Daily note for 22 January 2024

I am running a 6 week online course about making a success of digital in your organisation. You can find out more and book on the SensibleTech website.

Neil Lawrence’s GovCamp write up (Medium, meh).


AI, data, and public services from Jerry Fishenden:

But technology alone can’t solve complex political, social, and economic problems. And that includes AI. Its evangelists conveniently overlook significant problems with accountability and discrimination, the inherent tendency of some AI models to hallucinate and falsify, and an eye-watering environmental impact. And then add into this toxic mix the inaccurate and derivative nature of systems like ChatGPT…

…Along with the need for a less hyperbolic and more scientific approach to AI itself, the current state of government data isn’t exactly ideal for implementing AI given it relies on access to high quality, accurate data and metadata. But the National Audit Office reports that government “data quality is poor” and “a lack of standards across government has led to inconsistent ways of recording the same data.”


User Centred IT: Why ‘best practice’ isn’t good enough in the domain of IT” (via NeillyNeil).

Sharing our learning from SDinGov 2023” – some lovely nuggets in here from the service transformation team at Essex County Council.

The stuff Jukesie uses.

Daily note for 19 January 2024

A minor innovation in these daily notes – pulling out the occasional quote from some of the links, and then using a horizontal line to provide some separation. Also using the lines to make it clear when a multiple-paragraph comment from me is over.

Like this!:

I Made This”:

In its current state, generative AI breaks the value chain between creators and consumers. We don’t have to reconnect it in exactly the same way it was connected before, but we also can’t just leave it dangling. The historical practice of conferring ownership based on the act of creation still seems sound, but that means we must be able to unambiguously identify that act. And if the same act (absent any prior legal arrangements) confers ownership in one context but not in another, then perhaps it’s not the best candidate.


Designing service at scale” – loads of good reflection and advice in here.

Cool? No. Useful? Probably!

Daily note for 16 November 2023

Ouch, nearly a week since my last note on here.

I’ve been having a quiet week this week and it has done me a lot of good. Slowed down the pace a bit, spent a (little) bit more time outside, made some space to work on some things that are starting to come to fruition.

The main example of that is the Local Government Digital Quality Framework, which is my attempt at coming up with a scalable framework for councils to be able to figure out where they are at with digital design, data and technology. Most importantly, it also helps them decide where they want to get to, and how.

I’ll write a dedicated post about it though, as there’s a fair bit to say.

Was feeling sad about the dying art of social bookmarking reading this by Howard Harold Jarche. In the comments someone recommended Raindrop.io which looks neat and I am going to have a play.

Am finding my Google-powered emails are struggling to get through some organisations’ spam filters all of a sudden. Shane and Steph recommended taking a look at DKIM records and things like that, so I did.

The different ‘flavours’ of service design – by Emma Parnell (subscribed!).

The Future of the Blogosphere – “Yet, despite its very different political-economic DNA, the blogosphere has become enshittified as clearly as Facebook, Google, or Amazon. Not just at the level of aging software, but at the level of the aging people who inhabit it, maintain it, and continue to churn out content on it, though at a rapidly decelerating rate.” Ouch.

Trustworthy AI in Government + Public Services — A self assessment tool from Oxford Insights.

Daily note for 29 October 2023

LocalGovCamp was lovely last Wednesday but exhausting. I did very well not to drink much at all the night before which definitely helped. But… so many people to talk to, so much going on. I attended way more sessions than I have done previously and I think that was a good move. Sometimes the opportunity to sit (a bit more) quietly and listen is a way to recharge the social batteries. Anyway, it was great seeing people and as always the energy of the local gov crowd, despite all the challenges, is always an inspiration. Credit to Mr Hill for his organising skills, and the sponsors for their support.

Neilly Neil is blogging again, hurrah!

The next innovation igloo is about blogging, don’t forget.

Full Stack Service Design is a model to help people break services down into the parts that make them and understand how all of these parts impact the user experience.”

Imaginary Problems Are the Root of Bad Software.

Abort Retry Fat is a brilliant newsletter about the history of various bits of IT. This one on Lotus, from 1–2–3 to Notes, is a belter.

How to run a daily stand-up – very useful from Alan Wright (as always).

Daily note for 6 October 2023

Sent out a newsletter yesterday. It features some notes on building network of digital enthusiasts in your organisation.

The innovation igloo about service patterns was fun today. We talked about service patterns and referenced the Essex/FutureGov work, the GDS Verify-inspired work, and something I have been noodling on myself recently.

The next one is in two weeks time and it’s about service directories. Sign up here.

