Posts Tagged ‘Local Government’
The day of great conversations
Today was the final day of the LGA Conference and for me it turned into a day of some great conversations and ended with a bizarre twist and the realisation that lots of work still has to be done.
Over the previous 2 days those that stopped by at the stand ranged from those with a genuine interest to those who were there just to have a go on the wii or pick up a business card holder. Today was different. Nearly all the conversations today were great ones. We had councillors asking us to talk to their service areas so that they could learn from us; I had the chance to show how to mash an RSS feed into Google Maps to show detail; I asked aCounty Councillor to consider shared ICT services with a neighbour; I asked another councillor to go back and find out who their BA was!
I really think that many of those who visited the Digital Inclusion stand went away educated, and I would hope in some way inspired to include Digital Inclusion in future plans for their councils.
I also managed to have some great conversations with other exhibitors (unfortunately I did not win the IPad). I learned today about the cultural transformation programme that Fenland District Council has implemented. It was very impressive to hear how it has changed the organisation from a demotivated, hierarchical council to one that driven by the employees for the benefit of the citizen.
Fenland have really understood that Leadership is different to Management and that people respond differently to leaders than managers. Many authorities and many companies can learn a great deal from that approach. (Learn to relax, learn to win.)
I also had a conversation with the Big Lottery Fund who are looking to support a number of projects that could really change peoples lives. In addition there will be the chance to bridge the Digital Inclusion gap with this funding.
By the time the Councillors and delegates had left to tell Michael Gove what they thought of him, I was on the way home feeling quite smug that, maybe, I had made a difference.
The bizarre twist
Having battled the traffic I got home and changed hats. One of my personal roles is Vice Chairman of Solihull Round Table and was invited to attend a local community meeting to help understand Council priorities for the future. I really thought that this was very timely.
It was a real shock entering that room to find that I was the only representative of a community group and the other attendees consisted of Local Council officers, Local Councillors (none of whom were at LGA) the Fire Service and the Police Service. The local people had put their trust in their councillors.
The conversations resolved around the work that the Council was planning to improve the neighbourhood and they were asking for affirmation that this approach was correct. The data used to formulate the projects was years out of date, a point quickly picked up on by the Councillors.
On Tuesday Eric Pickles made it very clear that from now on Councillors were in charge, the community knows what’s best and the council needs to meet the needs of the locality. Big Society was born!
The bizarre twist was that these Councillors did not know what was happening in their area and did not seem enthused to find out. I challenged the Councillors at the meeting and they admitted that they only learned and followed the bad news stories (such as bin collections!) and never the good news stories.
The council had put a lot of effort in trying to engage with the local people but actually had a poor response from the public. It happened that I was also a resident of the area discussed and it turns out that I was putting my trust in these Councillors to accurately represent my needs to the council. I have never even met my councillor, how can they tell the council what is working well or needs to be improved?
The Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) has released an excellent paper discussing the need for engagement with the community and how Councils should work with community groups to understand local needs. It also describes the roles that Councillors should take in the future to meet the expectations of Central Government.
My personal experience has made me feel that unless the community realises what is expected of them, their councillors will not change their attitudes and we will continue along the same path with the Council second guessing what local people want by using out of date data.
My challenge to Councillors: Get on the street, talk to every resident, learn what’s working and what’s broken. Ask the RIGHT questions!
My challenge to Community Groups: Be part of the Council, get involved, make sure your voice is heard, be active, promote the good and the bad.
Till next time,
On Tuesday 6th July 2010 I will be in Bournemouth attending the Local Government Association 2010 Conference.
It will be one of the first major events since the general election and the emergency budget, both of which have had a profound and urgent affect on Local Authorities up and down the country.
In October 2009 the SOLACE conference was flagging warnings about the situation to come. I am going to be interested to see if Local Authorities heeded the SOLACE message and how much of a ‘shock’ the emergency budget is having.
It is a time for Local Authorities to think beyond the norm are realise that how they have delivered services in the past may well not be the way to deliver the services in the future.
ICT is going to play a huge part in the future of service delivery for local authorities, both as a tool to process information but also as a way to shape services into 2011 and beyond. The new government has already shown the way to engage with tools such as:
- Your Freedom – the chance of members of the public to challenge the laws of the UK
- The Spending Challenge – inviting Public Sector Workers to tell it how it is and how it should
Changes are happening and this Government is serious about ICT. The challenge for Local Authorities is how to use ICT so that it delivers cashable savings and not become a Money Pit.
