This blog post is part of a series investigating different demographics and uses of mySociety services. You can read more about this series here

WriteToThem is a service that assists people in writing to their representatives. Given a postcode, it lists the associated elected representatives at every layer of government and provides a form to write an email to them.

This can also be seen as a bundle of services. The main use of this website is to write to MPs, but this is just under half of messages ever sent (48%), with most messages sent to representatives in devolved or local government. Different services have different profiles of use and so need to have their effect judged separately.

In 2015, the British Election Study asked whether people had contacted a “politician, government or local government official” in the prior 12 months and found that 17% had. Based on this, over 11 million adults wrote to a representative or official that year — and WriteToThem’s 187,000 emails accounted for 1.6% of this. These results also showed that 20% of men had made contact compared to 15% of women, meaning that 57% of those doing the contacting were men. Extending this into a logistic regression shows that older respondents and those with higher levels of education were more likely to contact, with no significant difference for income and ethnicity once age and education were controlled for.

Demographic profile of WriteToThem users

Looking at the profile of people writing to MPs using WriteToThem, there is an uneven use by different demographics. Over all time,  60% of messages sent have been from men and  60% of people writing had written before. Using the index of multiple deprivation, more messages are sent by better off areas, with 55% of messages being sent by the less deprived half of the country, and 7% of messages coming from the most deprived decile (you would expect 10% if this were evenly divided).

There is a clear linear pattern of greater employment and income in an area being associated with a greater amount of messages sent.  Most of these gradients are slight, but in aggregate the effect is that WriteToThem reflects existing divisions in participation (although there are no good sources for the demographics of people who write to MPs specifically) .

But is this actually a problem? Should a service be judged for the proportion of existing represented groups making use of it, or what it does for the under-represented groups who do use it? WriteToThem has delivered 73,000 messages to MPs from people in the most deprived IMD decile alone, if this has led to dialogues that resolved issues that would not otherwise have happened, this is a positive regardless of whether the same is also true for more people in the least deprived areas. If WriteToThem lowers the cost of contact by making it easier, then it is unsurprising that many of the people making use of it would have made contact anyway — but also included in that are people who were previously unable to engage in the process.

When we look at the result of the survey asking whether a user of WriteToThem was writing for the first time, we can see that people from the bottom three IMD deciles were statistically more likely to be writing for the first time (this is also true when just looking at people writing to MPs, and when just looking at 2018). While generally the number of people using the site for the first time has decreased over time, this decline is demographically uneven and mostly occurs in less deprived areas.

For the complete time-span of the service, 47% percent of survey respondents in IMD 1 (most deprived) were writing for the first time compared to 38% of IMD 10 (least deprived). Looking at just 2018, this was 48% compared to 35%. While the service as a whole is used more by people in less deprived areas, of those using it in less deprived areas it is successfully facilitating a higher proportion of first time contacts.

The local picture

To return to the idea of bundles, WriteToThem is also quietly solving a much harder problem than contacting MPs. While people generally recognise their MP when prompted with a name, local councillors remain far more anonymous. From 2007 to 2018 WriteToThem has helped constituents send 450,000 emails to their local councillors (42,000 in 2018). This service has an effectively even gender ratio (with a female majority in 2018), with more reports coming from more deprived areas (54% by bottom 50%).

If we imagine one of these bundled services being a site named “WriteToYourCouncillor”, it is in many respects a model service, with a user base displaying an even gender ratio, and more likely to be used in deprived areas. That in reality it is one function of a more well-used service in terms of numbers somewhat obscures this.

But while it is good to recognise where services are successfully reaching people we want to reach, it is also important to think about volume and overall impact.  One issue with a service used more by men or in better off areas might be if it shapes how resources are deployed or provides a false shape of the views of constituents (and emails received are certainly used by MPs to build a picture). Even a service that adequately represents under-represented groups may be ineffective if it exists in a wider ecosystem that does not.

At the moment, the systematic effect of any bias in WriteToThem outputs is marginal as WriteToThem accounts for a small fraction of parliamentary mail.  While the amount of physical mail entering the Houses of Parliament each year has decreased steadily, in 2018 it was still 24 times larger than the number of emails sent to MPs via WriteToThem. The average MP received 94 emails via WriteToThem in 2018; most MPs would receive more than this through other means in a week.

Returning to the British Election Study finding that 57% of contacting in 2015 was done by men, the equivalent figure for WriteToThem as a whole in 2018 was 55%. Being generous and bearing in mind the previous finding that the method used to assign gender from name undercounts women, this could be seen as a marginal improvement on the real world. However, it would be a marginal improvement in a pool that only represents 1.6% of the total amount of number of messages.

