Saturday, 10 January 2015

How much does LocalGov Digital cost?

There's a lot been written about LocalGov Digital, the national network for digital practitioners working in Local Government since it started in 2012. The one thing I've not seen discussed though is how much it's cost to make or put on the things we have. That's until now, so here goes.

The first thing we produced were the Content Standards, a resource to help local authorities create better digital content. A few councils came together to create this, rather than writing their own individually. Our first creation sums up the ethos of LocalGov Digital, working together to create something better than we might have on our own, and then sharing it with others.

The Content Standards cost the time that officers spend creating them, so this is a few hundred pounds of taxpayers' money. Contributors needed to put in far less time than if each council had created something individually however, so this a saving and since they're free to use by any local authority, they also continue to create savings for councils across the country that use them. After an initial spend it's probably fair to say that the Content Standards are cost negative.

Next we created our website. Initially we designed this in free, open source CMS WordPress which was hosted by the Local Government Association (LGA) however we now host this ourselves and use another free open source CMS, Umbraco. We did the build and design and fund the hosting ourselves. So after a few hours of work kindly provided by the LGA and funded indirectly by the taxpayer, our website is now privately financed.

We've also created a Council Website Usability Dashboard. It was developed almost exclusively by officers at Birmingham City Council as it was something that they planned to do anyway, but it's been built so that every council in the UK can use it. We estimate that it took around £1k of taxpayers money to produce, but just like the Content Standards it's saving councils across the country money, as they can now use it for free rather than creating their own or buying in a paid-for service.

Innovation platform Pipeline currently has people from over 80 councils signed up. It was adapted from existing open source code and the design and development was and continues to be done by ourselves. It's hosted on the same platform as our website so therefore hasn't cost a penny to set up and keep running other than what we contribute from own personal pockets.

We've organised a few events this year and by far the biggest was LocalGovCamp. This ran over two days, attracted around 170 people and was free for everyone to attend. We couldn't have done with without partners and sponsors and we're very grateful to the £9k of funding they contributed for things like venue hire and catering. The organisation and publicity was done by ourselves, for free, in our own time.

So why is all of this important?

If you work in the public sector, next time you're being charged hundreds of quid to attend an event, ask yourself why, or even better ask the organisers why. Next time you're spending tens of thousands on software or digital services, ask yourself, is there a better way get you want to meet citizens' needs?

With as much as a 60% decrease in funding from central government for councils perhaps still to come over the next few years, new ways of working are needed. This level of decrease might see funding for professional organisations and money for public sector initiatives dry up over the next few years, so opt-in cross organisation collaboration may increasingly be the way innovation happens, by those with the skills to get things done, not those that just talk about it.

LocalGov Digital shows that this model works and in 2015, we'll continue this by making minimal funding go a long way to join things up in local government.
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.