The thrill of the south west


After many years of attending UKgovcamp, I’ve finally made it to my first *local* govcamp which was faithfully hosted by Bristol City Council.  A friend of the City Council for many years (specifically, I could hardly refuse – especially when my luck came good with the ticket lottery.

You’ve got to love this city.  I’m not just saying that because I was born nearby, it’s easy to see why Brunel fell in love with the place.

So, local camp threw up things which were much more practical and more focused than prior (central)gov camps I’d been on.  Despite there being a smaller crowd, there was a real sense of community and a willingness to make real progress.  I have always come away from govcamp with a warm feeling but disappointed that the talking points weren’t radical enough.  This time it was different….

I’m not going to write chapter and verse about each session (other than the last one about sustainability) but instead provide you with my “takeaways”.  These are simply a combination of ideas or anchor points, things that got me excited or interested or that I will adopt.  Sorry if they are a bit cryptic, it makes perfect sense to me……

  1. Value chain mapping (Swardley);
  2. Chatbots: How to use them proactively + new and novel applications (such as for public consultation work, form completion or interrogating data) + ethics. What can we do to integrate with Twitter?  How about Alexa? If you think computers are bad, check out these human chat transcripts :
  3. Agile Coaching: Non attributable event based reviews for conflict management;
  4. Agile Coaching: Thinking more about psychological safety and team performance;
  5. Agile Coaching: Using NPL as an investigatory tool for team dynamics;
  6. Continual Engagement: Can also be used to monitor the performance of individuals;
  7. GDPR : How to manage the new requirements with CRM;
  8. Citizen Accounts: How to embed Gov.Verify – using local data to verify the verify;
  9. Citizen Accounts: What is the user need?
  10. Digital Maturity: The importance of skills and audits (remember IEG?);
  11. Digital Transformation: That a desired future state might include a full reboot or new business model;
  12. Digital Transformation: Only delivering as far as the doorstep of private sector suppliers (e.g. waste management companies).

Finally, I went into a ‘sustainability’ session which focused on how to elevate local digital to a place where it can finally harvest economies of scale (knowledge/cash/savings etc.).

I think one of the barriers is that local digital lacks civil service leadership – it’s telling that only one elected member was there and only one from DCLG (albeit with a data remit). Top effort, Paul.

Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of civil servants in the room (notably GDS) but I’m not convinced anybody is fighting the corner for local government unity in Whitehall.  As an aide, there’s an amusing disconnect within the corners of local government too – I suspect that few campers have SOCITM membership.

I’ve got a wide angle lens on this.  I think digital government in the UK is both innovative (we gave parliament and central government e-petitions!) and surprisingly mature compared to other G10 countries.  We can definitely export it.  There’s a good reason why I’ve been helping the Chinese Government, Tunisian government, Moroccan government and Swedish Association for Local Authorities and Regions over the past 10 years.  They *all* look up to the UK as thought leaders.  It’s a shame idiots like this put a stop to all the good stuff in the early 2000’s else we’d be ahead of Estonia right now.

Then there’s fire, police, health and everybody in-between.  We don’t just need a blueprint for local government, we need one that bridges our entire public service spectrum.

Looks like the ‘local GDS’ debate will not go away.  Ironically, the UK’s “e-Gov” team were always part of ODPM back in the day.  At a time when GDS is having a wobble and in retreat in terms of centralising all pillars of digital government, perhaps it should take on this fresh requirement while the big prizes are still up for grabs.

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