In September 2014, officers from 25 councils met in Guildford to discuss a platform to enable collaboration across Local Government. A "Kickstarter for local government" is the missing part to Makers Project Teams, a concept to enable collaborative working across different organisations put forward by LGMakers the design and development strand of LocalGov Digital.
Based on the user needs captured at the event, LGMakers created collaboration platform Pipeline and by October people from over 50 councils had signed up. Pipeline is an Alpha, a prototype set up to evaluate how a Kickstarter for councils might work. It is a working site though, and is being used as the platform it is eventually intended to be, at present without some of finer features a live offer might have.
So what have I've learnt in the eight months since we launched Pipeline?
There's a strong desire to collaborate
LocalGov Digital isn't a funded programme. I wrote about how much it LocalGov Digital costs, but the short of it is, other than LocalGovCamp which is funded by generous sponsors (though still very much organised by people like Sarah Lay in their own time), we spend next to nothing on what we do.
The campaign to promote Pipeline consisted of a few tweets, a couple of articles online and a lot of word-of-mouth, yet as I type people from almost 100 councils have signed up. That's almost 25% of local authorities in the UK.
This doesn't happen unless there's a desire for people to do something, so yes, people working in councils and civic coders seem to genuinely want to join things up and work together.
Collaboration needs coordination
There are 58 projects in Pipeline but many have been added and forgotten about. In some cases others have expressed an interest in someone else's project, but again, then forgotten about it. This could be because as an Alpha, Pipeline doesn't yet have the full capabilities needed to keep people informed of what's happening on it, but actually I don't think it really needs a technical solution.
No amount of email, tweeting or other messaging functionality will help resolve this on its own. After all, how many times a month do you unsubscribe from something you vaguely remember signing up for some time ago?
Without a co-ordinator or community manager Pipeline and anything set up to achieve similar aims will become nothing more than a place to share ideas at best, of which there are already many adequate mediums, and talking shop at worst.
I've heard so much about collaboration over the past years, but to the best of my knowledge there still isn't a single person in this kind of co-ordinator role nationally, which brings me to the main conclusion I draw from Pipeline:
There is no organisation championing local government digital collaboration nationally by doing
LocalGov Digital isn't an organisation, it's a networked collection of like minded people with an interest in making things better by the use of digital.
In the medium term at least, there is no champion organisation or programme set to ride in and round up all those interested in true cross-organisation collaboration. Equally there are no tanks set to invade the lawn of local government digital service provision. If there were, they still would have to navigate the mire of interests and opinions of associations, societies and companies who have some involvement in how local government does digital.
Even with a proven case for collaboration, access to the open source code for Pipeline and kanban board of user needs which anyone can take an use for themselves this hasn't happened. If you have an interest in this topic you may have read, or perhaps even written that someone needs really needs to do something about this.
Well guess what? That someone it probably you.
So what next?
To make this happen it's not about creating a GDS Local (though this may be a small part of that), it's not about solving the big problems like open systems or making sure local government designs to meet user needs, in my mind this is where the debate has been going wrong.
It's about starting small and simple and building from there. So in this case, how do we create that single role to facilitate collaboration nationally, because sometimes the solutions to digital problems aren't technology based, they're just about good old fashioned thinking, doing and sharing.
I've started to think about it, and I wrote about how it might be funded here.