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The internet of broken things

When most people refer to something as Web 3.0 I usually call shenanigans. When Sir Tim Berners-Lee calls something "a component of Web 3.0" I take notice. This is what he said of the Semantic Web.

The Semantic Web is the "internet of things", compared to Web 1.0 and 2.0 which perhaps could respectively be described as the "internet of information" and the "internet of services". Back in 2011 I was already boring people about "being objective", but a conversation with the award winning Carl Haggerty this week reminded me of this again.

So what's it got to do with local governments?

Councils look after a huge number of physical assets. My area has 10,000+ streetlights for example, and at some point they'll all exist as an entity on the internet. Actually, they kind of do already.

Here's a link to report a problem with the streetlight nearest to where I work for example. In fact you could do the same with any of the 10,000+ …

Social media and the internal digital divide

There's an elephant in the room of channel shift. In fact it's knocked through to social media's gaff and is currently residing in the whole ground floor of the digital comms building. I'd been meaning to write about this for a while and Helen Reynolds post asking "Isn’t it time ALL employees were encouraged to use social media" promoted me into doing so.

Channel shift encourages not only customers to use digital, but also those providing the service to communicate with service users using digital too. That might be using social media, a Customer Relationship Management system or some other electronic means.

In my LocalGov Digital role I talk to lots of people, in lots of organisations, in lots of sectors and one thing is apparent; the standard of literacy of some delivering services is perceived as not good enough to communicate effectively using digital.

This is not in any way a judgement on their professional capability. I myself once worked with a compute…

How to reduce visits to your website

Ten years ago, a general view of local governments' websites was bigger is better. "We've only got 2,000 pages on our site; you've got 5,000? Brilliant!", I remember conversations at conferences going.

Today however it's widely accepted that some local government's websites are almost impenetrable fortresses of content, not just through incomprehensible language but because of the sheer number of pages one has to sift through to find pertinent information.

The LocalGov Digital Content Standards seek to help put this right, and these days participants in unconference conversations are more likely to take the view that it's better to have the minimum number of pages needed to do the task of delivering information and services.

So what's this change in best practice for local governments' websites got to do with the number of visits?

Most local governments now have some sort of Channel Shift programme in place, which seeks to direct as many user…

An emergency tweetcast network

This week we had an incident on one of the trunk roads in our area. Fortunately there were no fatalities, but the road was closed in both directions for a few hours.

The incident happened around 6.45am and TVP Roads Policing tweeted about it. Ideally partner organisations would have someone monitoring Twitter and have re-tweeted it, but often it simply isn't possible to have dedicated members of staff to do this, around the clock.

So this got me thinking, could I build something to the task?

I was reminded of films, where in a civil emergency, radio and television becomes one broadcast network. Could something be done along similar lines with Twitter? I started to build a proof of concept and surprisingly, in a short space of time it was finished. So how does it work?

Firstly, (this is the technical mumbo-jumbo) set the code up with your OAuth application authentication and then get it to run at scheduled times, ideally every couple of minutes. Even running the code this frequentl…

Centring on savings sells digital short

You might have seen a paper published last week by UKAuthority reporting that 40% of councils say they're not making savings by using digital.

Whilst I agree with much of the sentiment of the paper I noticed that Steve Halliday, President of SocITM commented on Twitter that perhaps it was "council accountants fail(ing) to count savings achieved through digital" and I can see his point.

I very much doubt that there's a single council that isn't making some sort of saving through digital, it's just that this information hasn't been collated or reported. After all, every council has a website, so this must be be providing some saving, in that it's preventing a level of what used to be referred to as "avoidable contact", so why wasn't this reported?

I'm not advocating the introduction of performance indicators that tie council staff up in red tape rather then delivering services. I'm just saying that when a council says it&#…

Being Really Useful

Last Tuesday I took part in a Really Useful Day in Newbury. The event was the biggest Really Useful Day so far, and saw over 50 people from more than 25 councils attend.

The days are organised byLocal DirectGov, a service run by Department for Communities and Local Government. This was the second LocalGov Digital / Local DirectGov collaboration, the first being part of Create/Innovate in Devon, though in truth all the credit goes to Louise and Abby from Local DirectGov for organising the day.

