Saturday, 12 July 2014

Does "register to vote" show why a Local GDS wouldn't work?

Register to vote is a new digital service created by the Government Digital Service and is available on GOV.UK.

All you need is your National Insurance Number and it takes about 5 minutes to start the voter registration process.

Satisfaction with GOV.UK users is high, around 95%, and I can say from experience that I found it quick and easy to use, myself.

There are problems with the process once you leave GOV.UK however, in fact the first warning signs are as you finish the GOV.UK part of the process. "contact your local electoral registration office" says the completion message (pictured above), but there's hundreds of them. Given the address of the user is known, wouldn't it be better to do the hard work to make it simple by adding a link to the appropriate council?

Perhaps I'm being unfair, but to me this says to users, "we've done our bit, you're not our problem any more".

User experience once the process is passed to a local government is varied. It works fine for some, however other users have reported no contact after over a month, some say they've received letters when they've asked for email correspondence, others complain that where before they were able to tell a council they'd changed their address in one place, now they have to use two digital services, one on GOV.UK, one on a local government's website.

So why is this occuring?

Whilst there's one digital service to start the process there are hundreds of electoral registration teams that finish it and even though a great deal of work was put into making the start of the process excellent, creating consistency at end seems to have been forgotten.

So, would a Local Governments Digital Service help resolve this? The short answer is no, in fact it's more likely to make things worse. Why? Because the digital practitioners embedded in each local government who could assist, wouldn't be there, they'd be in London or Manchester, or a regional hub, not working alongside the electoral registration teams who complete the work for this service.

One solution would be to operate the whole of the service centrally, but this means centralising not just digital, but an administrative function of local governments which is a fundamental shift in the other direction of localism.

In my view the answer is to improve skills in and collaboration between local governments.

LocalGov Digital will be working on this over the next six months. We'll be creating tools to enable local governments to work together when they need to, but continue to retain the autonomy needed to deliver service that meet the needs of local users.

We'll also be starting to create ways in which local government members and officers can equip themselves with the skills needed to deliver better and more consistent services.

Unlike any proposed separate service, organisation or central team if you're a digital practitioner working in or around local governments right now and you want in, then you're already part of LocalGov Digital.

Let's get digital done better and start joining things up, together as LocalGov Digital.
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.