Modern Gov - Printable Version
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RE: Modern Gov Is Rubbish - Laura Latham - 11-08-2011 11:37 AM
Having just moved to an Authority which uses Modern.Gov, I'm currently learning to use it fully but in my view, the technology which faciltates online publication of agendas / petitions etc is of secondary importance to actually encouraging people to access the information and engage with it.
Lets be honest, how Modern.gov populates to a Council's website is more about the statutory duty rather than encouraging the community to find out what's going on. Other technologies exist to enable authorities to promote their democratic activity so surely, it would be more helpful to work with Modern.Gov to develop their product further and suggest ways they can do it (potentially by linking it to other social networking type products), rather than fighting against them by potentially criticising the product?
Many Authorities use Modern.Gov very successfully and as an organisation, in my experience both as a user now and potential customer in the past, they are committed to the sector and to developing with us.
RE: Modern Gov Is Rubbish - Ed Hammond - 12-08-2011 12:45 PM
It's a good point Laura, I was perhaps being overly facetious. I suspect it's my latent former-committee-officer frustrations coming to the fore. To be fair, my principal experience with it has been as an end user, and I haven't worked as a committee officer in an authority that uses Modern Gov. So it's possibly somewhat disingenous for me to come along and start mouthing off about it.
That said, have their been attempts to update or refresh the product in the last ten years or so? To me (and, again, this is an end-user perception) the interface is exactly the same as it was several years ago, and it is still just as difficult to navigate through an authority's pages to try to find the information you're looking for. This is a particular issue when an authority has recently changed the names of its committees, or where committee names are themselves somewhat opaque. I have frequently had to resort to randomly going into agendas to find the committee's work programme, and then work backwards from that to find the precise item or issue I'm looking for. I suppose I'm in an unusual position - only the most committed resident would probably be interested in reading through committee papers. But is that sort of the point? Should we be aiming to transact council business in a more transparent way by making committee meetings easier to understand and access - and linking those meetings with the council's wider work?
You're right in saying that these internal tools can't be seen in isolation, but my feeling is that the way that committee information is presented on many council websites enforces this isolation. Perhaps there is something to be said for using Modern Gov and tools like it in a more flexible way. This flexibility may of course exist in the back end, and there could be space to do more creative things - for example, linking together committee information with other public data, making it easier to find earlier, related discussions and recommendations on similar issues, and using that as a way for the interested layman to track the decision-making history around a particular issue. Is there?
RE: Modern Gov Is Rubbish - Peter McKenzie - 24-08-2011 01:31 PM
As a Mod.gov user at 3 (and a half) authorities I find it strange that you see the end user interface as a weakness. I've always found it a completely logical way of organising committee information and its certainly far superior to the current alternatives on the market (or nothing as many authorities continue to use).
The system has lots of functionality that many users either forget or don't know how to use so some of its strengths are often overlooked. For example - it is very easy to track the decision making history of individual items as the system can automatically create agenda items from forward plan items for both executive and scrutiny committees and the history of any called in items can be tracked through as well. This can all be done 'in real time' but also retrospectively. There's also the possibility to construct scrutiny work programmes and automatically programmed 'workflows' for reports through a range of important landmarks.
There was a discussion on the blog post you've linked to on the Modern.gov user forum and at the national user group, highlighting that the system can already do a number of things on the wishlist and the company are working on some of the other issues in particular links to social media.
Often the problem with finding content is more to do with the wider design of local authority websites which tend to place democratic information in the most obscure corners (and don't link it at all as Mod.gov does so you can click from a Councillor's individual page to the committees he serves on to agendas and then to the history of agenda items.).
Here endeth the lesson - my commission from Modern Mindset is hopefully in the post...
RE: Modern Gov Is Rubbish - Simon Hill - 24-08-2011 02:58 PM
I do wonder sometimes what planet CfPS are on? The idea that Local Government is not about fulfilling a satutory obligation is the stuff of cloud cockoo land. If we were inhabiting a place akin to a private business we wouldn't have endless rules and regulations, constantly changing direction by successive governments that we, as Committee Administrators have to react to all the time. We would just do it. If we did it badly, we would go out of business, not seek to disect it to the nth degree.
