The playground’s shut!
For the past year, I have been rather quiet due to the many thoughts that have entered my mind regarding the future of local government public services online. Mostly those thoughts encompasses on the people on local government who inspiringly want to improve digital services and the lack of means to do so. So its like going to the playground only to find out its shut or the rides are broken. You can imagine how frustrating this could be… To say I’m in doubt is an understatement.. With spending cuts hitting local council services the most, it is unsure of what is beyond 2010 looks like for council services.
However, since Martha Lane Fox’s Report “Directgov 2010 and Beyond: Revolution not Evolution” was published on 23rd of November of last year, there has been many voices concerned in local government that there was no single mention of what should be done to improve digital services from a local aspect. As Dane Wright from Brent Council pointed out on the Local Directgov’s Communities of Practice not too long ago…
In fact the word “local” doesn’t appear at all in the whole document. Quite possibly this wasnt in MLF’s brief but what are we in local government meant to make of her report?
I think Dane makes a good point. What are we in local government suppose to make of this report? We in local government know that most digital services used by citizens come from our local authority digital transactions. And at the best of times, those digital transactions do not marry up with Directgov online services.
The question here is, why don’t they? Is there a distinct difference in central and local government digital services delivery? Or are central services not reaching our local authorities websites? Are they not compatible?
Since only Directgov is mentioned in the report, how do we in local government action upon this report?
If you are still feeling a bit puzzled and have not yet read Martha Lane Fox’s report, you can see how it came about at http://directgovreview.readandcomment.com/. Martha Lane Fox’s advisory group included brains from the BBC, Google, M&S, YouGov, academia and venture capital. You can read and download the report at this link http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/resource-library/directgov-2010-and-beyond-revolution-not-evolution
The response to MLF’s report has been wide but still not quite ‘local’. Here is the feedback seen around the web as of now (Thank you to Neil Williams for collating most of them)
- Cabinet Office press release, MLF review and Maude response (PDF)
- Guardian, Telegraph, BBC coverage
- Blogger reaction from Steph Gray, Simon Dickson, Neil Williams, Michele Ide-Smith, Matt Jukes, Public Strategist, Andrew Lewin, Tom Watson, Wayne Smallman, Mick Phythian, Stephen Hale and Alan Mather
- A must-read comment from Tom Loosemore on Steph’s blog (contains some clarification about that all important word ‘commissioning’)
Michele Ide-Smith’s blog post makes a very good point from a local government point of view…
Overall I think the report is very positive, clear and to the point. I have limited knowledge of how central Government web delivery is governed and managed. But reading other posts (mentioned above) throws some light on the political implications of this review. But we will need to watch and wait to see what happens next.
In sharp contrast, local government are being asked to deliver or commission services with an increasingly local focus. The forthcoming Localism Bill will throw more light on what Localism means for Councils next week. But at this stage it is not clear what impact Government’s Localism agenda will have on the user experience of digital, local, public services. Is it likely LocalDirectGov will have a more significant role in improving the user experience of local services?
Well Michele, you might be right on this one, as Local Directgov recently has been asking for feedback on the report upon Martha Lane Fox’s request on Local Directgov’s Communities of Practice Forum Board. (Isn’t it great to be right Michele?) 🙂
What do we do now?
Get on to Local Directgov’s Forum Board and give feedback on Martha Lane Fox’s report. Don’t forget to also catch her most recent interview at the Guardian “Martha Lane Fox: how councils can bring about a digital future for all“. In this piece Martha Lane Fox goes into great detail on how local authorities can encourage their citizens to get online and why internet access for all could be the way to beat the cuts. There was two main points made in this article that I thought was worth sharing…
Guardian: There seems to be a will in local government to change their digital behaviour and make themselves more inclusive. Can you give them some ways to start?
Martha Lane Fox: Looking at your own backyard, look at how you represent yourself online. Is your website easy to use, accessible, does it provide the best services to your constituents? Do you need all the websites that you have, are they the best practice on the web?
We now live in a world where technology doesn’t have be invested in to the same extent. Rather than assuming it’s a costly IT project, ask yourself is there a cheap way? Could we start a Facebook group, ask for help on Twitter? Then go out and test those ideas until you find what works.
Guardian: What’s the one thing councils should be doing to make themselves part of the Race Online 2012?
Martha Lane Fox: We’re really delighted to have council partners, and are following their lead. I’m not the expert in local government so I don’t want to be prescriptive but we do need councils to sign up to the website so we can plug them together with other partners. But the most important point is to make sure they really are embedding digital thinking in all of their strategies and thinking about what support they need to give to people offline. Finally, think about digital champions, appoint someone to lead this and filter it down through the organisation.
Why Local Directgov?
Martha Lane Fox and her team recently conducted a review of the Directgov website. Now she wants to know what help she could give to Local Authorities to develop customer focussed, efficient and transactional websites. So, what are you waiting for? Please help start the debate here by giving your views which Local Directgov can pass on to her team.
If you haven’t signed up to Local Directgov’s CoP, you may do so here now.
Are you going to UKGovCamp11 this Saturday? If you are, I hope to see you there and rumours are the Local Directgov team will be there too, so be sure to catch them there and tell them what you think about the report. Look out for Sheenagh Reynolds and Louise Russell. Until then, take care and see you soon.. I hope!
Hope this was useful!
Liz is a researcher who is interested in the ways new kinds of social data and technology introduce challenges and opportunities to society.