Image by CollegeDegrees360 via Creative Commons
By Steven McGinty
After two months of consultation and the input of more than 60 councils, the final Local Government Digital Service Standard was published in April.
The standard, introduced by practitioner network LocalGov Digital, aims to provide a ‘common approach for local authorities to deliver good quality, user centred, and value for money digital services’.
According to Phil Rumens, Vice Chair of LocalGov Digital, the new standard provides a “big step forward” for local government digital services. He also highlights that it not only helps create better services, but enables this in a more joined up way.
In total, there are fifteen standards, including:
- Understand user needs. Research to develop deep knowledge of who the service users are and what that means for the design of the service.
- Ensure a suitably skilled, sustainable multidisciplinary team, led by a senior service manager with decision-making responsibility, can design, build and improve the service.
- Create a service using the agile, iterative and user-centred methods set out in the Government Service Design Manual.
Differences from the Digital by Default Service Standard
Many will have welcomed the collaboration between LocalGov Digital and the Government Digital Service (GDS), the body responsible for digital transformation in central government. During the consultation stage, the GDS hosted a workshopwith participants from over 30 local councils.
The Local Government Digital Service Standard is also heavily based on the GDS Digital by Default Service Standard, with only a few notable differences. For instance, in the local government standard, accountability for digital services lies with the appropriate council member or a senior manager responsible for the service, rather than a government minister (which is the case with the GDS standard). The local government standard also includes an additional requirement to re-use existing authoritative data and registers and to make data openly available.
Will local councils adopt the new standards?
Local government is under no legal obligation to implement the Local Government Digital Service Standards. Gill Hitchcock, reporter at Public Technology.net, suggests that, although the standards look like a great initiative, they may lack the teeth to have any real impact.
Interestingly, in a recent interview, Phil Rumens appears to agree with this sentiment, highlighting that LocalGov Digital need to make the case for the new standards. He explains that regional peer networks will be created to allow councils to share their experiences of implementing standards and to promote their value to digital leaders. In September, a ‘standards summit’ will be held, bringing together local councils who have adopted the standards and the GDS.
TechUK, the industry body for the technology sector, has voiced support for the underlying principles of the new Local Government Digital Service Standard, and said it’s been encouraged by the involvement of GDS in the initiative.
However, techUK have highlighted their concerns over the wording of one particular standard:
“Where possible, use or buy open source tools and consider making source code open and reusable, publishing it under appropriate licences”
They contend that this goes against the government’s policy of creating a level playing field, and could lead to unintended consequences for SMEs trying to work with local government.
Jos Creese’s view
Jos Creese, an independent IT consultant and the man described as the ‘most influential and innovative UK Chief Information Officer’ by CIO UK, has written a briefing on the need for local GDS standards.
Similarly to techUK, Jos Creese welcomes the new local government digital service standards. Yet, he also highlights their limitations, noting that they are primarily focused on on-line transactions and channel shift (encouraging people to make use of digital services) and that they don’t consider the difficult issue of information flows across local public services.
For him, standards need to be accompanied by some form of practical guidance, and they must address ‘digital by design’ challenges, including digitising the high cost, high value, ‘relational services’, such as adult care, safeguarding, and adoption services.
In his concluding comments, he states that introducing standards may not be enough to transform services and that local government must consider outcomes, rather than just the methods used to develop services. He provides examples of suggested outcomes, including:
- take up of digital services relevant to target user base
- satisfaction of service users and reduced complaints
- lower operating costs and greater measurable efficiency of operation
- integration and linkage of related transactions, services and information
‘Digital Council of the Year’ – Wigan Council
This year, Wigan Council has been recognised by the Digital Leaders’ 2016 Awards for their successful digital transformation. Their new website provides a seamless user experience and services such as the Report It app and MyAccount have revolutionised the way residents interact with the council.
They have also been commended for their attempts to tackle digital exclusion by helping hundreds of residents, including the elderly, access the internet.
Additionally, the council’s strategy has focused on supporting business through introducing superfast broadband, encouraging businesses to build efficient websites, and funding digital apprenticeships.
The new Local Government Digital Service Standard is a step in the right direction and provides a basis for developing good quality, cost-effective and user-centred digital services. There are, however, still many challenges that local government needs to face as they progress with their digital transformation journeys.
Wigan Council shows that when you put the ideas of the new standard into practice, it is possible to create excellent digital services that benefit residents and business.