Defining success

Based on the above, we can think about three different kinds of ‘success’  of a civic tech service in serving under-represented groups:

Relative – The service improves under-representation relative to the current standard. e.g. a service where 60% of usage was by men is an improvement over an offline status quo of 70%.

Absolute – The service adequately (or over-) services under-represented communities to what would be expected based on their numbers in the general population.

Systematic – The service successfully services under-represented communities and is successful enough that this redresses issues of representation in competitor services/methods.

Working with these, we could say WriteToThem is a success on a relative level, servicing people in more deprived areas more than they would have been otherwise (larger proportion of first time writers), but not to the proportion of the population these groups represent.

The “WriteToYourCouncillor” part of the bundle is  a success on an absolute level, providing a relatively even amount of representation, with a slight weight towards groups who typically make contact less often.

But neither really makes a dent systematically. They may be redressing inequalities of access for individual users (which is good), but cannot significantly adjust inequalities in volume of messages and the corresponding perceptions of problems.

Making a dent in this problem is outside the scope of WriteToThem — and probably should be. While you can imagine a future where WriteToThem continues to lower the barrier to contacting representatives,  this is likely to create new users from currently-represented groups for each under-represented person successfully reached. Targeted interventions and partnerships with other organisations can avert this problem in terms of helping individuals make contact about their issues but turning the problem around, this is a platform that is unlikely to provide a balanced view of opinions and priorities of constituents.

If it is a problem that representatives have systematically skewed visions of the problems and views of their constituents, is an email platform that requires citizens rather than representatives to do work the best way to address that? A civic tech solution to this problem might look more like Consul (or similar general participation platform) than WriteToThem – but even explicitly designed online platforms still risk being skewed towards the online and present members of the community. Exploring better forms of local participation is something currently being explored through our Public Square project.

Original source – mySociety

Civil servants are individually and collectively approaching an ethical challenge. That would be dangerous territory at the best of times, but it is made doubly so by the fact that vanishingly few of them have spotted that there is a challenge at all. There is a resounding silence of leadership on the most fundamental challenge to the nature of the civil service in generations.

Brexit has dominated the politics of the UK for the three years since the vote to leave. It is self-evidently an important issue in its own right. But it has also raised constitutional questions of much wider significance, some of which have also been getting increasing attention. One which has so far remained in relative obscurity is the implications for the future of a non-political civil service. Brexit provides its context and in some ways its catalyst, but it is not fundamentally a brexit-dependent question and so is independent of views on brexit itself.

As I have discussed before, the ethical foundations of the civil service have some distinctive characteristics. Civil servants subordinate their personal political and policy preferences to the greater good of a wider political system. They will work tirelessly in support of goals they may not share and ministers whose party they did not vote for. They do so not because they are amoral or immoral but because they – and the constitutional settlement of which they are part – places high value on there being an effective and professional bureaucracy. So ministers decide – in practice as well as in theory – while civil servants analyse, advise and deliver.

That approach requires answers to three fundamentally important questions:

What makes the decisions which civil servants implement legitimate?

Where are the boundaries of that legitimacy and how can they be detected?

What should civil servants do if those boundaries are reached and crossed?

The initial answer to the first question is pretty straightforward: decisions are legitimate because they are made by ministers and ministers have democratic legitimacy as members of a government which enjoys the confidence of the House of Commons. For a very long time that has seemed to be a sufficient answer with little practical need to enquire further.

It has appeared sufficient because of one more element: an intangible, but very real, acceptance that the support of a majority of the Commons was a sufficient test of democratic legitimacy. In practice, it is now unknown for a party with a majority of seats in the Commons to have won them with the support of a majority of the electorate.1 But very clearly that has not created a crisis of democracy: the decisions of those governments have of course been politically controversial, but they have not in general been attacked for want of legitimacy.2  It’s not surprising that supporters of decisions and governments don’t go out of their way to question their validity. If anybody is going to do so, it is their opponents – and the fact that that generally hasn’t happened is a pretty strong indication of losers’ consent to the underlying system, if not necessarily to the specific outcomes that system generates.

That tacit agreement not to notice that there is a problem is now breaking down. There are two obvious drivers for that, and no doubt many more causal factors which could be identified. One is that the government’s response to the brexit referendum showed little sign of recognising the need for losers’ consent: ‘you lost, get over it’ may be satisfying in the moment but is hardly best calculated to broaden the perceived legitimacy of the decisions which followed. The other is a more direct break in the chain of democractic accountability and legitimacy: the deep confusion which has resulted from the tension between direct and representative democracy, exacerbated by the unintended consequences of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, resulting in a government with very uncertain parliamentary support.

So in short, the aftermath of the referendum has made the underlying problem of losers’ consent much more visible (even if not directly discussed in those terms), and the state of parliament has put further strain on the chain of democractic legitimacy, even in the weak form which has characterised the UK system for many years.

