If there are two things we love here at WLLG Towers they are biscuits and a well formatted spreadsheet. And if there are two other things we like as well, these are a good guest blog post and a good idea. So you can only imagine our delight when these last two points were combined into one glorious instance when this gem popped into our inbox from our good friends over at Nesta. We're going to be putting our own thinking caps on to see how we can contribute to this, so be sure to do that too.
Introducing Civic Exchange
Here at Nesta, we’ve launched Civic Exchange to help improve public services by showcasing civic apps and digital services, and we need your help to find the most impactful software out there.
As Apple’s trademarked saying goes, ‘there’s an app for that’ - and this rings true for government and civic sectors too. From the StreetBump app that identifies potholes, to the Patchwork service enabling care professionals to communicate better, technology is helping improve local public services.
Hundreds of apps and digital solutions, solving many civic challenges, are being deployed across the globe and here at Nesta we want to draw from the experience of successful services to enable impactful solutions to scale.
That’s why last autumn we launched Civic Exchange, a platform for improving public services by showcasing and promoting the reuse of civic software. There are more similarities than differences in the challenges faced by local governments but we still see lots of reinventing of the wheel when it comes to digital services, rather than scaling and improving on great ideas. Therefore, with Civic Exchange we want build a useful tool for local authority users that focuses on the sharing and exchange of digital software with a proven track record.
This is where we now need your help.We’re already featuring a whole range of apps and digital services, but we’re on the hunt for suggestions for more entries. We’re hoping to find examples across any sector – from health to tourism to employment – that fit the following criteria:
Have a civic focus, are aimed at improving the lives of citizens.
Are relatively mature. They should be deployed or used in at least one location.
Provide some form of evidence of use and effectiveness to make the case to others why they should consider adopting them.
Over the next few months we’ll be adding more entries to the site and creating a selection of evidence-based case studies to showcase the most impactful civic software we find. Our aim is that Civic Exchange can then be used as an accurate, reliable and evidence-driven resource for anybody wanting to improve public services using proven digital tools.
Have you ever sat down with a pencil, a piece of paper and no distractions to draw out a Venn diagram of what would make your perfect job, a job perfectly suited to your skills, interest and ambitions? Well I have; my first draft involved space travel, excitement, adventure, riches beyond my wildest dreams and a short commute from home.
My second draft at a (slightly) more realistic list was more down to earth, but no less interesting for me. It involved the chance to make use of my history in local government, delivery of exciting digital solutions to real problems and the chance to work with an exciting group of people who don’t accept mediocrity regardless of who they are being measured against. Oh, and that short commute from home option made it through to this draft too.
Brilliantly enough, right at the centre of this Venn diagram of awesomeness is where my brand new job sits, which I will be beginning shortly. I’m moving to become the account manager for a digital publishing company who are expanding to deliver services to local government and needed someone with a working knowledge of digital along with the same for local government. Voila!
Technically speaking, it means I will for the first time in over eight years be outside of the public sector, though I will be working very closely with Councils to look at their digital needs and then to bring some top technical minds to the table to meet those needs. I’m tremendously excited by it and believe it will give me the chance to make even more of a difference to the wider world of local government than I could ever have done before.
So, why am I sharing this through this blog? What relevance can it have to this wider world?
1st April 2014
Over the years there has been one area of local government where we have struggled to adequately cover the topic; that of planning. Planning is probably the single most controversial part of local government and as an interested observer also one of the most complex.
Thankfully, we have been fortunate enough to receive a series of high quality guest posts to discuss elements of ever-changing Government policy. Today we continue that tradition with a guest post from a Regional Planning and Development agency, RCA Regeneration.
This post discusses the recently published ‘National Planning Practice Guidance’ highlighting a couple of elements that will be of interest to our readers; not least the hot topic of guard-railing! We hope you enjoy it as much as we did:
The long-awaited release of the ‘National Planning Practice Guidance’ on the 6th March 2014 marks a somewhat low key end to the Coalition crusade against bureaucracy in the planning system. Before we get to the issue of duty to cooperate and the NPPG approach to unmet need, let us just get something important out of way - guard railing. Yep that’s right, guard railing.
Presumably this item of street furniture weighs heavily upon the minds of civil servants in London, so much so that PPG sets out to eradicate this item of street safety wear once and for all:
Barriers between the road and pedestrians are usually visually unattractive to the street scene, can form a hazard for cyclists who can be squeezed against them, and create the impression that the roads are for cars only; they should only be used when there is an overriding safety issue.
The above statement highlights everything that is warped about NPPG. Part ‘ladybird’ guide to planning, part NPPF gap filler and occasionally just downright odd, it takes a hardened soul to wade through the NPPG.
It is difficult to say how long this guidance would be if printed, but our best guess is somewhere near to 600 pages – for those of literary persuasion about the length of Great Expectations. The vast majority of text is devoted to non-technical explanations, though how successful this is when the text references the whole of the Town and Country Planning Act is debatable and just as your eyelids begin to droop you stumble across items that are actually quite important; such as the Duty to Cooperate.
This is a hot topic for those of us operating in the West Midlands largely as a result of the ticking time bomb situated at the heart of the Shires – namely Birmingham and its considerable housing under supply.
The NPPG sheds new light on the duty to cooperate – specifically that the duty to cooperate is not a ‘duty to agree’ and what to do if your neighbouring authorities never return your calls or come to your dinner parties anymore.
The answer is to keep meticulous records of every dinner date they skipped and every time they avoided you by ducking into a nearby shop as you strolled past. As the NPPG puts it:
Local planning authorities that are unwilling to cooperate with others will eventually have to bring forward their own Local Plan for examination. If they are unable to provide robust evidence to support a strategy that does not plan for the unmet requirements of another local planning authority they may fail the test of compliance with the duty to cooperate or the plan may be found unsound.
Hence the title of this article; first one to get to PINS (the Planning Inspectorate to you and me - ed), wins. Eventually the sins of your neighbours will catch up with them; in the meantime, watch out for that guard railing…