Creating a common digital direction

Source: PSE April/May 2018

Phil Rumens, chair of the LocalGov Digital Steering Group and digital services manager for West Berkshire Council, urges local authorities to make use of the Local Government Digital Service Standard (LGDSS) in order to exploit the full opportunities of technology in public services.

The greatest strength of local government is that it understands local needs and can deliver services and solutions tailored to meet them. This is because it is elected by, and serves, its local community.

Most councils have had a website for around 20 years, and during this time there’s been a shift in how people interact with their local authority. At West Berkshire Council we’ve seen the number of website sessions grow to three times the number of phone calls we receive every month. Whilst we still promote 24/7 access to the council, the peak times of online use are now Monday and Tuesday during the day. Our website once complemented our information provision through traditional means such as print or phone – now it’s replacing it.

Perhaps the biggest change online in recent years is that organisations now use the internet not just to provide information, but to deliver services too. Many councils now have a digital transformation programme to redesign their services around the efficiencies and improvements the internet and its associated technologies can provide.

This, however, is where the individuality of a local authority can be a weakness.

Whilst in the physical world a council will deliver many services that are bespoke to its area, when this approach is taken to digital services it ignores the advantages of the economy of scale of the internet. Across the country we see the same things recreated, or rebadged and sold individually to councils. Imagine regional Amazons or Googles, recreated 400 times across the UK, all doing largely the same thing. When it comes to digital, to a great extent that’s what’s happening.

So how do we preserve the individuality of each council whilst supporting the benefits that collaboration on digital services can provide?

LocalGov Digital is an association for people working in and around local government who are interested in improving public service delivery using the internet and digital technology. I’m currently chair of its Steering Group, and we’re shortly to launch a membership offer. In 2016, with the help of the Government Digital Service (GDS), we created the LGDSS.

It’s important to stress that standards do not mean wholesale standardisation. In your home you’ll probably have a television, a washing machine, a vacuum cleaner. They all perform different tasks and there’s a wide variety models and makes of each to choose from. They are, however, built to standards, so you can be sure they’re safe and are designed to work well.

Whilst they perform different tasks, they have one thing in common: they all run on 240 volts. This standard means that you can buy something with confidence that you’ll be able to plug it into any socket in your house and it will work.

Like its central government counterpart, the LGDSS suggests how to create and deliver good digital services. It’s not about making LocalGov Digital a bland franchise of the GDS – it’s about ensuring quality of service to an established level.

This isn’t a new concept for councils. Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission assess schools and care provision, but until now there hasn’t been anything similar for digital services. The big difference is that assessments aren’t top-down, and are completed through a peer review.

Some councils have already adopted the standard wholesale; others are trialling it with individual services. But however it is used, it’s a declaration to deliver better digital services – and if your councils isn’t already, I urge you to use it.




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