What then should the civil service do?

There is a simple answer, which is to carry on regardless. That is the answer still being assumed, based fundamentally on the idea that the government remains the government until it stops being the government and that for as long as it does so, it is not for the civil service to look behind the formalities of its continuing existence or to question its authority.

That position has some attractions: we don’t want to be in a world where the civil service takes it on itself to decide whether it likes a government enough to be prepared to work for it. But there is also a profound weakness: if this is not enough attenuation of authority at least to require questions to be asked, what would be? And that brings us on to the second question, about where the boundaries of legitimacy should be drawn.

Where are the boundaries of that legitimacy and how can they be detected?

There is no shortage of examples, historical and modern, of states which have kept the forms of democratic government while edging towards authoritarianism. The difficulty is that when those forms fall away, it’s generally too late to do much about it. Before that point, though, there is inevitably judgement and ambiguity, with a very understandable temptation to see the continuity of what is legitimate and fail to see the discontinuity to what is illegitimate.

I do not assert that there is a single objective test of whether we at, approaching, or beyond that boundary. Nor is it the point of this post to assert that any such test has or has not been met. The assertion here is instead that it is an ethical imperative for civil servants to be looking for that boundary and to avoid complicity in crossing it.

There is though a precautionary principle which is relevant to making the judgement. The dominant political myth in the UK is that its political system is inherently stable, bending and adapting to changing times, but never breaking. There are some pretty obvious perspectives from which that has never been true, of course, but that hasn’t challenged (and, to a remarkable degree, still doesn’t challenge) the myth. If that dominant myth were well founded, all of this would matter much less, we could safely treat it as part of the routine ebb and flow of politics, with which the civil service is entirely comfortable. But if the wider political system is more brittle than that dominant myth allows, we should be much more worried, and at the very least looking out for signs that we may be going beyond the point at which everything just springs back to normal.3 It is true that the UK has not had some of the radical discontinuities of government and constitution which many other countries have had to go through.4 But while that may be an indication that the elastic limit has not been reached, it cannot be evidence that the limit does not exist.

In their study of How Democracies Die Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt put forward four behavioural warning signs for recognising authoritarian leaders:

We should worry when a politician 1) rejects, in words or action, the democratic rules of the game, 2) denies the legitimacy of opponents, 3) tolerates or encourages violence, or 4) indicates a willingness to curtail the civil liberties of opponents, including the media.

And they stress that:

A politician who meets even one of these criteria is cause for concern.

The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill provides the basis for a thought experiment.5 There is no suggestion from the government that it should do anything other than go through all the normal parliamentary stages in both houses. There is in that formal sense nothing at all unusual about it. But the proposal is that a complex bill with very substantial constitutional implications should go through all its Commons stages in three days, starting only hours after the bill was published, in dramatic contrast to the time given to past bills of equivalent significant and complexity.6 That won’t happen, of course, without the consent of MPs, but irrespective of that, it’s reasonable to ask whether a bill passed in that way enjoys the same depth of democratic legitimacy as one given time for reflection and fuller debate. Again, it is not the purpose of this post to answer that question, but to suggest that it is one which needs to be asked, because, as Levitsky and Ziblatt observe:

there is no single moment—no coup, declaration of martial law, or suspension of the constitution—in which the regime obviously “crosses the line” into dictatorship, nothing may set off society’s alarm bells. Those who denounce government abuse may be dismissed as exaggerating or crying wolf. Democracy’s erosion is, for many, almost imperceptible.

If we accept that there is a boundary, however imprecise and hard to discern, and that it might have been crossed or might be crossed, we need to go to the third question.

What should civil servants do if those boundaries are reached and crossed?

In principle the answer to that is simple. At the point any civil servant judges that the democratic legitimacy of ministers has broken down, they must also accept that their ethical authority has also broken down. Whatever a civil servant does after that, they do as an independent moral agent, personally responsible for their decisions and actions. They may nevertheless choose to continue, accepting that responsibility. Or they may choose to walk away.

Again, my point here is not to dictate a course of action. It is to argue that whatever course is chosen, that choice should be deliberate and conscious. There will always be tempting arguments to stay a little longer, to do a little more, to believe that the spring is still elastic. The right course of action will probably be fully clear only in hindsight, and not necessarily even then. So these are hard choices in difficult circumstances. We should be reluctant to jump quickly to criticise how those choices are made. But civil servants need to recognise their responsibility to have these issues in mind and the civil service needs to be much more ready to support them in doing so.

The institution, of course will remain. Authoritarian governments have civil services, just as democratic ones do. But the surface form hides a profound difference. In such a civil service, loyalty is ultimately to the holders of power, not to the idea of good government, and the consequences are very different. Those who choose to be part of them are choosing to accept those consequences. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept – and that applies doubly to the standard you sit down with.

