Local government digital service: democracy

In this series of blogposts I’m unpacking my opinions about the local government digital service debate. In the first post I set out my opinion that a single entity with the mandate and resource to address the common needs of the public is overdue and here I wonder about what that means for democracy. In the other posts I thought about the distinction between building and buying services, asked how it might work in practice and finish off the series by considering the relevance of the GDS design principles in the context of local government. I hope it goes without saying that I don’t claim to have all the answers and want to know where my assumptions are completely barmy!

In the fanfare and celebration of what has been done in the last two years it can be forgotten that central government had brilliant pockets of service design being delivered by exceptional civil servants. UKGovCamp had been instrumental in joining the dots between those people and created the conditions where GDS could thrive. It is absolutely not the case that everything was rubbish and suddenly GDS made all things new.

And one of the brilliant things about an event the Department for Communities and Local Government recently hosted to stimulate the debate about collaboration between councils was getting to spend the day with a room full of people committed to public service delivery. Whatever might happen in transforming the approach of local government it must acknowledge that the commitment and self-organisation of those brought together by UKGovCamp for central government is exemplified by LocalGovDigital who are dragging their sector forward in the margins of their day jobs.

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On a local government digital service

I think local government would benefit hugely from a disruptive approach to providing digital services and meeting user needs. I’ve thought this for some time. This is the first of a series of blogposts where I unpack why I think what I think; the second talks about the threat such ideas have to local democracy ; the third about the provenance of services themselves; the fourth about how such an organisation might work and the final post considers the GDS design principles in the context of local government. I hope it goes without saying that I don’t claim to have all the answers and want to know where my assumptions are completely barmy!

There is a conversation about digital government that does not go away. It is all the fault of alphagov.co.uk and the birth of the Government Digital Service. Does local government need a digital service for itself?

It’s an opinion polarising conversation.

While I was working for Hull City Council I wrote a couple of things that led to my joining GDS. GDS has a very specific focus on central government, and central government only. And there is plenty to keep us busy. I’ve worked on different projects and learnt huge amounts but there is an obvious gulf between the mandate we have to support digital service design across our sector and the inconsistent patchwork of innovative practice in local government.

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Leaving

Monday was a sad day for us. It was the day the reality of what we’re planning to do sank in: our house went on the market. Tuesday was therefore a day of mixed emotions. We had one viewing, received an offer at the asking price and so have agreed to sell. It’s all happened very fast!

I’ve loved living in that house and it’s been a wonderful place for us to spend the first years of marriage but a wise man once told us that York moves in five year cycles and this is our tenth year and the timing is right for us to leave.
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A perfect moment

I’m in the middle of a perfect moment that seems to have got a little bit out of hand.

It’s not the only perfect moment I’ve known in my life, and I hope it won’t be the last but when I take my seat at Wembley this afternoon I’ll know that it’s a notch on the timeline of history to savour.

It’s not the only perfect moment in Bradford City’s history. Jimmy Speirs’ winner in the 1911 FA Cup final might have been the first; in 1999 Stuart McCall got so lost in our promotion to the Premiership that he fell off a car; David Wetherall’s header against Liverpool; the saving of the club in the years that followed. Moments of joy.

But that joy is set against the pain of perfect moments turned to nightmare. May 11 1985 changed our club and our community for ever but it started with the delight at our league title. Those men, women and children will be remembered today.

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Mo number 5

It’s November 1st and the last day I’ll be clean shaven until December because I’m one of four people at GDS who will be growing a Schnurrbart (the German is surely the best word for moustache) for Movember.

Movember began with a focus on prostate cancer, a cancer that’s affected people close to us. It’s the 4th most common cancer in the UK and the most commonly diagnosed cancer amongst men: 1 in 9 of us are likely to face prostate cancer in our lifetimes (this is comparable to incidence of breast cancer).

Movember is no longer about a single cancer, it’s about getting us men to face up to our mortality and talk about our health by introducing comedy facial hair. Being serious is always better when there’s laughter. And laughter punctures pride and gets us talking and maybe prompts someone to see a doctor instead of thinking “I’ll be alright”.

Laughter also raises money (if you’d like to send some our way you can donate on the Movember website).

I enjoy this time of year but you can’t blame Christine if she doesn’t. Look at what she’s had to put up with over the last few years:

2007
2009
2010 - in honour of Ambrose Burnside
2011

The question is, what style to go with this year – I still have another few hours to make up my mind. Am I going to repeat something I’ve done before or am I going to go for something new and unknown?

Sierra Leone and the spectre of electoral violence

In which I hold forth about the situation in a country where I’ve spent a mere three months over five years. So this is tube-written opinionising not in depth, on the ground knowledge.

Sierra Leone is holding elections very soon and I was alerted to a fund raising campaign by  the Canadian NGO Journalists for Human Rights via Anthony Zacharzewski‘s post on the Demsoc blog. That’s an appeal to raise a not insignificant amount of money with the aim of supporting local media in order to prevent a return to violence.

Two things strike me about this.

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Frothing at the mouth, this time it’s Creation

I’ve previously taken my fellow Christians to task for taking a story and then misrepresenting the substance (‘Christmastime, mistletoe and lies‘). Given how central Truth is to Christianity we should be renowned for our integrity without recourse to swearing to prove it (‘Swears‘).

We fall short of those standards, all the time, and it’s unreasonable to hold those on the outside to a higher bar than we set ourselves. Nevertheless, the rhetoric that says Christianity and Science are at odds and completely divergent is, bluntly, either casual ignorance or wilful misrepresentation.

This week it’s the free schools that will fill the minds of impressionable children with the not-worthy-of-the-word ‘science’ of Creationism. And when that word rears its head then most people instantly associate it with the Young Earth beliefs (that I don’t share) lampooned to good effect by Ronson, Theroux, Gorman et al.

I’m not going to rehash what The Church Mouse has written, suffice to say it’s a massive +1 from me over his concerns with the presentation of this story and the treatment of known fact (rather than future, paranoid conjecture).

What Mouse doesn’t get into but what strikes me about the ridicule levelled at Christian Creationists is how it undermines Christianity’s delight for you as who you are.

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I Love #LocalGovCamp

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.

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Harry Hazard

Harry HazardAfter six month stints looking at early years funding, Streetscene process improvement and the council website I hadn’t seen much of the people of Hull during the first 18 months of the graduate scheme.

My final six months put that right. I got to work in a team on the front line of service provision – the private housing team. They’re the people responsible for protecting the interests of private tenants and challenging unscrupulous landlords. It’s an important job.

Quite often tenants don’t know their rights and won’t realise that their landlord can be held to account. Equally they might not understand how their behaviour might be impacting their home (causing damp for example). And that’s particularly acute when English isn’t a tenant’s first language, or Britain their first home.

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Hull’s open data future

I recently wrote a series on Open Data. In those posts I mentioned Adam Jennison and the work he has been doing. He’s written up the talk he gave to the Hull Digital Developer Group and added in his hopes for what he thinks could be possible if Hull City Council and the digital talent in the city invest in working together. So, over to Adam.

‘Geek meet and greet’

Underneath the Bridge by Vaidas M
Underneath the Bridge by Vaidas M

I attend the regular geek meets run by Hull Digital as often as I can, not only to be able to geek out without the usual look of disdain but also to see how people on the ‘outside’ are working, how they are managing and what they see as the future..

Did I not mention that I am on what the media portray as the ‘darkside’?  I am a public sector worker.. and worse than that I am a back office public sector worker, I work in ICT supporting front office workers… Yes I know I am lower than a snakes belly etc.. but hear me out for I feel, nay I believe that we can do good and also help local businesses lead the way.

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