great benefits to having this approach available to you. Just one example of this is we're currently user testing an end-to-end register for the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Regulations which we built in a couple of weeks. We'll make this available for anyone using the same platform as us, for free.

Because we're starting to use the Local Government Digital Service Standard and therefore the Government Digital Service design patterns, when we needed to include something that checked whether someone was over 18, we built something that looks like this. The great thing about a low code platform is now that we don't need to build that again. We can drag and drop it into any new digital service and it'll work straight away.

So low code is the way forward, right?

Well yes and no. If you're astute you'll have probably guessed that when we built our over 18 checker, we did that by writing code. The design pattern suggests that individual inputs for Day, Month and Year are best for usability for memorable dates, and we didn't have anything that merged these together into one date, then worked out if that date was more than 18 years in the past.

When you start to think about it, actually every digital service runs on code and markup, even if you don't write it or see it yourself. So actually low code is really low code once you've written the code.

Through having access to this method of building services over the past few years it's become apparent that as digital services evolve, and when you start to tackle some of the bigger transformation work, there's an increasing need to write connectors, end points and other more bespoke functionality. This isn't a one off process because the services your organisation consume will change, or you'll want to change how you use them to respond to user needs,

Without a developer you'll be at the mercy of a supplier, and you'll be in the same position some have found themselves in the past, with a supplier wanting to charge £100s for a minor change to the HTML of a web portal. This isn't prudent use of public money, nor will it enable you to get something quickly most of the time.

So my advice? Low code is a great idea and will help you accelerate the creation of your digital services. Do seriously look at it, but don't outsource your ability to create and adapt your re-usable low code elements yourself, or you'll find yourself a less agile and adaptable organisation.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Progressive points for a pivotal period

It seems like we're at a pivotal period for the future direction of our country. Not for a long time have many things been so uncertain, but this means it's an opportunity for change, so now seems a good time to suggest four ideas for the future.


Local service providers can't continue to go it alone any more

We know that digital offers new ways of delivering services locally and individual organisations don't have to procure products from individual suppliers any more. You might look to SaaS a way forward, but for me shifting from products to services doesn't really solve the problem that hundreds councils and other local service providers are individually buying the same thing over and over again.

This is a huge waste of taxpayers money and should be addressed because the financial situation for councils isn't going to get any easier in the short or medium term. It really needs disruption and re-design, not just within each organisation but across the sector.

One approach is councils creating services for others, for example Surrey Digital Services have produced an address lookup API which is currently in Alpha. If this approach was taken for more capabilities local government would save millions of pounds every year.

Working against this is the software industry who will seek to protect their income from the current model, a few politicians keen to protect their fiefdom, and those who will tell you "but we've always done it like this", which is why...


We need strong, informed leadership

However forward thinking digital practitioners and teams are, they're not the leaders at the very top of their public sector organisation, driving its overall strategy. Those who are need to be well informed, but the digital space is so crowded right now it's difficult for them to know who and what to listen to.

Just this week I saw a white paper on published that was so wide of the mark it was at best old ideas re-hashed, and at worst misinformation. I also spoke to a colleague in local government who's work I and I know many others greatly respect, who could be out there helping other councils, who said he rarely gets to bed before midnight because of the volume of his work.

This needs to change, and in every public sector organisation a partnership of leaders and informed digital practitioners needs be re-designing their service delivery. When I say every organisation...


We need to include everyone

If the events of recent weeks have shown me anything, it's that there needs to be a focus on society as a whole, or in this case local service delivery across the whole country, or you won't get the result you're aiming for,

I know there's some great work going on in councils like Bristol, Leeds, across the authorities in Manchester, and elsewhere but if we really want to change how local services are delivered for the better we need to include everyone, not just focus on what might some might term the "metropolitan elite".

I don't mean to use this term with any disrespect, just that smaller councils across the country will never be able emulate what happens at their big city counterparts, and when I see "apply the model used in city X" touted as a solution for everyone across the country, I'm not sure this is workable as an inclusive model to transform services for every user in the country.

That's not to say larger councils couldn't supply individual services to smaller organisations as previously mentioned, and in addition we're seeing that...


