Archive for the ‘The future of Local Govt’ category

It’s all about the game

April 24, 2012

How about LocalgovVille?

In this WLLG bloggers life, regular battles take place with the other half for attention. It’s not that their partner is uninterested, selfish or unwilling to spend time with them; no, the problem lies in the form of one behemoth of a time-sucking entity; FarmVille.

For the uninitiated, Zynga’s Facebook-based game involves the user building and maintaining a virtual farm with crops and livestock which they plant, tend and then harvest to earn in-game credits, which allow them to improve and expand their farm as they see fit. The difference between this and more traditional games lies in the fact that these crops grow in their own version of ‘realtime’; whether the user is logged on or not, the plants keep growing until they are ready to harvest, then die off and wasting the time and virtual money used to get them ready for harvest.

This has resulted in elements of our lives literally being booked around the harvest schedule; dinner gets done early as the corn is ready to reap, the children’s baths are delayed whilst the cows are milked and evenings out with friends are postponed as some special event or other comes up.

Were this a regular game I suspect it would soon have worn off its charm and the demands it placed on our lives would have stopped them from enjoying it as they do. However, this game has introduced the element of competition and score keeping, which drives them on. They compare their scores with friends and family, swap comments and advice with aquaintences and provide and receive gifts on a seemingly constant basis. This social aspect has thoroughly drawn them in, and contributed to the developers of FarmVille being valued recently at $7.8bn (and yes, that’s billion).

Besides the inconvenience, this has got me thinking about gamification and it’s rise in the virtual world. The advent of social networks has revolutionised the gaming world, as have the introduction of smart phones with internet and GPS access. All of a sudden the world really is our playground; perhaps our local areas and local government should sign up in some way? (more…)

A day out with the NGDP Alumni

April 2, 2012

They do conferences too you know?!?

On Friday I tripped off to London to spend the day with alumni from the National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP) at the NGDP annual conference.

The title of the conference was all about serving our customers but to be honest the content was more about innovating, challenging assumptions and generally having the courage to tackle the status quo head on and deliver public services in a very different way.

We were also treated to some body language chat from guru Judi James, but more of that later.

As my colleagues did after govcamp I will detail my top takeaways below but before that I would like to make a personal comment. I’ve been finding work troubling lately. I’ve been finding it a little uninspiring and struggling to find the real energy that I used to feed off in my local government job. Therefore, I would like to thank Nick Jankel, the futuregov guys (who it was really nice to meet) and my fellow NGDPers for helping remind me of some of the amazing opportunities we still have even when things are really tough.

So, back to the conference:

Assumptions are the basis of all (most) wrong decisions

Nick Jankel’s presentation was a lot more complex than I’m about to make it seem but my big takeaway was that the best way to make better decisions is to challenge our pre-conceptions and our assumptions. Too often, we suffer from the constraints of what has always been done before and at other times our assumptions about what we are doing prevents us from coming up with any better ideas.

As Nick said (roughly):

Most failures based on assumptions that no longer fit the reality… & yet every decision/model/thought is based on assumptions.

Similarly, the futuregov guys talked about starting with blank sheets of paper to develop better ideas. Starting from scratch forces us to throw aside our assumptions and start thinking about the services people really want and the method of delivery that they also really want.

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An education

March 13, 2012

Because movie stars are cooler than councillors

We love a guest post and today’s is a really interesting one. The post discusses what, in many areas, seems to be a growing disconnect between councillors and officers. It then looks at what might have been one of the causes; the collapse of the committee system. We hope you enjoy today’s post and if you have something you’d like to submit please drop us a line at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com… but not before you’ve read this:

When local government moved to the Cabinet system, it lost the best political training ground for council officers of the future. The old committee system had many faults; slow decision making and too many late nights being just two of them. However, what the committee system did provide was an opportunity for local government officers to learn the intricacies, rules and unspoken regulations of working with elected members. And in my experience local government is poorer without it.

I don’t work in Democratic Services now, but that was where I started. It gave me the best possible education for a future in the public sector and it’s only now that I’m beginning to realise it.

From the outside I was an administrator.

But when you are on the inside of the committee machine you realised that you were part of something much bigger than that. You are a relationship builder, secret-keeper, networker, diplomat, confidant, counsellor (to councillors) and on occasion, even a muse.

Most importantly you learn how to deal with personalities and politics; and more specifically the personalities IN politics.

You are taught about delegated powers, governance and constitutions. You see how decisions are made, why some take hours of discussion whilst some go through on the nod. You see how some members really do represent the people who put them there, but how others are just in it for themselves.

And back in the old days, every senior officer knew how to work this system and knew their place in it. They understood the most basic rule: it’s all about the council tax payers and the people who represent them. The tax payer is not only your customer; he is also your boss.

