Local Government Data Service

September 7, 2012

There have been a couple of blog posts and a lot of Tweets recently from well-known characters in the local government web scene regarding establishing/creating/facilitating a Government Data Service (GDS)* but this time for local government. The only concern I voiced was that we had trod this ground before in various formats, including some of the early e-government projects/programmes.

Some of the posts/Tweets were by Carl Haggerty – The Local GDS question – again… and Stuart Harrison – Local GDS: A Skunkworks for Local Government , along with Dominic Campbell and probably others I’ve failed to mention (apologies!). Whilst I no longer have any real involvement in this, not being an IT manager, member of Socitm committees, member of the Local CIO Council (LCIOC) etc anymore I have been party to related conversations over the years including a discussion with the GDS team themselves at their launch who had obviously seen the reality that a lot of the contact with the citizen is at a local government level so were busily (or should I say agilely) developing at least one app for a local government service – I did offer to trial it in a large rural area since it was obviously based upon a city-dweller’s personal experience, and have no idea what happened to it in the end. A Local GDS would have taken this into account (hopefully) whilst the GDS could have focused on the ‘big data’ at their end.

Carl gave a good lead on the LGDS concept by saying it exists already, which it does in many ways, if informally as far as the local government hierarchy is concerned – but there are too many in government interested in controlling things, so it may need to avoid strangulation. Carl mentions talking to the LGA and since they have been in involved in various meetings with Socitm and the LCIOC, they should (in theory) help with the joining up? One of the ‘bodies’ mentioned was LeGSB which has been on the scene for years and been quietly productive – thank you Paul Davidson – which is quietly doing some related work, since one of the fundamentals is getting some STANDARDS in place if this is to work across 400+ LA’s.

I agree with Carl in that it needs some clear thinking, we’ve been here before and there is a tendency for great ideas to be strangled by bureaucracy and people wanting to make a name/well-paid-job for themselves. I don’t think the GDS team is a great example for local government, they’ve been spoiled with the central government budget, although they have learned to consult the end-user, which is ultimately what it’s all about.

Don’t let it get too southern-centric, there are citizens past Birmingham. Some good work has been going on in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so don’t ignore them either. A quick audit of what is happening and has happened is probably worth doing (LGA?) and then decide what quick wins can be made from some agile working across multiple boundaries. But please, please, please don’t reinvent wheels.

* References to ‘data’ should of course be ‘digital’ – brain operating on another planet that day – reminded when making cup of tea in GDS mug.

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Hearing loop?

June 16, 2012

A new report from the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) examines Central government’s communication and engagement with local government  (PDF, 44 pages, 500 Kb) and concludes that central government needs to have better engagement with local government, particularly when further services are devolved. On page 4 the paper issues a warning “We have said to Parliament that we will expand gradually our programme of value-for-money examinations to consider local government more explicitly”, so a much-needed panoptic view of local government should eventually happen. As the report states on page 6 “insufficient engagement with fire and rescue authorities was one factor that led to a major project to replace control rooms being cancelled in 2010. The project did not have the support of the majority of the end-users essential to its success, which wasted a minimum of £469 million”, similar events should not recur!

As has been stated on this blog, and is stated on page 7 of the report “government departments focus on particular policies, whereas with over 1,300 statutory duties local government has wider responsibility across policies that affect their communities”, politicians and staff in central government frequently forget the scale of local government and hence the need to deal in a different manner than they would in their own departments and also on page 7 that “work across government has demonstrated that not consulting delivery partners early brings a high risk of waste and optimism bias that can result in programme failure”. In fact it has and does result in failure and waste!

In terms of recommendations, many would be solved by central government having better intranets or a good intranet – do they even have such a thing. If one is to share institutional data across the greatest volume of people what better means is there? Another proposal is for the DCLG to work closer with other government departments when dealing with local government, which is a pretty sound idea – it worked pretty well for the Local CIO Council.

In the list of local authorities on page 12, the study manages to ignore the small but democratically important town and parish councils, which are largely elected and have an important role in representing communities. They also have to be consulted by higher tier authorities on matters such as planning. It does, however, manager to emphasise that districts are not subservient to counties, similarly this applies to town and parish councils.

The effect of staff changes in central government are highlighted and I for one recall the nuisance value that the regular changes of government  and departmental CIO have had on communication when one incumbent hade gone to the trouble of establishing a communication channel through the Local CIO Council and others saw it as a lesser priority! The frequent ‘game play’ of senior civil servants and relocation of them to other jobs is similarly unhelpful for continuity!

A key example in the report is on page 19 as “the prospective change to Council Tax Benefit in April 2013 [case study]. Practical issues that were considered to require greater clarity included coherence between Council Tax Benefit and Universal Credit, time to effect changes to IT and business process, and managing the overall impact on existing benefit recipients.” Again, this has been mentioned on this blog before and no doubt we will see the results of any communication, or otherwise, when the changes occur!

This report is short and concise enough for it to be compulsory reading for Ministers and Department heads in government. I hope it is effective in changing their ways, and potentially could save a small fortune along with a lot of embarrassment in the future. However, if government departments are failing in consultation with the tiers of governance nearest the citizen, how does consultation with the citizen stand up to review? Well done to the NAO on this occasion, an ever bigger task awaits!


Scotland the brave

March 13, 2012

When the matter of how to deliver the vision within Planting the Flag has been raised at the Local CIO Council (LCIOC), the McClelland Report (PDF 58 pages, 489 Kb) is mentioned. I’m not sure how far south of the border this study has made inroads but on the LCIOC with its representation from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, we are unable to ignore the good work being done in the devolved administrations, and this is a particular example. The McClelland Report was published in June 2011, so whilst it is not hot news is highly relevant to the use of ICT across the UK public sector

How well it would actually travel in its entirety I’m not sure since amongst the recommendations (Section 14) there is 14.1.2 which states – “An overarching national public sector IT strategy should be developed which addresses national imperatives and pan public sector opportunities”, which may not go down so well in still Balkanized England. However the report on page 36 found in Scotland that – “The fragmented public sector landscape, although not an environment where sharing is prevalent, is partially populated with examples of excellence from individual organisations which have also in some cases installed the same common systems capability as others. Sometimes these common systems are deployed in a single shared instance but in most cases not. This has evolved into a complex landscape and one where a detailed plan is required to build on these points of excellence and partial sharing and extend them to create a network of common applications which are shared through being centrally hosted in a minimum number of “instances” for each sub-sector.” This might also describe England and the approach be effective here.

It also proposes in 14.4.3 that the “approach should incorporate aggressive pursuit of internal and external “Cloud Computing” concepts. Sustainability should be a key consideration.” – Yippee – green being fundamental at last! Whilst 14.4.10 involves what the citizen wants – “At the national level there should be a formal project dedicated to citizen priorities including seamless cross sector integration of service and data and in particular the needs of the elderly, sick and other vulnerable groups. It should also include other areas such as transport access and data management”.

Whilst it isn’t probably suitable to transfer directly from a devolved authority to England the approach within the report could reduce the replication that continually haunts English public services.


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!