Challenges facing local government

I spent a really enjoyable morning today at Devon County Council, facilitating an internal unconference. It was a senior managers’ get together, a regular event, which normally has a proper agenda and proper presentations.

The idea was to turn things around a bit, giving all those in the room the chance to pick the brains of all the others, share what they know, admit to what they don’t, and hopefully pick up a bit of momentum to get something done.

The whole process went down well, and hopefully the Council will be using open space in the future to run this kind of event.

It was an opportunity for me to listen to the current concerns of those people who are having to deliver services in local government, what they see as being the main challenges, and what some of the solutions may be.

The following poorly-expressed points seemed to me to keep cropping up.

  • speed, agility
  • flexibility and responsiveness
  • nature of community, different (probably self identifying) groups need different approaches, internally and externally
  • complexity of landscape. No one size fits all approach. End of universality.
  • development of culture (I prefer ‘development’ to ‘change’…)
  • Collaboration across the organisation, across organisations, across sectors and geographically. Council an enabler not necessarily deliverer
  • big challenges cannot be solved in one go. Must be broken down

I probably ought to spend a bit of time writing these up into something more coherent. In the mean time, feel free to pick away at them.

Help me save the Knowledge Hub (in some form)

An email from the Knowledge Hub team at the LGA:

As Knowledge Hub user I felt it necessary to contact you with this news. You may have read in today’s press due to cost the LGA are proposing to close the Knowledge Hub facility. There is statutory 30 day consultation period (consultation closes on 23 June) on these proposals. As project lead I am very sorry to have to bring you this news. Many of you have invested time and effort in the platform and we as a team have worked extremely hard to deliver what we feel is a valuable and vital service for local government at this difficult time.

The organisation has decided that in the face of further cuts funding is unsustainable.

This is a terrible shame for local government. Cross sector sharing of knowledge and learning is vital if councils are to meet the challenges they face.

I know I could make the Knowledge Hub work: with a change of technology, a new business model, and some great community management.

I think we can make the Knowledge Hub – or whatever it might be called – like LocalGovCamp – only all the time and everywhere.

I suspect I need to convince the LGA to let me do this. After all, I want the existing content on the Knowledge Hub to import into the new system, and the user data too. Otherwise, starting from scratch will most likely make life extremely difficult.

So, I’d like some help. The best form is probably in expressions of support, perhaps publicly on the comments of this post. If you think local government needs a knowledge sharing platform, and you think I might be the person to make a decent fist of it, then do please let me, and the LGA, know.

Thanks!

Supporting innovation in local government

i had a great morning in Exeter at the beginning of the week, talking with the corporate management team at Devon County Council about innovation and digital. Dom Campbell was there too, thus proving that the two of us can both be in the same room at the same time.

We were invited down by Carl Haggerty, who has been one of the most relentless supporters of new working and the opportunities of technology to change local government for the better. In September, Carl is running Open Space South West – an event all about nurturing innovation in public services in the area. I’ll be speaking at it, and I recommend you come down if you can. Tickets here.

In my little session, I spoke about how digital innovation can happen within local government by making some small cultural changes and giving examples of them in action. My slides are embedded below, or if you can’t access sites like Slideshare, here’s a PDF you can download.

[slideshare id=13847856&doc=devon-clt-120803015237-phpapp01]

I wrote a fair bit about supporting innovation in councils about 18 months ago, my starting point being the skunkworks in central government, which is now part of the Government Digital Service at the Cabinet Office. The posts were:

It’s fair to say with hindsight I think that I got rather carried away with the concept of skunkworks in those posts. But the point is that few local councils have a properly thought-out and communicated approach to innovation. If someone in the organisation has an idea about making things better, where do they go? How do they tell people about it? How are ideas judged, prototyped and implemented?

It ought not be too hard to come up with a simple model that can be customised by individual authorities. It could involve a simple platform for identifying issues and problems, or sharing ideas, combined with some open space style face to face get togethers where solutions can be explored and worked on. Regular reporting on progress and evaluating activity would be vital too.

Any local authorities (or other organisations!) up for trying something out? Could be really interesting.

(The photo, if your’re interested, is of Dawlish in Devon where I and the family stayed during our brief visit to the area.)