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‘The world hasn’t ended’: what happens when you give all staff access to social media

March 7, 2012

Many different ways to bring about the apocalypse

We absolutely love a guest post (two in two days!) and when we get offered a guest post by a fellow officer who we all respect a lot (admittedly from afar) it is impossible to say no. In this case we have also waived our anonymity rule to give full credit to Helen Reynolds (a communications officer tasked with developing social media) and Monmouthshire County Council (who she works for). In this post Helen discusses what happens when you give staff access to social media. Apparently, the world doesn’t end (who knew?). So without further ado and with many thanks to Helen please enjoy today’s post:

In January 2011 we opened social media access to all staff at Monmouthshire County Council and now everyone who uses the internet for work can look at Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and other social media whenever they want.

This seems to be a rare thing in the public sector, I don’t know another organisation that has done it. People often ask how it’s going and my answer is usually ‘well, the world hasn’t ended’.  In fact, it’s really breathing life into our council and communities at a time when our organisation is going through a lot of change.

As we said in the staff e-zine when we first opened access, one of our values is openness and our staff are trusted to make the most of the networks and conversations possible using social media. Social media is a great way for us to engage more effectively with colleagues, residents and partners so it’s an opportunity that can’t be missed.

We’ll make some errors and we still have work to do on getting better at using these channels but we’ve made a start.

It seems all the issues we debated before and since this happened aren’t about social media at all – they’re about the way we work. Here is some of what we’ve learnt.

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Putting the local back into local government

February 29, 2012

Middle Class council service delivery

We love a guest post and today’s asks a lot of questions; the most interesting of which is whether we’re trying to make everyone middle class (which certainly isn’t the focus where I work!). We hope you enjoy this post, think about it, and if you have a post you’d like to submit please drop us a line at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com 

One of the things that I do on a regular basis in my job is to look at what other Councils are doing to address particular issues.

I am one of those rather sad people who can spot the SOCITM organising framework for a website and be instantly able to find my way around.  I am often profoundly depressed about what I find when I look at some documents as I could cross out the name of X Council, replace with Y council, and it would still look the same.

I saw a comment last year which caused me to ponder, and I have been pondering ever since: ‘is the goal of all public policy to turn everybody to be middle class?’

There is a trait within all of us to find homogeneity in as many places as we could.  When my parents used to travel, they would always stay in a Travelodge and eat in a Brewer’s Fayre on the basis that you knew what you were getting.  I can understand that but personally would prefer to stay in a quirky bed and breakfast and take my chances on finding a little restaurant somewhere.  Mary Portas is right about our high streets becoming increasingly identikit and indistinguishable from each other.

There are too many times when we focus on the government element of our role and not enough on the local.

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Smack my bench up

February 22, 2012

Well, a picture of an actual benchmark would be really dull

We’ve all been there; when trying to defend the performance / budget / branding / future direction of our service the boss has turned round and said something along the lines of: ‘how does that compare to our neighbours; what’s the benchmark?’

Thus begins another tedious, and absolutely pointless, round of comparison with local councils followed by an equally tedious, and equally pointless, round of explanations as to why the comparisons are actually not a good match with our local context.

I hate benchmarking!

I think it is a weakness of the human condition to constantly want to compare ourselves to others and in local government this inclination is fully played out in the world of performance benchmarking.

For the uninitiated, benchmarking involves comparing the performance of your service/local authority with that of another local authority. The measure you use to do this can come in a variety of different forms and there are whole armies of staff, brought up on a steady diet of performance targets under the last Labour Government to crunch these numbers and produce some sort of comparative figure.

So why is benchmarking a bad idea?

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Interim Judgement

February 20, 2012

Starting a storm: The unfortunate (but wealthy) Mr Lester

Two weeks ago we had a sense that the unmasking of Ed Lester from the Student Loans Company as the sole employee of his own personal services company was going to lead to a bit of a public sector witch hunt and so it has proven.

But whilst the majority of the heat so far has been on the civil service and the QUANGO sector it was only a matter of time before Eric Pickles jumped into the fray. And whilst others had been pussy footing around the issue (after all, other ministers are meant to be defending their own departments) Mr Pickles has typically been able to come out with both guns blazing and a nifty soundbite.

Mr Pickles on Friday called for Local Authorities to target ‘town hall tax-dodgers’ arguing that:

Local people have a right to know whether town hall tax-dodgers are short-changing the public purse; whether bumper bonuses are being awarded to poorly performing workers; or whether pay is being hiked up for execs who’ve boomeranged from post to post.

I am actually quite sympathetic to Eric Pickles.