To me it is all about attitude and vision. Too many local Authorities are thinking about the immediate future but forgetting the long term benefits that ICT can bring. We need Local Authorities to plan for the future and be prepared to invest now and save later.
In addition it is necessary, when looking at the savings, to realise that there may not be a single ostrich that will lay a golden egg, instead it may be made up of many hummingbirds laying a lot smaller golden eggs. Digital Inclusion is an example of little savings making a big pot.
I will be looking to update this blog and will be tweeting while I am in Bournemouth, and if you’re around get in touch.
Till next time
We are now two thirds of the way through SOLACE 2009 and I thought that I would let you know of my observations since my last post.
As far as I could tell day 2 was all about leadership and the power of communication (led by Drs Peter & Susan Glaser). This comes as a useful reminder to any Chief Executive, no matter how many years ‘under the belt’ they have got to the name. As organisations Local Authorities have to treat people well to ensure that they will give their best. The definition of corporate leadership has been defined and redefined over many year and I doubt that 1 of the Chief Executives attending have never heard this message before in someway or other.
Although local authorities have been challenged before and each have managed these challenges it’s still useful to review the approach to ensure that it is still gaining the objectives as it was intended. My question is how many people heard the message, realised that it applies to them, and decide what are they going to do about it?
The main surprise for me has been the attendance – or lack of it. ~350 delegates were registered, however when passing the registration desk at least 40% of the pre-paid badges had not been collected. It was also clear in the exhibition area when speaking to other exhibitors that not many Chief Executives were making the rounds and as 1 Chief said ‘he could not be bothered with the hard sell’.
I also feel for Oracle who invited myself, along with all the delegates, to a free evening reception prior to the conference dinner. I would estimate that 60 people showed up for an event which Oracle would have expected at least twice that amount and catered accordingly.
I wonder if these major companies will think twice about signing up to sponsor next year. BT was a major conference sponsor but did not take a stand in the exhibition hall. I wonder if we’re seeing the start of the end of ‘conferences’ in their traditional sense.
If delegates have more pressing engagements that force them to give up their conference seat then maybe the conference is not working. I would imagine that at least it will be scaled down next year.
I am going into day 3 of the conference glad to know that I am going home in a few hours. I feel that the people we did speak to benefited, however we did not get the message across as widely as we had hoped.
Make sure you follow the ‘action’ on Twitter using #solace09.
Till next time,
In the last few months Social Media has exploded. Newer tools such as twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace have now been fighting for space in the corporate boardroom alongside blogs and traditional web-pages.
Different organisations take a variety of approaches as to when new technology should be implemented. These can be summarised by the innovation adoption curve…
The most useful phrase that I have heard when describing new technology and the debate when to implement is that some innovation can be ‘a solution without a problem’. I feel that this is true.
As social media is re-writing the rule book about engaging with customers a pro-active area is that of local Government engaging with citizens. Work from the IDEA and others in their wiki have been trying to understand the problems and how the solutions can be used to deliver them.
I want this to go to the next stage. Social media is changing the way that we live our lives and so we need to adapt our working practices to meet the way that the world is turning, this goes for Local Government too. My question is: how will Local Government change to meet the expectations of how citizens will expect to interact with their council?
Councillors have traditionally represented the electorate by being voted on to the Council. The council is then split into portfolios to enable a broad coverage and public representation of the issues affecting citizens. The portfolios then act as governance for the various departments within the Council, ensuring that any plans represent best value, deliver required services and the needs of the citizen are met.
With the growth of social media resulting in a reduction of the formality required to interact with anyone, how should councillors change their traditional ways to embrace this new dimension. I think that it is now time to review the structure of councillors and their role within the community; if they’re not willing to embrace social media then they are not representative of their ‘customers’.
Before I am shouted at – not everyone is using social media! However a growing majority is using social media and can now interact in a way that was limited before.
My question to councils is do we really need to have so many councillors? Why can’t we open other channels of communication to allow citizens to speak with their own voice, rather than that of an unknown individual? Councillors are supposed to be the voice of the community, but how do they listen to that voice? (The answer is not anyone can talk to me).