Perhaps all this is unnecessary fear mongering. Perhaps the political and democratic institutions of the UK are not only not at risk of immediate harm, but not even close to danger. I hope that proves to be the case. But there is a better chance of avoiding the dangers if we are prepared to recognise the risk.

  1. Nor is it self-evident that the support for a coalition is the aggregate of the support for the parties making up the coalition, but we don’t need to pursue that further here.
  2. The electoral system is itself a matter of political controversy, but the argument that it could be improved has never been an argument that decisions made under the present system are intrinsically invalid.
  3. Or, to stretch the analogy, when the elastic limit is reached.
  4. Though it is also true – and frequently overlooked – that the UK has only existed in its current form since 1922.
  5. This post was written after the Bill was published, but before second reading and, critically, before the debate on the timetable motion.
  6. Both the Constitution Unit and the Institute for Government have set out some striking comparisons.

Original source – Public Strategist

I work in MoJ’s User Centred Policy Design team. In spring 2018, the team and I started to look at the experience of people with legal issues and explore what support they needed to prevent their problems from escalating.

This blog post is about our journey on this project and what we achieved one year later.

From user research to strategy

To understand what people with legal problems do to solve their issues, and what blocks them from resolving their situation, we observed sessions at advice centres, ran in-depth interviews with advisors and surveyed people with legal problems. 

As a result, we mapped the journey of those people and collected insights on the main areas to improve when delivering legal support.

We shared this user-centred evidence with decision-makers and it influenced the government’s Legal Support Action Plan

From commitments to prototyping

One of the commitments in the action plan was to better coordinate and signpost legal support services. This became the next brief for our team. We set out to define and inform what an effective pilot for online signposting could look like.

We had high ambitions. We initially explored the possibility of testing a solution for any legal problem. We sketched some early ideas and used them to probe conversations with subject matter experts and legal advisors. This helped us identify which concept had the most potential to help people with legal problems. 

To develop the preferred concept, we focused on one legal issue: housing disrepair. This helped us gain a deeper understanding of how, where and in what format signposting could help. It also enabled us to build a robust model that could be upscaled to other areas of law if proven successful.

Once again, we went out to research and this time, we focused our efforts on understanding signposting in housing disrepair.

Based on research findings, we prototyped an online service and tested it with members of the public and expert advisors. 

The service aimed to mitigate the risk of getting stuck when trying to resolve a legal problem by providing people with the right advice at the right time. We used nudge techniques to make people feel listened to and we created components to provide the reassurance people need to diagnose a legal issue and feel empowered to take action. For example, we asked users if they have children, because we knew from research that parents want to disclose this information when receiving support, even though this is not relevant to the guidance given.

From prototyping to piloting

We documented the feedback from the first round of usability testing, prioritised the most pressing issues, and wrote up potential solutions that we brainstormed as a team.

Before we do further iterations, we need to address questions about product ownership and resourcing as well as pass the solution through ministerial and other policy clearances.

In the meantime, we are discussing evaluation methods. In digital terms, a service is launched and then iterated as quickly as possible through alpha and beta phases, using feedback collected from users at each stage. Policy teams, however, tend to design pilot projects fully in advance, let them run for a year or more, and then conduct a robust statistical evaluation to determine how effective the chosen method was. The two approaches to testing and learning are very different, each with their own pros and cons. 

One year after starting our journey into this policy area, these are our key achievements:

  • planting another seed of user-centred policy design and supported its growth
  • we worked with Policy to develop a user-centred strategy
  • helped Policy test potential solutions before committing to a particular approach
  • we used user needs to inform and design a policy pilot
  • encouraged Policy to consider embedding quick feedback loops in policy pilots.

This work has followed a dream process of user-centred policy design: from user research to strategy, from commitments to prototype, and now from prototype to (hopefully) an agile pilot.

Original source – MOJ Digital & Technology

A travel guide for organisations looking to work closely together

People with disabilities face challenges in daily life that can sometimes go unnoticed. They may feel underserved by their communities and can face additional challenges trying to share these concerns with the people who can make a difference.

Essex County Council is working to make a difference and create positive change in the lives of people living with learning disabilities and autism, their families and carers. Working closely with health partners, Essex is taking steps towards providing better services and experiences for their residents, thinking about the needs of people holistically to address health inequalities.

We were asked to support Essex to help them understand the challenges residents face and help them integrate with a network of providers. We helped local health organisations and the council’s adult social care team come together to work out how they could achieve better outcomes for people living in Essex as one system. During the project, we compiled the tools we used into a ‘travel necessities’ suitcase — an approach any organisation can use to help ease their integration journey.

