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Ben Cheetham · local gov digital

Local Digital Declaration 2 years on

It’s been 2 years since the launch of the Local Digital Declaration (wow, where has the time gone?!).

Looking back at my blog from the launch I’d reflected on the many previous attempts to raise awareness of digital, and bring the sector together, that have struggled to turn conversations into practical delivery.

I was really pleased when the Local Digital team was formed because a dedicated core team has been a missing piece from many of the earlier attempts.

When I joined the team, we were on the road a lot running roadshows, whilst also trying to work out how to fund projects, supporting those projects, offering training, working on Pipeline and what felt like a million other things. As often happens when you start a thing, you light lots of fires.

Learning what works

We’ve been using the time to understand what things we are best placed to do and what will help realise the bold vision of the Declaration.

On the funding of projects, many of you will have seen that the application process has been different every time. That’s not just to keep people on their toes, we’ve been iterating and seeing what works.

In Round 1, there were 389 expressions of interest that the team were reading late into the night and sorting and matching similar applications from different councils. In later rounds, we’ve let councils self-organise and we’ve seen some unlikely council pairings showing that the community can find and connect with others without the central matching.

A wide variety of projects from planning to revenues and benefits to chatbots have been funded.

Time to focus

To see change, we’re going to have to focus on fewer things and help in different ways.

Some of the projects we have supported are now really close to having a product that others can take on and use. LocalGov Drupal will shortly have a common base that any council will be able to quickly set up their own Drupal website. OpenReferralUK (formally known as OpenCommunity) is a data standard for publishing information about community services.

The challenge for the projects will evolve from understanding the problem and designing a new thing, to working out how to keep or increase the momentum and scale usage across the sector.

We’ve also been working with Digital Land to support projects in Planning but we know these projects alone will not be enough to really deliver the change. Here we may have to target our help in different ways, such as working with policy teams and other organisations.

Break the cycle

Councils have shown their mettle over the past few months responding to the coronavirus pandemic. During that time, we’ve seen how technology can enable councils to respond to rapidly changing demands and work in different ways to support residents. We’ve heard some great stories of teams trying out agile techniques, video calling, making decisions much quicker and engaging with residents like never before.

We’ve also seen councils working together and sharing like never before from the #covid19 channel on LocalGov Digital Slack, weekly calls by the Local Digital team for digital team and LGA for cyber teams as well as sharing code for applications.

I hope the experience will help to break the cycle and change how we design and deliver services. And we’ll shortly have a set of #LocalDigital products in the mix ready and waiting!

This is a post about the 2-year anniversary of the Local Digital Declaration and it has also been published on the MHCLG Digital blog. Share your story with the hashtag #LocalDigital2Years.