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Showing posts from 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 t…

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&…

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:

Publicity through the LocalGov Digital newsletterTwtter accountwebsite and Eventbrite page.Workshop plans and agendas from other peer groupsAdvice from other regional peer group leads via a dedicated Slack Channel and other cha…

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 …

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, b…

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 question…

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 poten…

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 authorityAttended 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 Di…

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 Digita…

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.


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 leadersh…

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…

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 …

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 …

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&…

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, t…

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,…

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 dig…

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 con…

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 a…