Had a lovely chat with Jukesie today. Seems like he is very much enjoying life right now, which makes me happy.

Two books about tech related topics have come out recently. One turned out to be predictably disappointing – the Walter Isaacson book about Elon Musk, and the other to be disappointingly disappointing – Michael Lewis on Sam Bankman-Fried. I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to the latter, but having read some reviews, I’m in two minds about whether I should bother with it.

An oldie but a goodie, Sarah Drummond on The what not the how of Service Design.

Harry at Neontribe told me about CharityCamp – so now I am telling you.

Daily note for 22 September 2023

“While we are thinking about the future, the present is still happening.” Julian Thompson in his keynote at Service Design in Government. Saw this quote shared a number of times and I love it!

Tass has put together a website for the LocalGov Apps Managers Network using localgov.blog. Awesome! Do join if that’s your thing.

Don’t use QR codes in digital media! Have seen a couple of example recently of organisations putting QR codes in emails or even on websites. I find this bewildering – given most people will be using their phone to read said email or web page, how the hell are they meant to scan it? And why oh why oh why wouldn’t you just use a link?!

QR codes are great for getting people from analogue to digital quickly and easily and without typing anything. But when your user is already on a digital channel, it’s a completely unnecessary and user-hostile step.

Creating one directory to rule them all! – Fab stuff from Adele at West Northants.

Five for Friday (21/7/2017)

The end of the week and time to do some more linkery. Hope you enjoy them, and don’t forget to pass them along to anybody who might benefit.

  • Digital Delivery Manager – my old team at Adur & Worthing are recruiting for a delivery manger to whip the programme into shape there. A great opportunity to work on stuff at the cutting edge of local gov tech.
  • Things of the internet – a lovely post by Ben Holliday on what it means to ‘be’ digital rather than just ‘do’ digital. One bit stuck out for me: “In my 4 years in government the biggest challenge has been moving beyond the digitisation of existing analogue services.” Yup.
  • Writing ‘the missing chapter’ on local digital services for UK digital policyTheo Blackwell, Cabinet Member for Finance, Technology and Growth at Camden Council, writes persuasively about the challenges local government faces in terms of exploting the opportunity of digital thinking. His identification of a collaboration deficit is interesting – although my experience is that more often than not, councils collaborating slows things down and makes them worse. Doesn’t mean it can’t be done better – but there are deep cultural and structural reasons why it hasn’t yet. While you’re here, check out Matt Jukesthoughts on the local gov tech world.
  • The what not the how of Service Design – strikes me that there’s am emerging three way split for doing digital properly in an organisation: the corporate strategy operating models bit, the technology bit, and the service design bit. Actually describing what service design is tends to be pretty hard, and this post from Sarah Drummond is one that I will be pointing people towards in the future. Another articulation of the difference of ‘doing’ something compared to ‘being’ something, it emphasises the need for focus on the outcome for the service user, rather than on processes, tools and techniques (which it is very easy to get obsessed with).
  • Here’s a video of Catherine Howe talking about a model for digital maturity that she’s been working on at Capita. It’s a useful framework for thinking about where your organisation is at on this stuff – and it’s short, which means you might get one of the big cheeses to watch it all the way through.

https://fast.wistia.com/embed/iframe/9iri4scbcw

As always, these have mostly all been tweeted during the week, and you can find everything I’ve found interesting and bookmarked here.

Five for Friday (30/6/17)

IMG_0369

Quite a mixture of stuff this week – plenty to dig into over the weekend.

  1. Interesting job at GDS, promoting the use of gov.uk Verify in local government. You have until the end of Sunday 2nd July to apply – so better get cracking if you fancy it. If you’re on the lookout for a digital-ish job, then I’d thoroughly recommend Matt Jukes’ weekly listing.
  2. Startup SaaS Stack – this is a nice way of looking at the small number of software as a service tools that a new organisation might need to have. Not just relevant to startups but any organisations – certainly community, voluntary and charity groups could look at this and get a cutting edge tech stack in place in minutes and almost no cash. It also is an effective introduction to thinking about capabilities rather than systems in planning what technology you need.
  3. User-centred digital strategy – a really nice set of slides from Sophie Dennis that explains why strategy is helpful and what good and bad strategy looks like. While you’re there, why not check out her other deck on ‘Adventures in policy land’ which looks at service design in government, and is equally excellent (both via Strategic Reading).
  4. Paul Maltby followed up the crowd sourced reading list that I shared last week with three posts on how digital teams and policy teams can work better together, titled ‘A short guide to policy for government digital professionals‘, ‘What digital and policy can learn from each other‘ and ‘Prototyping a One Team Government manifesto‘. All are worth reading and mulling over.
  5. Who is responsible for effective, efficient and secure digital government? – watch the video of a wide ranging discussion of the progress made in digitising government. There’s more on the Institute for Government’s work in this area in this blog post, including a link to their report on the topic. I think it’s pretty clear to most people that the wave of enthusiasm for the work of the GDS in particular seems to be waning, not least following the departure of a number of leaders from that team, but also as they start to get stuck into some of the more intractable problems around culture and the back office IT stack. I’d argue that what is needed is not so much management, or even leadership (whatever the hell that is) but authority – someone or some people with the mandate to make change happen and the ability to force it through when bureaucratic (on the government side) and kleptocratic (on the vendor side) intertia starts kicking in.