We heard how Adur and Worthing Councils and Brighton and Hove Council created new websites and from myself on "Connecting Councils", how council officers can collaborate and share using digital media.

I know I promote a digital agenda, but there's sometimes no substitute for face-to-face collaboration and what marks a Really Useful Day apart from many events is the level of practical participation. People are encouraged to think and solve problems together, rather than just …

Four bits of advice for new LocalGov websites.

 John Fox recently posted designs for the new Sheffield City Council website on Google+. I applaud anyone who does this and opens their designs up to critique and criticism; it can only produce a better result for the end user. A discussion followed which prompted me to come up with the following four bits of advice if you're creating a new Local Government website:

Treat Google as your home page. Prioritise the SEO work above things like including top tasks on your home page. At least twice as many people will come from Google than visit your home page.


Treat every page as landing page. Assess the tasks one might need associated with this particular service, wherever they might be on the site and whoever might provide them, and link to them.

For example, if you want to build an extension on your house you'll need to know about Planning Applications and you'll probably need to know about Building Control which are generally in the same areas of a council website.

Less like…

The End Of The Beginning

Last Friday I attended a meeting of the LocalGov Digital Steering Group. The group of local government digital practitioners of which I'm currently Vice Chair along with Carl Whistlecraft.

Comms Lead Sarah Lay has already written a great blog piece about it, so in the LocalGov Digital spirit of sharing and collaboration, rather then repeat what she's written read about what happened here and then come back to get my take on it, please.

For me, the meeting felt like the end of the beginning; the completion of the discovery phase and a move into outputting tangible products to assist everyone in local government who deliver services and information digitally.

Up until now, I know that some have seen LocalGov Digital purely as a think tank, but the Steering Group and wider network are digital doers and in the near future you'll start to see things like the Content Guidelines published.

The Guidelines collate and add to best practice from around the world to help councils imp…

Choose Digital: Alpha

Today the sites we're producing as part of our Choose Digital Project moved into their Alpha phase. You can read about why we're creating two new sites, on the Choose Digital Blog.

We're inviting comment from local residents and businesses, peers in other local authorities and our own councillors and staff; in fact anyone who wants to. We've released templates for home pages, landing pages, services and information pages.

One of the first things you'll probably notice is a warning on every page. This is because the sites are far from finished, in fact they're barely started in terms of design, development and content. So why release a site to the public so early in the process?

I wrote in the past about the Government Service Design Manual and how some of it could be adapted for local governments. The basic framework for creating a digital service is something that certainly can be applied to every design and development process for a public facing service an…

LocalGov Digital Hangout: September 2013 - Preview

In recent experience I think it's true to say there's growing interest in sharing and collaboration between local governments.

Whilst this may take shape through formal shared services or jobs there's also an undercurrent of dialog which is creating informal coalitions of knowledge and ideas, both online and in person, between hundreds of local government members and officers.

That's the good news.

From events I've attended this year there seem many more interested in joining in, but unsure as to how beyond traditional conferences. I recently wrote about why I'm running another LocalGov Digital Hangout and as even unconferences need some sort of structure I though this could be the topic of September's.

To this end, I thought the hangout might focus on these four questions:


Which tools can local governments use to share ideas and collaborate more effectively?

Are there any good examples of sharing and collaboration between local governments?
How can collabo…

LocalGov Digital Hangouts

A hangout is a video chat room, integrated into Google+. Isn't that a dead platform you might ask? I used to think that too, but I wrote about why I changed my mind, here.

Back in February 2013 I ran the first LocalGov Digital hangout, an evening event for those with an interest in local government and digital; Kate Sahota ran the next one in March. Since then I've taken part in a few of Shane Dillion's excellent hangouts, Jerome's Turners Out Of Hours Hyperlocal and set up what we hope to be regular hangout for local government officers in Berkshire.

Now seems like a good time to make LocalGov Digital hangouts a regular event and to start with I'll be running them from 2pm to 3pm on the third Thursday of every month. Whilst the hangouts will focus on a topic, the overall aim will be to share ideas, promote collaboration and highlight local government best practice in delivering services and information digitally.

Like unconferences and camps, hangouts for the pub…

Kick starting collaboration in Local Government

A while ago, at a LocalGov Digital Steering Group I suggested the idea of a "dating site" or Kickstarter for Local Government. This week I was discussing Nesta's new Creative Commons Europe site with Carl Haggerty and Paul Mackay; it seemed like a good idea to re-visit the subject.

