LocalGovDrupal with Kate Hurr and Will Callaghan

LocalGovDrupal is an open source implementation of the classic Drupal content management system hat has been developed by councils for councils, with the help of some funding from MHCLG.

It is, by my reckoning, the best example I have seen of open source use in local government, largely because councils are contributing to the project as well as consuming it.

16 councils are now involved and conservative estimates calculate that millions of pounds have been saved compared to using commercial off the shelf alternatives.

What is great is that councils are using those savings to invest in other things to make their websites better, like content design and user research.

Will Callaghan has been the main driver of the project and he gives us some of the background, while Kate Hurr talks about the progress Cumbria Council are making in implementing LocalGovDrupal. We also talk a little bit about pies! 🥧

I honestly can’t praise this project enough, I think it’s brilliant, and a wonderful example of the benefits of open, collaborative working, and sharing and re-use of technology across the sector.

To find out how to get involved, drop the team a line using hello@localgovdrupal.org.

If you’d prefer to listen to just the audio, give this a go.

A CDO chat with Ben Unsworth

It’s taken a while to record the second CDO Chat video, but today I finally had the joy of an hour of Ben Unsworth‘s virtual company!

Ben has done loads in digital government, including stints at the Home Office and with FutureGov, and these days he is the Director for Service Transformation at Essex County Council.

In this video, we talk about Ben’s role and what it encompasses, the importance of accessibility in digital services, the roles needed to make change happen, and the impact of the lockdowns and the future of work. Oh, and of course we hear a little about his shed too.

If audio is more your thing, you can grab that on Soundcloud.

LINK: “An open data standard for planning applications?”

We’re working to find out what a digital planning application service would look like if it were “so good, people prefer to use it”. However, one of the early things we learnt was that high quality data is the key enabler of providing a better digital service. 

Original: https://blogs.hackney.gov.uk/hackit/An-open-data-standard-for-planning-applications

LINK: “What have we learned from the Service Design Conference (SD in Gov)”

I’ve not heard anyone disagree that this is a good thing. There were many people at the event who were passionate about user centred services and about designing end to end services. Why is user research not given the priority it needs and why do we still continue to pay little attention to it when undertaking transformation activity and service redesign?

Original: https://medium.com/north-east-lincolnshire-digital/what-have-we-learned-from-the-service-design-conference-sd-in-gov-64e4438a2223

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: “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: “Kick-off for the essex.gov.uk project”

To help us understand the ‘as is’ in more detail we’ve gathered insights from available data and call centre staff, tested how easy it is for users to find things on the site and identified some key gaps in understanding around the importance of designing for user need, measurement and accessibility.

Original: https://servicedesign.blog.essex.gov.uk/2018/04/12/kick-off-for-the-essex-gov-uk-project/

Six principles for good local government technology

As part of the work putting together a Technology Strategy (think IT + digital) for my current employer, I came up with six principles of good technology. The idea is that each of these principles must be met by any piece of technology the organisation wishes to buy or to build.

(The purpose of the strategy is to develop what was a fairly traditional IT team into a rebranded ‘Technology Services’ team; and to bring them out of ‘maintenance mode’ and into more proactive space, where technology can be used to drive improvement and efficiency in the way that services are delivered. To my mind, IT in this sense cannot be worked around or ignored in a JFDI sense if you’re serious about transformation in your organisation – it must be tackled head on, otherwise you’re doomed to failure. More on this in a future post.)

Anyway, here are the principles, in case they are useful.

Cloud native – to ensure all the systems we use are designed for the internet age

Core to the Technology Strategy is for the Council to become a ‘cloud native’ organisation, making use of commoditised utility computing wherever possible. A district council has somewhat limited resources, and those resources are best spent where we can add most value, and to my mind, that isn’t in upgrading firmware or patching servers.

Our preferences when investing in systems is as follows:

  • Software as a Service – where possible, we prefer to use a SaaS solution to minimise the responsibility we have to support and maintain a system’s infrastructure
  • Platform as a Service – for bespoke workflows and requirements, we develop using a cloud-hosted, capability-based, off the shelf PaaS
  • Infrastructure as a Service – where the market is yet to deliver an acceptable SaaS solution and the requirement is too complex to deliver via PaaS, then a more traditional application will be hosted within a public cloud environment such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure

Mobile ready – to ensure all the systems we use can be accessed anywhere, from any device

Legacy software was built for desktop based computing and thus doesn’t work well with the new style of devices that have emerged in the last decade.

We want staff to be able to make use of easy to use devices such as smartphones and tablets while working away from the office.

Any software we purchase, renew or develop must be enabled for mobile working out of the box, without the requirement for middleware or extra investment in specialist hardware.

Interoperable – to ensure the data our systems use is easily shared between people and applications

Legacy software makes exchanging data between systems difficult and expensive.

Cloud native systems and software offer freely accessible and publicly document application programming interfaces (APIs) and web services, which can be used to link systems together very simply, often with very limited programming required and use of ‘drag and drop’ style interfaces.

We will insist that all technology we invest in offers this ability to share data across systems.

Flexible – to ensure we make good use of shared platforms and capabilities across our services

Many of the systems we use are made up of the same common capabilities – booking , reporting, managing cases, payments, assessments and so forth – however they are trapped in service specific silos.

We wish to tackle this inflexibility by investing in flexible, generic capabilities that give us the building blocks to design our services, and the systems they run on, in the way we want to, and not be beholden to system suppliers.

Enabling customers – to ensure all the technology we deploy helps our customers enjoy a consistent journey across our services

We want to put our customers at the centre of the way we do things. This means two things:

  1. Any system we purchase or develop must have online self service as a foundational part of its design, to ensure as many as possible choose to take this option
  2. Service and system design should be based upon evidence generated through user research and take a customer-centric approach

Proportionately secure – to ensure that the Council’s and our customer’s data is as safe as it needs to be to enable us to deliver our best work

Information security is extremely important and we must be vigilant in looking after the data we hold, particularly that which belongs to our customers.

However, with our move to internet based technology, we can follow best practice guidance from central government to classify our information assets to enable us to work flexibly when it is appropriate to do so.

We want to encourage colleagues to think for themselves around information security, rather than relying on one size fits all policies that often are not adhered to.