Information, Advice & Guidance or IAG. Catchy title it is not. But it is currently one of the big digital challenges for local public service delivery. Council websites up and down the land are trying to help people understand a myriad of services. Get it right and people self-serve. Get it wrong and they look at a website and get very frustrated. They curse where their taxes are going and dig deep for a phone number to get answers from someone at the council. The double whammy of an expensive website combined with increased demand on the frontline – not good.

We are involved in a collaborative project working with a couple of Scottish LA’s on this very challenge.

In my own personal use of the internet I am seeing a profound change in the way information and products are placed in my line of sight. It’s not just my love of cycling seeing a deluge of cool, new kit being offered to me. It’s the other things that numerous websites are concluding about me that sees them proactively offer things I hadn’t considered. They appear to be ‘listening’, recognising who I am, what makes me tick and what may be important to me. Advertising is personal, increasingly predictive and smart. It’s not perfect (look at the current short term high profile exits from YouTube recently) but it’s much smarter and more intelligent than it used to be. I’m quite sure the big brands will ensure that this trend continues. But what can we in the public sector learn from this, for improving the way we deliver our digital services?

We are starting to consider how we can incorporate some of this smart signposting into the IAG project mentioned above. How can we start to assemble information, advice and guidance such that we better predict what someone needs to know before they ask for it? More than ‘people who bought this, also liked this’, we need to start thinking about how we can use artificial intelligence to recognise patterns and make connections. This would mean that someone presenting their council with a challenge can be given the kind of help they really need – not just the help they have asked for. We are party to considerable data about our customers. We really should be able to do a truly excellent job of this but I don’t think we are yet. Given the financial limitations that we face – intelligent digital IAG is a challenge we really need to step up to.

We’re going to see if we can come up with some answers to this challenge and we will be looking to share the journey that we go on here. Stay tuned.

I’ve spent the last few weeks talking to various Managing Directors and Bid Managers who respond to tenders around healthy living, integrated lifestyles, long-term condition management, public health. I have also been invited to numerous ‘market sounding’ events run by local authorities – often in partnership with their CCG colleagues. For too long now I have become frustrated that these organisations don’t ‘think digital’ in the way they commission these services, but I think I have woken up. This was my shortcoming – not theirs.

I think I may be too digital for my own good; that is a badge of shame, not honour. I spend way too much time on my phone, my laptop, tablet. It consumes so much of my day that I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that everyone does the same and I think I may have allowed it to skew my thinking around how we best share some of the work that we have done at Kirklees Council through LookingLocal.

It’s simply no good having something digital to offer in isolation – digital should be blended into real services on the ground, but only where digital improves the offer to the user. I know this of course – it’s not exactly news but nonetheless our efforts to share our work have not been previously focused in this way.

Most recently I was invited to go along to a market sounding event on the South Coast – being run by one of the local authorities there. Fortunately, the invitation that went out to all potential providers cc’d all the recipients and I was able to ‘reply to all’ – telling anyone that wanted to listen that we wouldn’t and couldn’t lead a response to a full healthy lifestyle tender. I told them that I don’t have people on the ground able to help reduce levels of obesity, or smoking. I don’t have behavioural change specialists on call to sit in front of patients, needing to learn to live with long-term heart disease. Our strength lies in supporting those who do have these capabilities with the right digital technology. No big surprise that the organisations that do have these resources in abundance are not digital specialists. Horses for courses.

And from this some interesting public:private partnerships are now developing. We’ll see where they go but the potential is starting to reveal itself. Who would have thought that a commercial provider of health and care services would team up with a local authority owned digital development team from Yorkshire to deliver a transformed health living services for people in the Midlands?

I’m not one for politics but it strikes me that there is still mileage in organisations collaborating together – including those that cross the public and private sector divide. More to follow.