Time to fix the plumbing — why the new Local Digital Declaration will make a difference to digital services
Over the past few months City Hall has been working with digital change-makers — politicians, CIOs and those in digital delivery — across the UK local government scene to develop the new Local Digital Declaration for the collective digital transformation of UK local public services.
As Chief Digital Officer for London I back what the new Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Local Digital Collaboration Unit — under the leadership of Chief Digital Officer Paul Maltby and Linda O’Halloran (a Smart London Board member) — is doing in building capacity in Whitehall and supporting greater digital collaboration across local councils.
The first product of this work — today’s Local Declaration- is a needed expression of shared ambition for the future of local public services setting out the sorts of things leaders of transforming organisations should consider. In effect, the principles and commitments contained signpost the important elements of a modern digital services strategy to councils seeking to affirm, refresh or even create their approach for the first time.
Over the past few months the Local Declaration has been written by a collective of digital practitioners from local authorities, sector bodies and government departments. They considered our shared goals and commitments, and invokes a call-to-action for all organisations working to improve local services to join in.
Technology and new approaches present local public services with an opportunity — transformation with sovereignty:
Never before has it been possible to collaborate so effectively, to deliver services across so many boundaries, to interrogate our data so insightfully, to realise such great efficiencies, and to reshape public services for the benefit of all while retaining local sovereignty.
Great work has already been done to transform our services using digital tools and technology. But we have an opportunity to do more.
It is aligned very much with our thinking in the recently published Smarter London Together Roadmap.
Why a Declaration is important
The Declaration is the first step in greater collaboration and investment across local government, and is something a few of us have been calling for. My experience from previous work at the London borough of Camden was that it was often hard to find other authorities who shared the same ambition to promote common or open standards. This limited councils ability to adopt, adapt or share the best of what worked for citizens best there or elsewhere.
This time last year, in a post on the ‘Writing ‘the missing chapter’ on local digital services for UK digital policy’, describing my experience I called this our ‘digital collaboration deficit’:
Today local government experiences a digital transformation ‘collaboration deficit’. Although many councils face the same or similar challenges, their approach to change, the adaptability of their technology estate and how they treat and use data, the fuel for innovation, not only differs but in many cases actually remains undiscovered.
This manifests itself in various ways:
Problems scaling effective digital services and approaches between councils and public services.
Low awareness and adoption of common standards (e.g. Local Government Digital Service Standard) across councils, regions and nationally hindering take-up of what works.
Complex and super-fragmented marketplace for potential buyers, particularly start-ups and scale-ups long sales-cycles hampering cross-over technologies.
Poor phasing of new contracts for services and limited joint buying opportunities by authorities.
Little discovery around digital maturity, including who is doing what; what works effectively; how it is led, and how innovation is scaled.
Multiplicity of approaches to new regulation, ranging from GDPR compliance to government requirements.
The work in the Declaration is a voluntary movement for change. I don’t see this as Whitehall telling local government what to do, but timely support for a digital makers movement already underway to champion service design, data and the foundations of digital collaboration.
The Declaration sets out 5 principles drawn up — a signpost to public service leaders, practitioners and suppliers about the importance of common standards and approaches.
1. We will go even further to redesign our services around the needs of the people using them. This means continuing to prioritise citizen and user needs above professional, organisational and technological silos.
2. We will ‘fix our plumbing’ to break our dependence on inflexible and expensive technology that doesn’t join up effectively. This means insisting on modular building blocks for the IT we rely on, and open standards to give a common structure to the data we create.
3. We will design safe, secure and useful ways of sharing information to build trust among our partners and citizens, to better support the most vulnerable members of our communities, and to target our resources more effectively.
4. We will demonstrate digital leadership, creating the conditions for genuine organisational transformation to happen, and challenging all those we work with to embrace this Local Digital Declaration.
5. We will embed an open culture that values, incentivises and expects digital ways of working from every member of our workforce. This means working in the open wherever we can, sharing our plans and experience, working collaboratively with other organisations, and reusing good practice.
How it fits in with our work in London
As noted above, this fits really well with our approach in London — at City hall and with our work with London’s boroughs.
First our approach is to work with other cities to solve common problems. Our Roadmap pledges that the Mayor will work with other UK city mayors to advance ‘digital devolution’ in data and digital transformation. This will help to identify common asks of government departments including access to innovation funds, digital leadership support and data-sharing.
We’ve been working on a new collaboration function, putatively called the London Office for Technology & Innovation (LOTI), to help London’s public services realise the benefits of scale that come with being part of a major global city with world-class science and technology hubs.
How to share and amplify successful adoption of technology will be an increasingly important function for city government. London wants to play a leading role collaborating with other UK and global cities on common urban and citizen challenges. In drawing up A Smarter London Together, London has been influenced by the thinking of the Scottish Digital Office in developing the LOTI proposition and data-sharing by of Manchester with our approach to data-sharing.
Time to fix the plumbing
Ultimately working together on common programmes will enable us to adopt, adapt or share the best of what we make or buy to meet citizens needs. We need to start with the building blocks and the Local Declaration is an excellent start!