Co-operation (makes it happen)

On the LocalGov Digital consultation

Herding cats

Coordination across local government is notoriously difficult to achieve. Many are the initiatives and good ideas that fell by the wayside because of inertia, chaos, or a dose of Not Invented Here syndrome. Local government is a service ecosystem that’s evolved somewhat organically over time, from a time when there was less digital infrastructure to join people together. It’s probably not how you’d design the delivery of this strata of government if you were doing it from scratch today.

There are many entities across multiple tiers, with no central view of service design, despite local government being the forefront of public sector service delivery. Wardley mapping the provision of local government services in the UK would identify duplication off the scale, among countless teams who are not in competition with each other.

“Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.” — Franklin D Roosevelt

This is because there’s no clear imperative to look sideways. Too many people don’t know where to look. The lack of structure makes it more difficult than it needs to be, and for the new practitioner, it’s easy to feel lost or isolated. It’s a 19th century approach to a 21st century existence.

Network effects

A common characteristic of a network is that it works better the more nodes there are. The connections that exist in LocalGov Digital have led to numerous fruitful discussions, productive projects, and enlightening events. We work well together. The more of us that participate, the more connections there are to grab.

I felt this acutely when hosting the first regional peer group session in London earlier this year. One attendee expressed frustration about trying to know how to approach a service they were about to start redesigning: “I just wish there was someone I could talk to about this, someone who’s worked on the same thing”. We’re rarely the only people working on the problems we’re tackling, so we shouldn’t feel like we’re doing it alone.

That doesn’t mean we’re immobile. We aren’t waiting around to be given instructions from the top, for permission to get things done. This has always been bottom-up, practitioner-led, and actively structured around the experience of the people doing the work. That’s another feature of networks: they don’t depend on hierarchy.

Pride (In The Name Of Gov)

For us in LocalGov Digital, and most of us in local government more broadly, we do this work because we believe it matters.

You don’t have to be directly employed in local government to believe in a society in which well-designed user-centred local services are part of the fundamental fabric of a positive society.

To belong to an organisation that aspires to this is a direct act of citizenship. It’s a statement that you’re a person that believes in the value and importance of good public institutions.

“The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation” — Bertrand Russell

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Co-operative values are well-suited to LocalGov Digital. Values like openness, democratic participation, and direct collaboration with other local and national structures.

The founding principle of the network is ‘think, do, share’. It’s built on the idea of building on ideas. We want to make that process easier, by giving it a clearer structure and visibility.

Through LocalGovCamp we come together in person. Through online communities we gather virtually. And through a new, co-operative LocalGov Digital, we come together as a group with an active stake in the community.

I look forward to becoming a member, and I hope that anyone working to improve our public services would do the same.

To contribute your thoughts on the LocalGov Digital proposals, tweet @localgovdigital or email before Friday 16 December.