Do you really think that people that want to find information on our sites cannot? Do you think that there are a hoard of home-based scrutineers that are venting their frustration in not being able to get the information they crave? Not my experience of the last twenty years. In fact our Mod.gov pages are the most hit and used pages on our website.
You suggest that no changes have been made to the end user for ten years. Well I am here to tell you alas you are not correct. Indeed I am sure that out tax payers would say that the £30,000 a year we save in paper related costs since its introduction are welcomed.
Some of us people that live in the real world (that one that doesn't start with a # tag) would say even at District level the actual decision making requirements are so onerous it would be impossible to then seek to condense it into 156 characters.
To those of us that deal with Mod.gov as a company on a day to day basis know that they are one of the best. The product is the best available, the subject matter is the problem.
Don't shoot the messenger, look at the message.
Oh and your website is really slow today or is it me?
RE: Modern Gov Is Rubbish - Tim Bowers - 25-08-2011 09:30 AM
I think Dave McKenna's observations on democratic systems have much to commend them. We have discussed his blog on our product forum, and are working on making the modern.gov product do this stuff better.
However, I believe there are aspects of your analysis that are mis-informed. Firstly, you suggest that we have a near monopoly on committee admin systems. This implies there are no competitor products and we are under no commerical pressure. This is wholly wrong - throughout the last 11 years we have had to fight hard to win sales. There are other systems, and downward price pressure from the customers is greater than ever.
We have been very successful, with about 150 sites now, and I put this down largely to our willingness to implement the features the customers have asked for. This bring me to my second issue. The features on modern.gov public web sites are primarily reflection of what councils want to have published - our development priorities are a driven very largely by customer demand. We have a seriously long to-do list right now, and almost none of it relates to the web site presentation and navigation.
There are several contributory factors behind this. One is that councils are actually reluctant to engage in too much dialogue through their web sites. It costs money to moderate websites, and outmoded legislations makes them legally responsible for what gets published. Engagement is not part of what they are primarily tasked with doing - it is a nice-to-have when they are busy meeting timescales, and facing reousrce cuts.
There are a number of engagement features available in modern.gov that are not used by any of our customers - my attempts to get the ball rolling in some of these areas. For example, there is an integrated forum feature that enables people to comment on any published agenda item. DS officers are naturally relucant to get entangled in progressive features that may utlimately backfrire on them. As you are aware, they have to work between a rock and a hard place - caught between councillors and officers.
I am personally very keen to to make modern.gov a better system. I would welcome detailed suggestions about how we could improve the system's friendliness, and its research-oriented features. Anyone is more than welcome to call me on my mobile phone any time to discuss ideas, and to come down to our offices and meet the team.
If the CfPS is serious about this, I would encourage them to team up with one of our customers, and to work with us to provide a good example of what all councils should be aspiring to. I also wonder if you would be interested in coming to our next national user group meeting, and presenting ideas on what the product and our customers should be doing.
Modern Life is Rubbish is one of my favourite albums
RE: Modern Gov Is Rubbish - Mark Grimshaw  - 25-08-2011 01:10 PM
As someone who works in an authority that uses the modern.gov software I have been following this thread with interest.
I agree with Ed when he says the interface for the casual end user can be quite forbidding. Having said this, I also agree with Simon when he asserts that it is not the product that is the problem but rather the subject matter. I personally believe, and this has been backed up with what others have said here, that the modern.gov software is good it is just how respective Councils use it and make the most of what is available that is the issue.
At Cheshire East, we believe that the publishing of papers should go beyond simply meeting a statutory responsibilty. Whilst there are other ways to engage the public in decisions that effect them, the publishing of papers etc is the 'engine room' of the democratic process and therefore they should be as open and transparent as possible. In my opinion, the presentation of documents is just as important for transparency as putting them up there in the first place.
Dave McKenna's ideas are intriguing and as a result we have set up a working group to see how we can start to implement some of them and in a general sense, improve how we engage with the public. This will include improving how we use the modern.gov software (making the most of what is already available) but also thinking about what else we would like to see added to it. It will also include a challenging discussion about the nature of items we consider in scrutiny - if they're not of interest to the public, serious questions need to be asked why we are looking at them at all.
