Daily note for 7 September 2023

Chunky update as I haven’t published for a couple of days. Was in the office in Lambeth yesterday.

Whoever designed the file sharing permissions in Microsoft 365 should probably go and find some other purpose in life.

Postmarks looks interesting. Like a single-user but federated del.icio.us style bookmarking site.

Steph and I migrated LocalGov.blog away from the shared hosting it was on to something a bit more robust and scalable (Digital Ocean, via SpinupWP). It was a bit fraught at times as WordPress multisite can be a cranky beast, and there were the usual frustrations waiting for DNS changes to propagate and so on. But we got there!

Remember, if you need a site hosting for something, and it’s vaguely local government related, you can ask for it to be set up on LocalGov.blog. Just drop me a line!

Runnymede – from Magna Carta to simplified public services – interesting stuff, feels like a vendor driven piece – maybe? – but subtle about it.

Improving the SEND local offer – always impressive to see Stockport blogging away about the work they are doing. I don’t think I know anyone there, need to fix that.

I newslettered yesterday – “Continuing a recent theme here, I was at the weekend mulling over the – perfectly correct – narrative that ‘technology isn’t the most important thing’. To my mind, this has unfortunately been interpreted by many as ‘technology doesn’t matter at all’, which has left many organisations in a bit of a pickle.”

What do you mean you don’t want to use Audacity in the browser?

Couple of great videos from Russell Davies on presenting:

5 simple rules for organisational leaders to keep in mind about technology

Commenting on James Herbert’s sensible post about approaching AI in local government, I came up with 5 statements of the bleedin’ obvious that all senior people ought to have in their minds whenever technology is being discussed.

  • If something sounds like a silver bullet, it probably isn’t one
  • You can’t build new things on shaky, or non-existent, foundations
  • There are no short cuts through taking the time to properly learn, understand and plan
  • There’s no such thing as a free lunch – investment is always necessary at some point and it’s always best to spend sooner, thoughtfully, rather than later, in a panic
  • Don’t go big early in terms of your expectations: start small, learn what works and scale up from that

Increasingly, I tend to speak about digital being different from previous approaches to technology because it includes a healthy dose of cynicism about the ability of technology to improve anything, ever. Perhaps these points reflect that!

Interesting links 18 March 2022

Things I’ve seen that are worth sharing.

The Policymaking / DDAT Divide – Jerry Fishenden

Despite politicians’ grand ambitions for DDaT since at least 1996, it’s had relatively little impact on radical government renewal and reform. Yet the political ambition has remained fairly constant during these 26 years: to ensure users are the focus, not providers; to design services more closely around people’s needs and lives; and to deliver more effective, and higher quality public services.

Think Links icebreakers a Miro board template that you can use – Emily Webber

These two quick lateral thinking icebreaker games will help participants flex their creative thinking muscles before jumping into your workshops. I love that they help get people checked into the session and open up new ways of thinking, particularly good if you want creativity in your workshop.

How we’re building our data platform as a product – Osian Llwyd Jones

While companies large and small have made considerable gains in building a scalable and sustainable architecture, we’re left with the uncomfortable questions: is what we’re doing truly providing value? Do we really know who our users are and understand their needs? If so, can they generate insights in a fast and reliable way? As long as users don’t complain and pipelines don’t fail, does that mean all is well? For all our investment in data, are we seeing the return?

The Birmingham Digital Approach – Peter `Bishop

As we enter this new phase, I am keen that we now move away from being seen as just an IT provider to the rest of the council to one where we can start to work more collaboratively in partnership with our service leads so that we prioritise, manage our demand, design and shape and build great digital services together; a place where we cultivate and nurture an environment of working in the open; grow our digital talent and become centres of excellence of good practice across our various digital and technology disciplines.

Sharing our new user research templates and guides – Helen Calderon

Today we’re sharing the first of our new user research templates and guides. We designed these for teams working within the council, and they can easily be adapted for teams working in other councils. You’ll find these on GitHub. Download them, make them your own, and let us know if we can make them even better.

Interesting links 11 March 2022

Things I’ve seen that are worth sharing.

The next ten-years of digital government – Scott Colfer

For what it’s worth, my instinct is that the NHS might be the place that leads (by doing) the settler phase over the next 10-years. Showing by doing. The work of the last 2-years during the pandemic, the recent restructuring, and some conversations with people leading this work all make it sound like they’re explicitly investing in the work of the settler phase. Looking closer to my old home, the Office of the Public Guardian is doing this at a smaller scale.

How to build a team and effect culture change – Lisa Trickey

In 2017, I was asked to ‘make digital happen’ at the council. Digital is such a broad agenda and needs to permeate everything we do and think about in the organisation. Although the ICT function in the council initiated ‘digital’, I didn’t want technology to be the focus of the change activity.

Two opportunities presented themselves in different service areas when we were about to experiment with service design. We engaged FutureGov, who worked alongside service leads, ICT business analysts, content designers and application support officers, exposing them to user-centred design and working in multi-disciplinary teams.

Why these Welsh weeknotes are so good – Giles Turnbull

I’m always looking out for good examples of teams working in the open, and this WRA team are doing everything right. If you want to write good weeknotes about a digital project, just do what this team are doing, and you’ll be doing a great a job.

