Following on from my overview of the UK Govcamp unconference I want to put some markers down for the thing that excited me the most: the potential of location-based services to deliver on the localism agenda and some ideas on how that might work.

I’ve got quite a low tolerance for reading HM Government documents so the fact that the Government published a plain English guide to the localism bill (see http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/localgovernment/localismplainenglishguide) was music to my ears.  There seem to be a few salient points which act as a background for this discussion:

  • The new general power of competence will give councils more freedom to work with others in new ways to drive down costs. This might, for example, give us the freedom to utlilise an existing location-based service to experiment with their APIs and/or pilot some services.
  • the Community right to bid to run local services effectively means that some of the facilities currently provided by the local council may move out to community groups. Doing this while maintaining the benefits of joined-up information mean that a solution architecture needs to be in place that provides an interface (in its broadest meaning) to allow a 2-way information flow between the public asset and the local authority and other local public services.
  • there are some reforms to the planning system included. Although not directly relevant to this solution architecture, the planning system is often hampered by lack of access to information. You might see a yellow planning application notice nailed to a tree somewhere but it’s not always easy and quick to see what is being planned. A location service might help with this.

I like to think about scenarios to help get some requirements teased out, and these ought to be based on services that we actually deliver. There seem to be categories of scenario based around

  • internal council workflow (eg Highway maintenance)
  • citizen interaction with the council (eg library services)
  • community group operations when delivering a service (eg Park services)
  • civic social interaction around a location (eg reporting a crime/graffiti)
  • general social interaction at a location

this last scenario is already well covered by location-based services such as FourSquare or Gowalla. Nothing to add there. However, the other four scenarios require that, on check-in, information is pushed and that information is a real-time aggregate of a number of other data sources, some of which might be under local authority control (Highways, libraries), some of which are provided by 3rd parties (community-provided Park services), and some of which are transactional forms to enable the person checking in to provide feedback and information (all of the above).

Currently the commercial services in this space provide the ability to send “tips” and special offers to people checking in, but these are relatively static. Perhaps some kind of frigging with the APIs could allow tips to be generated dynamically from an XML file? Then we could create the XML file in real time from whatever data sources we have and deliver that whenever someone checks in?

We also need a security model to ensure that a council highways officer gets a different view of the “tips” file (sorry, I really must think of a better name) to a citizen or community group representative.

Some of this stuff overlaps with my recent post about a solution architecture for highways, but I wasn’t location-enabled when I wrote that. Expect more detail to be added to this once I’ve met with colleagues later this week.