Tag Archives: local government

Mutuals: a novel means of driving down demand for public services?

By David Bicknell

A recent piece in the Guardian local government network has come up with the intriguing idea that mutuals can help drive down demand for public services.

The article, by Ross Griffiths, a partner at law firm Cobbetts,  suggests that if  as a service user, you are dealing with a provider that is your mutual, you are more likely to think twice about the demands you are making on it, and the effect that might have on the service and other users. It argues that this is the ‘Holy Grail’ of the mutual project – allowing providers to deliver services more cheaply not by making cuts, but by reducing demand.

The piece asks whether in today’s local government, where efficiency must be a big part of any changes to services, this is something that mutual structures can deliver. Or are they, as the article asks, ‘little more than a frivolity that should be saved for less straitened times?’




A swift round-up of 2012 previews, mutuals and social enterprise stories

By David Bicknell

The Transition Institute has done a good job of rounding up some of the New Year look-ahead pieces around social enterprise, mutuals and what 2012 has in store for local government, health and social care.

You can see the round up here

Mutuals: asking the right questions to pick mutual winners in local government

By David Bicknell

Francis Maude’s recent pronouncements on mutuals, the launch of the Mutual Pathfinders report and the availability of the mutuals information service offer the prospect of greater activity around public sector mutuals, though the MoD’s decision not to consider a mutual option for its Defence Equipment & Supplies arm doesn’t say much for joined-up government.

With local government in the throes of reorganisation, this article perhaps provides some insight that could help councils measure the suitability of a service to operate as a mutual, and how they can determine if that service could run as a successful, stand-alone business.

The work that the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham has done in setting up its mutual might serve as a good benchmark.

Hammersmith & Fulham mutual Pathfinder on track

Could US-like public service coding to build ‘mutual’ apps that benefit local communites work here?

By David Bicknell

A recent article on O’Reilly Radar has discussed the creation of coding challenges and competitions in the US to build government apps that benefit the wider community.  

It discusses a recent ‘hackathon’ in Portland,  which invited local developers to identify not only the type of interactions required between the city and residents, but also to coordinate and collaborate on the essential feature set needed to capture and display those interactions.

According to the O’Reilly Radar piece, the applications presented at the end of the Portland hackathon were:

  • A mapping program that shows how much one’s friends know each other, clustering people together who know each other well
  • An information retrieval program that organizes movies to help you find one to watch
  • A natural language processing application that finds and displays activities related to a particular location
  • An event planner that lets you combine the users of many different social networks, as well as email and text messaging users (grand prize winner)
  • A JSON parser written in Lua communicating with a GTK user interface written in Scheme (just for the exercise)
  • A popularity sorter for the city council agenda, basing popularity on the number of comments posted
  • A JavaScript implementation of LinkedIn Circles
  • A geographic display of local institutions matching a search string, using the Twilio API
  • A visualisation of votes among city council members
  • An aggregator for likes and comments on Facebook and (eventually) other sites
  • A resume generator using LinkedIn data
  • A tool for generating consistent location names for different parts of the world that call things by different terms

“Because traditional incentives can never bulk up enough muscle to make it worthwhile for a developer to productise a government app, the governments can try taking the exact opposite approach and require any winning app to be open source. That’s what Portland’s CivicApps does.

“Because nearly any app that’s useful to one government is useful to many, open source should make support a trivial problem. For instance, take Portland’s city council agenda API, which lets programmers issue queries like “show me the votes on item 506” or “what was the disposition of item 95?” On the front end, a city developer named Oscar Godson created a nice wizard, with features such as prepopulated fields and picklists, that lets staff quickly create agendas. The data format for storing agendas is JSON and the API is so simple that I started retrieving fields in 5 minutes of Ruby coding. And at the session introducing the API, several people suggested enhancements.”

The article refers to Code for America,  a public service organisation for programmers, which enlists the talent of the web industry into public service to use their skills to solve core problems facing communities.  All projects are open source, but developers are hooked up with projects for a long enough period to achieve real development milestones.

In the words of Code for America, “we help passionate technologists leverage the power of the internet to make governments more open and efficient, and become civic leaders able to realise transformational change with technology.” A sort of coding mutual then (OK, I’m stretching definitions a little)

Here is a link to a page entitled What We Can do for Your City,  which discusses how top talent is recruited from the technology industry to give a year building civic software that will help cities “cut costs, work smarter, and engage more with their citizens.”

Admittedly, not all things travel well across the pond, but could such an organisation, concept, idea possibly work here, with modifications?

Cloud acquisition heralds hosted services and greater efficiency savings for local government

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