What’s Next? Chapter Three…
I’ve just joined MYGOV – a digital product and services company with a mission to do the right thing. After 20 years in local government and a year working with MHCLG on the Local Digital Declaration, it’s time to put my efforts into being the kind of supplier I wanted to buy from!
Just over a year ago I began the second chapter in my working life. Leaving Bristol City Council after nearly 21 years, I worked as an independent consultant and an associate with Perform Green, helping a range of public sector organisations with digital strategies, roadmaps and architecture. I also wrote and published a number of blog posts that tried to articulate the thoughts I’d been developing over my time as Chief Digital Officer in Bristol.
And through the year I had the pleasure of working with the MHCLG Local Digital Collaboration Unit and GDS to deliver the Local Digital Declaration and the Digital Leadership strand of the Local Digital Fund.
When I left Bristol I didn’t have a grand plan. I just knew that I wanted to do something completely different in style but still true to the values I held dear. As the year progressed I began to realise I had effectively moved from trying to deliver my personal mission* in one organisation, to helping a central team try to deliver it across the whole sector. As I neared the anniversary of becoming independent and the end of my time with MHCLG I began to see that there was a natural next step — to take my passion for doing the right things in local government and work for a supplier offering digital products and services to councils.
When I worked in Bristol City Council as Chief Digital Officer, we wanted to deliver better services to our citizens and businesses, doing user research and applying service design and digital to produce more “internet age” ways of doing things.
Using the technology, software and suppliers that we had inherited over the previous 20 years wasn’t very helpful… too often there were no APIs, the user experience was woeful and failed to meet modern accessibility and usability standards (including not working on mobile devices) and the systems were built in such a way that they could not easily be reshaped as we designed services to meet user need.
So we spent a considerable amount of time and money on building new digital services and the underpinning platform to run them on. We also reshaped the capability of the council, investing in people’s skills in discovery, design, software development and operational management of live digital services.
Across the country a number of other councils have gone through the same thought process, and responded in a similar way – Hackney, Stockport and Camden are good examples. But very few councils have been able to commit the budget needed to get started on this path, and all of those that have are also clear that redeveloping systems for all of the services they provide is not the answer – the duplication of costs and elapsed time it would take to finish all of this work are simply not tenable.
So what’s the answer? Some have turned to low code platforms as a way of reducing the cost of development and enabling a wider pool of people to contribute to the development of digital services without the need to train an army of developers. Others have looked at sharing as a way to lower cost and spread the value of money spent by the sector – this could be enabled by publishing openly to source code repositories like Github, or it could go hand in hand with low code, in that most vendors talk about the ability for other customers to use the modules built on their platform. However, in both cases, it’s non-trivial for the next council to pick up the code or module and integrate it into their environment – especially where they do not have the same technology infrastructure or the in-house capabilities required.
There are a large number of councils that are likely to find themselves in this situation, seeing good work done by the larger unitaries and boroughs, but not able to benefit from it directly. Do they have to resign themselves to whatever the legacy providers are willing to tweak in their products?
I think there is a third way – well designed digital services, built with councils for councils based on user research, using open source software and open standards, that can play nicely with other services and are provided as a supported service, at a cost that is affordable to smaller councils. Genuinely interoperable services and components
I’m pleased to be joining a company that believes it’s time to offer councils this choice, one that supports councils that have signed up to the Local Digital Declaration.
Individual councils can’t #fixtheplumbing on their own, nor can the small central Local Digital Collaboration Unit wave a magic wand. Every part of the system involved in the delivery of local public services needs to perform their part. If suppliers don’t step up and offer the products and services that councils want to buy or collaborate to design and implement, then the Declaration will be difficult to implement.
All of this was in my mind when Jason Fahy approached me with the offer of a role in his company that will ensure they focus on user needs, building in a way that councils want, using open source and open standards to do the opposite of locking customers in. And so from December, I begin chapter three, working as Head of Product Research and Innovation for MYGOV.
But of course, as Jukesie said when he first left public service, I’d like to think I’m still #loyaltothenetwork ?
* calling it my personal mission is perhaps pretentious tosh… but on the other hand, why should millenials get all the purpose driven careers 😉 Looking back over the past 15 years I’ve been focused on helping local public services design and deliver better ways of meeting people’s needs, enabled by open technologies. (Whether that’s in the form of digital services, “Smart City” projects or reshaping the way councils think of their business model and role in relation to the rest of the place and it’s communities.)