This community of interest was inspired by this blog post from Keelan Fadden-Hopper and similar recent discussions at GovCamp (related session doc). It builds on great foundations from the Local Digital Collaboration Unit in MHCLG, LOTI and a number of other groups.
We are looking to specifically kickstart a community of interest specifically around building and supporting cloud based digital services designed to be used by multiple local government authorities.
While we are all fans of open source development but, despite some great examples such as this one lead by Croydon, we have come to recognise that the evidence shows that making bespoke local government software open source has not led to significant reuse. In these days of cheap cloud based digital products we seek to investigate what would be needed for local authorities, alone or in groups, to build and support multi-tenant SaaS services to be reused by their peer organisations.
Our intention is to inspire local authorities to build products and put governance / financial models in place that allow any local authority to reuse a service as easy as they can sign up for a COTS product such as FixMyStreet.
There are lots of hurdles to get over before we get there. This blog post from David Durant lists some of the likely areas we’re going to have to get into the details on — many of which will be familiar when procuring any form of digital service.
- Accountability, responsibility and risk Back in 2020 Richard Pope / DXW proposed one way this could be done)
- Finding and joining such services
- Data storage, transport and sharing, as well as associated GDPR issues
- Prioritisation of defects and features, as well as third party contributions
- Financial models
The community had its first online meetup on 25/5/21 which went really well with nearly 20 people attending. You can find these are the slides for the session and the video is below.
The discussion during the session was captured on this miro board (click link for readable version).
We structured the conversation around the four topics (included below along with a precis of the group’s responses).
What are the characteristics of a shared service?
- Very clear ownership and governance
- Proof of long term support
- Good value for money
- Shared goals and vision of the problem to be solved
- Solves one small thing well
- Active development
- Be able to work with data from multiple LAs
- Technology (small reusable components, standards based, anyone can contribute, open source)
- Strong focus on user needs
- Easily findable
- Able to introduce to a new council without needing to be a technologist
What are the potential advantages / disadvantages?
- Could be very quick to introduce
- Could save significant money on COTS product or new development
- Common best practices for user interface development
- Helps develop a sharing community
- Could look very good for senior people if other councils using services we built
Disadvantages / blockers
- High levels of risk aversion
- Not invented here
- Trust that it will still be around in 5 years
- Accountability / liability
- Persuading budget holders to fund work on a system to enable other LAs to be able to use it
- Scaling decision making (if service is popular, decisions on which bugs to fix and which new features to build — overcome by letting LAs submit their own patches)
- Difficulties integrating into existing systems
- Issues with procurement
- Ways of working in different LAs too different to allow them to use the same digital service
We’ve collated everything so far into this Hub doc which we’re going to maintain as the central repository of information for this community of practice going forward.
We have also created a channel for this community in the Local Gov Slack which can be found here.
Our next session will be at 5pm on 22/6/21. Please email email@example.com if you’d like an invite. We’re planning to start doing some deep dives into the issues raised above. It would be great to see you there.