If anyone would like to be part of this working group from nearby authorities, from the CfPS or from modern.gov then I'd be really happy to hear from you.
Mark Grimshaw - Cheshire East
RE: Modern Gov Is Rubbish - Ed Hammond - 26-08-2011 01:13 PM
I think "that's me told" would be an understatement.
"Checking facts before opening mouth" should probably be the first lesson of effective scrutiny, and it's a lesson I have failed to employ on this occasion. Basic stuff I'm afraid, but a particularly salutory lesson for me on this occasion.
For what it's worth we've had an interesting discussion about the ways in which committee information should be presented to the public, but on balance it wasn't necessary, or appropriate, for me to have singled out one particular product for criticism. We could have had the same debate without all the song and dance.
I should (of course!) reiterate the view in my original post that any view that I express about the pros and cons of any committee administration system is my view. CfPS, as an organisation, really doesn't mind how you publish information on the internet, so long as it is transparent, aids in accountability and allow for the effective involvement of local people.
I will, in fact, be taking up Marl's offer because I think that one thing that has been made clear from this episode is that I need to learn more about the way in which councils use tools such as Modern Gov to make information to the public, and this will also provide me with an opportunity to eat more humble pie.
I'm leaving the thread up but with place a note on the opening post to try to excuse my somewhat intemperate remarks.
RE: Modern Gov - tim gilling - 30-08-2011 11:28 AM
Thanks to everyone who has taken part in this forum thread so far or contacted us separately about the issues raised - especially to Marl at modern.gov who contributed in a very helpful way which I think provides the opportunity for further constructive discussions about the principles that Ed was promoting and which others have taken up. We are keen to hear other views on this topic, although we would encourage comments about principles rather than about particular commercial products.
It is important to distinguish between discussions about principles and practice and the operation/functionality of any particular mechanism/product used to make principles and practice a reality - in this instance (as Ed subsequently made clear) the language used in the original post blurred that boundary in an unfair way by focussing discussions around one product.
We had already begun to review our approach to communications and public affairs, including the role of our website - there are lessons here that we can build in to those reviews. For example, about the style and tone of our contributions to forum threads and how we present views in ways that are clear about what can be interpreted as an official CfPS 'line' and those that represent personal/individual thoughts.
As an organisation dedicated to promoting the policy and practice of scrutiny and accountability, it is right that we should raise (and express views about) a range of issues. In the context of this thread, how can statutory duties (and the mechanisms councils use to help meet those duties) deliver transparency, inclusiveness and accountability in ways that give service users, people and communities real influence over decisions about the planning and delivery of services.
Councils, like all public agencies (and private companies to the extent they are subject to legislation and regulation), seek to meet statutory duties in all kinds of ways and it seems possible that evidence can be provided to support fulfilment of a duty in a way that might not ultimately respect the 'spirit' of the duty. For example, the duty to publish a forward plan of key decisions - councils can easily meeting this duty (by publishing plans in the manner prescribed) but how many people would say that their council uses the duty to publish forward plans as an effective mechanism for inclusive and accountable decision-making? If there are examples out there, then we'd love to hear about them.
This is what our 'Accountability Works for You' framework is all about - encouraging councils and others to fundamentally re-think how they interact with service users and the public to provide real transparency, involvement and accountability - who knows, even perhaps going beyond 'statutory duty'?
RE: Modern Gov - Dave Mckenna - 30-08-2011 02:05 PM
I would have gone for 'Modern Gov is Automatic'
Looking forward to developments from what has been a fascinating thread from my point of view.
RE: Modern Gov - Josh Mynott - 05-09-2011 11:05 AM
Sorry, I've been away for a bit, so I missed some of this, but I would have posted something like Peter & Simon above.
More importantly, and the reason I am posting now is to agree that Ed got the wrong musical reference. Personally, whenever someone here says "Modern Gov", I want to respond with "gets me to the church on time" in my best Bowie whelp. I don't, of course, because that would be unpleasant for everyone, but I'm tempted.
But I try. I try.