UK local authorities are (like other organisations) trying to find the balance between renting SaaS solutions, managing licensed software on premise or in their own datacentres and developing their own software. They have mostly the same statutory requirements as each other but have different resources available.
Assembling services using a web of lightly-integrated components is a more complex process than simply going out to procurement for a monolithic solution, but it’s mostly an information problem. Each part of the jigsaw needs to be evaluated in terms of its own functions and integration options.
In this context, there is huge potential for reducing effort and implementation time by sharing expertise with other. Local public sector is uniquely positioned to do this because there are hundreds of organisations with similar requirements operating non-competitively within the same statutory framework.
So if you can share your code, your integration patterns, your documentation, your thoughts, please do it. You’ll produce better work if you do it in the open.
What does this mean in practice?
Sharing of code
The GOV.UK Service Manual has clear guidance on making source code open and reusable.
The guidance is worth reading carefully. Code that has been developed in private will probably need to be restructured before publishing in order to externalise sensitive information.
Sharing of solution designs
It is increasingly practical to knit together solutions from cloud components without managing any servers or writing much (or any) code. In this case the entire effort is spent developing know-how which is easy to share.
Regardless of whether solutions are composed from cloud components, managed on-premise or developed in-house, much of the service design, component/product selection and implementation effort can be re-used by other people.
Sharing of ideas
The LocalGovDigital Slack channel is an excellent place to share ideas without the expense and inefficiency of physical travel.
Pooling of requirements
Where solutions don’t exist already, councils may pool requirements as a pre-requisite for market engagement or building solutions in-house.
When sharing becomes support
There is nothing preventing councils sharing code, service patterns and requirements on an “as-is” basis using public code repositories, blogs and other communication channels (e.g. LocalGovDigital Slack).
Sharing of code does not imply support, but it is worth considering the mechanisms available for councils to offload support and development services to the private sector, provided that this is net-positive for the community.
“Should” vs “Must”
The “open-source by default” approach is required by the GOV.UK Digital Service Standard (Point 8. Make all new source code open).
Make all new source code open and reusable, and publish it under appropriate licences (or provide a convincing explanation as to why this can’t be done for specific subsets of the source code).
The GOV.UK Digital Service standard and related assessments of compliance are mandatory for central government services which are transactional and/or expensive to develop. The Standard is not mandatory for local government.
LocalGov Digital have adopted parts of the GOV.UK Digital Service standard within the Local Government Digital Service Standard, however the LGDSS is suggestive rather than coercive.
This is all good news from the perspective of local authorities looking to collaborate and share.
GOV.UK have done a lot of heavy lifting in establishing sharing as not only permissible but the default.
The positive, non-compulsory nature of the LGDSS is likely to generate less resistance than GOV.UK have met in central government since people tend to respond more positively to decisions they make for themselves than to decisions which are imposed upon them.