When it comes to digital services, councils often tend to buy off-the-shelf solutions with a customised look and feel. This means that essentially, some suppliers are selling the same thing over and over again with a different paint job. It's production line development and sales in digital services, or IT systems as they're often seen as, which are treated as a purchased product with a limited shelf-life. When the shelf-life expires the procurement process starts again.

Producing digital services should be an iterative process, as documented in the Government Service Design Manual. People's expectations of digital services are constantly evolving and Local Government is not immun…

Trolls, vigilantes and vigilante trolls.

There's been a lot of talk recently about the creation of a "Report Abuse" button on Twitter. There's already a procedure to report abuse and you're able to block users from tweeting @ you, but this would make it easier to do so. When launched, in my opinion the Report Abuse button will help create two new groups on Twitter.

Vigilantes


It's always been possible to seek out and join in the conversation of others on Twitter, it's one of the great things about the medium. The Report Abuse button will make it much easier for people to try to stop conversations happening.

It goes without saying that everyone has different views and that expends to what constitutes abuse too. Journalist Caitlin Moran seems to dislike misogynistic language but has usesd phrases like "bum boy", "tranny", "mong" and "spaz" which others might find offensive, for example.

One person's humour is another's abusive language and being ab…

What's on the cards - Part one

This week we reached a milestone in our Choose Digital Project. For the past month or so we've taken the Local Government Services List and used it to catalogue our services.

Almost every piece of content on our new sites should relate to a service we provide or commission, but there wasn't a definitive list of what we do as an organisation. Now there is, and we also know whether each service is potentially something we could offer digitally too.

So we printed out each cards for each service or bit of information and they looked like this..


..the yellow cards were the Service Site (211 of them) and the Blue (544) were the Information site. The Project Team then spent an afternoon sorting them into different categories for both our new Service and Information sites..

..and now we've got the structure of both sites. 
So that's the background, in the next two parts I'll describe why the website structure is becoming less important and in the third what other insights …

What's To Become Of UK Gov Camp?

A couple of months ago I wrote a job description for a new post. Included in it was a line about attending camps and unconferences to share ideas and learn from best practice as part of the role.

To be clear, when I wrote the spec I wasn’t expecting this person to be spending many days a month, swanning round the country attending everything they could. Clearly there’s a balance between talking about stuff and putting it into practice.

Equally, as someone who preaches “Digital by Choice” if there are ways to contribute online, then these should also be considered. There’s usually no better medium than face-to-face, however (I’m sure you already know) digital can often be cheaper and more convenient.

It’s with this in mind I read that James Cattell was organising UK Gov Camp 2014 (UKGC) and he was investigating expanding or evolving it, something that I agree needs to happen given the interest in the 2013 event.

Now here’s the thing, that links back to the job description I wrote. Until ca…

Reject Responsive Design and mess with RESS

It's been a while since I wrote a really nerdy post, in fact I'm doing a talk on Engagement at a SocITM event next week so it's about time I got back to my locked-in-a-cupboard, haven't-seen-daylight-for-days, coding roots. Some of the SocITM event is around based around mobile strategy so this seems a good topic to choose.

You've probably heard everyone talking about how mobile devices are going to take over the world and traditional "static" websites will be obsolete by next week. Of course I'm exaggerating but it's true to say that some time in the next year or so, mobile and tablet use will overtake desktop and laptop use for viewing websites.

You need to optimise your site for these devices, and there are two routes you can take.

Create lots of versions of your site using Adaptive Design (AWD)

So you create a two different versions of your site, one for laptops and fixed machines, the other for smartphones. There's two advantages to this a…

Don't KO the kHub

Last Friday an email was sent stating “the LGA are proposing to close the Knowledge Hub facility” and over the weekend the vultures started to circle announcing the death of the platform.

It’s "rubbish and unusable" came a response from one person who doesn’t actually use the platform. It needs “a change of technology, a new business model, and some great community management” were the comments from another proposing to take it on.

I’ve also seen the kHub referred to as “failing” despite its 150,000+ users and I wondered what these comments were based on, other than personal user experience.

Monday was a Bank Holiday and as news started to filter through on Tuesday, many more of the kHub’s community managers and users started to voice their opinion and the picture seemed a little different.

