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Applying for a copy of a Birth, Marriage, or Death Certificate

simon gray - 2017-01-20, 16:08:44

tl;dr - Applying for a copy of certificates from your council's register office is considerably more painful than it should be. And for online applications, it probably makes more sense to signpost people to the central government General Register Office site.

A couple of years ago it occurred to me that I didn't know where my copy of my birth certificate is, and that it might be a good idea to get another one. When I went to the website of the council where we lived until I was 10, I saw there was no online process to order copy certificates, meaning an order process of sending a cheque or postal order through the post. Since I've not had a chequebook for about 10 years, that meant going to a post office to buy a postal order - and Birmingham city centre only has two post offices, meaning most lunchtimes and near-closing time the queue is out the door and down the street. So since I had no pressing need for a copy of my birth certificate at that point I didn't pursue it.

Time passes and more recently a need for my birth certificate arose - but of course this problem of having to go and get a postal order still got in the way of me stirring myself, until last week I eventually hauled myself out to the post office queue to pay £11.25 for a £10 postal order. And by this time, the deadline for needing to order it has rapidly approached, and it's touch and go whether it will arrive back in time, so as well as posting the order I sent an email to the register office asking what the chances were of it coming back by return; I get a reply from them asking me to phone back, and they said unfortunately the standard turnaround for the £10 is indeed five working days, meaning it would miss my deadline, but I could pay the balance over the phone to order an express service which they'd post out to me within 48 hours. But further in to the conversation it also transpired that I might not be registered in that local authority anyway - where I was born was on the other side of the boundary in what is now a different council area, so she directed me to apply there instead, which fortunately does offer an online service.

Now I'm on the other council website, and the first thing it tells me to do is have a look on this third party website maintained by volunteers which aims to be a database of all the registrations in the county to see if my registration was listed, because there's an index reference number on there making it easier for them to find it. The database though isn't complete and my registration wasn't there. I fill in the order form anyway, and it then took me to the payment page. Before it took me to the payment page it gave me a series of instructions of what to do on the payment page - which I duly didn't bother to read, which of course caused errors on the payment page, because I wasn't entering a valid council tax reference number. So I go back and read the instructions I didn't read the first time, and it becomes clear that the payment form is a generic payment form for which the user must on it specifically select what service you're paying for - the form can't receive a flag from the referring webpage to tell it what service the user is paying for in advance. Corrected, I make my payment, and I hope that indeed my registration was in that council rather than the one we thought it was in.

I say 'I hope that's where my registration is' - aside from the confusion about which registration district the hospital I was born in is in, could my parents have registered me in the district we lived in anyway? But more to the point, when this possibility of me being in the other council's records came up, it occurred to me, when I was born neither council even existed anyway; I was born in an area which at the time was an urban district within a shire county council, which in 1974 became a metropolitan district within a metropolitan county council - and where responsibility for registration transferred from the shire county council to the metropolitan district. But will the records have transferred? Regardless of which particular council office my registration records physically exist, should I actually have applied to the shire county council I was born in which still exists (albeit covering a smaller area), or either of the unitary councils of the metropolitan boroughs which now exist (the metropolitan county having been abolished in 1986 anyway)? Where I live now, Birmingham, it could be even more complicated, because pre-1974 different parts of Birmingham were actually principally in Warwickshire and Worcestershire with some parts of what people think of as Birmingham also being in Staffordshire.

In the course of trying to get a certificate copy quickly I discovered that there's an alternative route to applying for a copy certificate - via the central government General Register Office. Not only does that offer both an online service (albeit interrupted by a login system) and a telephone service, for £10 cheaper than many councils charge for the express service.

And so it occurs to me - given the expense that councils who don't yet have an online service will have to incur to get one, and the expense that councils with an online service will have to incur to turn a rubbish service into a decent service, wouldn't it make more sense for council websites to not actually bother, and just signpost people to the GRO site - and for GDS to prioritise improving the central service? Is providing copies of certificates to people applying online a sufficiently surplus-generating activity for councils that they have a business reason to maintain it themselves rather than signposting people to the central government service?

#localgovdigital #localgov

In group Public / Third Sector Digital

Young people and their phones

simon gray - 2017-01-04, 12:49:33

‪So here's a thing just occurred to me - what's the difference between a young person always fiddling with their iPhone, and a middle-aged person in a suit always fiddling with their Blackberry?‬

Left luggage

simon gray - 2016-12-22, 09:46:58

If unattended luggage left on the station concourse could potentially be a bomb (needing to be removed and destroyed by the 'security services'), how come taking it to store in a left luggage facility removes the potential for it to be a bomb?

