Using the local digital declaration to get your digital work going

Photo by Amélie Mourichon on Unsplash

The local digital declaration is three years old as I go to keyboard. I was privileged enough to be around at the time it was being put together, had some small input into it, and helped to promote it. I think it is well and truly a good thing.

What it does is define for the whole local government sector what digital is all about. It removes those misunderstandings that digital is just about channel shift, or better websites, or one single other thing. It explains that while good digital is not just about technology, it also is about technology, and how you have to get that and the culture right to make progress.

Hundreds of councils have signed up to it. Many did so, I am sure, because it was a commitment to doing things right, and because they believed in it. I suspect some signed up because they wanted to be in the cool crowd, even though they weren’t really bought into the whole thing. Plenty signed up because it meant they could apply for some funding. That’s a shame, but it’s understandable.

The truth is, signing up to the declaration is easy (thanks to it being a good digital service!). Living up to it is hard, and I would wager that not one single council could really say they are living and breathing every ambition and commitment in there. But that’s ok – it’s fine to be aspirational, as long as you are actively aspiring, and not just doing nothing.

Signing the declaration, or making a big deal of trying to meet all of its statements if you signed it a while ago, is a great way of getting some momentum going on your digital work.

Here’s 5 ways how to get cracking right away:

Use it to get the bosses excited about digital

Get some senior people together on a Teams or Zoom call, and take them through the declaration. Focus on the elements of it that are likely to resonate with them, such as:

  • fixing the plumbing of poorly implemented line of business software and untangling the spaghetti of multiple systems that overlap and don’t talk to each other (apologies for the metaphor mixing)
  • focus on the transformation of organisational culture and ways of working, which will be at the top of many people’s minds, particular now as we exit the lockdown of 2021
  • emphasise the potential for sharing technology, research, experience and knowledge through the network of signatories, including the great funded projects that can be tapped into
  • maybe mention the funding too if there’s still some available. Free money always goes down well

Encourage the leadership that this presents a clear to do list to become a sector leader in digital, as long as there is some commitment to making it happen – and maybe have a few small exmaples up your sleeve of things you could get on with quickly, and can report back to show progress.

Start blogging

A key part of the declaration is bringing the really positive open working culture of the internet age into our organisations. The best way to do that? Start blogging.

Seriously, it is not hard – and it is a great test of your mettle as a change agent in your organisation, and of your organisation’s commitment to the digital agenda, particularly if the culture where you work is one where blogging is a tricky thing to get started with.

There are loads of models to follow, but the really easy one to do, I would suggest, is:

  • register a blog at – it’s free and easy, and you don’t need to ask permission to do it. Call it something like [Name of Council] Digital – simples.
  • write some weeknotes. Just a quick bulleted list of what you’ve done that week, if your nervous, or try something more contemplative if you’re confident about it. Check out the web of weeknotes site operated by Matt Jukes for inspiration.
  • when you’ve published a few posts, show your boss and explain how it helps meet the declaration thing you spoke at with them a few weeks ago. Ask if you can email a link to your weeknote to the leadership team every week to get them interested

Boom! You’re on your way to an open, digital culture. Now get cracking on laptop stickers and posters.

Run some service assessments

Sometimes this is seen as an incredibly daunting thing to do, but actually done the right way service assessing is a great way of introducing people to what is really important in delivering good digital services.

Now, for those working with very estblishment outfits like GDS and others, service assessments can be pretty formal gateway style checkpoints, to prevent poor digital services from going live. That’s exactly how it should be for such organisations, but if you’re just starting out, then a bit of compromise is needed.

Instead, use the service assessment process to demonstrate to folk across your organisation what good looks like, and how much of a positive impact just doing a bit of user research could have, or how we could be really sure our information security is spot on, or indeed how we could have saved money if we’d just used that thing IT bought last year, rather than buying another new thing just for this service.

Find some enthusiastic friendly folk to be on your panel. If you can find someone from another organisation who has done it before, all the better. People don’t need to be digital experts, they just need to be interested and curious, and maybe have had a read of the service standard beforehand, and be good at asking sensible questions.

At the end, rather than a strict go/no go decision on whether the service can go live, you’ll have a list of improvement that could be made to it, or maybe a checklist of things to do on the next service you’ll work on.

At Croydon we did a very early service assessment on our own digital blog which was a great, low risk place to start. Here’s the summary report which gives a flavour, and how it’s not that scary a process, not really.

Get involved in a funded project

The declaration fund enabled a lot of projects to get going, and several of them have survived into being in a usable state. That sounds like faint praise, but it isn’t – it’s only right as you go through the cycle of discovery to alpha then beta then live that some stuff drops out along the way. We can’t do everything all the time, after all.

Take a look through, especially those that made it to the beta phase, as these really ought to be thing you can make use of. I’m particularly proud of LocalGovDrupal – an open source, website in a box for councils that is now being used by several councils, including Brighton and Croydon.

If you’re at the right stage to make use of something built by the sector for the sector, then that has to be a great win for you, your organisation and your digital plans.

Join some networks and start sharing

Collaboration is key to the declaration, which is music to my ears. It’s what drives SensibleTech, after all, and inspires me to share this stuff with you all.

You can get together with others in exactly the same position as you in other organisations up and down the country by connecting through groups such as LocalGovDigital and OneTeamGov. There’s also a bunch of helpful people on Twitter who you can track down and LinkedIn can be useful too for meeting folk and finding out what others are up to.

Also take a look at the events that folk like Nick Hill run, which are free and provide loads of opportunities to meet and learn from others.

If you’re nervous and not sure where to start with joining some of these network, just yell, I’d be happy to introduce you.