Yesterday I was at 2012′s LocalGovCamp at Maple House, Birmingham.
I started the day on the wrong foot – way too near the start of introductions line. Even though I knew it was coming I couldn’t marshall my thoughts into giving my single word about why I was there. All I could think of was Nick’s (@psfnick) profane suggestion from the previous night.
The words I should have chosen
Relapse. I didn’t go to UKGovCamp because I’d begun to feel like a fraud. As much as I’d contributed beyond my job title in Hull my roles had never gone hand in glove with unconference conversations. So I’d go along and hear great things, maybe contribute an opinion or two of my own but then return to work and be unable to execute anything. When the next event rolled round I wouldn’t have anything to share, or any progress to report.
There is something recharging about being exposed to a collection of brilliant minds with a blank canvas invited to share and think and plan and do but as much as sectoral camaraderie is a great thing there’s little point if it ends up as talking and not doing. And that’s all my contribution felt like.
First-love. Nevertheless I had missed it so made sure to nab a ticket early on so at the very least I could give it to a colleague within Hull City Council. And then when I got this role at Government Digital Service giving away that ticket looked all the more appropriate – is this a localgovcamp for local people?
I’m glad I didn’t give it away because whilst my time working on GOV.UK is exciting, challenging and fulfilling it’s local government that I love. This is where public services become tangible and real people get involved. Whether my involvement with GDS extends beyond these 5 months or not I’m on loan to the centre, not permanently transferred for ever more.
So I was at LocalGovCamp in my own personal capacity, not on behalf of GDS and nor are any of my opinions about local government digital reflective of any land grab from central government.
I kicked off the day hearing about Monmouthshire. They’ve done some things that have had external attention – MonmouthpediA, opening up social media - but Esko (@Reinikainen) was sharing the hidden stuff about internal culture change and radically rethinking the working environment for local government. It’s no panacea and they’re not there yet but the picture he painted of their vision is exciting and the kind of place where people would thrive – and so would the services the public can access.
Esko has used Storify to collate comments and content related to this session. It’s well worth your time – Culture Hacking session at #localgovcamp – Esko Reinikainen.
Building perfect platforms
Then I joined James’ (@jacattell) session about the work he’s part of in Birmingham to build an open data platform. This was a session that I wish Adam (@adamjennison) or Eddie (@pseudograph) could have made because of what they’re planning along the Humber. Two observations:
- The InstantAtlas data observatory might be a helpful data catalogue for local authority research teams it is not fit for purpose as an open data platform.
- Open is about internal value just as much as external accountability and scrutiny – Warwickshire have a beautiful approach in thinking less about open platforms and more about open systems. It’s the same philosophy that underpins Adam’s work with APIs for Hull City Council.
During the perfect platforms session I met Giuseppe (@puntofisso), Mark (@markiliffe) and Matthew (@Skinner_M) and we continued our discussions over the best govcamp lunch I’ve ever had. It was really good to hear about a project called Taarifa which Mark and Giuseppe are involved with for the World Bank in mapping Dar-es-Salaam with slums and toilets. The approach they’ve taken is laying the foundations for open data in Tanzania.
Blogging about the single government domain and its implications for local government are part of the reason I’m now at GDS. So when Matt (@mafjohnson) made the suggestion of having a single local government platform I knew there would be one fixture in my schedule. He led the session with Stuart (@pezholio) stating the obvious truth that too much time, effort and money is bound up servicing local infrastructure and local platforms doing the same stuff with small enough difference as to make sharing impossible.
I read of one authority who was enthusiastically budgeting £40,000 to build a mobile version of their site. When you bring the Local Government Multiplier into play (x436) that’s a potential £16m market just to duplicate a website with a mobile front end and not even get into the underlying architecture preventing local government from being digital by default*.
They want to do something about that.
Bins are always the first place our thinking turns but Vicky (@vickysargent) highlighted care home services as needing this same treatment. Were the whole 45 minute session handed over to a wall and post-it notes I think we could probably come up with plenty of different needs that are handled in similar ways across local government. As a starting point, GOV.UK has 124 ‘local transactions’ that will be handing people off to a local website in order to complete their visit.
A component approach provides a platform but it requires the focus to be on datasets and standards rather than technology (it’s all part of local open data). So Project Maple suggests that instead of curating and managing a local bin day collection checker thing councils publish datasets according to a common schema, present them through the same platform (hosted on the G-Cloud) and built as an open source community that will encourage people to develop new features that are contributed nationwide at a stroke rather than having to wait for the next round of procurement.
It’s ambitious but my opinions on this are obvious
I look forward to where the group of people in that room take Project Maple.
* that doesn’t mean abandoning analogue channels and forcing everybody online through a smart phone.
I really wanted to go to the session about this but ended up spending the whole session talking but if you pitch up at an unconference expecting to have planned out your day from beginning to end you’ll be disappointed. This goes on the pile of things I want to investigate further.
What next for #lgovsm?/#wewillgather
I’ve dipped in and out of #lgovsm since its inception by Lou (@loulouk) a couple of years ago. I found its original Friday lunchtime suited me a bit better than its current Tuesday evening slot but Tom (@tomsprints), James (@jacattell) and John (@johnpopham) have done an excellent job at picking up the baton and it’s a very valuable resource for the sector – having 6 chief executives and a chief constable participating in such an open forum is a brilliant endorsement of the concept – get involved if you haven’t already.
I dipped out part way through that session because I was also interested in hearing from Lloyd (@lloyddavis) about another hashtag – #wewillgather. Inspired by the self-organising that took place in the wake of the riots, working with V-Inspired and building on previous attempts at doing something similar, like FlockLocal, this is a platform to help people come together in a place to do some good. It’s brilliant. Keep an eye out for it when it launches in September.
Any mind filling day should always end with space to carry on chatting over drinks. It was great to make real life contact with those I’d only ever known virtually and to do that thing of meeting someone you hadn’t previously ‘known’ via social media. It was also fantastic to see familiar faces again and share life and laughter with them.
This year seemed to be something of a transition with many of those who have inspired and encouraged me over the last 3 years absent for a whole host of reasons. There are others but I want to mention Al (@al_osaur), Andy (@abeeken), Carl (@carlhaggerty), Hadley (@hadleybeeman), Ingrid (@ingridk), Liz (@Liz_Azyan), Ken (@keneastwood), Kev (@kevupnorth) and Sarah (@sarahlay) because my love for localgovcamp is in large part down to these guys who I’ve enjoyed learning from and who I missed yesterday.
Final thanks and all the kudos has to go to Dave (@davebriggs) for pulling off a fantastic event again.