LINK: “Why Local Government must share the driving to accelerate transformation benefits”

There is a huge opportunity for local authorities to share common digital service patterns for highly defined, commoditised services that are repeated across multiple organisations. For services like reporting missed bins, FOI requests and complaints for example, how fundamentally different should the user journeys for these services be between individual authorities? Or, put another way, at a time of such pressure on public finances, can we continue to justify the level of local variation in the design and delivery of these services that we continue to see across the country?

Original: https://methods.co.uk/blog/local-government-must-share-driving-accelerate-transformation-benefits/

Two pieces on low code

The low code debate seems to have really kicked off.

Matt Skinner off of FutureGov blogs a critical piece:

The low code platforms we’ve tried place a big emphasis on making the lives of developers simpler (or redundant). Unfortunately, we notice this is at the expense of user experience. Low code makes it harder to take a user-centred, design-led approach.

When creating, you have to follow the platforms’ chosen UI components and design out of a prescribed box. Once completed, you can then tweak to meet your users needs. As the platform uses its own functionality, you are also restricted by what’s been created so far. It’s a world of functionality first and user needs later, which never ever ends well.

Paul Brewer from Adur & Worthing blogged himself in response:

After careful consideration, we went for what I think was a good, pragmatic compromise. Our chosen open standards platform (this is a must), providing a “low code” development environment, has a fixed enterprise licence fee that means we can not only build unlimited apps for ourselves, but can build apps for any public sector body operating in our geography at no additional cost. Development time is much faster than it would otherwise be, and the skills required are significant, but lower than other development environments.

Worth reading both in full to help you decide if low code fits into your strategy.

LINK: “Out of the shadows [on low code in local gov]”

At Adur & Worthing, our use of low code is core to our service design programme and the main tool used by our central digital team in change projects. We don’t go this way every time — we’re not purists — but time and again, we prove to ourselves it’s the better way.

Original: https://medium.com/@pdbrewer/out-of-the-shadows-189ffdd79522

LINK: “CDO for Scottish Local Government Digital Office, Martyn Wallace – Creating shareable platforms for local government”

Successful digital transformation in the public sector requires a significant shift in mind set from all employees to generate the best possible return for citizens. Councils also need to work together to generate ideas and platforms, which can then be shared across local government.

Original: https://government.diginomica.com/2018/04/23/cdo-scottish-local-government-digital-office-martyn-wallace-creating-shareable-platforms-local-government/

LINK: “Smart London Camp 2018”

Yesterday [Rob Miller] joined a large group of people whose idea of the best way to spend a beautiful sunny Saturday was to gather together in London’s City Hall and discuss ideas for ways that London can get the most out of the opportunities that ‘smart city’ developments offer.

Original: https://bytherye.com/smart-london-camp-2018-f8c9084aeea1

LINK: “The wellsprings of UK digital reform part 1 – the backstory”

While there are some great pockets of work taking place to deliver better public services, the UK government’s overall attempts at technology-enabled, or “e-government” or “digital”, reform appear to be struggling to achieve and sustain the benefits promised at the pace and scale originally foreseen. And not for the first time – this has been a repeating cycle of optimism and disillusionment since the mid-1990s. So why is this?

Original: https://ntouk.wordpress.com/2018/04/19/the-wellsprings-of-uk-digital-reform-part-1-the-backstory/

Implementing digital civic infrastructure

troy-jarrell-57863-unsplash

I’ve banged on about this before, but then that’s because I think it is pretty important. To quickly recap – digital civic infrastructure is an idea I have been thinking about for some time as a means through which local councils (am thinking mostly about those at the district or borough tier, although it may be relevant for others too) can redesign their operating model and help to rewire local public service delivery to better meet the needs of local people, communities and businesses – and indeed to prevent those needs arising in the first place.

The starting point for me was when thinking about technology provision in local councils and how that might best work. Heavily influenced by platform based thinking as described by Mark Foden in this video and also in various bits of writing by Mark Thompson (and of course the original idea by Tim O’Reilly). The idea of reducing the number of siloed back office systems to being able to reuse common components such as reporting, booking, assessment, calculation, payments, case management etc answers many of the problems of delivering IT to multiple different services areas.

Much of this platform based thinking has gone in the direction of platforms for government, rather than government as a platform, in that components could be shared between bits of government delivering the same or very similar services. Why should a council delivering bins in one area need to buy a different system to the one next door, or indeed on the other side of the country? This is the approach taken by the GDS government as a platform team, which is developing shared components such as Pay, Notify and Platform as a Service.

While this is a very attractive proposition, with potentially eye watering sums of savings possible, it misses the mark for me in that it takes the focus away from meeting local people’s needs and instead looks to making things easier and more efficient for the organisations. In other words, the effort of sharing and collaborating on these components will likely result in them being less able to meet a local person’s need due to the increased levels of genericism needed.