My first job in local government was on a team that involved about eight staff; of which I think five of them were interims and all of those were in some form of separate company which enabled them to pay less tax. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what happened next; within a year the two members of the team who were on the payroll had left to take interim roles elsewhere and had set up PSCs (or joined a different umbrella company which apparently did the same thing… Who said tax isn’t meant to be taxing?!?).

I also don’t really like the idea of any member of staff setting up arrangements that enable them to pay less tax than I do. It just feels wrong.

And yet and yet…

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That was the local government week that was

February 10, 2012

Goodbye to a mild January, hello to a wintry February!  While local government has been working to cope with the snow, other work has not sat still.  Here’s our round-up of some of our favourite blog posts of the week.  If you’ve got others you think we’ve missed, tweet us @welovelocalgov or share it in the comments below.

Coming hot on the heels of our own post looking at local government websites comes this thought provoking post from Ben Welby, in which he talks about the possible implications of the recently launched gov.uk website.  We are cautiously excited about the possible options ahead of us, and Mr Welby puts this across across perfectly.

And it’s all happening in the open. Since before the launch of AlphaGov there has been a steady flow of information covering the wider strategy for how the Government Digital Service imagines the future to look. The code is open source and therefore freely available, fixes are being contributed by the public and the beta is changing on a dailybasis. They’re up front about what’s not there (yet) but they’re equally clear that gaps will be plugged as and when they get there.

If ever you were to believe hype, I’d say this would be the moment.

Some of the WLLG crew have got in trouble in the past for constantly asking ‘why not’ rather than ‘why’ when an idea for a new project comes up; depending on the situation, either question bears asking.  However, the ever inspiring @helreynolds of Monmouthshire fame has popped something on the always interesting comms2point0 blog post asking a different question altogether; ‘what if…’ (more…)

Neutrality

January 30, 2012

Keeping a Straight Face

‘Right Eric, I have had enough. When you and your acolytes have been purposefully dishonest about local government services I am fine to disagree. When you slash our budgets and then blame local government for closing services I can understand that this is politics. But when you have the bare-faced cheek and total lack of integrity to attack council officers for giving impartial advice that you disagree with I have simply had it.

Pickles, I’m calling you out!’

So started what was going to be an epic rant about Eric Pickles’ latest salvo in the war about the council tax grant.

For those who missed it Mr Pickles said the following:

‘Particularly to finance officers, there is a danger here of being involved in politics, in a way. There is a referendum [trigger], and to suddenly find yourself mysteriously arriving in that place between zero and where you have to face the electorate is a highly political decision.

To put it another way I’m happy to use the headline from the Public Finance magazine:

‘Don’t meddle with council tax freeze’, Pickles warns FDs

As you imagine what especially annoyed me about this is that Mr Pickles had just tried to drag officers into the debate about council tax. He should know better. Much like civil servants local government officers are, especially at the level of finance director, politically neutral.

However, I took a deep breath and decided that having a Monday post upset with Mr Pickles two weeks in a row was the beginning of an unhealthy obsession; and continuing that rant was going to be bad for my blood pressure.

(more…)

Things we learnt at #UKGC12

January 24, 2012

Wow!  What an end to the week last week!  For those of you who didn’t know, last Friday saw one or more from the WLLG team making our way to the Microsoft offices in London Victoria for the fifth UK Gov Camp, an ‘unconference’ with no set agenda, no guarantees and no limits.  The participants set the agenda themselves, pitching their ideas for things they’d like to present or like to talk about, and those who find at least one other person to speak with do just that.  The wonderful ‘rule of two feet‘, which means no-one gets offended if someone leaves a session before the end, allows participants to never find themselves in a useless session and to put it simply, great things happen.

We strongly recommend you take a look at some examples of blogs (here, herehere, here, here, here and here) , twitter conversations, pictures and anything else that have been shared since the end of the first session and throughout the two day camp any time you are lacking a little motivation or inspiration.  In fact, the nigh-on legendary Dan Slee thought it would be good for participants to share some of their initial thoughts and opinions of the day, so to follow suit here are ten things we learnt from #ukgc12.

People care

No, really, they do.  If they didn’t care about delivering great public services then there is simply no way they would have invested their own time and sometimes money to trek halfway across the country in order to sit in a building talking with other public service people.  There is no way at all that these conversations would be passionate and inspiring, and there is no way that many of these would lead directly to projects, concepts and work which would benefit more than those directly taking part.

People knock public servants in ever increasing numbers and sometimes there are occasions when they are right to do so.  However, if the attendees of those two days truly make up any percentage of staff then there is a lot of heart and energy being put in up and down the country to improve the lot for the rest of the population; you can’t put a price on this.

Innovators do more than tech (more…)