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https://mhclgdigital.blog.gov.uk/2021/01/11/a-look-back-at-local-digital-in-2020/

A look back at Local Digital in 2020

A graphic that was made to celebrate 2 years of the Local Digital Declaration

In the year that the Local Digital movement turned two years old, we saw some huge shifts as a team and as a department. Although COVID-19 response dominated our focus in 2020, there were also plenty of positive developments and milestones in other parts of our programme. 

In this blog post we’re going to share just some of 2020’s highlights and momentous moments, plus a teaser for what’s coming up in 2021.

Local Digital turned two

In July, we celebrated the second anniversary of the Local Digital Declaration and hosted a month-long celebration to thank our signatories and partners for their hard work. 

We also took the opportunity to promote some of your inspirational digital stories, such as how Stockport Council has embedded the Declaration and how the Isle of Wight Council’s commitment to being ‘digital first’ enabled their swift response to the coronavirus pandemic. You can read more about the celebrations and stories in this blog post.

During Digital Declaration Month, we also unveiled a short animated video to make it easier to understand the Declaration’s purpose and core principles:

We’ve seen the Local Digital Declaration steadily gain momentum in it’s two years, and this year 25 new councils pledged their commitment to providing better public services for their citizens - taking the total to 232 organisations. If you’re yet to sign the Declaration, why not make it your council’s New Year’s resolution to do so?

COVID-19 response

A graphic that was used to launch the Local Digital C-19 Challenge on social media

COVID-19 had a huge impact on not only the work we do, but also our ways of working. Back at the beginning of lockdown, our work quickly pivoted to provide support to local authorities through weekly calls, web guides, a free remote working course and the launch of the Local Digital COVID-19 Challenge

At the start of the pandemic, many councils turned to digital to find innovative solutions to post-coronavirus renewal, and this inspired a special edition of the Local Digital Fund. Up to £800k of funding was made available for data and digital projects to help local authorities in England with their COVID-19 renewal efforts, and from the 125 applications from 94 councils we funded 11 successful projects

To date, 8 projects have completed and published their outputs for any council to view and reuse. Visit the project outputs page on our website to browse the available outputs, including the code base for howbusyistoon.com, which shows how crowded parts of a city are. You can also find a user guide on how councils can create and run a Community Insights Project with volunteer and charity organisations, and a data model to anticipate a forthcoming wave of demand for children’s services. 

The remaining project teams are planning to wrap up early this year. We look forward to sharing their outputs on our website and final blog posts on our Medium channel.

C-19 Challenge Showcase Series

In November and December we ran three virtual events to showcase the work of our C-19 Challenge projects. Each completed project gave a short overview of their work and outputs, while the active projects shared an update on their progress:

  • The first showcase explored guidance on new ways of working during the crisis, with presentations from four of our project teams.
  • The second showcase featured presentations from five projects that are developing outputs to improve data sharing and insights for COVID-19 response.
  • The third showcase presented two tools to help residents make informed decisions about visiting popular locations - the howbusyistoon.com web app and the Beach Check mobile app.

We plan to host two further events this year to showcase the remaining projects - more on those to come.

What else we’ve been up to

Supporting council cyber security

In February, a dedicated Local Digital team began a pre-discovery to explore how MHCLG can support local authorities to reduce cyber attacks and support sustainable cyber health. The cyber team wrapped up the pre-discovery in May and then completed a more in-depth discovery phase in July 2020.

As a result, in November a specialist Cyber Support team was put together to actively provide expertise and support to identify issues and gaps in local authority cyber security. They began by working with councils who completed the Mitigating Malware and Ransomware survey that was sent out in February, providing guidance, tools and good practice, and to agree a roadmap for cyber enhancement.

The learnings from these initial sessions will be used to roll out a program of workshops for other councils in early 2021.

If you haven’t already done so, you can subscribe to the cyber newsletter or follow our sprint notes to hear more from the Cyber Support team.

Continuing to invest in collaborative projects

In January we opened Round 4 of the Local Digital Fund, and in March we announced the six projects that would be receiving continued financial support from MHCLG. A number of these projects have reached - or are nearing - completion of their current development stage, with the outputs available for other councils to reuse:

  • Reducing Invalid Planning Applications (RIPA): This project aims to design a system that reduces the number of invalid application submissions, as well as making the current system more transparent and easier to navigate. The minimum viable product is being built and will be ready for private beta testing early next year. Find out more about the project.
  • Back Office Planning System (BoPS): This project aims to produce a working version of a Back-office Planning System for local authorities to better manage planning applications and decisions. The minimum viable product is being built and will soon be ready for private beta testing. Find out more about the project.
  • LocalGov Drupal: The project has developed a free codebase for council websites built on the Drupal platform. The first iteration of the project’s website contains documentation adapted from the information in their Github repository, so now any council can begin working with the codebase and join the group of councils who continue to develop it further. Find out more about the project.
  • Open Community: Four councils have been working together to define the Open Referral UK data standard. By organising community service data in a common way, it becomes easier to build directories, design new features, aggregate key data and reduce duplication. The standard is now on its way towards adoption by councils throughout the UK, and the project recently began work on their monitoring and evaluation framework. Find out more about the project.
  • Better income management and e-payment systems: This project aims to define an end-to-end Income Management System (IMS) proposition for users, and offer a viable and sustainable alternative to the current market offerings. Find out more and read the final project report.
  • Online housing repairs: This project explores potential solutions for a common service pattern for the housing repairs service. The project aims to improve the user journey through the service and make the service pattern applicable and implementable by local authorities, regardless of the different repair systems and business rules. Find out more and view final outputs and report.

You can find more information on the projects and their outputs via the project links above.

Developing our training offer

With the restrictions imposed by COVID-19, we were unable to continue to provide face to face training opportunities through the Local Digital Fund. Undeterred, in August we launched a free online ‘boot camp’ for local government on Embracing Remote Working, in collaboration with Apolitical. The course is still available on-demand and includes expert advice on topics such as how to run effective remote meetings and working in agile distributed teams to design services.

We’re also nearly ready to launch a new training offer of online-based learning for local government, which we’ll be sharing more on shortly.

What’s coming up this year

We have some exciting plans for 2021, including:

  • Accelerating the delivery of our core collaboration projects and moving into beta testing with actual users
  • Launching a new online training offer
  • Sharing more from our C-19 Challenge projects as they come to a close
  • Growing the number of Declaration signatories while building more engagement with existing signatories
  • Introducing two new team members

We’ll be sharing more on our plans in further blog posts. As ever, keep an eye on our Medium and Twitter for more updates from the Local Digital team. 

Thank you to everyone who supported, contributed to, collaborated with, followed and shared our work in 2020 - we couldn’t do it without you.

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