Transparent e-gov

August 3, 2012

The UK Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) met earlier this year and its report on “Implementing the Transparency Agenda” has just been published. The report has the usual somewhat confused outputs that one expects from a PAC report i.e. that little is likely to be changed as a result! Part of this is due to the blurring across strands of government such as ‘Departments’ and local authorities.

The responsible ‘Department’ for Communities & Local Government (CLG) demanded certain information from local government some time ago and although all but one council supplied this, despite the vagueness of the request, more is desirable. However, without some clarity as to format, fields and level i.e. standards, this will remain only of value to a the more advanced ‘armchair auditor’. The report appears to realise the difficulty without being able to make any difference.

The conclusions ask for “price and performance information for adult care”, but with outsourcing of so many arms of service I’m not even sure this could be made available. Similarly for “spending per pupil in individual academy schools” which is surely locked away in the ‘academy’ accounts? As the report states, and has probably been stated before by them, auditors and others that “the government does not understand the costs and benefits of its transparency agenda” – so what will this report change? There is a resounding cry for evidence-based policy but since when do politicians do that?

The report states that “The Cabinet Office recognises problems with the functionality and usability of its data.gov.uk portal”, so what will be done? It then goes on to state that “four out of five” visitors to the site leave immediately! Should we be surprised?

Finally, the report acknowledges that with eight million people without Internet access, they won’t gain any benefits from the data – well actually they might, with ‘armchair auditors’ and journalists doing it for them, especially since those eight million are unlikely to have the analytical skills to play with the data in the first place, and we are relying on the media to report it. We need the data in open, standard formats so that true comparisons can be done as to what happens when policy is led by political agenda rather than any hard evidence. In summary – Is there any open data about open data?

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Open government, really?

June 22, 2011

Since Professor Beth Noveck, whose book Wikigovernment I recently covered,  is now advising the UK government regarding open government I thought it useful to mention her recent report to the Canadian government which a colleague in the CLG kindly sent me (thanks William!).

In the report, Noveck promotes the US version of open government, which the President has more recently slashed the funding for, which, as I cynically said to William, was possibly the reason why she was over here promoting it. However she does offer ten principles for open government in the document, that are based on her experience of working for the White House, and are worth considering.


We are the CHAMPS

November 4, 2010

Whilst we were at the Local CIO Council meeting on the 3 November 2010, Glyn Evans of Birmingham City Council proudly announced the ‘official’ launch later that day of CHAMPS2.

In their own words “CHAMPS2 is a vision led, benefits driven business change method which is broad in scope and encompasses the whole business change journey. It helps you define your organisation’s strategic needs, and then provides a tailored route to ensure that the desired outcomes are achieved”.

Even better, it’s free!

If that wasn’t enough, although the consultation is over for the moment, the guidelines for open data publication are available from the Socitm, CIPFA, LeGSB, LGA, CLG group that has been working on them. So if you are in the UK, or even if you are not, you may find the LG Group Transparency Programme of interest?

Even better, we had a brief but beneficial discussion with Andrea di Maio about Clouds, G-Clouds and related matters. Nice  to finally see him in the flesh!


Local 2

July 3, 2010

There’s another new paper out on social media and local government. ‘Listen, Participate, Transform, A social media framework for local government‘ is published by the Young Foundation, as a Local 2.0 think-piece. Local 2.0 is funded by the CLG. The report states it is “intended to support those councils interested in using social media, by presenting a simple and practical framework to base social media activity on.”

Within the Social Media Framework for Local Government, displayed on the third page,  I find the third sector the most interesting. This sector, called ‘Transform’ is described as “service redesign, replacing or complimenting existing ways of working and adopting new models of working.” Too often, when discussing social media, reports focus on the medium without employing the outcomes to improve services.

Having said this, the report then drifts on with talk of e-democracy, whilst initially to gain the confidence of citizens social media are probably best employed with a view to service improvement. If citizens believe they are having an affect, they’ll continue with advice, if not they’ll criticize.

According to the report (using data from Socitm) 90% of councils restrict access to social media in some way, in contrast with 20% within the private sector. Unfortunately this fact affected my own research, when council officers couldn’t access my social media based research instruments.

