For me, here's the dilemma. To understand local governments and the ever changing demands and constraints which are even more evident in the digital world you need to be part of one as a member, or work for one as an officer. I wrote about this back in 2012 just after LocalGov Digital was formed.
In my view it's essential to be directly accountable to the representatives of local people or local people themselves, if you're delivering public services for them.
The problem with this is, quite rightly, one's time is taken up with working for one's council, so unless you find other councils interested in doing what you're doing which in itself takes time, any work beyond the day job for the wider sector is largely done in one's own time.
So, take the person out of local government and they lose the essential accountability to local people, keep them in and they'll have little time to do anything for the wider sector.
There's a model from sport that could work and perhaps solve this problem. It's used by the England and Wales Cricket Board and it's called the central contract system.
The system sees 12 or 13 English cricketers offered central contracts each year, which means they work as part of the national team to practice and prepare for international cricket. Instead of working solely for the national side, they still retain the link with their county side and some cases, they return to play a match for their county.
Different types of people make up a team. There's batsmen, fast bowlers, spin bowlers, a wicket keeper and perhaps an all-rounder too. You don't need to know what any of these roles do, I'm just using them to illustrate that it's similar to a digital team that might also include many disciplines.
You can see where I'm going with this. Central contracts could be offered on annual basis to create a Local GDS. Officers would work as part of a central team but still retain the connection with the local government they work for.
This raises more questions than it answers, for example:
- Who appoints and manages this team?
- Who funds it?
- How do you back-fill their post for the time they're not working for their council.
- Projects don't normally last exactly a year, do you employ people for the term of a project only?
- What if they're working on more than one project?
- Can people be employed for a second, third term or longer, as they are with cricket's central contract model?
- If not are you throwing away experience gained?
- If they can, will they become so distanced from their council, might you be better employing them on a more conventional fixed term contract?
Perhaps this might move the debate on, perhaps it just confuses things or perhaps you just think there's a better way to do it. Whatever your view, you can join in the debate through LocalGov Digital Voice.