Travel buddies — collaboration can’t be done alone

Our core team included members from the Learning Disabilities & Autism commissioning and operations teams at Essex County Council, the integrated commissioning team, representing seven CCGs in Essex, and specialist health partner, Hertfordshire Partnership University Foundation Trust.

In weekly collaborative sessions, we ran activities to share insight from each team and learn what happens across the system. Everyone was treated equally and worked side by side to share first-hand experiences and build a shared understanding of the holistic resident experience.

We found that the teams didn’t have full visibility of what either organisation were providing, the way residents were interacting with services, or what different pathways were available. Together, by focusing on the experiences of people, not on their own organisational priorities, the group overcame assumptions and developed higher levels of understanding and trust for each other.

Travel guide — facilitate and steer

FutureGov took the unofficial role as a travel guide, keeping the citizen’s needs at the centre of all conversations. We supported the group to develop a common understanding of their health and social care system by collating their experiences to create a shared landscape.

By mapping the current system — all known services currently offered from health, social care, community and voluntary sectors and the pathways people take through these systems — we could begin to understand the current issues, symptoms and contributing factors, while also identifying areas that perform well.

Building an understanding of the shared problems on all sides of the system sparked discussions and actions surrounding solutions. With all this information in an easy to understand system map, we were able to spot opportunities for improvement and change. We found five areas which informed our lines of inquiry for user research, so we could begin working with residents to learn even more.

Itinerary — moving at pace

Having an itinerary while traveling helps plot any journey. Using our project plan as our travel itinerary throughout the project helped ensure we had built-in rhythms including stand-ups, retros and show and tells to keep us moving at pace. Our itinerary provided set times for each team session, with clear outlines of what we needed to achieve during each sprint to keep us on track and meeting our goals.

Having this plan also made sure the team knew what to expect. We were able to allocate time for workshops and synthesis sessions, and forward planning gave us guaranteed time to bring the right people in the room and the right time. This is integral to building a culture of collaboration. Finding time to bring people together can be tough and when you add the challenge of multiple organisations, it’s even harder. Forward planning made sure we had the time and space to bring the right people together at the right time, and allow space to reflect or dig a little deeper.

Travel translator – everyone speaking the same language

Different organisations often use different terms or definitions to describe the same thing. Collaborating with three organisations, we found a different understanding of the word “integration”. Some teams defined this as bringing in new technology and others used it to mean the collaboration of organisations. It was essential we define the term as one group.

Asking the team to work on what “integration” means to them, what it might look and feel like, helped everyone understand the differences between integration and collaboration. Building a common terminology around collaboration is the first step to integration.

Camera & scrapbook — document the journey & share stories

Our team was constantly seeing, hearing and learning new things and were keen to share these stories. As with any journey, capturing stories and memories is important to continue to build learning and something we encouraged.

Regularly sharing stories back from our research (rather than waiting until the end of the project) helps build buy-in and move work forward. Documenting and sharing our research helped the council engage a wider audience and build trust with the partner organisations. We provided tools (such as personas and journey maps) for the team to continue telling the stories of residents, the challenges they face and the opportunities to design a better future.

The next journey…

The work has helped Essex County Council and health partners understand their own journey of collaboration and integration better, and given strong strategic direction, particularly around the learning disabilities and autism cohort.

If you’re working with multiple organisations who are looking to collaborate and work more closely; consider packing your design suitcase with your version of these travel necessities. Happy travels!


The journey to integration was originally published in FutureGov on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Original source – FutureGov

I’m going to bang on about me for a couple of paragraphs and then I’m going to talk about imagination, system change, complexity and why I am a bit over digital transformation – bear with me.

It seems odd to be listening to the news coverage of the Westminster chaos at the same as writing about the fact I have had a good week but the fact is I have and so I will. The previous week spent in Cornwall gave me a chance to recharge and recalibrate with long walks, good pints and time to stare at the sea helped me to process some stuff.

At the start of my holiday I wrote down the things that have been preoccupying me recently. Two of them are candidates for thinking out loud so here they are:

  • I’m a bit over digital transformation
  • I am feeling a bit of a lack of intellectual focus

I think in naming this I have been made more open to two things this last week; one was my visit to Map Camp and the other was getting drawn into a brilliant twitter thread (I know! How retro!) and connecting with a number of interesting people and thought provoking ideas appropriately triggered by a question about imagination:

The conversation from here went on for four days so I recommend reading the piece that Simon wrote on public service and chaos as a result.

Imagination is an intangible and exhilarating concept but we know it does not thrive with boundaries. Much of the following discussion was about removing those internal and external boundaries and giving people to space to consider all of the possibilities and not just those limited by their perceived constraints.

However to be unfettered without some kind of intellectual frame is be untethered.

