GDS for local? A shopping list, not a monolith.

There’s been a lot of renewed chat recently (see below) about  “a GDS for local government’ or “GOV.UK for local goverment” but I’m curious about what people really mean when they use these terms. What is it that “GDS” represents in these conversations – a central team of specialists? A set of standards? A publishing platform? A mandate? All of the above?

I’ve only spent a few months looking into and working with local government, so my thoughts are still forming and I still have much to learn and observe. However, even with that caveat, I’m already convinced that the current approach – where over 300 authorities spend their increasingly scarce resources independently trying to meet the same set of needs and solve the same set of problems – is fairly bonkers. Particularly when in many cases the solutions they end up with are way more expensive and less flexible than they should be. Oh, and not great for their customers either.

This isn’t sensible, and it isn’t sustainable. It’s also not fair on the amazing people in local government who know it isn’t ideal but who don’t have the tools, or support, or budgets to change things. It’s one of the things that got me out of GDS and involved with this in the first place.

Being a user-centred agile kinda girl I’m not comfortable jumping to solutions before I fully understand the problem, but I’m also not comfortable with the way that “a local GDS” and “GOV.UK” are being used – sometimes interchangeably – as shorthand for some kind of fairly abstract all powerful centralised solution, something “monolithic“. (With apologies for Rob for singling this out!)

It may well be that some of the approaches GDS have taken, and some of the things they have delivered, should form part of how local government delivers information and services in the future. But that covers a lot of different activities and products. Maybe we should think about which of those might be useful in the context of local government – to move from the abstract concept of “a GDS” into the constituent parts.

So as a starter for ten – if there were a shopping list based on the types of things GDS is currently providing for central government, which would you be buying into for local government? And who might be providing them?  That list might include these kinds of things (illustrated with central gov examples for now):

This isn’t a complete list, but the point I’m trying to make is that GDS represents many things, some of which would be more difficult or controversial than others to apply across local government.

I’m interested in having a more practical conversation – one based on the needs to be met and the opportunities to be realised, and only then the models and structures and teams and technologies that might best deliver against those.  If you start by talking about the governance and politics you may end up in an unhappy place. If  you start with the problem you are trying to solve, and think about it in manageable chunks, you can end up achieving something extraordinary.

(Some notable recent contributions from Ben Welby, DXW, Phil Rumens, Rob Miller and Socitm. Also interesting to see the programme of events, training etc that DCLG are offering this year.)


6 thoughts on “GDS for local? A shopping list, not a monolith.

  1. Great post, pushing forward the debate.

    For me, the question isn’t as simple as “should there be a Local GDS” but more “If there was going to be a Local GDS how do we create the conditions for it to happen” and I think you’re probably the first person to answer that some of that, in your post.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but GDS didn’t start as it is now, it was created to pull together a number of central government websites and grew from there. We should be thinking, not how can we create as a local version of GDS as it is now, but how do we make something that works for local governments right now, that can evolve.

    It’s something LocalGov Digital are all already looking at, and we’ll be looking to create formal structures so collaboration can occur where political priorities and local user needs align, which will allow also councils to retain their autonomy.

  2. It turns out that at the same time I was writing this Rob Miller was in conversation with some likeminded people (@bmwelby, @PhilRumens, @pmackay, @_BforBen and others) and has captured their conclusions in a new posts here It features the kind of more specific practical list of activities that I was advocating for in this post, which is good to see. I think the big question all of this still raises is whether bottom up collaboration by proactive people is enough. Rob talks about the need for a “gravitational force” and a “core”. Where does that force need to come from? And how can the less proactive or less confident be shown the way?

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