A personal journey from council officer to supplier, via the MHCLG Local Digital team
In late June and early July 2018, I was racing between London, Cardiff and Birmingham, helping Linda O’Halloran, Egle Uzkaraityte, Adam Thoulass and our colleagues in the embryonic MHCLG Local Digital team to put the final touches to the coalition of 40+ councils, government departments and public sector organisations that co-authored the Declaration. We had crafted the Declaration in a collaborative process over the previous few months, in workshops hosted in rooms donated by GDS, MHCLG, the LGA, and councils like Camden and Southwark, and debated tweaks to the language over drinks post-Roadshow in Hackney, Bristol, and Leeds. I can even claim to have written one or two lines of the speech that Rishi Sunak gave when he launched the Declaration at the LGA Conference on July 4th 2018.
As we launched the new localdigital.gov.uk site, we found that suppliers began to ask how they could sign up… and that led over time to a strand of work that brought the supplier community into a conversation about how we could work in ways that supported the Declaration. I left the Local Digital team that autumn and joined Placecube in December 2018, so it was natural for me to collaborate with Alastair Parvin, Gary Todd, Euan Mills and others in drafting a “Code of Conduct” or “Procurement Checklist” as a way for suppliers to demonstrate their commitment and adherence to the principles of the Declaration.
It’s great to see that this document has inspired others (most recently Eddie Copeland used it to help form a proposed new requirement for all LOTI borough tech tenders). As a new name in the marketplace, Placecube has been actively designing the products and services we offer, and our ethos as a company around a similar set of standards and principles.
- Our subscription pricing will be transparent and fair
- We will not charge you a premium to integrate with our software or any digital services we provide
- We will use and support open standards
- We will uphold the principles of data protection, security and privacy by design
- We believe web accessibility is essential, always
- We will always seek to minimise the impact or disruption of any change
- We believe you have a right to know how your service is performing at all times
- We are committed to Place by design
How can we continue to support the Local Digital Declaration in its 3rd and future years?
During the past two years we’ve watched and amplified the news about collaborative projects, and were pleased to be able to work with Porism and Bucks council to prove that the recommendations of the OpenCommunity project could be implemented in our Open Place Directory – merging the original LGA Locally Delivered Services standard data with OpenReferral to create the OpenReferralUK extension.
More recently we’ve seen great value in the work on open source code-sharing led by Croydon and Brighton, and the discovery and alpha into a potential open source Income Management System.
These projects have begun to articulate the opportunities and challenges in making open standards, open source options available as a shared community and how commercial services might play a role in enabling take up beyond the core of pioneers.
The MHCLG Local Digital Fund projects on code sharing and an open source Income Management System have both underlined the importance of active management of a core product, and the challenges of adoption for the many councils across the country that have less capacity and in-house technical skill. The IMS project in particular is exploring how suppliers like Placecube could be part of sustaining a viable open source product in future, offering services from hosting and support to software configuration.
We see this as a natural evolution of the business model that companies like RedHat and Liferay have made successful globally – make the software openly available, invest in the community, and provide a great service that helps customers adopt and use it securely.
In practical terms, the website, digital service patterns and integration code we built with Bristol was reused by Camden. Improvements we made with Camden were reused by Lambeth. Rugby and Greenwich will benefit from the further development of GOV.UK design system components we’ve done with Lambeth… and then as we co-design and build new cubes with councils, they are cascaded back to all existing customers. We’re currently working with a couple of councils to create an open source Customer Contact Management solution as an affordable, CRM replacement solution that is built by local government for local government. This is our answer for the challenge of spreading adoption of the great work that councils have co-created, when they commit to a new way of working together, helping them to amplify their resources.
Suppliers need to act with integrity and to be open to playing a part in an ecosystem, rather than trying to capture every stream of income from every council. They need to make APIs and services first class components in their products, and include them in the price so that councils stop having to pay for access to their own data. They need to stop making the public sector pay twice for product development, and instead support code-sharing and the spread of good service patterns by making them openly available and easily adoptable.
If you want to find out what it’s like to use an open digital platform, built on user research, that includes reusable digital services co-designed with councils, and supports GOV.UK design system styles, patterns and components, contact me firstname.lastname@example.org