One of the speakers at Map Camp said that we would know when maps were mainstream when people where using them without understanding where they came from. I think this is a great definition of the mainstream and it made me think about what it means for my day job which is to all intents and purposes digital transformation – or rather technology enabled change to lead to the best possible organisational outcome. It was a great event and I am pleased to report (just) avoided being a cult:

The thing that both of these conversations unlocked for me is the realisation that I am no longer dithering about whether or not transformation is a thing (see earlier posts for this particular piece of navel gazing on why digital is a broken word). It’s not.

Wardley Mapping is a methodology. Like Agile, or service design or product management its a way of approaching a problem or a piece of work. It’s not the problem and its not the answer – its a way of working. Recently the conversation about digital transformation seems to have gotten stuck between what methods to adopt and the need for senior leaders to ‘get it’. The risk here is what Matt Jukes talked about in his excellent post on Grumpy Old Person Agile of methods ‘scope creeping’ beyond what they are designed to do well . What the most excellent twitter thread – and the presentation from @lunivore which talked about complexity theory at Map Camp – reminded me is that without the right frame and theory of change we are all just adopting methods without really understanding why and this makes change fragile and inflexible.

A theory of change needs to provide a frame (its worth reading this to get a better understanding about the theory behind framing) – what the Wardley Map gang talk about as situational awareness. I always take a system based view of change and so a theory of change also needs to describe the system in which you are acting (more on this in this long piece on why all change is system change). System change means looking beyond the boundaries of the organisation and connecting to some of the bigger, deeper changes in the world. It requires us to look beyond the safety of our organisational boundaries and ask whether our purpose is still relevant in a changing landscape.

Change requires a relentless focus on the purpose and as others have said the ability to radiate positive intent. You need to be resilient and optimistic as you are not going to get it right most of the time. You need to be able to experiment but you also need to be able to design safe experiments – not because its wrong to fail but because only by designing safe experiments can you robustly learn as you have locked down as many elements as possible do you are truly exploring something new. It’s because of this need to be robust in our experimentation that I was so pleased to be reminded of the concept of safe probes (thanks again to @lunivore) as a way of navigating complexity.

So – as I say in the title – I am pretty much over digital transformation which is feeling like a lot of methods trying to grow up (or try and figure out how to work together) but I am ever more committed to the need to navigate complex system change. I have been falling down into the digital trap of trying to please and reconcile various digital tribes (have a look here for the latest list of tribes) where I should be helping them to map and navigate the wider system.

So – thank you map camp and thank you Simon for inviting me to a fascinating discussion – I am re-charged and re-curious. If that’s a word.

Original source – Catherine Howe

Despite discussions of more devolution you may see in the media, slowly but surely local government services are being centralised.  In this piece I’ll highlight a few examples, and suggest what this might mean for councils.

The first high profile service to be centralised under the GOV.UK banner was Register to Vote, or more accurately as it says underneath its page title, apply to register to vote. Whilst the creation of this service was good start, it doesn’t meet the new Service Standard in that it fails point number eight which is "Iterate and improve frequently", and it arguably doesn’t meet a few others too.

Because of this it’s never really achieved it’s full potential, and not only does it not meet a basic user need of telling people they don’t need to register to vote, it creates additional unnecessary work for electoral registration teams in councils because you can register to vote as many times as you like, even if you’re already registered to vote.

There are also plans to centralise some aspects of the annual canvas too, which is the form you get through your door asking you to confirm who lives there every year. These haven’t been approved by Parliament yet and may not be any time soon.

Probably the most contentious function which has been centralised comes under the umbrella of Apply for Universal Credit, which consolidates a number of benefits including Housing Benefit which was formerly administered by local government. Universal Credit can only be applied for online, and famously has a helpline that once cost up to 55p per minute to use.

Next there’s Apply for or renew a Blue Badge, a service administered by local government with a new central government front end provided by the Department for Transport. The design and development of the new service involved local government with workshops across the country, and whilst the front end is under the GOV.UK banner, assessments are still carried out locally.

Similarly Search for local land charges is being rolled out to councils across the country and replaces a council managed front end, however councils will still conduct searches.

Perhaps the most ambitious centralisation is Street Manager set to launch next year. It’s not 100% clear which services will be offered through this, however it’s suggested that permits for things like placing traffic lights on a highway and carrying out works on a highway will be included. The main reason for the introduction of Street Manager is the creation of a central, up to date database of roadworks, which is a great idea but something already provided by one.network.

There are functions that form part of services, Pay and Notify for example, which are seeing increased an take-up by councils and fit in with a more modular approach to delivering digital services. We won’t dwell on Verify for local authorities though, which highlighted some of the inadequacies of the product, and the bureaucracy around the way the Government Digital Service works.

So what do these examples mean for the bigger picture?

