What Localism might mean for local gov web managers

ByMichele Ide-Smith

What Localism might mean for local gov web managers

I’ve been sifting through a few papers on localism including the Communities and Local Government (CLG) guide to Decentralisation and the Localism Bill, the LG Group briefing and some internal papers which interpret the much awaited Localism Bill. Broadly speaking, Localism proposes a shift in power from central government, to local communities through the ‘de-centralisation’ of services. By way of some background, it is helpful to read the Conservatives green paper on Localism.

I’m currently working on a web strategy and I’ve  been tracking Localism and the Big Society agenda for a few months, as it will have some significant implications for local government web managers. Now that the Localism Bill  has had its first reading in Parliament, things are becoming slightly more tangible. But it’s still hard to grasp exactly what impact this is going to have on local government websites and web strategies.

This post brings together some of my initial thoughts on the potential implications for local government web managers. I’ve broken down these thoughts in relation to the actions in the Localism Bill. I’ve used the CLG guide as my main reference point. By way of a disclaimer, my thoughts don’t necessarily represent the policy or plans of the organisation I work for, or the area I live in. This is just my way of trying to make sense of what seems like a fairly significant change for local government.

Action 1: Lift the burden of bureaucracy

The government have already indicated ways in which they want to remove the red tape that prevents local communities and voluntary groups from delivering services and taking action locally. For example in August, Eric Pickles instructed local authorities to simplify processes for applying for licenses to close a road for a street party.

Web managers might be involved in the following ways.

  • Re-designing web services and eforms to reflect community needs, using user centred design principles.
  • Simplifying and streamlining back office processes, by integrating with partner systems and using automated workflows.

Action 2: Empower communities to do things their way

This action requires Government to actively empower communities and the bill includes some specific changes to legislation e.g. the community right to save local assets threatened with closure. Shane McCracken has provided a great example of how community asset transfer might work in relation to saving a local swimming pool.

Web managers might be involved in the following ways.

  • Providing or supporting ways in which councillors and Council officers can discuss asset transfer with local communities online. This could mean further developing and implementing social media guidance and policies, helping develop in-house skills in social media engagement, or implementing a more formal engagement platform or tool.
  • Providing open data on service costs and performance and improving ways in which service users can feedback on services, so that communities can decide which services could be improved if delivered by a differently (see also action 6 below).
  • Helping find new ways to visualise neighbourhood plans online. This could include mash-ups using maps, to show what developments are planned in different areas of a neighbourhood.

Action 3: Increased control of public finance

It is proposed that communities have more power over local budgets, for example pooled community budgets.

Web managers might be involved in the following ways.

  • Helping procure or implement an electronic participatory budgeting platform, to enable communities to deliberate local priorities and vote electronically on how community budgets are spent.
  • Supporting communities and Council officers to publish community project information online, which demonstrates how and where community budgets have been spent. This could be as open data or even video blogs.

Action 4: Diversify the supply of public services

Many local authorities will be moving to a model of commissioning services, choosing not to deliver services where another partner, social enterprise or voluntary organisation can do it better. Suffolk County Council announced their radical proposal to outsource many services earlier this year.

Web managers might be involved in the following ways.

  • Putting in place a service orientated architecture (SOA) which enables services from any provider to be delivered via a single web interface. Carl Haggerty has done an excellent presentation (note: on a password protected site) which explains the concept of a distributed service delivery model really well. The key for me in this is that the back-end architecture should support flexible delivery of services. So the end user shouldn’t need to know who delivers which public service.
  • Inevitably web managers will also need to work with partners and think through the challenges of designing a single user interface to local, public services which provides a consistent user experience. Similar to the way DirectGov works for central government services (I blogged about Martha Lane-Fox’s report on DirectGov recently which promotes this approach).
  • But as this is all about Localism, it should also be possible to embed Council web services and content into community (hyerplocal) websites as widgets or feeds, using open APIs or RSS, providing services and information in context where communities are.

Action 5: Open up Government to public scrutiny

The Government’s commitment to transparency started with the Power of Information report and development of Data.gov.uk. More recently local authorities have been required to publish spend over £500 on their websites.

Web managers might be involved in the following ways.

  • Putting in place mechanisms to publish open data online. Both Warwickshire County Council and Lichfield District Council have done this really well on their websites.
  • Helping make open data available to be used in 3rd party mash-ups and applications (and turning it into linked data), so communities can visualise the shape of their local area and start to take more control over it. LG Group’s new KnowledgeHub will provide tools for mash-ups and creating apps with open data. In the US, tools like CityForward (flagged recently by FutureGov Consultancy) are doing this really well.

Action 6: Strengthen accountability to local people

Greater accountability does come through transparency and open data, as outlined above. But it also means making democracy more accessible and providing better ways for people to feedback on services.

Web managers might be involved in the following ways.

  • Ensuring government targets for e-petitions have been met.
  • Making Council decisions more visible and searchable online.
  • Opening up Freedom of Information data openly online.
  • Providing social tools for local communities to feedback on services more transparently, e.g. a local government version of Patient Opinion or MyPolice.

So there are my thoughts on the subject. I’d be really interested to hear what other people think. Ultimately implementing any of these suggestions will be constrained by appetite, funding, risk and timescales.

This content is published under the Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


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Tweets that mention   What Localism might mean for local gov web managers by Michele Ide-Smith — Topsy.comPosted on7:35 pm - Dec 23, 2010

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