In my career to date, leading digital for Bristol City Council,
and then working with the MHCLG Local Digital team on the Declaration,
several things have become clear to me.
- Our services and the whole business model of local government need
to be designed afresh, based on an understanding of user need, if we
are to adapt successfully to continued austerity and the impacts of
Brexit – the new normal.
- There has been good work by a small number of leading councils,
tackling a small number of the many things councils do. But it’s
been limited to those councils and has cost them a lot of money and
- As a sector we cannot afford for every council to spend the budget
and elapsed time to design every one of their services from scratch.
It just won’t happen… too many councils will fall off the financial
cliff edge before they get very far.
- The answer cannot be for the majority of councils to remain
trapped in their current forms with their current IT and digital
products and services. Nor can it be for one single system to
replace the hundreds in use across the UK – there is no political or
commercial support for a single Local GDS, GOV.UK or the equivalent
of the ill-fated NHS National Programme for IT.
So, what can we do?
Working with the MHCLG Local Digital team last year I was privileged
to be part of the collective drafting and publication of the Local Digital
Declaration. I support the intent behind it – when a Service is
designed in the internet age, the user research, interaction and
content design / service patterns, data structures, API and
integration definitions should all be published openly so that they
can be implemented by other councils and by suppliers who want to
support this good practice.
Once there is a recognised pattern and model for implementation of
the digitally enabled service that meets user needs, councils should
expect their suppliers to offer products built on those patterns – and
not to extract a premium for it!
Re-use will lead to reduced costs
for a better outcome, and if councils across the
country can adopt them easily and cost-effectively, it will contribute
to a massive reduction in cost across the sector.
The great digitally enabled services that were built by suppliers
with councils like Bristol, Hackney, Camden, Stockport and Southwark
are largely based on open source code which in many cases has been
published openly on GitHub.
But it’s not easy to pick them up and place them down into another
council with different technical infrastructure and back-end systems.
We need to pay attention to the standards needed to wrap these systems
in a way that makes them interoperable and portable, with clean
boundaries and well-defined services and interfaces.
If we can define a set of ecosystem standards that enable multiple
building blocks to be used together in a way that ensures they will
fit – like Lego™ – we will move further towards the vision of local
government as a platform that people like me, Dave
Briggs and Mark
Thompson have been writing about for the last few years.
That’s the vision we have at
Placecube– we want
to create that ecosystem based on open standards, where we can provide
a re-usable set of building blocks “Cubes” based on
the work we’ve done with Bristol
and Camden, for other
councils to adopt easily and cost-effectively.
But unlike many of the legacy suppliers in the local government
market, we don’t want to lock customers in and push you to buy
everything from us – we want to be able to easily incorporate the best
digital services from other suppliers, who have already understood
user needs, worked to design services and then realised them with new code.
We invite them to work with us on the common standards needed to
ensure services can be composed together by councils who want to
re-use the great work that has already been done.
And whilst councils are the democratic centre of the local place, we
know that people, businesses and visitors to the area interact with
hundreds of other organisations, that provide services, advocacy or
information advice and guidance. Our vision of an open ecosystem is
more than just councils being able to use better digital services, it
is to digitally connect the network of organisations in a place,
enabling them to provide or access data, services and to collaborate
on meeting community, individual and local business needs.
Beckett – Executive Director, Product Research & Innovation, Placecube.
This blog was originally posted on the Placecube website where you
can find out more about Digital Place.