The lines are being blurred

Local and central government have always worked together and as far as digital goes, initiatives like the Local Waste Standards Project have led the way in recent times. Over the coming year we're going to start to see a real blurring of the lines though between local and national service delivery.

Most central government departments now have digital teams, and many are keen to work with councils. Take this discovery event from DCLG, DVLA and GDS for example, three bits of central government and councils all providing elements for one service. We're going to see a lot more of this over the next year and we need to remember that whether national or local, we should all be working to achieve the same thing, cost effective, user centred public services.

Which links quite nicely in with...

Friday, 17 June 2016

What I learned from Standard Sprint #1

Standard Sprint #1 was two weeks of work from 6 to 17 June, to both produce guidance for the Local Government Digital Service Standard and to see if it's possible to work collaboratively, using online tools and resources.

Turns out it is.

Rewind back to the start of April and LocalGov Digital released the Standard, with help from over 60 councils and the Government Digital Service. The Standard contains 15 points suggesting how to build and manage good local government digital services. Whilst some points are fairly self-explanatory, for example:

Make sure that the service is simple enough that users succeed first time unaided.

others such as

Use open standards, existing authoritative data and registers, and where possible make source code and service data open and reusable under appropriate licenses.

are less so and some sort of guidance was needed. As of today, that guidance now exists and we'll continue to revise and add to it.

So what did I learn?

Collaboration needs leadership

The sprint was the idea of Julia McGinley, Lead Business Analyst at Coventry City Council and she was also the scrum master. She expertly facilitated the creation of 15 items of guidance, based on all the comments received.

Relying on organic collaboration is far less likely to produce something usable. Up until 6 June, over the two months following the publication of the Standard, we'd only created guidance on one single point, two weeks later we have guidance for all 15.


Collaboration needs a core team

Though tens of people contributed from all over the country, a core team at Coventry City Council did the work of creating drafts, reviewing all of the comments, redrafting and again reviewing all the comments to create the finished product.

At some point they'll be a Standard Sprint #2 and another council could very well take the lead, but the point is, this works best when the core work is part of a team's day jobs, even if it is for just a short two week period.


Communication is key

An obvious one, but there were daily stand-ups and weekly reviews via Hangout which were open to everyone. We tweeted regularly using #ssprint1 inviting people to join in and updated the website to keep everyone update on the Sprint's progress.


Scheduling and timeboxing helps

Stand ups were at 9am, longer reviews on Friday, we closed comments at 5pm on 15 June, the Sprint ran for two weeks. Putting times and dates on things focuses those working and contributing to get stuff done.


The digital tools are there...

We used Twitter, a Hangout, a Trello Board, 15 Google Docs and the LocalGov Digital Slack Channel. The digital tools we needed to do the work described in Makers Project Teams worked.


...but not everyone could use them

Not everyone away from the core team in Coventry could access the Google Docs due to their council's IT policy. At some councils officers had to work from home to contribute and one council officer even had to stand in a hallway at work to access the Hangout on his smartphone. There's a separate blog post in this no doubt, but in short, blocking these digital tools is hurting councils' ability to collaborate and therefore their productivity.


Huge congratulations to Julia and the team and Coventry for making this happen. You've proved that collaboration across councils to produce something for the whole of local government in a short amount of time can work.

I'm sure we'll put together a more detailed case study, to explain and sell the concept of digital collaboration, but for now, after a two week sprint, go and put your feet up, you've earned it.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

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 transformation.

People get it if you explain things using terms they understand. So for example, a discovery phase is somewhat similar to a feasibility study, except it's part of the project.  At LocalGovCamp this year someone told us that they explained continuous improvements as "scheduled maintenance".

As with most communication, you need to tailor your language for the audience and digital transformation is no different.

A discovery phase doesn't always lead to an alpha phase, or a digital service. Here's a good example of not delivering a digital service, where the discovery phase of a DWP project was used to improve their telephone service based on user need.

Yes, very often your discovery phase will conclude that a digital is the better, cheaper way to deliver a service, but your project should focus on service improvement, not digital.

Work to a single vision by agreeing a set of principles. Explain how they differ from traditional practice and give a practical example of what this means. I created these principles with the help of Ben CheethamJames Gore, and Rob Miller.