“This has become a powerful tool for the users and is a perfect way for us to share best practice” said one community manager, in fact every post I’ve seen on the kHub, by kHub users has been…

How I learned to love the LGSL

Last week I wrote about why we're developing two websites one for council services, the other for information. Because we're writing new guidelines for content and changing the model we use for publishing, it seems an ideal opportunity to not just to review our existing content, but pretty much start again.

There’s some great content on our site and some that’s than less than good, which unfortunately is usually the result of a devolved content management model. This is something SocITM highlighted back in February of this year.

So given a clean slate, where would you start?

Everything on a council website should relate to a public service provided (whether provided or commissioned by the council or provided by another public body) in their area and there seems no better start than the Local Government List (LGSL).

Council websites seem to be abandoning the Local Government Navigation List (LGNL). I think that's probably the right move because as different authorities ha…

What is the purpose of the website?

Marc Snaith recently started a thread on the kHub about website redesign which is timely for me as today we formally launched a project to develop two new websites tasked with delivering digital services and information, to be completed over the next year.

For me, the most pertinent question in Marc’s post is “what is the purpose of the website”, and this was the catalyst behind why we’re creating two rather than one new site. For me, there’s a clear distinction between digital services and information, the former being doing stuff digitally, the later reading about stuff digitally. Retailers like Tesco understand this and have created a digital services site and an information site for shareholders and those interested in what the company does.

Though our current site has altered design since its inception in 2005, the basic premise of it being focused around delivering information to laptop and desktop devices hasn’t. This is why we’re creating two new sites because trying to deli…

Ding dong and the digital divide

A couple of week ago I wrote "if you aren't digitally literate it'll soon become very hard to obtain music that isn't mainstream". Since then the purchasing of one particular song has caused a huge amount of controversy both with politicians and in the media.

I'm not going to go into the reasons why people might be buying the song Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead, in this piece that's of no interest to me, I'm exploring the methods they're choosing to do so and how this might give us an insight into other services.

It's also worth noting that according to the Local Government Chronicle, this week plans to launch Universal Credit as "digital by default" have been amended to "digital as appropriate".

So, back to the song in question, let's say I wanted to legally own a copy of this recording today, there are basically two methods I can use to obtain it:

Digitally
From places like iTunes to more specialist sites like Beatport t…

What I've learnt about Assisted Digital so far

On Wednesday night I took part in a LocalGov Digital G+ Hangout run by Kate Sahota, another member of the LocalGov Digital Steering Group. The session focused on Assisted Digital, and as well those working in Local Government it included Ben Carpenter, currently seconded to Age UK and John Popham, who's work promotes digital inclusion.
As more government services go, or are created purely as digital, providing help and training for those who are unable to use them will become much more important. Central Government has created an Approach to Assisted Digital, but this is fairly high level stuff and though some individual departments are supposed to be providing Digital Champions for services such as Universal Credit, in reality I'm not sure if this is happening everywhere.
There's an even bigger issue around the digitisation of society and how this is changing the lives of everyone. For example if you aren't digitally literate it'll soon become very hard to obtain…

Making digital services for dummies

Have you seen the new Government Service Design Manual? It's basically a Making Digital Services for Dummies. I don't mean this in a derogatory sense, in fact quite the opposite. The "For Dummies" books sell millions and it's actually often "dummies", or people that don't have a working knowledge of how digital services are developed that have the final say on how and if they're created.

The thing is, it won't work for some local governments.

Because it's a textbook of how things should be done, the real world sometimes doesn't work like it does on paper. Some local governments don't employ development resource, others are tied into long contracts which means they have to pay through the nose for development and have little control over the process used to create it.

So what's the solution? Adapt the Manual for local governments? Nope. The Manual is by and large how digital development should be done in government, and wh…

Is the council website dead and G+ hangouts.

Last night I ran the first LocalGov Digital Google+ Hangout, inspired by the excellent Out Of Hours Hyperlocal.

The purpose was twofold, firstly to discuss a topic, is there a place for role or task based sites and is the concept of “the council website” dead?

Councils like Devon and Surrey already have separate news sites, Warwickshire has customer and corporate sites and where I work we’re just starting to develop separate digital service delivery and information sites.

