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Report of the Digital Government Review


Working together: both locally and nationally

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A strong evidence base and good leadership will encourage collaboration and reuse across the sector. We still need more mechanisms to support this and make it happen.

There is a need to catalyse amongst local authorities and their partners a new, small network of ‘local digital factories’ to produce and run as live services modern digital public services based on best service design practice. The method for the service can then serve as a template for others whilst, where possible, the underlying software for the service should be developed as open source so that it can be reused.

For instance a ‘local planning factory’ would be a group of local authorities who wanted to build a better planning service using modern service design principles to cope with a major burst of house building and save money. They work together to design build and run a service in their boroughs, publishing their benefits, savings, code and methodology for others to use or copy.

A number of things could bring together people in a local digital factory – it could be a track record of working together [128], a shared geography, a packaged devolution deal to a number of authorities [129], common expertise, or a common service partner.

We think that cost pressures will drive people to take part in this work and that catalytic rather than core or full funding of local digital factories is required. The overall machinery of devolution will bring about substantial reallocation of funds and it is the Review’s view that the modest funding required to support half a dozen local digital factories would help de-risk some service innovation and devolution itself.

Whilst money is needed to make this happen it needs more than that. It requires intelligent convening, advice and incubation of the factories that achieves the most senior management buy-in. Some people have pointed out to us that it is ‘no one’s job to make this sort of thing happen’ which in part explains the calls for a ‘local GDS’.

It will need an organisation with capacity and expertise to bring these factories into existence.

Recommendation 21

Priority: High

A new national organisation to create ‘local digital factories’ should be set up and run on a fundamentally open, collaborative and not-for-profit basis.

This organisation will require funding and people to kick start it into existence. These may come from central or local government, alternatively an organisation such as Nesta may take the lead.

This new organisation should build on existing assets and capabilities, what is good and what is great. It should bring together existing leaders and create an environment in which anyone can publish their work whilst championing a better marketplace for local government digital services.

Authorities should be operating openly and sharing their activities, plans and roadmaps with their residents. Sharing these with other authorities will lead to increased collaboration opportunities that a national organisation such as this can lead on [130]. We recognise that a number of national local government organisations exist, but none have sufficient capacity or capability to provide the stimulus this sector requires.

A new national organisation can bring together regional digital services or teams from local authorities to drive change: for example adapting central government website standards to meet local government needs, producing solutions for the challenges produced by integrated healthcare, or developing approaches for local government procurement. To form these collaborative links the organisation is likely to benefit from being nationally distributed, with a presence in multiple geographic areas to understand their differing needs and delivery capabilities.

To be clear this organisation does not and should not govern the implementation of local services, in other words this organisation does not have ‘teeth’. The intent is that the evidence base, strong leadership within authorities will provide a desire to change whilst regional collaboration and this national organisation will provide much-needed delivery capability.

Two authorities may choose to jointly tackle a problem with parking, two other authorities may choose to jointly tackle a problem with alcohol dependency, five others may choose to engage a single supplier to investigate integrated healthcare; whilst a Regional Digital Service may choose to tackle housing. This national organisation will provide space and capacity to support, encourage and promote such collaboration.

The results of this collaboration should be open for others to reuse: we are all working to the same goal. In some cases the collaboration will be open-source for others to freely reuse. In other cases it may be an idea, or an open design pattern combined with a proprietary solution. We should default to open but there are cases where proprietary is necessary.

We would expect continuing funding to come from within the local government sector. With a strong evidence base that this organisation delivers change then authorities will contribute so that they can continue to benefit. Detailed funding models will need exploration with local government.

Central government must also participate in and support this national organisation. Central government can highlight national challenges; bring in international best-practice; bring in those ideas developed in Whitehall; and bring in skills developed over the last few years; but it can also listen and learn from the challenges that local authorities face and the best-practice that local authorities have developed. Some of the ideas that local authorities develop will be useful for central government. This is a simple extension of the existing and growing collaboration between central government departments. We would expect both DCLG and the Cabinet Office (in the form of GDS) to participate.

This collaboration will need both online and real-world spaces. This is extremely similar to the problem of collaboration between the public sector and people that was discussed in the last chapter.

This collaboration should not be about simply producing new documents and best-practice guides: although there is a strong place for standards and architecture as we will discuss in the next chapter. The best practice comes through delivery. Focussing local and national collaboration on real problems will lead to the best outcomes.

“An overall Local Government Digital Programme should learn from the GDS and its work in central government, but might like to take the form of a coordinated coalition – drawing on the existing expertise of organisations such as NESTA, LocalGovDigital, and other organisations such as SOCITM to bring about more coordinated change.” – Think Tank

[128] For example the Open Systems Alliance: http://www.computerweekly.com/blogs/public-sector/2014/04/councils-stage-open-software-r.html, or the North East Procurement group: http://www.neprocurement.com
[129] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/sir-richard-leese-interview-devo-manc–city-dreams-of-a-northern-renaissance-9804998.html
[130] The pipeline service from LocalGovDigital is a step in this direction http://pipeline.localgovdigital.info

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