LocalGov Digital: who knew you could achieve so much with so little?
For those of you that didn’t realise, LocalGov Digital is just a bunch of people who give up their time because they are passionate about what they do and care about making great local public services. There is no company, no office, no staff and no money. Things like the website are funded from people’s own pocket and events such as LocalGovCamp from sponsorship together with a lot of good will.
My journey with LocalGov Digital
I discovered LocalGov Digital in late 2013 and since then I’ve watched the network grow, try things and develop. This year it has really taken off following the good work of Phil Rumens and others to make the Local Government Digital Service Standard with help from GDS. There are now peer groups forming across the country to support adoption and use of the standard introducing even more people to the network.
Being part of LocalGov Digital has given me some fantastic opportunities to learn both from and with others, get support and also develop new skills. I’ve also tried to contribute back where I can by speaking at events such as the Public Sector Show, helping to organise events or contributing my development skills to products like Pipeline.
The network also helped me to develop an idea I had with Paul Mackay and Dan Blundell at LocalGovCamp 2014 to make a data standard for waste. The work we started as a hobby project went on to form the basis of the DCLG Local Waste Service Standards project which estimated that use of the standard could save £505 million for English local authorities over a 14 year period. It also learnt some pretty difficult lessons around getting councils to work together that has fed in to the #VerifyLocal pilot projects.
I have however always found it difficult to articulate to people what the network is and how they can get involved. Of course there’s products that people can use such as Slack, Unmentoring, Pipeline and LocalGovCamp but they don’t neccessarily make people feel part of LocalGov Digital. There isn’t any where to go to sign up and join LocalGov Digital.
It’s also been difficult where individual have had ideas to be able to take them forward. There is no proper organisation to provide support or back them up when it’s needed. Despite appearances there isn’t any hierachy or owner of LocalGov Digital. The things that happen are because individuals make it.
Understanding the proposition
I think in the past few months LocalGov Digital has really started to understand what it’s proposition is and has found new momentum. A number of us have attended meetings with more formal organisations over the past few years and nothing ever seems to happen other than talk and tea drinking. Following the closure of the DCLG Local Digital Programme that worked on projects such as the waste data standard, the Local Digital Coalition was formed to try and bring some of these organisations together. But it feels, certainly to me anyway, like nothing has changed. It’s simply not happening quick enough.
One of my favourite videos about digital and transformation is Tom Loosemore talking at Code for America and the need for new institutions. I’m not going to suggest LocalGov Digital could solve all the woes but I do think that by becoming a more formal thing we will be able to do more and give even more credibility to what we do.
Becoming a real thing means LocalGov Digital can scale with more certainty and also means we could do things like bid for funding without relying on someone within the network to do it via ther organisation and all the work that entails. There have been aspirations in the past to be in a position to fund some people to more fully focus on our values, bringing councils and other local bodies together to make public services better and this could bring us a step closer to that.
Today LocalGov Digital is proposing the thing we become is a co-operative, owned by individuals who are willing to commit to support the values and principles of the co-op such as support on a personal level for the Local Government Digital Service Standard. We’re also suggesting organisations including both councils and suppliers could also get involved and sponsor the new co-operative based around their support for the service standard.
Why a co-operative?
LocalGov Digital has always been about the people involved and we think the co-operative model allows us to turn LocalGov Digital in to a proper entity but keeping the people, or members, at the heart. I think it will also bring about an even bigger opportunity for people to get involved, feel part of the the organisation and commit.
The suggestion is that individual membership would be £1. It’s not a lot, but I think there is something symbolic about paying to join which I hope will mean people will really feel that they are a member of the network. I’ve already mentioned that nearly everything LocalGov Digital has done to date has been through goodwill or sponsorship which means it’s not always been easy. Having some income from members, even if it is small, will be really beneficial. It’s not about profit, but bringing a bit more certainty and sustainability to the network as well as the ability to scale. This is especially true in the current climate as it is getting increasingly harder to get enough sponsorship to run events and as we try to run more it is not going to get any easier.
We’d also like to try new things - for example, some of us met at the end of last year and talked about developing and providing learning opportunities, but with out at least some funds it’s hard to achieve. Personally I’d also like to explore what Code for America has done (who have similarities to LocalGov Digital in terms of their aims and values) with initiatives like fellowships. Their model is based around being a charity, accepting donations and charging for their annual summit.
What do you think?
For me, formalising LocalGov Digital has been a long time coming and I think it’s a really exciting prospect. You can read more detail in the news release on the LocalGov Digital site. It is however just an idea at this stage, so please share your thoughts by blogging yourself, tweeting @LocalGovDigital or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also join the conversation on Slack.