Instead, and this is where we get to digital civic infrastructure, the real area of sharing and collaboration to focus on is within the local system itself. Instead of opening up platforms and components to other councils, these shared capabilities should be usable by all the actors within a local system. So, the borough council, the county, the local DWP office, the NHS and CCG, housing associations, community and voluntary groups, and even private sector providers of public services.

All of these organisations are working with the same users that the council is. Equally, they are involved in activities that use similar technology components – the bookings, reportings, case managings etc. Indeed, quite a lot of these organisations also lack strong technology capability and either don’t use digital tools to deliver their services at all, or use poor options that are badly supported. The community and voluntary sector would probably be a good example of this (to be clear, there is a lot of great digital practice in that sector, but many of the players are too small and poorly funded to have fit for purpose technology).

By having a shared platform in a local area, these components and capabilities become available to all the organisations that are working towards a common aim – meeting the social needs of the local populace. What it also enables is a fascinating data set of demand within a place. As services are requested and delivered by a range of organisations on a shared platform, the information on what demand exists and how it is currently being met will become available and usable to plot where the right interventions need to happen, how and by whom.

The council can play a role as the steward of this platform, and the data it produces. They are perfectly placed to do so because of the USP of councils: local democracy. Much of the angst about digital age organisations such as AirBnB, Uber, Amazon, Google, Facebook and the like is their seeming omnipotence and lack of accountability. Councils can fill the gap here by ensuring that stewardship of the shared local digital civic infrastructure and its data is governed by directly elected community representatives, accountable and answerable to the people who elect them.

To do this, the council must start to build the platform separate from it’s own existing IT estate. This will require a bi-modal approach to technology, which I know that some are not keen on. However from my experience of trying to manage legacy systems at the same time as building the new world, it’s incredibly hard to keep the two in sync. Exactly how to go about this is down to the council to decide – it could simply use existing off the shelf cloud components, stitched together with some kind of Mulesoft style middleware, or go down the low code route with Matssoft, Outsystems or similar, or perhaps the Salesforce ecosystem could be used. Alternatively, for a council with a strong development team, it could be written from the ground up, or built on top of a PaaS such as Cloud Foundry. It doesn’t really matter, so long as it is easy for other organisations to consume these components to build out their own services without overburdening the host council with support requirements. This is not about a council becoming a software development shop.

However, just because the new platform is built separately from existing tech within the organisation doesn’t mean that it can’t be used to build council-only services. Indeed, this is where the idea of becoming your own best customer comes in. With the key components of the shared platform in place, the council can start consuming them to design and deliver its own services on – just as any other organisation can do. In this way, the platform can be stress tested and ensured that it is fit for purpose, because if the council can run its services on it, then it ought to work for others too. Just as Amazon knew their web services worked, because Amazon.com ran on it.

The shared platform doesn’t need to be limited to technology in this way though, and indeed it probably shouldn’t be. There is a potentially fascinating role for customer contact centres to play here as another potentially shared capability. As digitisation of council services frees up customer service time, that time could be used offering a services to other actors within the system. The advantage is yet more data around people’s needs flowing into the system, building up a better, more accurate picture of what is going on locally.

Allied to this could develop a service design capability, reusing and repurposing user research, patterns and design work across different services and providers and providing the opportunity for the genuine rewiring of local public services delivery thanks to the shared technology stack (no more trying to integrate the NHS with local gov) and commitment to sharing and collaboration.

This might sound like a pipe dream but it is perfectly possible to start small and iterate in this space. The project I kicked off at Adur & Worthing called Going Local, which saw the local CCG and the councils collaborate on a new, shared cloud based platform for social prescribing, which has been developed brilliantly since my departure by the team under Paul Brewer, shows the benefit of this way of operating – and that it is possible. Just find somewhere to start, and have a go.

The challenge perhaps is in scaling it up and where this will come from is having a council willing to seriously back this as a future operating model, and a good, strong network of local collaborators willing to put local people’s needs ahead of organisational silos and patches of perceived jurisdiction.

The final point should be, of course, that it doesn’t have to be the council that does this. Any of the local actors could take the lead. What might be very interesting would be if a social enterprise type organisation takes the lead and starts to develop the platform. My reason for focusing in on local government as being the vehicle for this approach is partly because of my background  and professional interest, but also because of the democratic accountability angle, which would be important for folk having trust in the platform. But theoretically, anybody could take the lead on this.

To quickly summarise what has been a bit of a wordy post, the steps to implement digital civic infrastructure are:

  • build the coalition of local actors to be involved and identify some quick early collaborations to prove the model
  • start putting together the new platform of shareable components, including technology and an approach to service redesign, separate from existing technology stacks
  • establish a governance model with local democracy at its heart to ensure the platform continues to meet the needs of local people.

Simples.

Photo by Troy Jarrell on Unsplash