The Local Digital Declaration
The Government Digital Service and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government launched the Local Digital Declaration to support and unite local authorities around a shared understanding of good digital practice.
It is a unique call to action that addresses the legacy IT contracts, isolation of procurement practices and siloed digital projects that have left local government services vulnerable to high delivery costs and low customer satisfaction for the public they serve.
The Local Digital Declaration is a call to arms for local and central government, their influencers and the private sector that supplies them, to join together in a mission to support “building the digital foundations for the next generation of local public services." It sets out principles that support local authorities to follow open standards and best digital practices with view to developing a common, open approach to digital service transformation across government.
Each signatory of the declaration commits to the co-published principles of good digital and to supporting local authorities in following them. It has been written for local authority leadership to embrace and use as a central point for cultural change that supports the embedding of digital transformation within the organisations.
Local authorities in the UK have developed their digital services disparately, which has been further hindered by procurement models that have remained behind digital progress and are dominated by a small number of suppliers. Some local authorities can boast exemplary services delivered in agile, cost-efficient frameworks. However, until the Local Digital Declaration there has not been a single vision for what good is, or a route to measure against. Local authorities have procured services in isolation, unaware of best practice examples or progress in other areas of the UK. With the support around the Local Digital Declaration all those who sign up are able to expose and utilise best practice including successful business cases, procurement briefs, service design and more.
This is the first collective agreement that has brought central and local government together in consensus on what good digital practice is. It was developed through one-to-one engagement and relationship building. Workshops teased out an understanding of what prevented digital innovation, why procurement was isolated and why change had not been forthcoming.
A key element has been to examine why digital opportunities and standards published and adopted across central government has not been picked up across the local sector. As a result, where standards have not included local nuances these are being re-addressed with the ambition there is one set of standards that is applicable to any level of public sector. In addition, supporting local authorities to understand and access the UK Digital Marketplace will be key to transforming outdated procurement practices.
A platform-based website pulls the audiences around the Local Digital Declaration together into a community, giving them a space to seek training, share success and use tools, frameworks and patterns that have worked for other local authorities. It also highlights opportunities of collaboration where local authorities, regardless of their location, can join together in a supportive way through development of a service.
At the start of its journey the Local Digital Declaration launched with more than 40 co-publishers, showing the demand for support and change but also offering testimony to the detailed and exemplary engagement bringing together voices from across the public sector, their influencers and suppliers.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The innovation underpinning the Local Digital Declaration is that it provides a platform for cultural change for digital transformation. It surmounts blockers where leadership may not fully understand nuances around the benefits of digital practices such as open standards, shared learnings and new procurement frameworks and practices. It is written in non-technical language to accommodate all levels of understanding, highlighting the benefits of building digital services in an open and supportive community against open standards.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The Local Digital Declaration launched in July 2018 with over 40 co-publishers. Local authorities, influencers and private sector suppliers are now able to sign up. The declaration is being socialised by the co-publishers via their own communication channels and engagement practices to encourage take-up.
The co-publishers continue to support local authorities with their own unique commitments, for example the Government Digital Service is running a consultation with local authorities to include their voice and needs in the next published version of the Digital Service Standard.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The Local Digital Declaration was crafted from conception to product to delivery through collaboration between central and local public sector colleagues. Opinion and influence was sought and incorporated from all levels of government - from digital influencers to ministerial support and outreach. Private and public sector influencers also contributed. Each party was able to highlight and champion a different area of influence on the local authority sector.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
UK local authorities have been the most vocal stakeholder group in support of the Local Digital Declaration. The platform website will be their route into support from central government but also an avenue to support and collaboration with each other.
The beneficiaries of the declaration will be citizens, who will be able to access services that meet their needs as these services develop in line with the users-first digital development models outlined in the declaration principles.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The first success measurement for the Local Digital Declaration is demand. 144 public sector organisations have signed up to the Local Digital Declaration. These organisations from across central, local and public sector influencers, alongside the private sector, agree with the principles for best digital practice and are committing to support digital transformation for local authorities. This demonstrates there is substantial collective demand to influence a positive change towards digital services that impact on citizens.
Success will continue to be measured in the number of local authorities who sign up to the declaration and access the training opportunities. It will take 18 months of continued development of support to be able to track an uplift in key markers such as local authorities accessing the UK Digital Marketplace and developing digital transformation strategies.
Challenges and Failures
The UK Local Government sector is geographically and politically diverse. In addition, there is a wide spectrum of understanding around what digital transformation means to an organisation. Engagement on the declaration had to take into consideration over 400 nuances to conclude with a piece of work that remains impactful for a desired cultural change but mindful of the separate considerations and autonomous nature of local authorities.
Engagement was detailed and consisted of many workshops being carried out across the UK. Drafts of the declaration were managed with painstaking change control to ensure all stakeholders were represented. The team was fortunate to have been working at a time when there was universal desire for stakeholders to work together. Where there were differences of opinion, these were addressed and compromises made. On rare occasions when a compromise was not achieved, it was accepted that stakeholder would need to withdraw from participation.
Conditions for Success
The Local Digital Declaration is designed to help local authorities ‘fix the plumbing’ of digital to ensure they can scale around users and expectations for infrastructure and services. It is building a policy that will form the basis for guiding principles on what good digital is that any local authority, regardless of size, location or political governance, can follow. It is because so many local authorities have tried and failed to digitally transform in isolation that there is such groundswell and support for a unified approach.
The ability to share good practice is highly valued. Recruitment for digital professionals remains an issue within the public sector and is compounded in pockets around the UK where there is no digital community. Local authorities recognise the Declaration offers an opportunity to utilise other local authorities' work by ensuring the adoption of open standards and scalability at the centre of the original briefs.
The Local Digital Declaration can be replicated as an approach to unite diverse public sector organisations in a united mission. The model is developed around intense and detailed engagement. The concept of targeting leaders to steer the way towards creating a common non-technical declaration that draws on published and agreed best practice can be translated across geographic boundaries as well as sectors.
The declaration was designed to be signed off at a Chief Executive level and with these individuals as the primary audience. However the demand and understanding of opportunities and benefits is held by the 'digital doers' - those who have a specific role in providing frontline services in a digital way to UK citizens. Retrospectively, and moving forward, the team working on the Local Digital Declaration could look to address the divide between the digital doers and their leaders. While training is being offered via a separate fund via MHCLG for leadership, GDS can and will do more to bridge the communications and understanding gap between these levels of influencer.