Given the delivery of council services is increasingly shifting online, then this centralisation does not just involve decommissioning functions of council websites, it’s actually re-designing how local public services are delivered.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For example it might stop hundreds of councils procuring the same thing and re-badging it. Take planning applications for example, where same product has been procured and over, and over, and over, and over again. Something similar to Street Manager but for planning could save millions each year.

The main problem with this centralisation is that it doesn’t seem to be driven by a strategy or roadmap, and therefore it’s difficult for councils to incorporate this work into their own strategy. Because of this, if we are to continue down the route of increasing centralisation, local government needs more of a say in how this progresses, not least because of done correctly there’s huge potential for creating cheaper services.

We need to have a proper discussion about this and I’ll be running a session at this year’s LocalGovCamp on 15th November in Birmingham, if I don’t see you there, they’ll be other ways to contribute through LocalGov Digital.

Original source – Lg/Www

Despite discussions of more devolution you may see in the media, slowly but surely local government services are being centralised.  In this piece I’ll highlight a few examples, and suggest what this might mean for councils.

The first high profile service to be centralised under the GOV.UK banner was Register to Vote, or more accurately as it says underneath its page title, apply to register to vote. Whilst the creation of this service was good start, it doesn’t meet the new Service Standard in that it fails point number eight which is "Iterate and improve frequently", and it arguably doesn’t meet a few others too.

Because of this it’s never really achieved it’s full potential, and not only does it not meet a basic user need of telling people they don’t need to register to vote, it creates additional unnecessary work for electoral registration teams in councils because you can register to vote as many times as you like, even if you’re already registered to vote.

There are also plans to centralise some aspects of the annual canvas too, which is the form you get through your door asking you to confirm who lives there every year. These haven’t been approved by Parliament yet and may not be any time soon.

Probably the most contentious function which has been centralised comes under the umbrella of Apply for Universal Credit, which consolidates a number of benefits including Housing Benefit which was formerly administered by local government. Universal Credit can only be applied for online, and famously has a helpline that once cost up to 55p per minute to use.

Next there’s Apply for or renew a Blue Badge, a service administered by local government with a new central government front end provided by the Department for Transport. The design and development of the new service involved local government with workshops across the country, and whilst the front end is under the GOV.UK banner, assessments are still carried out locally.

Similarly Search for local land charges is being rolled out to councils across the country and replaces a council managed front end, however councils will still conduct searches.

Perhaps the most ambitious centralisation is Street Manager set to launch next year. It’s not 100% clear which services will be offered through this, however it’s suggested that permits for things like placing traffic lights on a highway and carrying out works on a highway will be included. The main reason for the introduction of Street Manager is the creation of a central, up to date database of roadworks, which is a great idea but something already provided by one.network.

There are functions that form part of services, Pay and Notify for example, which are seeing increased an take-up by councils and fit in with a more modular approach to delivering digital services. We won’t dwell on Verify for local authorities though, which highlighted some of the inadequacies of the product, and the bureaucracy around the way the Government Digital Service works.

So what do these examples mean for the bigger picture?

Given the delivery of council services is increasingly shifting online, then this centralisation does not just involve decommissioning functions of council websites, it’s actually re-designing how local public services are delivered.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For example it might stop hundreds of councils procuring the same thing and re-badging it. Take planning applications for example, where same product has been procured and over, and over, and over, and over again. Something similar to Street Manager but for planning could save millions each year.

The main problem with this centralisation is that it doesn’t seem to be driven by a strategy or roadmap, and therefore it’s difficult for councils to incorporate this work into their own strategy. Because of this, if we are to continue down the route of increasing centralisation, local government needs more of a say in how this progresses, not least because of done correctly there’s huge potential for creating cheaper services.

We need to have a proper discussion about this and I’ll be running a session at this year’s LocalGovCamp on 15th November in Birmingham, if I don’t see you there, they’ll be other ways to contribute through LocalGov Digital.

Original source – Lg/Www

Despite discussions of more devolution you may see in the media, slowly but surely local government services are being centralised.  In this piece I’ll highlight a few examples, and suggest what this might mean for councils.

The first high profile service to be centralised under the GOV.UK banner was Register to Vote, or more accurately as it says underneath its page title, apply to register to vote. Whilst the creation of this service was good start, it doesn’t meet the new Service Standard in that it fails point number eight which is "Iterate and improve frequently", and it arguably doesn’t meet a few others too.

Because of this it’s never really achieved it’s full potential, and not only does it not meet a basic user need of telling people they don’t need to register to vote, it creates additional unnecessary work for electoral registration teams in councils because you can register to vote as many times as you like, even if you’re already registered to vote.

There are also plans to centralise some aspects of the annual canvas too, which is the form you get through your door asking you to confirm who lives there every year. These haven’t been approved by Parliament yet and may not be any time soon.

