In conversation with Ben Cheetham
Ben Cheetham is the Head of Technology and Design within the Local Digital Collaboration Unit, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Governement and will be speaking on Understanding your user when delivering accessible and inclusive digital services panel at the Public Sector Solutions Expo on 25th June 2019.
How does the Local Digital Collaboration Unit differ from previous attempts to cultivate digital transformation through collaboration that you have been involved with, such as LocalGov Digital and the Local Digital Coalition?
The Local Digital Collaboration Unit (LDCU) has been created by MHCLG, in response to the previous/ongoing collaborative movements such as the Local Digital Coalition and LocalGov Digital. There has never been a dedicated team before whose job is to support the sector in this way. The Coalition, while it existed, and LocalGov Digital relied on the dedication of individuals in the sector committing time on top of their day jobs.
As a team within central government, the LDCU is positioned to enable collaboration using existing networks with all local councils. Our aims are to:
- Build capacity: help all relevant organisations understand why and how to implement the Local Digital Declaration through our roadshows, newsletter, website, and digital skills training
- Deliver reusable tools: learn how to build reusable design patterns, guides and standards that help local authorities and their partners disrupt and open up the technology market, deliver more joined-up, user-centred services, and avoid duplicated efforts
- Support a wiki-style community: help local authorities and their partners to collaborate without the need for central coordination
User-centred design is a key aspect of the Declaration – how does this factor in when organising which local authorities will collaborate on which projects?
There are different forms of collaboration, ranging from working jointly on designing and delivering services through to re-using and learning from the work of others.
Local authorities are free to choose who they partner with when building services. We hope that the Local Digital Declaration, and its commitment for councils to share and work together, will accelerate collaboration and provide a framework for authorities to work in a user-centred way.
The intention is for authorities to be able to build better services more quickly, flexibly and effectively by sharing learning. This could be one council building on user research from another similar authority, allowing them to focus their limited resources.
How is Local Digital supporting local councils to upskill their workforce to ensure the transformation projects are accessible and inclusive to the current workforce?
As part of the £7.5 million Local Digital Fund granted by HM Treasury, MHCLG has committed to providing GDS Academy training to over 1000 local authority staff whose organisations have signed the Local Digital Declaration. This initiative aims to build digital delivery and leadership capacity in the sector.
The Declaration encourages councils to work in multi-disciplinary teams to build services. This includes people from existing service teams. Our most popular course, Agile for Teams, allows up to 15 members of staff from a council to attend together, to learn about and practice working in an agile way. We encourage councils to not just send members of their Digital teams and include staff from service areas. Feedback to date has been excellent and attendees have talked about how they’ve gone on to share the learnings with colleagues in their teams when they return to the council.
What is next for Local Digital in 2019 and beyond?
We’re really pleased with the work being carried out by collaborative local government teams through the Local Digital Fund, and we’re excited to see the progress towards better digital services that produce better outcomes for citizens. The first round of funded projects have now delivered their findings, which we’ll use to learn how to better support collaborative projects in the future, sharing them all openly and possibly identifying templates that will make this kind of work easier for project teams next time around.
We’ll also analyse the outputs to understand how best to invest the remainder of the Local Digital Fund. We want to make sure that some of the projects get to later stages of development and help us learn about the tough task of driving reuse of something proven to be widely valuable. So, this may mean investing more money in fewer projects in future rounds.
We’ll be sharing all project assets and lessons on our website. So, where it’s clear that there’s value in progressing some projects that we can’t directly fund, we hope that the tools and benefits cases we share will ensure that as much good work as possible gets taken forward.
We’re still learning what support the sector needs from the team. Our recent series of collaboration roadshows provided a platform to discuss where central government can help local government in delivering services. We hope to continue working with digital leaders in the sector to iterate what we offer.