Just about 2 years ago I wrote this post on the GDS blog titled “Does local government need a local government digital service” the answer I gave then as I would give now is “YES” but just like then I outlined the challenges in actually making that a reality and instead focused on some areas where progress could be made.
The last few days has seen us revisit this topic with Richard Copley and Simon Wakeman’s blog posts. Both outlining and clearly stating the benefits such a move could offer the sector but also both state that it is likely to be an aspiration only.
This is fundamentally why I got involved in #LocalGov Digital to start to make something happen regardless of the barriers that stop something more formal happening. The reality is that LocalGov Digital is now starting to create value and make a difference, although not just around the web estate which I originally referred to. It is also why I created the framework and ensured the focus was on people and places and not on local government itself
I’d like to revisit some of the suggested things referred to in my post of 2 years ago and provide some commentary around progress made…clearly more needs to happen but we haven’t stood still since I wrote that post.
The following is extracts from the original post with comments.
Leadership and Vision
There is no strong visible leadership for the local government web estate and the value it creates for users. Many local government web folk provide leadership and certainly inspire me for what they are doing…but its sporadic and doesn’t have the level of influence require to effect a change on a wider scale.
There is a balance to be had between external people and “experts” and practitioner understanding that should be explored..It would be wrong in my opinion to create a completely separate organisation to provide this with no links into local government or central government.
What progress has been made around this, well I could suggest that winning the recent Guardian Public Service Award is a step in the right direction as that is clearly related to the work I’ve been involved in with others around LocalGov digital. But I could equally state that if you look at the people involved in the group they are all excellent leaders who all provide focus and momentum so we have definitely made progress and we continue to make progress…
Skills development (UI/UX/simplicity/agile)
There is clearly a huge skills gap in the local government web community that needs to be addressed…some councils may simply choose to “commission” the web from an external provider and rely on private sector skills.
What progress has been made around this, well the Really Useful Days are continuing to add huge value on the ground and the huge amount of reusable content and learning that has been gathered is a real asset that needs to be unlocked further to ensure we can extend the reach. This is one of the areas of work LocalGov Digital has identified and we are proactively working with LocalDirectGov team to run joint sessions throughout this year as well as looking at how we can run our own events with the help of others.
This is an obvious one and there are a range of options already in place here for example the recent UKGovCamps
But there is no continuation of the conversation through online networks other than twitter and on individual blogs. To have a bigger impact, something around co-ordinating this would need to be explored.
The continuing number and variety of camps, jams and the like have made learning and connecting far easier but yet the ongoing community management still let’s us all down. LocalGov Digital will be looking at how it can support and promote more events and look at how the community management and more importantly the ongoing collaboration can continue. The group have already made some great efforts in promoting hangouts, online forums etc as well promoting the revised Knowledge Hub (but we know that needs some work)
Standards / toolkits / frameworks
…the real issue is not whether we share the same technology but what standards we set for technologies in order to facilitate a better web experience.
One of the key pieces of work LocalGov Digital have done here is the content standards, the next piece of work we have already started is looking at how we can work with code for Europe and others to enable better sharing of code and encourage code to be shared more widely.
Setting the bar high
I think GDS has already delivered on this, but hasn’t been explicit or forthcoming in broadening its influence into local government and maybe rightly so…
But we do need to maintain a high standard, why should we accept anything less than a really good online experience…the balance is in doing this in an affordable and sustainable way in small local authorities.
I don’t think anyone in local government has achieved this, the standards have been clearly set by the good folk at GDS and pretty much all local gov web folk recognise that and if they don’t then it’s maybe because they haven’t seen or really understood what they have done…it isn’t just about good design, and user needs, it is about changing attitudes, behaviours and challenging the status quo. This is what has raised the bar and made it more acceptable for local gov folk like myself to stand up and challenge.
Greater engagement and collaboration between Local and Central.
Direct engagement with local government practitioners needs to go beyond the localdirectgov database and into skills, sharing and learning. Raising the profile within local government circles as to the value added and the efficiencies achieved of gov.uk – this might be an easy step to take and in some ways this already happens but is informal and sporadic at best…no fault of anyone here…just the way it is right now.
There is also a lot of learning and experience from us local government folk which can and should be shared back into GDS. After all, there are many levels of government and we all have a stake in making it a better place. Whilst GDS do have a strong mandate and have clearly attracted a huge amount of talent, there is in my humble opinion a huge amount of talent in local government which could do with some support , direction and engagement.
I’m not sure we have cracked this yet…but one of the things I’d like to do this year as part of the LocalGov Digital is to have proactive and constructive conversations with GDS about how we can work better together to improve the whole of government top to bottom, from the ground up.
So coming back to the recent conversations, I still think that a Local GDS would be good, it would be effective and it would deliver value, huge value. but in still don’t see how we can get the diverse and individual local councils to provide an overarching mandate to make this happen.
I firmly believe and it is why I so passionately support LocalGov Digital that good leadership, great collaboration, adding value and most of making a difference will kick start and model for the future. If this results in some ambitious councils coming together and creating a LocalGDS amongst 5-10 councils and the outputs are so good then why wouldn’t others follow in these tough financial times.
This won’t be the last post on the subject as I’ve not really touched on the area of transactions and that is where the real collaboration is and not just across local councils but with social entrepreneurs.