At LocalGovCamp18 in Birmingham we ran a session aimed at all local authority leaders who are struggling in the face of shrinking budgets, lack of resources, increasing costs and rising demand to deliver engaging online self-service solutions. We explored how collaborative approaches between multiple authorities could be the enabler for the development of ‘best of breed’ digital platforms.
In the session we looked at:
- The opportunities a ‘best of breed’ platform offers in terms of effective and efficient service delivery and increased revenue generation
- The potential cost advantages of taking a collaborative approach to developing a ‘best of breed’ platform
- Reviewed some of the research conducted around delivering a collaborative online online services platform
- Explored the opportunities, critical success factors and barriers to delivering a collaborative online services platform.
So what did we discover?
Knowing what they need to achieve
We started off by exploring with the group what they need to achieve to create effective collaboration as an enabler for councils to deliver ‘best of breed’ digital platforms.
Key points raised included:
- Platform and forum would be required to facilitate the collaboration
- Skills and expertise required to ensure effective collaboration
- Buy-in is critical, both politically from members and from the officers
- Should the private sector be involved in collaborations and if so how does that work?
- Leadership from the very top is key to mandate that collaboration happens and then support its development by creating an enabling framework to support collaborations
- Identifying commonalities that can be collaborated on, and this is not necessarily with your neighbour.
- Funding – how will this work?
So plenty of challenges, with the 2 key ones being leadership and support from the top and having the skills and platform to support the collaboration.
Is the leadership challenge just a smoke screen used by staff, whose job it surely should be to make savings in their service areas by exploring new ways of working?
Whether this is or is not true, there is a perceived issue that collaborative initiatives rarely gain enough inertia. Is this a cultural issue? Should collaboration just be encouraged as viable alternative or does it require a more formal approach with councils developing collaboration processes and frameworks?
Understanding where they are now
To progress their goals, we 1st need to understand where they are currently positioned. To achieve this we ran a SWOT exercise with them to define their key Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
Key points raised included:
|· Subject matter expertise
· Commitment to deliver
· Existing partnerships
· Data volume
· Core services
· Shared services agenda – towards provision
· Staff empowerment – empower talented people
|· Resistance – what does this mean for me and my job?
· Contracts (terms)
· Commitments and arrangements
· Openness and sharing (will to share)
· Private sector costs/trust
· Public sector culture (e.g. perceived competition/rivalry between councils)
· Cost savings
· Citizen satisfaction
· Talent management
· Efficient services
· Connectivity and better turn-key solutions
· Funding crisis – creativity and partnerships
|· Central Government legislation
· Political change (politics and temporary/changing agendas)
· Legacy services/systems
· Speed of change
· Societal trends and habits
· Superficial solutions for PR/political purposes
· Keeping pace with technology
So plenty of opportunities identified where improvements in collaboration would make a real difference, link that with the strengths in commitment to deliver and empowering staff, then surely the wind of righteousness should be well behind the ship of positive collaboration?
But apparently not when you look at the key threats which tend to be external ones that the organisations have little control over, including biggies such as the political agenda and societal trends and habits.
So how can this all be wrapped together to create a harmonious environment where it is accepted to share from like minded organisations (public and private) to the benefit of everyone?
Defining what they have to do to accomplish their goals
So what key changes need to take place and barriers overcome to progress towards effective collaboration as an enabler for councils to deliver ‘best of breed’ digital platforms?
- Currently happens on minor scale, often between neighbouring councils, so how can this be opened out?
- Needs to be driven by leadership, who are currently seen as the constraint on collaboration
- Often rivalries such as size, politics, demographic can be barriers, this needs to be overcome
- There are mechanisms such as pipeline and MHCLG fund which encourage and facilitate improved collaboration, but how successful are they and how can they be improved?
- Culturally, with councils collaboration needs to be seen as a viable go to option for solving problems, better service delivery and delivering operation efficiencies giving staff the permission and incentive to explore opportunities
So do the councils need a catalyst to help foster collaboration? It seems more likely that successful collaboration will happen if its proactively brokered than if its left to its current organic processes or gentle incentive. Is this a role for the Private Sector to take the lead to create this collaboration culture and supporting environment or should the Public Sector pick up the reigns and manage their destiny?
There is such a large opportunity to be proactive around mass collaboration before the Government makes it compulsory by further increasing the budget deficit, surely acting now is acting smart?