Probably the most contentious function which has been centralised comes under the umbrella of Apply for Universal Credit, which consolidates a number of benefits including Housing Benefit which was formerly administered by local government. Universal Credit can only be applied for online, and famously has a helpline that once cost up to 55p per minute to use.

Next there’s Apply for or renew a Blue Badge, a service administered by local government with a new central government front end provided by the Department for Transport. The design and development of the new service involved local government with workshops across the country, and whilst the front end is under the GOV.UK banner, assessments are still carried out locally.

Similarly Search for local land charges is being rolled out to councils across the country and replaces a council managed front end, however councils will still conduct searches.

Perhaps the most ambitious centralisation is Street Manager set to launch next year. It’s not 100% clear which services will be offered through this, however it’s suggested that permits for things like placing traffic lights on a highway and carrying out works on a highway will be included. The main reason for the introduction of Street Manager is the creation of a central, up to date database of roadworks, which is a great idea but something already provided by one.network.

There are functions that form part of services, Pay and Notify for example, which are seeing increased an take-up by councils and fit in with a more modular approach to delivering digital services. We won’t dwell on Verify for local authorities though, which highlighted some of the inadequacies of the product, and the bureaucracy around the way the Government Digital Service works.

So what do these examples mean for the bigger picture?

Given the delivery of council services is increasingly shifting online, then this centralisation does not just involve decommissioning functions of council websites, it’s actually re-designing how local public services are delivered.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For example it might stop hundreds of councils procuring the same thing and re-badging it. Take planning applications for example, where same product has been procured and over, and over, and over, and over again. Something similar to Street Manager but for planning could save millions each year.

The main problem with this centralisation is that it doesn’t seem to be driven by a strategy or roadmap, and therefore it’s difficult for councils to incorporate this work into their own strategy. Because of this, if we are to continue down the route of increasing centralisation, local government needs more of a say in how this progresses, not least because of done correctly there’s huge potential for creating cheaper services.

We need to have a proper discussion about this and I’ll be running a session at this year’s LocalGovCamp on 15th November in Birmingham, if I don’t see you there, they’ll be other ways to contribute through LocalGov Digital.

Original source – Lg/Www

Years ago, I spent a happy three years living in Paris. I’d moved there via Germany, then Austria. I didn’t take much with me and the one thing I was happiest to leave behind was my TV. I didn’t own a TV for perhaps a decade.

Each European country I lived in had some quirky laws – that’s quirky when compared with the UK equivalents. For instance, shops in Vienna closed at lunchtime on Saturday and didn’t open on Sunday. The one exception was a store that mostly sold CDs and DVDs, right near the Hofburg (the old royal palace) that had apparently earned the right to stay open, when it sold milk and other essentials, direct to the royal family. It seemed that the law protected that right, even though there was no royal family and it didn’t sell milk.

I was perhaps not surprised to read recently that there are plenty of anachronistic laws covering French TV. For instance

  • National broadcasters can’t show films on Wednesday, Friday or Saturday
  • Those same broadcasters also can’t run ads for books, movies or sales at retailers
  • And they’re not allowed to focus any ads they do show on particular locations or demographics

The French government is considering changing these laws, but not until the end of 2020. Plainly the restrictions don’t apply to Youtube, Netflix or Amazon Prime. Netflix, alone, has 5m users in France. TV is struggling already; and it’s even more hobbled with such laws.

There are, of course, plenty of other more important issues going on that demand the attention of any country’s executive, and so perhaps it’s not a surprise that, even in 2019, laws such as these exist.

But in the digital world where, for instance, in the UK, we legislated for digital signatures to be valid as far back as 2000, it’s interesting to look at the barriers that other countries have in place, for historical reasons, to making progress in the next decade.

Original source – In The Eye Of The Storm

First_Lady_Betty_Ford_Talks_with_Reporters_Outside_the_Guttman_Institute_for_Early_Detection_of_Breast_Cancer_in_New_York_City_-_NARA_-_12082709.jpg

My attention was caught by a group of future communications leaders who were learning about best practice and for the life of me I couldn’t help but hear alarm bells ringing.

Best practice is something that has worked well in practice.

But the thing is, the world is so complex, what may be best practice 12-months ago often isn’t today.

When I dig behind something that has worked I’m often struck by the amount of research that has gone into it.

It is the act of research that’s the star of the show not the whizzy graphics.

A few years ago Sport England ran a campaign ‘This Girl Can’ that encouraged 2.8 million women of all sizes to do something to exercise. Suddenly, everyone wanted carbon copies.

Stop it.

Avoid best practice.

Instead, go and research to build your own beautiful ideas that will work today and if you’re lucky next week, too.

Picture credit: wikimedia commons

 

 

 

Original source – The Dan Slee Blog » LOCAL SOCIAL: Is it time for a Local localgovcamp?