LocalGov Digital moots co-operative model with £1 membership fee

The network for digital staff in councils across the UK has announced plans to become a more formal organisation with a co-operative membership model and more clarity on its aims.

Consultation signposts move to co-operative model for LocalGov Digital – Photo credit: Flickr, Sludge G, CC BY 2.0

LocalGov Digital, which launched in 2012 as a grassroots practitioner community network, has launched a consultation on the proposed changes, which would see it become a co-operative charging a small membership fee in early 2017.

“You can only get so far on good will and limited capital through sponsorship,” co-chair Phil Rumens said on his personal blog.

“We’re proposing LocalGov Digital becomes a community co-operative that everyone with an interest in thinking, doing and sharing to improve local public service provision can be a part of.”

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The group’s flagship project is its work to establish the Local Government Digital Service Standard, which sets out principles for designing digital services – similar to those adopted by the central Government Digital Service – and has been taken up by a number of councils.

In addition it runs a range of other programmes, such as its UnMentoring scheme to help people interested in digital public services meet and help each other and a project called Pipeline to help councils collaborate.

However, many members of the network have said they were unaware they were part of the group. Kelly Doonan wrote on her Medium blog today that, although she had been involved with UnMentoring for 18 months, she didn’t think she was really part of LocalGov Digital.

“I engaged with the products, but didn’t really see the whole network or understand how I fitted in to it,” she wrote. “I’d never ‘signed up’ to it. I didn’t feel part of a network even though I was.”

Writing on his own personal blog, LocalGov Digital co-founder Carl Haggerty said that until the group resolved this feeling it would not create a sustainable network that provides value to its community.

“We have now approached a time in the life of the network where we either accept the informality and the risks associated with that or we look to create something more tangible,” Haggerty wrote.

He added that the network would use work like UnMentoring and the annual LocalGovCamp- which would become the group’s AGM – to make the most of expanding and formalising LocalGov Digital’s work.

Members would be asked to pay a £1 membership fee, with one of the consultation questions asking whether this should be an annual or one-off payment.

Ben Cheetham, a member of the LocalGov Digital steering group, said that there was “something symbolic” about paying to join the network that would allow them to feel more like they are members.

Moreover, he and many others involved in running the network emphasised that to date its work has been based on goodwill or sponsorship, which has made some work more difficult.

“Having some income from members, even if it is small, will be really beneficial,” Cheetham said.

“It’s not about profit, but bringing a bit more certainty and sustainability to the network as well as the ability to scale. This is especially true in the current climate as it is getting increasingly harder to get enough sponsorship to run events and as we try to run more it is not going to get any easier.”

The move to a co-operative model would also allow the group to bid for funding in its own right – at the moment such bids would require someone in the network manage it via their own organisation – and let councils or suppliers to sponsor LocalGov Digital by offering their support for the service standard.

LocalGov Digital said that, as well as making LocalGovCamp the AGM, the network’s regional peer groups – created over the summer with the aim of helping councils apply the service standard – would become local membership meetings.

Haggerty said that the aim was to “continually evolve the network” to meet the needs of practitioners and improve services for citizens, while acknowledging that the move would “inevitably mean more work initially”.

He also called on those who were less directly involved in the network to offer their opinions, saying the group was “really keen to hear from people who think this is a waste of time, a bad idea – but importantly why you think or believe this”.

However, responses on social media generally welcomed the move, with endorsements from Bristol Council’s chief digital officer Gavin Beckett, Camden councillor and digital evangelist Theo Blackwell and the chief digital officer of charity Barnados and former digital chief of UK Trade and Investment Jason Caplin.

Meanwhile the group gained an offer of advice from Adrian Hancock, the chief executive of Socitm, the associate body for local government IT workers.

Hancock commented on Cheetham’s blogpost to say Socitm had struggled with a number of the same issues as LocalGov Digital.

“We got some of those things right and some badly wrong!” he said. “If we can be of any help – even to help you avoid mistakes we have made – we will be happy to chat.”


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