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Daveslist Volume 3 Issue 15 🤯
Talking to Mark Thompson brings on an existential crisis.
I spent some time wondering last week whether we have lost a bit of our ambition in the last few years. I remember thinking - around the time I started working at Adur & Worthing - that this cultural, technological thing called ‘digital’ was going to completely transform, maybe even disrupt, the way organisations like councils work.
I saw what had happened to the music industry, news media, taxi firms, hotels, retail and other sectors and thought that some of it must rub off on local government at some point.
I rattled off blog posts about it. Even years later, at Croydon (before the wheels well and truly came off) I was pitching new digital operating models to anyone that would listen, in the hope that they might help stave off the commissioners.
But none of this has happened, at least not yet. In the meantime, most people, including me, are focusing on the day to day, fixing the basics, working with the art of what is possible right now. We aren’t spending much time wondering if, in fact, we are just doing the wrong things righter.
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It was during some conversations with the marvellous Mark Thompson last week that reminded me of the ambition that I used to have - still do have, really, only it’s a bit buried at the moment - about the potential to completely reinvent local public services, using internet era culture, processes technology and operating models.
I think we need to start talking more about this again, perhaps with a little less techno-utopianism, and a little bit more ‘we need to do this before the whole sector goes bankrupt'. Councils up and down the country are cutting back services: closing swimming pools, reducing funding to local community organisations; but they are still all writing their own website content, running myriad procurements for similar things to meet every-so-slightly different rules, writing variations on the same strategies repeatedly, paying multiple times again and again for the same software.
Mark’s rallying call around this stuff - that digital age operating models that make use of what computers are good at, and what the private sector is good at, in order to free up public servants to do what they are good at - feels increasingly like an idea whose time is now. At the very least, it should be part of the conversation. We should not take localism to mean doing things in exponentially ineffective and inefficient ways for the sake of it. There has to be a point where local configuration of nationally adopted standards kicks in at the delivery level as well as at the policy level.
Workshops and training days work brilliantly with small cohorts of people - but if you want to get your whole organisation on board with digital, what do you do? One option might be my 'Digital Essentials' e-learning course!
So I spent a bit of time thinking Big Thoughts. Then I looked at my emails and saw the reality of the world as it exists. I sent a text or two to Mark, bemoaning the gap between where we are now and where it needs to be in the future. How people can barely start to think about the revolutionary when everything is on fire.
Then I saw a quote emerge from the Service Design in Government conference, which took place in Edinburgh last week, from someone, who I don’t know but who sounds very interesting, called Julian Thompson. The quote was:
While we are thinking about the future, the present is still happening.
And that’s completely true, isn’t it? But it’s not a one sided message. It’s not saying, we can only focus on the present - it's saying we must, and can, do both.
So there’s a balance here, that I want to try and put in place for myself, of continuing my current trend of being practical, pragmatic, useful in the here and now; but combined with some bigger, more optimistic thinking about what the future needs to look like. Even if that might take a long time to realise.
This issue’s links
The innovation igloo is coming back on Friday 6th October at 1pm for an hour. We are hoping to talk about service patterns, but could well get derailed.
Regular correspondent Tass Smith helps to run the LocalGov Apps Managers Network. If you, or anyone you know, is involved in managing, supporting and maintaining the software used by a council, signing up would be a good idea!
Rather terrifyingly, I was invited to chat on this podcast, which came out the other day, on all things local government, technology and digital. I did my best.
Weeknotes rules by Giles Turnbull - helpful because they ‘set expectations about what good weeknote behaviour should look like’.
Two great jobs at City of Lincoln Council, joining a team that’s really going places under the awesome leadership of Emily Kate Holmes. Choose between being a Business Intelligence Officer or a Business Analyst in a beautiful city in the best county in the country.
How to cultivate a writing culture – “Convince an engineering team to care about docs”.
Can’t remember if I have shared it here before, but I was reminded of the Local Government Service Design Maturity Model earlier this week.
That’s it for this issue. Don’t forget to hit reply if you have any feedback, or forward this on to anyone you think may enjoy it.
Also, if I can help you with anything, you can hire me!
Until next time,