From the Made Tech content factory:

There’s no substitute for experience: lessons from central government software delivery – Vincent Farah

The important thing to pass on from our experience is that change doesn’t happen overnight. Patience and conviction of cause will help solve one problem at a time. You need to forge alliances and earn trust that will help change to happen.

International Women’s Day: what would you change about the tech industry? – Laxmi Kerai

Today is International Women’s Day. So, we asked a few of the women working in technology at Made Tech to share insights about equality and working in the industry, including how they’d change the tech industry for the better. Here’s what they said…

Local government: from product, to platform, to service – Glenn Ocskó

5 videos to help leaders understand digital

Following on from the workshop I ran with LGiU last week on digital for leaders (which went very well, thank you for asking), I shared a few bits with the delegates – further reading, if you will.

Part of that was a set of videos on YouTube that cover some of the important areas that folk in senior positions really need to understand, delivered by people with far greater expertise than me.

Here they are – try and get them in front of your senior leadership team, if you can, and book in a chat with them shortly afterwards to help them apply it to your organisational context!

1. Digital Government: Not Complicated, Just Hard – Tom Loosemore

2. Applying digital to everything – Janet Hughes


3. Situation Normal, Everything Must Change – Simon Wardley

4. Human-Centered Data Transformation – Kit Collingwood

5. Designing government services that meet user needs – Martin Jordan

Workshop recording: matching user needs with technology capabilities

Here’s the recording of the workshop I ran earlier today on using a process and template to help match user needs to technology capabilities. We worked through the example of an intranet and there was lots of interesting discussions as everyone chipped in through the session.

🖥️ View and download the slides

📄 View and download the template

I think this way of running short, focused online sessions works pretty well, and I will definitely be doing more in the future!

Workshop recording: matching user needs with technology capabilities

Here’s the recording of the workshop I ran earlier today on using a process and template to help match user needs to technology capabilities. We worked through the example of an intranet and there was lots of interesting discussions as everyone chipped in through the session.

🖥️ View and download the slides

📄 View and download the template

I think this way of running short, focused online sessions works pretty well, and I will definitely be doing more in the future!

Strategy, leadership and smart cities with Richard Godfrey

I had a fun chat last week with Richard Godfrey of Syncity. Richard, like me, has a big interest in how local councils use technology, particularly acknowledging the need for more traditional IT to be modernised alongside the sexier digital stuff.

In this video we talk about good digital and technology strategy, what levels of digital confidence people in senior positions need, and what’s happening in smart cities. It’s well worth 45 minutes of your time!

If audio is more your thing you can listen without having to watch our gurning faces.

What content management systems are used in local government?

Just before I went on holiday, I spent a bit of time one evening researching what content management systems (CMSs) are used by local councils in the UK. A CMS is the software that runs a website, just in case you didn’t know.

The results can be found in this Google Spreadsheet, as well as the summary pie chart above. There’s been a lot of discussion about it on Twitter, which you can follow up from the replies to my original tweet.

I need to give a big thanks to everyone who has helped fill in some of the blanks, but a special thank you to Colin Stenning from Bracknell Forest Council, who has combined some previously research he has done, as well as making other updates to clean the whole thing up a lot better.


  • Jadu is the current market leader, with their own commercial product. 70 councils use it, according to the data at the time of writing
  • Umbraco and Drupal are next, showing a strong use of open source software in the sector. These numbers could potentially increase in the next year, particularly with the LocalGovDrupal project proving very popular. Of course, these open source systems will be supported by a range of different agencies and suppliers. It’s hard to estimate the potential size and variety in this market.
  • GOSS ICM comes next, the fourth most popular in total and the second most popular commercial system
  • Then there’s a bit of a drop, and the Consensis CMS comes next.
  • There are several other open source CMSs in use, including WordPress, Squiz, DNN, Liferay and Joomla
  • There are a couple of councils who appear to be rolling their own CMS rather than using something prebuilt (whether commercial or open source). This strikes me as being rather eccentric, but I’m sure they have their reasons.

The answer for poor council websites?

Finally, and most troubling, on my late night wanderings through the world of local council websites, I came across some that are simply dreadful. There are always reasons for these things, of course, and I wouldn’t want to directly criticise any council or team. Cash strapped local authorities can’t afford the web teams or the technology to do much more.

However, there are solutions out there to help. LocalGovDrupal is shaping up to be the council-website-in-a-box that could solve the problem. Or why not take a leaf out of Tewkesbury’s book, and use the £250 a year SquareSpace service? Yes, opportunities for customisation are limited, but at that price you get something modern, responsive and effective – and zero technical hassle.

The method

I took the URLs for the websites of all councils in the UK from this list on the LGA website. It would appear that it isn’t up to date and misses

Those URLs I chucked into a batch process on whatcms.org (it cost me $10). That detected 257 CMSs. I then started visiting each site that was missing, and checked to see for credits on the site itself or clues in the source code and caught another 50 or so. Since sharing the work on Twitter and other places, some folk have come forward to fill in some other blanks, and thanks to Colin there are almost none left now.

Featured image credit: Sigmund on Unsplash

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.