Patatas muy bravas

simon gray - 2016-11-12, 14:14:43

Like patatas bravas, but sufficient food to be standalone lunch. 

Ingredients

  • Small potatoes
  • Celery (chopped)
  • Leek (chopped)
  • Tomato (chopped)
  • Garlic (chopped)
  • Chilli (chopped)
  • Smoked paprika
  • Plain paprika
  • Swiss bouillon powder
  • Lemon juice
  • Mayonnaise

Steam the potatoes, whole. 

Whilst they're steaming, start frying the chopped leek and celery, and then add the potatoes when softened along with the paprika. Lots of paprika, and then a bit more paprika. Once that has established, add the tomato and garlic and a sprinkling of bouillon powder alongside any salt and pepper you might be into. When it's looking nearly done, add a splash of lemon juice, stir it in, and serve with a blob of mayonnaise on the side and the chillis sprinkled over the top. 

#cheatcuisine #lunch 

The failure of politics

simon gray - 2016-11-05, 17:22:31

Whilst the referendum itself was David Cameron's hubris, the constitutional controversy which has come about this week is entirely the fault of each and every one of the 650 MPs and 812 lords who were too bone idle or too incompetent to give the Referendum Bill the proper scrutiny during its passage through parliament to ensure all the Is were dotted and the Ts were crossed. No wonder the overriding theme of every Adam Curtis documentary the last 15 years has been about the failure of politics to organise society. 

#politics #AVeryBritishRevolution

The state of the Labour Party in 2016

simon gray - 2016-09-27, 07:50:00

The Labour Party should just split and be done with it; let the voters choose which wing of the party they prefer - https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/sep/25/jeremy-corbyn-critics-will-not-be-silenced-despite-unity-calls

#politics #labour

Local Government Digital Service Standard Summit, 19 September 2016

simon gray - 2016-09-19, 13:20:35

Earlier in 2016 the Local Government Digital Steering Group, of which I'm a member, held a workshop day at the Government Digital Service to discuss whether there was any mileage in creating a local government version of the GDS Digital Service Standard. Not surprisingly, there was overwhelming agreement that it was indeed a good idea, so the steering group set to work in collaboration with local government digital practitioners up and down the country to create one - the Local Government Digital Service Standard. Today there's a summit at City Hall in London to share the work that's been done so far, gaining insight from people working in central and local government in their experiences of using the standard - and an important point being emphasised that it's not about creating a whole load of bureaucracy, and neither is it about replicating the same thing across hundreds of councils - it's just about creating good digital services.

Here are my notes from the morning main speaker sessions.

Natalie Taylor, Head of Digital Transformation, GLA - City Hall and the Digital Service Standard - Building the new london.gov.uk

  • changed the focus to be based on user needs and user research.
  • Introduced an agile development methodology, with clear roles. Daily stand-ups, sprint planning, retrospectives, show and tells, and moved to fortnightly sprints with continuous development and testing.
  • Reduced the content by 75% to make it better written and relevant to the users, by proper talented content editors.
  • Got successful buy-in from senior management, as well as gaining their trust to move from old-style PRINCE2 RAG status updates to the show-and-tell methodology
  • Success at London wasn't necessarily achieved by the top leading on digital, rather it was achieved because the top trusted and supported her in delivery
  • Invested significantly in training the relevant staff in the relevant skills for ongoing maintenance
  • Moved the site to an open source platform (Drupal)
  • Further work is to rationalise the 50 different microsites to make it more coherent, to improve the tools and hardware which is in use around the authority, and to introduce digital working practices around the organisation.

Why does Local Government need a Digital Service Standard?

  • It's a helpful framework
  • It's a proven methodology
  • It puts users first
  • It introduces consistency
  • It encourages collaboration and sharing
  • It'll be helpful for suppliers
  • It's not a tickboxing exercise - a true understanding of the principles is key to success