These have mostly all been tweeted during the week, and you can find everything I’ve found interesting and bookmarked here.

The elements of council as a platform

A platform, yesterday

We are fairly aggressively targeting a platform approach to service design and delivery at Adur and Worthing.

Summing this up is the vision statement in our (still developing) strategy is: “To use our expertise and platforms to help the people, communities and businesses of Adur and Worthing achieve their goals.”

Government as a platform is a phrase that is bandied around a fair bit in digital circles and perhaps it’s worth thinking about what it means in the context of a local authority – hence the title of this post.

To me, there are three main elements:

1. Technology

Whilst it might not be the place we want to start, in many ways you can’t build a platform for a council without having the right technology in place first. Our approach has been to get the core tech foundations right, from which we can then figure out all the other stuff.

The essential thing to get about the technology stack is to think capabilities and not systems. Go watch the gubbins video if you haven’t already to get an introduction to this. In effect, pretty much every system is made up of similar core capabilities – think bookings, reporting, paying, case management, and so on. Rather than buying siloed systems which replicated a lot of these capabilities, the platform approach is to build each capability and then use these building blocks to put together systems to deliver services.

With this approach, you save money, have a common user interface across many systems, have interoperable systems that talk to each other, reduce support complexity and have a much more flexibility in your tech stack.

It also enables you to make use of best of breed technology, by making strategic decisions around buy or build. We don’t want to spend our time developing stuff in house that already exists on the market, where it meets our technology design principles (internet age, cloud ready, interoperable, plug and play…). However, where the market isn’t mature enough to meet our user needs, we have the ability to develop our own software that does. More on the detail on this soon – it really is exciting.

So far, so SOA. Platform technology doesn’t equal council as a platform. It is the foundation on which it is built, however.

2. Service (co)design

What really starts to make council as a platform a reality is the way that services are designed. In Tim O’Reilly’s classic talk on government as a platform, he compared the old way of delivering services to citizens as a vending machine – people pay their (tax) money in, and a service gets dispensed at them as a result.

A platform approach is less about the vending machine – where the first thing a citizen knows about a service is when it happens to them – and much more about involving service users in the design of those services in the first place.

This takes two forms. Much of the digital way of doing things has focused on the citizen or customer user journeys, and indeed this forms the starting point for all of our work. However we take just as seriously the needs of the internal user – in others words our colleagues who, up until now, have been subjected to some pretty awful software.

Our approach to digital transformation takes a truly end to end view, mapping existing processes, identifying steps that can be removed or speeded up, and developing the user stories that help inform a truly excellent user experience rather than a merely efficient one. Until this design work is done, the digital end of the transformation cannot begin.

By involving people, whether customers or staff, in the design of services, we switch the model from the vending machine to the platform. Services are no longer ‘done to’ people, or inflicted upon them, but instead built with them and their input at their very heart.

3. Let others build

We can’t call what we are doing council as a platform while the only people using the platform to deliver services is the council. What really pushes us towards a true platform approach is when other organisations are using our platform to deliver their own services and products,

This is where we really break out of this being a technology project, and into a far more interesting space where the role of the council in supporting local civic, community and business activity is redefined.

This could mean a number of things. It could mean the council effectively becoming a software developer for other organisations. Or, even more interestingly, it could mean other organisations building their systems on our platform using our building blocks of technology capability.

It would hopefully also include other organisations making use of other elements of our platform than just the technology. Our approach to service design, for example, as discussed above, could help organisations figure out the best way to deliver their products and services to meet the needs of their customers. This could be done by opening up our processes and making tools and expertise available to others to tap into.

Just the beginning…

We’re at the very start of this journey at the moment and none of the above is in place yet to the point where we can open it up to others. However, by planning for it at the start, it means the architecture of our technology and our processes will be able to deliver a platform to enable the Council to play a new, appropriate role within our local place in the future.