OPEN INSIGHTS from Dr. Gavin Beckett our Director of Product Research & Innovation
Over the past few months, since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK seriously from February-March 2020, we’ve seen a local emergency response that demonstrates the power of local government acting as a platform, working with all of the sources of capacity and creativity in the local area, enabling them to meet needs, providing platform services like brokering and matching needs with services that meet them.
There are examples across the whole of the UK, and some great tweets and posts about the ways in which councils have worked together with their partners and communities. The New Local Government Network did a brilliant job of collating them and summarising the main themes over on their Councils vs COVID and #CouncilsRespond series of blog posts.
In many cases, councils have built technology services that enable these platform responses, rather than try to do everything themselves, in a variety of low-code and full developer stacks, which is a great indicator that many councils’ tech infrastructure is ready to support a platform business model. But the immediate response also highlighted other aspects of the platform organisation’s role that need to be developed and strengthened as councils lead the recovery phase of the pandemic response.
In particular, a key role of the platform broker is setting standards and assuring data and services – which is often difficult to do when immediate urgent need must be met, but crucial for continued trust and confidence. In a number of conversations about the rapid adoption of open source service directories, it quickly became evident that councils were finding a real challenge in ensuring good quality data was sourced, captured and maintained. Service Directories are only as good as the data they use – if your service directory contains unreliable data, it can lead to a very poor experience for service users. Engaging the community to help maintain service information will directly improve user experience and outcomes for front line workers and service users.
We are big supporters of open source directories and well-designed front-end “service finders” that communicate through open APIs. We think the market needs more options, so that councils can choose flexibly from better designed open building blocks. But platform tech needs to provide all of the tools councils need – that’s why Open Place Directory is designed to help the public and voluntary sectors work together to collect data and ensure it is kept up to date. We’ve built a simple user experience that combines easy tools for capturing service information with assurance workflows that help councils in the work of building trust in communities, and enable strong community services to demonstrate the confidence people have in them.
But OPD goes well beyond councils – from the outset it was designed to work across all local public services, health systems as well as social care. COVID-19 has underscored the importance of local place ecosystems across public sector and community – not just councils but NHS and private sector organisations too. Too many of the legacy service directories were siloed to councils because the NHS required a higher level of trust in the services they included in Health directories. The assurance tools built into OPD have been tested with our early customers, like the Healthier Lancs partnership, during the LGA pilot on solutions to Loneliness. Having a reliable service directory unlocks #socialprescribing initiatives. And providing OpenAPI access to #opendata means that any frontline apps, websites, or other services can be used to find and share the content people need.
Open Place Directory is a showcase of our commitment to using open standards – in this case the newly developed OpenReferralUK – and OpenAPIs, all built on an open source foundation – enabling places to break out of the boundaries imposed on them by proprietary legacy systems.
For more information, or to arrange a demo of Open Place Directory, contact us