Use these principles this to evaluate where your each part of your organisation is in terms of transformation, where the opportunities are and where need more investment.

"Channel Shift" is term that's used less and less these days, It's from a past era when most websites just delivered information, not services.

It is still valid however, so long as it comes at the end of the work. Research and redesign what you offer your users, develop and launch your digital service, and only then look to promote it to users over other channels.


I hope this is useful and if your organisation is approaching a new phrase of transformation, I'd love to hear your insights too.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Draft Digital Principles

On 9 June I published a draft set of digital principles and asked for comments. Ben CheethamJames Gore, and Rob Miller responded and I'm really grateful for their input.

The principles as they stand now are:



Traditional Practice
Digital Principle
In Practice
Consider face-to-face, email and telephone as the default channel for delivering services and information.
Consider digital as the default channel for delivering services and information.
Ensure digital and assisted digital are prioritised over traditional delivery methods and are included in service and communication plans.
Deliver digital services on a service by service basis to a varying standard.
Adopt a corporate, joined-up approach to delivering digital services to a national standard, focusing on user need.
Create a joined-up programme of change with strong support from leadership, and a cross-service team to break down internal silos.

Deliver services to the Local Government Digital Service Standard.
Conduct periodic mystery shopper exercises.
Capture, measure and act on user satisfaction and usage data for each digital service.
Extend existing methods to capture feedback for every end-to-end digital transaction, to all re-designed digital services.
Procure IT systems and develop online forms to support existing processes.
Redesign existing processes to take advantage of the efficiencies and improved user experience digital can provide.
New projects that involve public facing services should be led using service design principles.
Clearly define the desired outcome and the solution for each project from the start.
Clearly define the desired outcome for each project from the start. Discover the solution through user research, prototyping and user testing.
Where possible, projects that involve public facing services should follow the Government Service Design Manual.
Deliver all projects using Waterfall methodology.
Deliver projects using an Agile methodology, where appropriate.
Where possible projects that involve public facing services should follow the Government Service Design Manual
Duplicate existing functionality as part of a solution.
Re-use existing functionality and design as part of a solution and make sure capabilities and data can be re-used where possible.

Check if any of the capabilities, data and capacity to deliver the service already exist, and if they do, incorporate them into the new service.

Publish details of capabilities and data that are available for re-use.
Work alone to procure or develop and deliver services.
Work with other councils and partners to procure or develop shared digital services.
Seek to establish or use an existing working group through a peer network before developing or procuring new services.
Delivery to a defined project schedule, with a distinct end point.
Continue to develop and improve digital services in response to user needs.
Periodic service assessments, redesigns, audits and “healthchecks”, collating data from UX testing, analytics and usage statistics.
Focus mainly on the technology being developed or procured to deliver the service.
Focus on the team skills of the developing or procuring the technology to deliver the service..
Make sure the teams creating and delivering the service have the technical skills to understand how to build or procure it, and continue to improve it.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Learning from those that lead, helping those in need.

Collaboration is a team sport, and the outputs of LocalGov Digital aim to assist this. Whether it's our Unmentoring scheme, the Local Government Digital Service Standard, or organising events like Not Westminster or LocalGovCamp (in Birmingham on 3/4 June), what we do helps foster a cross-sector approach to delivering better public services locally.

Perhaps a more traditional way of trying to join things up is to highlight or even fund best practice in digital service design and delivery and hope others follow. Whilst it's entirely valid to promote the work of those who lead the way, if we were talking about a school or a care home, those that are failing would also be in focus too.

So I have a question for you; does just highlighting and funding best practice only make the best even better, and should we also be focusing on those who aren't doing so well too.

Let me be clear here. When I say focus on those that are failing, I don't mean with a view to taking punitive action, I mean offering them assistance, and only if they want it.

In the past, website reviews like Better Connected highlighted poor practice, but in a unhelpful way. They were all stick and no carrot, and it wasn't sensible to build a digital or delivery strategy on one user test. Thankfully we've moved on from those days with Local Government Digital Service Standard but this describes how to deliver digital services, not how to do that collaboratively.

So how can help reach those that need it?

