Some of the UK’s biggest companies are today meeting 10 local councils to compete for a role in pilot projects aimed at delivering council services through digital technology. The success of the schemes will ultimately determine the way in which £14.5bn of government ICT money is spent over the next few years.
The event was a get-together between the ten competing-collaborating finalists and technology companies so they could try and broker partnerships for proposals that must be submitted in January. I was there because Drew Mackie and I are developing a game to help with the planning and bidding process. More about that here, where you can now see some of the prototype materials we have developed. I didn't know it at the time, but somewhere Angela Smith MP, Minister for e-government, said:
“This summit proves that it’s no longer just ICT companies keen to partner with local authorities and widen access to digital services. Increasingly businesses in sectors like construction and retail are looking to help us tackle digital exclusion, and make services open and available to everyone, regardless of location, mobility or language. We are also seeking to encourage innovation amongst smaller businesses to ensure that the entire range of industry is engaged in this project to maintain democratically healthy, inclusive communities.
“The schemes being piloted in the Digital Challenge competition will have a transformational effect on local government and ensure that in future, across England, council services are built around the needs of the citizen – allowing them to choose how, when and where they use these services.”
I held off blogging the event because I understood it was private, but one of the good things about the Digital Challenge is that a couple of finalists are running their own blogs and offering informal observations about the process. Stephen Hilton from Bristol starts off:
It was a globally warmed and unnaturally sunny morning when we arrived at Paddington Station last Thursday. I had forgotten my sunglasses so couldn’t see a thing, nothing-new there.
... before giving us the essence of the presentation he made with Tim Anderson from Norfolk:
In a nutshell, our message was - authorities need to recognise content generation is as significant an opportunity as content consumption. We need to work to ensure that all communities have the skills to produce and share their own high quality content. At the same time, we need to transform the way we organise and deliver services in order to fully harness this opportunity. As for the business model – I cheekily suggested that you only need type essay for sale into Google to recognise that where there is a timely and compelling need for content – the business model will follow!
The key message I took from the day is that there has to be a strong underlying business model for industry investment to be made. No one is going to give us anything entirely for free! At the same time, the industry people we spoke with displayed a massive appetite for finding new ways to engage with authorities and citizens. If nothing else,industry will help bring a ‘sense of urgency’ to our programme – which is no bad thing.
Dave Carter at One-Manchester is also keeping us up to date with developments from his perspective.
There's no great disclosures about the programme in either blog, but it does seem to me enormously encouraging that local government officers feel they can give some windows into these processes for their local constituency, and anyone else interested. It means that they are prepared to chat as well as Powerpoint and Press Release.
The Digital Challenge team has just appointed new advisers, Mantra-PR, who I'm sure will be looking for good stories from the finalists as well as the Minister. The aim of the Digital Challenge is to tackle digital exclusion - as well as improve general public service delivery. As Bristol and others are emphasising, that means helping local people tell their own stories - so I'm hoping we will see more encouragement for the type of content development Stephen is talking about, locally-authored then featured on the expanding Digital Challenge and Inclusion Network site, so ably developed by my friends at Clicks and Links.
An outrageous thought occurs to me. Couldn't Angela Smith, as Minister for e-government, try blogging too? The site has that facility. Even if the blog were in part drafted by the PR advisers, or officials, it would demonstrate a willingness to have a go. As the Minister said in announcing the current ten finalists, when talking about access to services, life chances and opportunities:
As we move forward into a new digital age it is clear that some people will find this far more difficult to cope with. However we cannot allow them to become excluded. Instead we must enable them to take advantage of what new technologies can offer.
Quite right. I see that David Miliband's ministerial blog features in the Hansard Society's Digital Dialogues programme to "support central government’s communication and consultation activity". I think the e-government Minister should be digitally included too.