Local Government Digital Service

November 18, 2012

In September 2012 I wrote about the Local Government Data Service but since then we’ve seen the publication of the central government Government Digital Strategy, and yet again questions have been asked about why local government hasn’t one or doesn’t get a mention. My riposte is that local government was doing this before the GDS, and it was largely set out in the Socitm publication Planing the Flag. Meanwhile Socitm has published a briefing entitled “The new Government Digital Strategy: what should local public services take from it?”

Whilst the Socitm briefing is largely a promotion for its website take-up and channel benchmarking services, all that is required by any local authority is to actively gather feedback from its service users about the different channels on offer and to use this to improve them. If this makes possible a shift to channels that are truly cheaper to deliver by web or telephone all well and good. I am, of course, ignoring the ‘digital by default’ diktat within the central strategy. In national terms this means the sharing of best practice amongst local authorities and a lot of cooperation by suppliers in helping to improve delivery, not just raking in short-term profits. This is where open source and open data come in – if the commercial applications use apps that can be cross-fertilised with others and the data can be similarly exposed (securely) across applications the benefits to both councils and citizens will soon become general.

Whilst the Cabinet Office report admits that “most public services are provided by local organisations such as local councils and the NHS”, instead of ignoring local government and starving it of resources, central government needs to cooperate properly and assist in making these changes real. So whilst I congratulate the GDS on producing its strategy I will observe whether it gets the rest of central government to cooperate, and whether it actually cooperates with those areas where “most public services are provided”. I’d also appreciate it if there were fewer questions about why local government isn’t do the GDS thing, and a greater appreciation of the fact that it was there first, just with much less of a marketing team…

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A digital nation

May 3, 2012

A new report from Canada examines Provincial and Territorial eGovernment Initiatives. Entitled ‘Becoming a Digital Nation: An Evaluation of Provincial and Territorial eGovernment Initiatives‘ PDF, 89 pages, 8Mb. The report notes in the Introduction that in the report, in order to” provide context for this assessment, we applied the same methodology to three other jurisdictions: California, Massachusetts, and Wales. Our study indicates that Canada’s provinces and territories are doing well in this comparison with four provinces ahead of the international jurisdictions and all the  others competitive.” Which may upset all three, although they all did pretty well compared with the Canadian average.

Interestingly the latest usage statistics are provided on page 7: “Most recent data show over half of Canadians (56.5%) use the Internet to search for government-related information, while 26.9% utilize the Internet to communicate with their governments”, which may assist those concerned about the limited UK usage! I’m please to say that Socitm’s ‘Planting the Flag’, that I played a small part in producing has been used as a part of the background material and the methodology employed in measuring the web sites is not unlike that used in Socitm’s Better Connected exercise.

Of the 13 jurisdictions studied, it’s hardly surprising that there is some difference between the most populated territories and the lesser ones. There are also issues around the number of languages with not just English and French being required in many places, but in some there are native languages to deal with.  As a summary the report states on page 48 that: “Areas of improvement focus on providing more advanced ways for citizens to give or get more information through online Contact Us forms or feedback surveys”, which I’d always argue for in the form of feedback loops.


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.