Peer based service reviews can offer constructive advice from a group of critical friends. LocalGov Digital is creating regional peer groups which could go on to form these peer reviews. The best way to stay in touch with this is to sign up to our newsletter or join our Google+ Community.

Another way might be the new Public Sector Transformation Academy (PSTA), created to share methods and practice, and provide training which is specific to public service through an accredited path of practice. There are high hopes for the PSTA and I hope it lives up to them.

These are just two approaches that might create more joined up working, because what I'm certain of is we need a whole sector approach to improve public services, learning from those that lead, helping those in need.


Saturday, 9 April 2016

How could digital service assessments work for local government?

Yesterday two things happened I was very glad to be part of.  OK, there were actually three, the last being a discussion on how we could expand on this Civic Starter idea, but that's for another post.

The first was publishing the Local Government Digital Service Standard (LGDSS) and the second was taking part in a service assessment of two of Buckinghamshire County Council's exemplar digital services.

I was really happy to be asked by Matthew Cain and he and his team can be proud of what they're doing for the residents of their county. You can read what Matthew thought about it here, and this piece isn't just about the assessment, but how assessments of council digital services against the LGDSS could work.

It's worth saying my credentials as a service assessor consist of reading about service assessments onlineobserving a single Service Assessment at the Government Digital Service (GDS) and knowing a bit about delivering digital services for a council. I wouldn't ever put ever put myself in the same class as someone who does it as their day job.

I think there are two roles that could be incorporated into the LGDSS assessment process:

Full Time Assessor

This tweet fits with what quite a few people I've talked to have said, why couldn't high volume local government services be assessed by central government assessors:
Would any local government services tip over the 100,000 mark to warrant this? Hardly any individually per council, but when you think how many school place applications, council tax payments, planning permission applications and so on happen across the country I bet these are in the millions.

Add to this that councils tend to procure the same digital services from a small number of vendors and it then seems not such a mammoth task. Of course it would be down to GDS whether this is something they wanted to do, but it would certainly create a more joined up approach to the big local government services we'll probably use at some time in our lives.

Full time assessors could be complimented by:


Peer Reviewers

As said previously, I'm not an assessor but for digital services with both large and medium transaction numbers I think there's scope for peer reviewers to take part. LocalGov Digital will be looking to set up regional peer networks to facilitate the introduction of the Standard in councils, and these could also help form peer review panels.

This works two ways too. Yesterday I learnt a lot from taking part in the assessment, just little things like users prefer a satellite view over a road view of a map for reporting problems. It's free advice like this will that help me and my team build better services for the people I serve and justifies the time I spent on the assessment for another council.


I'm really interested to get opinion on this. Matthew and team are among those leading the way with digital service assessment in councils but is this happening elsewhere, and how do we build on their approach and roll it out across the country?


Friday, 18 March 2016

What next for the Local Government Digital Service Standard?

The consultation on the draft Local Government Digital Service Standard closes today. If you haven't been following what's been happening, you can read the story so far about the workshop day at the Government Digital Service (GDS) and that it's supported by Cabinet Office Minster Matt Hancock.

For the next couple of weeks the Standards Steering Group will be working their way through all the comments and feedback sent in. We meet on 6 April and will release the first version of the Standard proper not long after.

And that'll be it then, job done? Well, not quite.

Then the hard work starts because the process of getting the Standard incorporated into how each council works will be different for every authority across the country.  To help with this we'll be setting up regional peer networks.

Peer networks will not only assist the advocates of the Standard in each council to get their message across to their internal audience, for those that do adopt the Standard, they can become regional peer assessment groups, much like the GDS assessment panels.

That doesn't mean we'll be getting rid of resources like the LocalGov Digital Slack Team but sometimes it's better to meet face-to-face and you can only do this regularly with those local to you.

Councils work at different speeds, but by September we should have the first councils starting to use the Standard so we'll be looking to organise the first Standard Summit for those leading the way to attend.

If you work for a council, and if you haven't already, then I urge you to get involved with the Local Government Digital Service Standard. The more of us that do, the better the services local government offers the public will be.











