Weeknotes S02E02: let’s learn to share

I feel like I’m settled in here and that’s really nice. There’s loads of stuff to get involved in, and everything is pretty entwined together, which can be hard, but I feel like I’ve got my head round it a bit better now. Overall, I’m just feeling a lot better in myself, which helps too.

We’ve been looking at our Local Offer for special needs and disabilities. The new thing will need a directory element to enable our users to find services in their local area. One of the options we’ve been looking at for this is LocalGov Drupal. We’re also looking at LocalGov Drupal for a lot of the rest of our web estate, so it makes a lot of sense to do this.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had quite a few chats with people involved in LocalGov Drupal. This has been great fun — there’s a real sense of community around the project, and everyone has been really welcoming. This project really gives me a lot of hope for the future of collaboration across local government. LocalGov Drupal is already far ahead of what we can do with our own bespoke codebase, and opens the door for us getting into a lot more interesting areas like transactional services.

I’m confident in that the critical mass of local authorities that are on board with the product will continue to drive forward development, but we need to make sure we have a sustainable model. Someone asked in a meeting this week “is this SaaS?”. The purist in me thinks, no, not really, it isn’t SaaS. We could definitely get a supplier to support us by managing infrastructure and providing a support model that brings it close to that point, though. And a lot of the benefits come from the fact that it isn’t SaaS — more ability to customise things, more influence on the roadmap. The tradeoffs are that there might be more custom development required, and it might be harder for us to keep track of upstream changes if we diverge a lot from the base distribution. It does allow us a lot more options there though, and customising on top of a modular, open-source, local authority-steered product based on common web technologies feels a lot more comfortable than paying a supplier to customise their own product for us.

I’ve enjoyed some very techy conversations around this too. I’ve never developed anything on Drupal, so that’s all new to me, and that’s actually quite a lot of fun! I’ve also been thinking a lot about redirects and different options for making sure that we don’t lead our users down dead ends as we migrate websites. This is a bit of a patchwork at the moment and I have no shame in saying that leading our users to 4xx or 5xx pages, or worse still, warnings about incorrect TLS config, is a huge bugbear of mine. I am on a mission to fix this wherever I can, but biting off a chunk at a time.

It’s great to be chatting to people in other local authorities too. It’s amazing how different we all are — how teams are structured, how many people work in digital, etc. I love to learn about this and I am so much in awe of people working in small digital teams in local authorities that do so much with so little.

So back to the Local Offer. We think that trying out LocalGov Drupal for this directory might work well. It could deliver some value that we can’t deliver at the moment fairly quickly, it’d help us test LocalGov Drupal, and set a foundation for future work. Watch this space, there might be something on the way!