Start of the Possible

Today we publish Start of the Possible a report from Camden councillor and Lead Member for Finance, Technology and Growth Theo Blackwell – it is based on the findings of a survey of over 800 councillors, believed to be the first to examine the attitudes and perceptions of councillors to digital transformation.

LGiU Chief Executive Jonathan Carr-West said:

Much has been written about the shift to digital in local government and public services more generally. Such a shift represents an opportunity, almost uniquely, to drive down costs while simultaneously improving outcomes. But that’s not just a question of doing the same things better online, it’s about using digital as a way of thinking and connecting, of driving a cultural and relational attitude that changes how we think about what local government does and how it interacts with the communities it serves.

That is, essentially, a political endeavour which is why it’s so essential that conversations about digital are driven by elected leaders.

What Start of the Possible reveals is that most councillors are ready to embrace the benefits and the challenges of digital, but that they need more support to do so. The conversation that now needs to happen is how to provide that support and how to make real digital transformation happen moving us away simply transactional services to fundamental change in how we govern and hold our democratic institutions, and their leaders, to account.

Yesterday we started that conversation at Camden’s town hall with a group of people, including councillors, local government officers and other civil society stakeholders, starting with Cllr Blackwell’s call to bring together a group of digital leaders from the most innovative and transformative councils.

Of course this doesn’t mean that all councils will be good at all things digital, but the sector needs to have a collaborative platform for sharing the gain and the pain of digital.

Everyone was clear that digital isn’t simply about transactional services. Local government has gotten much better at getting many processes online, but in many cases the experience of using those services hasn’t always improved with clunky interactions and little improvement to the process itself. Becoming a digital organisation requires a change of culture and outlook.

Tracy Green who has worked with both the London boroughs of  Newham and Redbridge on digital transformation talked about the importance of human stories in changing that culture and outlook beyond just a new website or getting services online.

Tracy’s slides from yesterday’s event are available here.

Start of the Possible reveals that there is a reluctant group of councillors, who Cllr Blackwell labels digital sceptics. Some of their scepticism comes from lack of familiarity or the very real experience of being burned by boondoggle IT projects, but some of it comes from a legitimate concern about the digital divide, ensuring that those who have been left behind digitally aren’t left behind altogether.

Martha Lane Fox’s organisation Doteveryone aims to equalise the benefits of the Internet, and Janet Hughes from Doteveryone spoke about the qualities of ‘digital leadership’ which transform organisations inclusively. Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways was the importance of not simply bringing in a digital supremo but about having digital competency and insight throughout the organisation.

Janet has blogged about what she and Doteveryone are doing to support leaders here and her slides from yesterday are here.

Start of the Conversation:

Of course, this is just the start, at LGiU we want to ensure that there is further capacity in local government for digital transformation and want to support a coalition of the willing-and-able.  Look out for more from us on this soon and in the meantime, tell us how you think we can help.