How will digital teams and initiatives in Local Government support growth and wellbeing whilst the levels of funding are dropping off so steeply?

I’ve been having quite a few conversations recently about what Local digital strategies (ie the digital strategy for a place) would look like and some of these conversations resulted in a recent post by Carl Haggerty on a Framework for Digital Local Public Services which is a good thing to read if you haven’t already. This is because we are both involved with the #localgovdigital group that the LGA is sponsoring.

For my money the biggest departure that this work has with anything that has gone before it in digital local government is that we are focusing outside of the organisational perimeter and looking at joining up everything around a place for maximum benefit to the people that use it – even if that doesn’t involve us directly. In this post I want to talk a bit about what we might mean by “value” as applied to places and then this can be a building block for guiding the sorts of digital interventions we might make to those places.

So the headline: places have intrinsic value and we need to understand what that value is before we go about enhancing that value with digital transformations. I think it’s really important that we understand the value of what we have before we change it, or otherwise how will we know it’s been an improvement? A good starting point is that a place might be giving us value in one of two categories: well-being or growth.

By this I mean that people will access different kinds of benefit from a place and we might be able to map out those benefits in order to target our digital strategies better. For example, I’m lucky enough to live near Dartmoor: it is absolutely beautiful and people will go there  to recuperate, disconnect and go hiking or gaze at the scenery, buy cream teas etc. Dartmoor therefore has a value in terms of bringing wellbeing to people and this would not be enhanced by stonking great communications towers littering the landscape and it also has an economic value in terms of the money it brings in by virtue of being unspoilt. This also wouldn’t be improved by having stonking great communications towers. However, people do sometimes get lost when wandering over the North moor and being able to get a mobile phone signal (or similar) could be a life-saver.

Contrast this with the centre of the city where I live, where faster comms mean business growth, social value, and better public services and straight away, we can start to see that different places need different kinds of digital intervention to maximise their values to different groups of people.

Modelling this formally should enable us to design and plan digital interventions that maximise the value returned by places.  One way to do this is by using a business value framework such as the Value Proposition Canvas. It is a tool that was developed to help with understanding the benefits of products or services.

Working this through we could tackle it one of two ways: we could start on the left hand side with a place and consider what sort of “assets” it has, then deduce what kinds of gains (or pain relievers) the place has, or we could start on the right with the sort of problems, jobs to be done or opportunities that  people might have that a place would address.

The classic VPC approach would indicate that we need to start with our citizens and ask what sort of value places might enable for them. However, places don’t just exist because people do – they would be perfectly happy without anyone. So we can’t start on the right of the canvas, then, asking what functional, social, or emotional jobs might people be trying to achieve: we need to be place-centric and look at what products or services a place offers as a starting point and then map that to demand. A trunk road, for example, offers transport infrastructure comprising road surfaces, traffic regulation services (speed limits, traffic lights, surveillance cameras), and traffic information services (street furniture, variable message signs, etc); whereas an area of outstanding natural beauty might offer scenery, refreshments, gifts, or other recreation.

We also need to consider which other products or services might be needed for people to consume the products or services a place offers (for example, people might need transport to get to some AONB’s and will require vehicles to use a road). Digital transformations might act on the place itself or on ancillary products.

Next we look at the gain creators. Does the place do something that saves people time, effort, or money? Does it meet or exceed people’s expectations?

Finally we need to look at the “pain relievers”. Is there something about this place that solves a problem for people or produce a saving? Does this place make people feel better?

Of course, these are just categories and a bit of framework. We will need to actually get out there and listen to people if we are to deduce what value a place really has for the people that use it. This post has gone on too long already so I’ll save that for the next one. Without wanting to create a hostage to fortune, we also need to look at both the way that places will respond to environmental factors and a taxonomy of digital interventions that we might make so all being well I’ll tackle those topics shortly too.