It’s been good to see the recent flurry of talk about a GDS for local government. I agree with those who have said it’s too hard to create a team like the central government one in terms of securing the mandate, buy-in and funding. And I’m very much with the sentiment from Anthony Zach that we should think beyond the council organisation and more in terms of public service requirements in an area (developing a suite of services and tools for the population).
Maybe we can agree that what we want to do is design and build great digital services for local people rather than looking at this as the design and build of a single “website” for “councils”. Part of the problem here might be that we each come at this from sightly different digital places. The different mind-sets I think are roughly,
- digital = council websites / transactions / information
- digital = social media / conversation
- digital = service design / social innovation
- digital = participation / democracy
- digital = devices (this one less prominent in my network)
But we should really all be thinking and talking like this
- users and communities = digital
The GDS conversation is quite naturally taking a website perspective (even if we have good user-centric thoughts behind this) but what would be the effect on the work if we were disciplined about putting users and communities first, perhaps by creating ways to collectively and openly establish user needs first and *then* consider how to design and build digital services to meet them? What kind of partnership working emerges if we work at it this way? It might sometimes be about collaborating with other councils, but, perhaps more challengingly for local government officers, it might be about forging new partnerships on a sound business footing with other departments, other local public services or digital agencies and entrepreneurs.
The aim must ultimately be for us to work to help a new kind of local commissioning approach emerge that has digital in its DNA (something I’m thinking a lot about), not about a new way for web teams to work and get efficiencies. But I do think this approach *can* emerge out of web teams just like it can emerge from elsewhere – the key is to stay true to the methodology and be brave – trying hard to put together mixed teams from outside departmental or organisational silos. The diagram below is quite a neat way to describe the design process and how it draws people together (from Jens Otto Lenge, “Service Design meets Agile“).
I’d encourage Localgov Digital to look at facilitating a few useful, small projects to make a concrete start. Create some themes and formulate some problems through an event or two and use the right kind of online tool and communications drive to attract people to projects (an ideas platform that allows the shaping of problems, the creation of the teams, some stuff to help co-ordination and the ability to post of progress updates openly during the project).
People will join projects that help them meet their own current goals most likely, and the face-to-face time can be kept low to make the whole thing feasible. The teams would almost certainly need some help to make sure the user-centred design approach is adhered to (GDS, Futuregov, Innovation Unit, Design Council). By having a good online presence where people can track progress and see success, a virtuous circle can be built, and more collaboration stimulated.
As small islands of success spring up, where projects are clearly doing something quite different to “council business” , we will see commissioners start to take note. And maybe those teams will start to get asked to solve bigger and bigger social problems.
So, even if it’s just one project … do it. Make something good.