Whilst the report is passionate for councils to employ social media, I personally would recommend a more restrained approach in the current economic environment. Train media staff to understand and garner the new media for criticism and respond to it but take care, too much involvement or investment might bite back from cynical citizens, if change doesn’t occur. The think-piece doesn’t agree and even offers SMS as a ‘digital inclusion’ alternative to social media, although it does recognise the threat from the media-savvy.

I suspect councils need to research their own communities in the process of trialling social media rather than take too much on trust from those already sold on it.


Insight in place

July 1, 2010

I’m not quite sure where ‘customer insight’ fits into the new governments thinking, along with many other matters, but they seem to have taken a shine to Total Place, especially for the potential to save money. So, when a new publication pops out from the CLG, the Local Government Delivery Council and the IDeA it’s worth an investigation.

The twenty page publication entitled “Customer insight: through a Total Place lens” looks at some of the Total Place pilots and examines how they have employed customer insight. Personally I think ‘customer insight’ is an overplayed concept from marketing, that along with the term ‘customer’ for our citizens should be binned, with all that other neo-liberal NPM jargon! However, I believe we do need to know what our citizens want, expect and deserve and this does not require the semi-mystical ‘customer insight’.

In contrast, Total Place, with its focus on destroying silos cannot be a bad thing! I also believe that Local Information Systems may have their place in identifying the real communities that politics can’t.

The first thing that leaped out to me from the report was the costs of service delivery (Tameside’s) being used on page 7, where we have £1.34 for telephone, which is rather different to the £3.21 figure in Socitm’s Better Connected 2010. Similar contrasts occurred over the other channels.  I’ve discussed these before and suspect that whilst we can’t agree these, we should stop using them, particularly when there will be massive variations across services. Whilst we consider the drive to the web we should also consider another Insight from Socitm, where the web take-up service indicates two out of three visits to council web sites are simply for information finding purposes – this to me indicates the importance of making sure that information is clear, accessible and available and that the web is less about service delivery.

Isn’t the lesson from Total Place is that we should work with other public services to gain insight to our citizens and communities and to stop replication of each other’s work? Let’s have one shared insight.


Effect of central on local

September 2, 2009

New academic review of government policy by the team at Birmingham INLOGOV for the CLG.  It’s rather dry but for this e-government researcher the main interest comes at page 38, when they state that:

“Four of the Departments policies were seen as having had a particularly significant impact on improvement: CPA, the e-government startegy, LPSA’s and the best value regime.”

I’d be surprised if they hadn’t had a big effect being the focus of the inspection regime for years, but were the improvements the ones the citizen wanted? The views expressed in studies within this report will be from those high up the ‘food chain’ in local government and would only see the tip of the service iceberg, at a policy level.

I’d like to see a similar report from street level…now what do the citizens think of duCkLeG?


Channel accounting

July 9, 2009

I’d been asked a question off blog about how the various figures apparently showing the incrementally lesser costs of face-to-face, to telephone, to web, that keep cropping up, were calculated.  Since this discussion is becoming more common and seems to rely upon mythology as much as science, I thought I’d try to briefly fill out some of the blanks.

 I did a quick survey of some of the figures being quoted:

  NWEGG Lambeth Socitm (min) Socitm (max)
Face-to-face £7.81 £1.66 £4.83 £9.56
Telephone £4.00 £0.85 £1.28 £5.57
Touchtone   £0.09    
Web £0.17 £0.09 £0.22 £0.56
Payment network   £0.50    
Direct debit   £0.02    

 The methodology used by NWEGG in association with CIPFA was documented and published by the CLG in March 2008 and entitled –

Delivering Efficiency: Understanding the Cost of Local Government Services

 and can be found here:

 http://www.communities.gov.uk/documents/localgovernment/pdf/730431.pdf

 Socitm employ CIPFA Accounting Code for Best Value as the basis for collecting costs, which should mean that the NWEGG and Socitm figures are on a par. CIPFA charge £850 for a copy – http://secure.cipfa.org.uk/cgi-bin/CIPFA.storefront/EN/product/AC073_

– must be a best seller at that price!

 I do have a slide with the Lambeth calculation and I would say that looks like common sense, too.

 So, why the differences? As was discussed at a meeting I attended with Socitm a while ago, an authority who had done their own sums found vast differences between services. This does make sense. Not all services are equal, displaying planning information on the web is easier than displaying benefits information and is likely to be accessed more often, too. So it probably depends which services one chooses to account for.

 My conclusion – get everyone to pay by direct debit wherever possible!