I wanted to explore the benefits and drawbacks of such an approach.

What transpired is that the concept of just two or three sites is a luxury to some because as more physical services are contracted out it’s becoming increasingly difficult to offer a unified digital platform.

Whilst it doesn’t matter to many residents which organisation is filling in potholes or fixing their streetlights, reporting them online might become a lot harder if they have to find a separate website to do this on. Multiply this by the nu…

Don't focus on Facebook, deliver via digital

Local Governments have come a long way in the past couple of years in terms of communicating and listening to people via social media. The recent snow that affected much of the country showed that many councils now understand the power of delivering and distributing information this way.

This is great but I suggest it's time to move the focus on to the more difficult task of delivering services via digital. We've had the debate about social media, it's a good thing, lets start working on delivering the services that people want.

I know there are already councils that are doing some of this very well (and if you are, please get in touch, I'd like to promote it as good practice through LocalGov Digital) , but they're few and far between. There are also some that think they are, but aren't.

Let's take a hot topic at the moment for all councils that look after the roads, potholes, and put a checklist together:

Is there a page on your website to report potholes…

Hyperlocal and the 3 Councils

I recently joined and took part in a Google+ hangout on hyperlocals. When I say took part, I typed some text in the chat window and listened to everyone else speak. They knew far more than me, given they ran hyperlocal sites themselves and sometimes it's best just to shut up and listen.

I did it as a fact finding exercise to see how councils can help and support hyperlocals and hope to join in again. Some the conversation was actually about councils' attitudes towards hyperlocal.

What this and all my other research has taught me so far is that there seem to be three approaches to hyperlocals from councils. So here's the tale of "Hyperlocal and the 3 Councils". Of course the councils in the story are a work of fiction and in no way represent one single local authority.


The "we don't do it like that"s:
This type of council won't and don't engage with hyperlocals. Social media might be banned in their public meetings and they don't see hyp…

Could standard hashtags work?

Back in May 2012 I wrote about public sector organisations using common hashtags on Twitter for the London 2012 Torch Relay. Since then I've been talking with a few people about how Local Government could use common hashtags to represent its most used services.

I'm thinking for example, #bin to represent anything to do with Waste Services, #road for anything to do with Highways and so on. Tweets might look like

@AnyCouncil my #bin hasn't been collected

@AnyCouncil when do the roadworks on Station Road finish? #road

Before I go any further I should say I'm not proposing that these tags should be mandatory before customers get a reply. We're trying to make things easier for them, not add red tape.

So what could be achieved if customers used tags like this in their tweets? One application is an auto-response which also forwarded the enquiry to the people who are most likely to have the answer.

When I tweeted about this Marc Schmid quite rightly pointed out that "P…

Should everyone use Open311?

Last week I posted about how at the moment digital is the preferred channel for reporting broken streetlights, flooding, potholes, fly tipping and so on to us, referred to as Fault Reporting.

Then I read what Tom Steinberg wrote explaining what Open311 is better than I ever could, which got me thinking.

In 2011 I created an Open311 service which is plugged into our Fault Reporting functionality and therefore our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. I then did some work with the very knowledgeable people at Fix My Street (FMS) so that their site used the service. This means, that like our own Fault Reporting, stuff submitted via FMS gets automatically logged and assigned to the correct team.

You might ask why don't we just use FMS, but that's a debate for another day.

What got me thinking about Tom's post is that third party sites that don't use Open311 generally send requests for service through as an email which is far less efficient than creating the case …

Why was December the month of "Digital by Choice"?

In December 2012 more people chose digital to report problems to us about broken streetlights, flooding, potholes, fly tipping, litter, trees and shrubs and so on, than any other medium. The figures were:
Web 44%Phone 40%Email 15%Other 1% I feel proud for everyone who's worked on what we refer to as Fault Reporting, as looking at feedback, customers have chosen to use the service because they prefer it to any other medium we offer. It's a real example of "Digital by Choice", rather than "Digital by Default"; building a service so good that people want to use it, not forcing them to use it by closing or running down others.

It's not something that's happened overnight; we've been improving what we offer online for years based on customer, member and officer feedback. So, you might be asking, what are the main things you can do to improve take-up of your own digital Fault Reporting?


Make it more convenient

This one's easy. Our phone lines are…