I read an LGIU briefing recently on the development of local government digital tools and the perceptions by key groups on how this is going. What was really interesting for me was the repeated perception that elected representatives have very little to do with pushing or developing the agenda.
On the one hand, ok … It’s up to political leaders to set policy, not to specify necessarily how the policy can best be delivered. On the other hand, it appears they are getting the blame for not developing digital solutions, and that’s not fair or right. The executive layer are supposed to look at the best tools for the job, and if they rule out new technologies we have to examine the reasons.
Personally I believe that everybody has a very fixed idea of “what members want” – and that idea is frequently wrong. For instance, my own local authority is largely male, middle class, middle aged and white. They have their funny little ways and their preferences. But they are adopting digital tools to get information out to the public more easily, using the attitude of ‘why not?’ There’s no good reason not to, and so they get on with it.
The authority I work for has a similar make up, and one would again assume they wouldn’t particularly be interested in this. But they don’t have to be early adopters or committed geeks to agree that if something is useful it should be used. They’re certainly not ok with the amount of paper they’re expected to collect and read and carry around, and a digital solution might make a huge difference there. If other digital tools would improve reporting and monitoring and information gathering for their constituents they’d be right behind it. So why not?
The briefing talks about new tools being ‘culturally uncomfortable for the organisation’ … meaning we don’t know about it, don’t understand it, can’t make it fit with how we get things done. Ok then. I don’t understand how roads are built, but if somebody who does tells me they have a way of doing it that’s better for residents, I’d be inclined to let them get on with it. I know nothing about running a care home or managing a bus route, but I do know that the people who run these services have far more of a clue about how to serve their customers than I do. I also know that councillors are interested in how to get things done more effectively and more efficiently, and wouldn’t rule out something new just because they personally didn’t know how to build it.
So I think they’re being given a bad rap here. The block, wherever it is, is about people thinking they have to understand and possibly build these things themselves rather than calling in someone else who knows how.