Councillors should be listening to the community, understanding how the community talks, going to where the people are. The online community is growing, national ideas are filtering into local issues and local voices are looking for answers from their Councillors.
If you had the chance to redesign your local council – how would you do it?
By the way… When was the last time you met your councillor and were they representative of you?
Till next time,
I recently attended a conference in Manchester discussing the uses of Social Media in Local Government.
The event was using a twitter hashtag to gather comment from members of the audience and also those who could not attend the event.
I was lucky enough to be video interviwed for the event and you can see what I had to say here…
You can find out more about the event from this site www.psfbuzz.com
Till next time
The concept of Shared Services has been on the Local Government agenda for some time as a way to combine resources and save money. Over the years some of the big consultancies have been touting for business, tempting local authorities into bed, some classic examples include Birmingham City Council’s deal with Capita and IBM’s deal with Somerset. Other local authorities are looking to move to the next level and including a strategic partner to deliver multiple services for the group.
When embarking on the path of Shared Services it is essential that the whole organisation understands what they want to get out of it and what they are willing to put in to the deal. I fear that when Shared Services appears on the agenda no-one asks what do we want and instead focus on how much can we save.
ICT is a key enabler of successfully delivering Shared Services and one of the reasons it is so important to understand the requirements and expectations up front. When explaining shared services I treat it as a journey that takes an organisation from in-house solution through to a fully managed solution. The first question I always pose is – where is the line..? The line defines what one organisation gives up and the other takes up.
Having worked recently with 2 authorities looking to join up their financial services I was interested to learn that different departments had different opinions as to where the line was going to be. Some thought that it was a fully managed service while another department felt that it would be a hosted service. In the end the project was split into 2 phases, with phase 1 looking to implement a hosted solution where one authority would be responsible for the hardware while the other would be carrying on as normal but with a new infrastructure. In phase 2 work would be undertaken to pass some of the operational tasks from one authority to the other.
In summary: Get the line in the right place, avoid the confusion up front.
The second question that I raise is what does the organisation want to get out of the agreement. Is it money, does the authority want to make a profit..? Is it efficiency, by working together does the authority want to deliver a better service for users..? Is it experience, does the authority want to learn more about shared working with an aim to increase usage in the future..?
Profit is always a bit of red herring and no authority should go into a shared services agreement expecting to make money. It is the nature of business to only create an infrastructure that is required for the current service with limited room for expansion. Taking on the work of another authority could mean doubling the infrastructure to support and so will require investment to meet the needs of the agreement. The cost of this investment will affect the price that needs to be charged but this will need to be balanced with the need to be competitive and so the profit margin suddenly stops looking so good.
In summary: If you’re looking to offer shared services, be wary as all that glitters is not gold.
The third question that I ask is what impact will this have. In a shared services agreement, no matter how far down the road, there is a giver and a taker. It is essential that any changes to processes are fully understood before entering the agreement as substantial changes will affect efficiencies and therefore the ‘bottom line’ of the agreement.
Finally – shared services are a good way of delivering better services to customers by utilising the skills in place, however be wary and ask the right questions before taking the plunge.
Till next time.
Two stories took my eye today that got me thinking and I wanted to share them with you. The first, an article about the online fan base for Terry Wogan and can be seen here…
The article focuses on how the community feel closer to the celebrity by being part of the website rather than just being a listening body receiving information from the radio. In addition the article asked the users what could be done to improve the site – the response was very encouraging and just goes to show how those that use the information can better tell the creators what is best than the creators second guessing the content.
This got me thinking – if we can do it online, why can’t we do it in real life. How do we as citizens engage with each other and our providers. This leads me on to the other item that caught my eye today.
An author of a blog I follow posted an entry live from a conference this afternoon about a speaker, Dominic Campbell, from an organisation called FutureGov he spoke about how Local Government were missing the point when consulting with their citizens. He gave examples of Brent Council and highlighted this video to help engage the citizens.
Local authorities need to engage and trust their community to help develop both the services that it delivers and also the information provided on their websites. Local authorities have to move away from the ‘We are almighty, we know what you want’ position to a ‘Help us to help you’ approach.
Web 2.0 can help with this, build an online community reflecting the real life world.
Till next time.