I’ve been thinking about, doing, and sharing collaboration in the public sector for around fifteen years. One thing I’ve learnt in this time is that things go in cycles, and different people will try and solve the same problem, the same way, over and over again.
This week the Local Government Association (LGA) launched its Transformation and and Innovation Exchange and FutureGov launched a library of Service Patterns for Local Government; a couple of weeks ago Nesta launched its Upstream Collaborative.
The Transformation and Information Exchange now sits alongside the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government’s (MHCLG) database of Local Digital Projects, LocalGov Digital’s Pipeline, revitalised by Hackney and now supported by the London Office of Technology and Innovation, MHCLG, Hackney and others, the LGA’s own Shared Services Map, and many others.
Service Patterns for Local Government in some part replicates the Government Digital Service’s Design System, and duplicates some of the aims of Jadu’s Library, IEG4’s Digital Services Library and other similar resources.
The Upstream Collective is another group, network or association alongside the Society of Local Authority of Chief Executives, the Society of IT Managers, the Local CIO Council, LocalGov Digital, One Team Gov, and others, who already have programmes, initiatives and other work to enable collaboration in local government.
So why do we keep creating new silos and platforms in the name of collaboration?
Why do we keep doing the same thing over and over again and hoping we’ll get different results?
The reasons are many, some political, for example perhaps an imperative to be an organisation that’s seen to be leading change, but if you’re just rehashing what been tried before, you’re not leading.
Some reasons are commercial, being seen to be forward thinking but with a commercial agenda. There are however many people in the private sector who genuinely want to improve local public service delivery, and given those working in the public sector take wage and benefit financially themselves, let’s not get too puritanical about this.
So far this piece has been fairly negative, so I want to end on a positive because in the past year I think the catalyst which will enable collaboration between councils has been proven, and there’s probably little surprise that it’s money.
A offer of part of the £7.5 million Local Digital Fund generated 384 expressions of interest. As you’d expect, the quality varied, but having read through the 16 projects that were funded, many have the potential to change how councils deliver services. For example changing how councils take payments, how councils manage and deliver information about community services, or using AI through chatbots to ensure council services are designed to support the ongoing move away from accessing the internet via screens to voice.
Of course it’s not just money, it’s money spent in the right way, ensuring councils work together to delivering outcomes in an agile way, to meet user needs.
So if you’re thinking of building a platform to aid collaboration, or if you’re having conversations about how to redesign the local delivery of public services at whatever level, please don’t create another collaborative silo, research what already exists and which of the expected outcomes it did and didn’t deliver. Above all though, think how projects or other collaborative work will be funded, or, in the words of Shirley Bassey, it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.