Archive for December, 2012


Localgov is dying

It is now official. Netcraft has confirmed: local government is dying.

One more crippling bombshell hit the already beleaguered local government community when IDC confirmed that local government market share has dropped yet again, now down to less than a fraction of 1 percent of all services. Coming on the heels of a recent Netcraft survey which plainly states that local government has lost more market share, this news serves to reinforce what we’ve known all along. Local government is collapsing in complete disarray, as fittingly exemplified by failing dead last [samag.com] in the recent Sys Admin comprehensive networking test.

You don’t need to be the Amazing Kreskin to predict local government’s future. The hand writing is on the wall: local government faces a bleak future. In fact there won’t be any future at all for local government because local government is dying. Things are looking very bad for local government. As many of us are already aware, local government continues to lose market share. Red ink flows like a river of blood.

Municipal local government is the most endangered of them all, having lost 93% of its core developers. The sudden and unpleasant departures of long time developers G4S and Serco only serve to underscore the point more clearly. There can no longer be any doubt: city councils are dying.

Let’s keep to the facts and look at the numbers.
OpenlyLocal leader Chris states that there are 11939 councillors on OpenlyLocal. How many users of GovNet are there? Let’s see. The number of OpenlyLocal versus GovNet posts on Usenet is roughly in ratio of 5 to 1. Therefore there are about 11939/5 = 2387 GovNet users. OpenlyLocal posts on Usenet are about half of the volume of GovNet posts. Therefore there are about 1200 users of OpenlyLocal. A recent article put FreeGov at about 80 percent of the Local Government market. Therefore there are (7000+2387+1200)*4 = 42348 FreeGov users. This is consistent with the number of FreeGov Usenet posts.

Due to the troubles of West Somerset, abysmal council tax collection and so on, FreeGov went out of business and was taken over by SouthWest ONE who sell another troubled OS. Now SouthWest ONE is also dead, its corpse turned over to yet another charnel house.

All major surveys show that Local Government has steadily declined in market share. Local Government is very sick and its long term survival prospects are very dim. If Local Government is to survive at all it will be among localist dilettante dabblers. Local Government continues to decay. Nothing short of a miracle could save it at this point in time. For all practical purposes, Local Government is dead.

(with thanks to Uncyclopedia)

Induction Checklist

One of my favourite Twitter followees is Jackie Rafferty and yesterday she posted a series of tweets oultining some of the key “benchmarks” when inducting new staff. I reproduce them here for convenience with some limited commentary.

(Update 17:32. Note: Jackie emphasised these were not in any particular order. Obviously some things are more important than others. #9 obviously ought to be the highest priority :) )

  1. How long does it take to get the login details sorted?
  2. Introductions to essential people in support service areas like Admin, Finance, HR etc
  3. Does someone take you to lunch on day 1?
  4. What do you do when the computer goes down, the printer or the loo run out of paper? (it’s the small things that trip you up)
  5. If it is a hot desk environment what are the unspoken rules? (this led to an exchange between myself and Jackie that will be part of a future blog post)
  6. Some should be expecting you and will give you time to go through this stuff
  7. There is an induction process ;-)
  8. You are told what the job is really about and relevant policies, guidelines & accountabilities are discussed with you
  9. Which mug belongs to whom? Hot drink etiquette. Process for sharing/BYO coffee/tea. Who gets the fresh milk?
  10. Discussion on the organisation’s social media policy (far fetched hope in most I suspect)
  11. (Update 10:30am) Induction is a process, not a one-off event.

Jackie said herself that these were a set of thoughts rather than a rigorous list, so please feel free to add your own in the comments and I’ll update the list.

CitizenState: heuristic democracy

This: http://citizenstate.tumblr.com/post/36517466969/the-startup-state

Since I work in the public sector I have a strange relationship with politics. Of course, I have political views on specific issues and I do my civic duty by voting every once in a while but at the same time I’m involved in a small way with implementing policy, most of which I didn’t vote for or agree with. I have to detach from my political opinion and do a professional job, and in the process of doing that I find that my original views get challenged, sometimes strongly, and so my opinions change over time.

I consider myself fortunate that I get to experience the effects of policy from this sort of vantage point. The people on the sharp end often don’t get the opportunity to go on such a “journey”. People in receipt of public services are often (but not always) the most vulnerable and the least able to advocate for themselves.

But nevertheless it’s important to realise that our ideologies are often disconnected from reality. Policies that are demonised by some occasionally turn out ok: stuff that seemed like a great idea to everyone often goes completely wrong. This is because “policy” in a political sense is heuristic: it’s a mental shortcut to help build consensus around the effect of a principle. This is “fast” thinking and is optimised for communication, pithy soundbites, 140-character tweets and for broad brush statements on complex topics.

I’m no expert on political theory and I don’t have much time for party politics, so let’s cut to the chase. The link above suggests we do one or more of three things:

  1. Share a link to a good project that delivers a public service outside the State.
  2. Share a thought about how we could deliver a public service outside the State (maybe write a blog post about it).
  3. Share a thought about how democracy could be redesigned.

The first should be easy: any social enterprise should be able to demonstrate social impact and simultaneously have a sustainable business model. A great example is Pluss (http://www.pluss.org.uk/), a social enterprise that helps people find work. I’ve chosen them because they used to be run by the local council and now they are owned by a consortium but independent. In the digital arena, microfinance organisations such as Kiva (http://www.kiva.org/start) or Grameen (http://www.grameenfoundation.org/) probably do more for local economic growth than the governments in the areas they operate (and driving growth and wellbeing are the two main pillars of government policy).

As for services that could be run from outside the state apparatus, I think that we need to distinguish between things that might just be privatised (and for example we have private health care) and things that can be genuinely run by citizens for citizens. Social care is an example of services for the most vulnerable that could be run at least partly outside the state system if we could find the reserves of skill, time and compassion that are needed and I think it would be cynical to think that those reserves aren’t actually there.

Finally, I think democracy could use a refresh for the networked age. We could easily participate in decision-making for our street or local community on a much more regular basis than we currently do and this would drive engagement at a larger level – for towns, cities, counties, or regions. Making this happen could be as straightforward as writing an app and creating ways that the digitally excluded could participate.

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