Our wonderful Khub administrator Melissa is always looking for new ways to make this online community tool more interesting. She approached me a couple of weeks ago to suggest that I write a regular blog for the Khub…..
Whilst I consider myself ‘social media savy’ (for those of you who don’t know, I do a lot of music in my spare time and the music industry is built on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud etc etc), I’ve never written a blog. So with Melissa’s aims of adding further interest to the Khub ringing in my ears… I’ll try my best… here goes!
With the start of the New Year I thought this week would be a good time to start a monthly blog. The highlight of last month (other than an extended Christmas break!) was attending the SOCITM annual conference at the Business Design Centre, Islington, London (UPRN - 10090266483) (USRN – 21606199). It’s a rare thing for me – attending a conference as a delegate rather than speaking – and it was a real pleasure not to have the stress of thinking about my presentation and to have the time to listen to interesting and inspirational speakers.
The conference felt like a bit of an Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) reunion for me…. In case you’re not aware of my history, I got involved in geographic information and gazetteer work at the end of the 1990’s when I joined a small team at the IDeA which was developing local government thinking on the ‘Information Society’. This work was ground breaking in retrospect and incubated many ideas that either spun off or have subsequently resurfaced in the e-government agenda, government transformation and now the digital services agenda. As our initial work developed, the team I was involved in concentrated on creating the Local Government Information House, designed to work with local government to identify and standardise key local authority reference data that could be collected centrally, reused and marketed on behalf of the sector, whilst the IDeA built up its capacity around the e-government agenda. This increased capacity came in the form of a team of e-government experts that were recruited from both inside and outside local government to help councils respond to the initiative to get the most out of technology. Some of the key players were Jon Thornton (the Director), Martin Ferguson, Paul Conneely (to name a few) and LGIH, under the leadership of Andrew Larner, recruited people like Mary McKenna and Adrian Hancock.
All these people were at the event, many of them with prominent speaking slots, and still very much involved in shaping local government digital services (Adrian is CEO and Martin Head of Policy at Socitm). A nice reunion and great to see that people with knowledge about the importantce of addresses and streets are leading thinking on improvinf services with technology.
The overwhelming theme of the day was centred on how ‘IT’ can be used to deliver more effective and efficient services in a time of austerity and particularly how IT can bring together organisations to deliver these services in the changing landscape of public service delivery. It is clear that with unprecedented reductions in public sector spending, the key to service delivery will be working with other service delivery partners and some, including the LGA, suggest that spending cuts will dramatically change the role of local government from service delivery to service commissioning. We are already seeing this happen in many different ways as the impact of budget reductions begins to bite.
The conference actually started on the Sunday night with an informal networking dinner – which unfortunately I was unable to attend. The guest speaker at the dinner was Jason Kitkat, a man with a great name and leader of Brighton and Hove Council. He talked on how the public sector can work together and with the voluntary and private sectors to deliver effective services. I’m a Brighton and Hove resident (Hove actually… you’ll get the joke if you know the area) and I had the pleasure of meeting Jason a couple of times. The first was socially when I went for drinks with a few ‘dads’ from my friend’s son’s school and I took the opportunity to ask him for a meeting to talk about work related stuff. A couple of months later I was able to get an hour of his time at his office. Jason is interesting for a number of reasons: he is the only Green Party council leader in the only area with a Green Party MP, he is relatively young with a young family, and he comes from an IT start-up background. Brighton and Hove have to reduce their spending by £180 million over the next few years.
Jason's IT background means that he understands and strives for IT to be used for maximum effect, both in the workings of the authority and also in attracting IT based firms to Brighton and Hove. When I met him he already had an understanding of the power of GIS and what we were trying to do with address and street data (the ‘Addressing Wars’ between local government and Ordnance Survey and the tensions between the open data camp and the trading funds were something that had hit his radar, but he also knew that his authority had good gazetteers that were being put to good use). I wanted to understand what his key policy issues were and how what we do could help. Traffic management in Brighton and Hove is one such priority - particularly for a Green Party councillor – and the NSG has an obvious role in getting the most out of what little investment funds Jason has available. As with his conference dinner speech, Jason told me that working with other service delivery partners is key to the future. Brighton already works very closely with the voluntary sector but Jason admitted that integration could be better. Brighton has really struggled with school places as it has drawn a large number of people from London that would prefer to bring their kids up in a nicer environment (I’m one of these I’m afraid), which means that there has been a huge growth in the need for school places. Using demographics and their local address gazetteer, they have been able to bring data together to understand where schools need to expand or whether new school sites are needed. This is still early days but the hope is that by having good information, they can prioritise expansion and also reduce appeals on catchment areas. I understand that the gazetteers haven’t made it as far as the council IT strategy, and this is something that needs sorting – not just in Brighton and Hove but by my reckoning in the majority of councils. I’m sure that there is more that my team and I can do in this area to help.
Back at the conference I heard a fascinating presentation from Paul Conneely who spoke on ‘demand management’ which sets out to map ‘life journeys’, or the interaction of service users with public services, and is an approach that reaches beyond organisational boundaries. The aim of managing demand is to aid understanding contact patterns and where interventions might work to reduce further contact and to provide more seamless services. To give an example, Paul talked through the journey of a young female offender… She has had previous contact with her council and DWP as a benefit recipient and has contact with the NHS as she has a child. She has had contact with the police for minor offences and the probation service and the voluntary sector are also involved. More recently, she was arrested for drug possession and as a result social services have an open case. She was admitted to hospital for an overdose and suspected suicide attempt. This example shows how a common pattern can spiral when there are opportunities for earlier (and cheaper) interventions. The key to understanding these patterns of contact, and to join the various organisations who can help individuals, is in the information available and how this information and data can be shared where, and only where, it is necessary. Reference data on where people live, demographics and individual cases linked to properties is vital to planning services and providing joined up services that have a positive impact on people’s lives. In Paul’s summary, good data and data sharing was towards the top of his list of bullets.
Earlier in the day Jos Crease (CIO of Hampshire County Council and key figure in shaping and representing local government in terms of IT) also underlined that councils need to be collaborative and share leadership through integrated organisational practices. Again data, information sharing and integration figured high in his priorities.
There were many other great presentations throughout the day (not wanting to sound like a sales rep for the event!), but apart from those mentioned, the other standout presentation was from Gerry Pennell OBE, Director of IT, University of Manchester and former CIO, LOCOG. This guy was responsible for delivering the whole IT for the London Olympics!! Mind blowing complexity. His job was unique, but the lessons in project and programme management, leadership and getting buy in and ownership from everyone involved were directly relevant to my role at GeoPlace and also to anyone attempting to push IT and data management in any organisation. Truly inspirational and an upbeat end to the day.
I appear to have written quite a lot, but this is my first posting after all. I guess the key take away from what I’ve heard recently is that the role of local government is changing. There simply won’t be enough money to deliver services in the way we traditionally have. We need to be able to plan, commission, procure and partner with many other types of organisation to manage our local areas. In order to do this, we must have good data that can be shared easily where there is a genuine service requirement to do so. Making available a standardised geographic reference base of address and street data to improve the way services can be delivered has been our aim from the outset and, whilst the drivers for change have morphed over the years, the need is still there and this puts anyone working in this area in a key position to innovate and build upon the work we have all put in. These are the messages we need to get to senior officers and avoid getting caught up in the niche lingo of our work. Health and social care are the number one priorities for Chief Execs and Leaders and we need to be showing how what we do can make a difference.
Have a successful 2014