On Friday I went down to London for a LocalGov Digital steering group meeting. In my role as comms lead for the group I live tweeted the day (see the hashtag #localgovdigital) and wrote up some formal notes from the day on the website.

Here though are my personal thoughts and take-aways from the day.

It’s been almost a year since the LocalGov Digital steering group came together formally and the meeting on Friday saw tangible deliverables start to be made. It was a great feeling to see real things come out of the group after a relatively short time. They may be small at the moment but it’s a proof of concept for the network.

All of the work being done across the agreed streams is interesting, impressive and ultimately of wider use across the sector but my own sphere of interest and work is most closely aligned with the content and design stream.

The main deliverable for this was a set of content guidelines – a checklist to question why content is being created as well as a style guide and best practice guide – that councils can take as a base and build on local variations where needed.

It was great that the work Phil Rumens, Jason Williams and Marc Snaith have done on this was accepted by the group and will be published for use by the network soon. It would be even better to see other established networks advising in this area – SocITM, CIPR etc – taking this free resource and promoting to their own members.

The other highlight for me was inviting Birmingham City Council’s Simon Gray in to present on a usability tool he’s developed. This came out of an email discussion with Simon after seeing him talk about the tool on Twitter a week or so before the meeting.

The tool and process seeks to test all of the transactions a council may offer, recognising that it’s not just the high volume transactions that hold value but that by getting the all of the smaller volume transactions right cumulatively there will be a saving or efficiency and of course it will lead to a better user experience, potentially higher satisfaction etc.

The decision was taken for the group to begin working collaboratively with Simon on developing this tool to make it suitable for different tiers of local government (with different tasks / services to test) and to try and add objectivity to review too. This will initially be done in closed alpha but I’d personally like to see this move to an open alpha around the time of the next steering group meeting in around eight weeks from now.

For me the tool will have a practical application in my daily working life but it (and the content guidelines) embody what I hoped would come from the group – the ability to surface expertise and beneficial work happening in pockets throughout local government, use collective knowledge and time to build upon the idea and have the network to amplify for the greater good across the sector. It’s quite a wonderful feeling to see that theory beginning to become practice.

But is that enough of a reason for the group to continue? One of the things Chair (and Public Leaders Network Public Service Awards Leadership Excellence nominee) Carl Haggerty asked group members to begin thinking about was what the purpose, remit and shape of the group may take in the future.

To my mind it will take a little longer to begin to really achieve the networking aims of the group and so it will need to exist longer than this first year. Good progress has been made in raising the profile of the LocalGov Digital network with links to the Digital Alliance and opportunities coming up with groups like the County Council Network. I agree with Carl that eventually digital will become a natural part of conversation and work within these networks and then LocalGov Digital may cease to exist as a separate entity – but I don’t think we’re at that point yet.

But everyone’s time on the group needs to be justified and productive so a hub and spoke model of organisation may be more practical going into the second year. Taking the steering group – in about the same size it is now – with smaller ‘spoke’ groups tackling work streams in more detail. I think these ‘spoke’ groups could deliver tangible outputs on specific themes while the central ‘hub’ steering group continues to push on the wider agenda, the overall outcome, and normalising digital within existing networks.

It may be that the hub steering group would seek to increase insight through involving non-exec members from other key groups in an advisory capacity, without allowing these external influences to unduly direct practitioners – I’m keen the group remains for and by practitioners while recognising expertise and work from elsewhere.

The ‘spoke’ groups may also be a way of actively involving more of the existing expertise, the practitioner network the group seeks to represent. I could certainly see how the content and design, democracy, and tech and infrastructure work streams could expand to be ‘spoke’ groups with more involvement from more practitioners.

I’m pretty sure my thoughts on this will develop over the next few weeks and it’ll be interesting to hear other views. A year ago the steering group members blogged about why they wanted to be a part of the network – it would be interesting to get their views now on whether it met what they wanted and where they see it going from here.

I guess the most important question would be to digital practitioners across local government and be ‘what do you want LocalGov Digital to do for you in the future?’

Visit the LocalGov Digital website for more information and updates from the work streams. You can also follow the network on Twitter.

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