Sunday, 21 February 2016

Building a standard for digital and design

As you may have read, we've been working with the Government Digital Service (GDS) to build a standard for digital and design in local government.

Who's we? A collection of councils bought together through LocalGov Digital.

Incidentally, I think 2016 will be the year local government digital teams start working more closely with GDS (and I've purposely phrased it this way) around common services, standards and registers, but that's topic for another post.

What's the benefit of working to a common standard you might ask:
  • Where services are produced by councils it enables peer review, similar to a Digital by Default Assessment.
  • Where services are procured by councils it enables collective bargaining power. A group of councils working to the same standard speak much louder than one, empowering them to stand up for the user and demand products and services they purchase meet user need.
  • It enables greater collaboration, with groups of councils working on common services, to a common, user centred standard.
The short of it is better, cheaper services for the user, whether built or procured.

So where are we at with this?

Following an initial debate on our Trello board and through our Slack team we're almost ready to propose a draft standard for wider discussion. This means taking the Digital by Default Service Standard and amending it slightly because some points aren't applicable to councils. For example, councils don't have ministers, so
Test the service from beginning to end with the minister responsible for it.
doesn't work in that form. There's also nothing about re-use of common data or registers in the Digital by Default Service Standard, something that will become increasingly relevant in the coming year.

If you work for a council I urge you to get involved to help deliver, not a business case or a nudge in the right direction, but the first Local Government Digital Service Standard for councils. The more of us that do, the stronger it will be which can only be a good thing for the people we serve.

Please do so by tweeting @LocalGovDigital or emailing admin@localgovdigital.info.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Be the A-Team


The A-Team is a bad TV fiction (and an even worse film) about crack commando unit which was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit. This isn't an article about which is the best absurd American 80s action drama (surely that prize goes to Automan), nor is it a peppy piece about being the best you can as part of an "A team".

It was this question from Dave Briggs, how much does your technology define what you do that made me think of the A-Team.

Technology defines everything from communication, to music, even to the make-up of towns and cities, in fact I'd go as far as since the Industrial Revolution it defines our society. Dave was focusing on how technology influences organisations though, so where do the A-Team come in?

The TV show was formulaic and one aspect of this was at some point the team would be captured and imprisoned somewhere containing a collection of varied but seemingly useless junk. Sometimes, delivering user centred digital services with a set of legacy systems can also seem like being locked in with collection of varied but seemingly useless junk.

Like Dave says, the best thing is to ditch the junk, but what if you're the A-Team and it's all you have?

Well the good news is, locked in their prison the A-Team would use their ingenuity to build something innovative using the junk they had at hand to escape and get to the resource they needed to complete the task, and being an American action series that resource was almost always guns, grenades, and other things that go bang.

Now I'm not advocating using weapons of destruction to get what you want, what I'm saying is use your ingenuity to build something innovative using the junk you have to make the case to get to the resource you actually need.

So be the A-Team; use what you have, to get to what you need.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

LocalGov Digital by Default Standard Day

On Friday I helped run a day of workshops and talks at the Government Digital Service (GDS). Firstly I'd like to thank Zuz Kopeka, Olivia Neal and everyone at GDS for their time both organising the event and on the day itself.

It was a follow up to attending a Digital by Default Assessment back in October and I wanted to see what appetite there was to use the Standard, or a version of it in local government. The answer it seems, is a lot. For example twice as many people expressed an interest in coming as we had space for and we had attendees from Cornwall to Gateshead, and Liverpool to Canterbury turn up all taking a day out of their busy schedule.

This is testament not to the pull of LocalGov Digital, but both the respect for GDS that is held in local government and the fact that there's a real grass roots desire to collaborate amongst many digital teams working in councils.

I put together a Storify on what people tweeted about the event, and the positive attitude of all confirmed to me that local government digital teams really need some full time resource to help them collaborate, because if I can put this together in my evenings and weekends, think how much more could be done by a small team working full time.

So for me the short answer to could this work in local government is yes, and over the next few weeks I and others will be both creating a standard for councils to sign up to and pulling together the work done on the day to make the case for it. If you work for a council digital team and haven't yet got involved then please do, and together lets create a common approach for delivering better, cheaper, user centred local digital services.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

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
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.