Public Services > Local Government

LocalGov Digital: Hack events “essential” for better digital services

Neil Merrett Published 23 June 2014

Civil coding collaborations seen as being increasingly vital to tackle challenges in delivering public services

Public sector hack events that allow for greater collaboration on civic coding are essential to delivering better digital public services, Phil Rumens, vice chair of the LocalGov Digital network, has argued.

Speaking after the latest LocalGovCamp 'unconference' held in Birmingham last weekend, Rumens said that the decision to host a 'hackathon' ahead of the event highlighted the importance of civil coding in tackling challenges facing the delivery of public services.

The hack event brought together 50 people representing local government organisations, the Government Digital Sevice (GDS), the NHS, Ordnance Survey, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and the wider private sector to tackle ongoing challenges facing councils and local bodies.

"We set three challenges, create a local public services search engine, create a place to highlight standards, schemas and pages, and build a good user journey for first time users," Rumens said of the event.

"Front line staff and digital officers from Shropshire Council worked with the London Borough of Lambeth and others to create a user journey for a benefit claimant, showing that problems faced by a rural unitary council or an urban London borough can be the same and solved together.

"Another group started to create a set of digital and data standards for service requests to councils. Another group started to create a way to highlight a project placed on GitHub for sharing and collaboration, by councils. This work will continue," he added.

A group that devised a data specifications service called Localo during the hack day is now working to expand the potential uses of the scheme, with LocalGov Digital preparing in September to host a discovery day in Bristol to work on applying these standards to assist councils with waste services.

Friday's hack event, ran in conjunction with innovation charity Nesta, was held alongside a Leaders' Summit as part of a fringe day to open the fifth iteration of LocalGovCamp, which for the first time was hosted by LocalGov Digital.

With a number of decision makers in attendance, Sarah Lay communications and community management lead with LocalGov Digital said the event was believed to be something of a first in terms of bringing together chief executives, senior officers, politicians, technical developers and user experience teams.

"Feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive and noted that this is an important event for moving innovation and collaboration forward in the sector while also providing tremendous support between practitioners," added Lay, herself senior digital officer at Nottinghamshire County Council.

Retaining the 'unconference' theme of earlier LocalGovCamps, attendees worked to crowdsource the agenda for the event, which was broken down into 28 sessions. The sessions covered topics including open data, a connected network of people, techniques to improve user experience, the wide topic of council websites and agile working in the public sector.

LocalGov Digital also held an open steering group during the event devised on setting out the direction for the group's work going forward.

Looking ahead, Lay added that a provisional plan to host a 2015 LocalGovCamp in Cornwall was likely to follow a similar format in order to support efforts to help local government better develop skills for providing more efficient, user driven alternatives to public service delivery.

"The sector continues to face pressure and a need to adapt as budgets shrink and demands rise. LocalGovCamp and the LocalGov Digital network offers a way for the sector to become more efficient through shared and collaborative working as well as become a support for individual practitioners and teams," she added.

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