Olivia Neal, Deputy Director for Standards Assurance, GDS

  • GDS Service Standard has been mandatory in central government since April 2014
  • It's always been at the heart of the GDS mission
  • It's how they demonstrate to teams a common understanding of 'what good looks like' - to create services which are so good people prefer to use them over traditional service delivery, always thinking about the needs of the service users over the needs of the service deliverers
  • The GDS methodology is about more than just the services themselves - it's about developing staff so that when they're shared around other departments to improve their delivery
  • They're about empowering individuals and teams who've been traditionally blocked in trying to deliver good digital services
  • But they still too often hear the phrase 'what do we need to do for GDS' rather than 'what do we need to deliver a quality digital service'…
  • Sharing and reuse is a cornerstone of the GDS philosophy
  • When a new service fails a DSS assessment the assessment team feeds back with a detailed report containing recommendations on how it can subsequently pass
  • In the early days the most common area in which services failed the DSS assessment was in making their code open, so they did a lot of work in developing guidance in how to share code whilst still keeping it secure
  • Another early struggle was in providing assisted digital support for people unable to directly use the digital service themselves
  • The most commonly failed point nowadays is 'build a service that is simple and intuitive'!
  • They still have difficult conversations with teams who are under pressure to make a service which is not yet ready live because the responsible minister is planning on making a speech launching it the next day
  • The most important message is that in order to deliver great digital services, you need experts - to design, build, and assess
  • And you need to be willing to adapt and iterate - both in the method of delivering the service, and also in the method of assessing it
  • It's a good start to improve the public facing aspect of a service, but proper transformation also requires the back-end of the service to be improved so that the staff delivering it also becomes a system which is so good the staff want to use it
  • One of the biggest challenges to local authorities is the limited number of third party suppliers for specific applications; too many of those third party applications are very poor indeed, with too many of the suppliers being completely unresponsive to demands for improvement. We need to be much better at demanding these suppliers improve the quality of what they're offering

Matthew Cain, Head of Digital, Buckinghamshire County Council - How we adopted the LGDSS and how it's improving the experience for residents

  • In the early days before adopting the standard there was a lack of co-ordination with many service areas creating their own platforms, and there was a lot of opinion with very little evidence
  • They changed to adopt a clear guiding principle - 'we'll do it the GDS way until we decide not to'
  • They started by lining up the correct people in the right order - digital leaders across the organisation, the contract managers of the existing websites.
  • They looked at the 18 points of the GDS DSS and established which of those points wouldn't work for them
  • Followed the prove path of Discovery, Alpha, Beta, and Live, showing their work at each stage to the relevant people to get buy-in to proceed to the next phase
  • They adopted a 'soft on means, tough on ends' attitude; they committed to fast turnarounds for assessments, and assessed proportionately according to the impact of the service
  • Feedback was using an approach of 'this would be even better if…' attitude
  • But there still remains a key skills gap for assessing the high profile services
  • Having a spending control governance model helps prevent service areas going rogue to do their own thing
  • They've also published their DSS on their own website so that they are making it clear to the public what their aspiration is, and so the public can hold them account for services which fall short
  • They've also got cabinet member buy-in so that councillors know to come to them before agreeing to new digital service
  • They monitor their new services after go-live on a publicly available customer performance dashboard
  • The ongoing experience is that meeting their standards is getting harder - but this is a good thing, because it increasingly matters more that they get it right
  • We all need to be much more honest with our suppliers of rubbish third party applications - we need to make it clear to them in advance of contract renewal time that if they don't improve their offers we won't be continuing to use their products. We also need to have a plan B for these third party applications - for many of them, we're behelden to the supplier because nobody else is providing a credible alternative

Kit Collingwood-Richardson, DWP - The Joy of Standards and what she's learned from using the GDS DSS

  • The standard saves money - it helps reduce the cost of service delivery and the speed of service delivery
    • Get your customers online quickly and keep them there
    • Prioritise the things users need
    • Iterate swiftly based on feedback
    • Running services, not just building them - it doesn't end when the new service has gone live
  • Building to the standard will make the services better
    • Key focus on design quality - make sure it's simple enough people can use it first time unaided
    • Do this based on continuous research
    • It's only successful if it's far easier to use than the alternative channels
    • It's based on repeatable and shareable patterns - be consistent across services
    • Whenever she had a problem she was able to consult with peers to find how they'd already solved it, rather than reinventing the wheel
  • Consistency is a user need
    • Look at other successful online services - Amazon, Google, eBay, etc - if another successful online service is doing a certain thing a certain way, consider following that way yourself
    • Consistency builds predictability
    • Predictability builds trust
    • Trust keeps people online
  • It will help you move from outsourced IT to the digital age
    • "'Digital' is applying the culture, practices, processes, and technologies of the internet era to respond to peoples' raised expectations" - Tom Loosemore
    • Equipping an organisation for the internet era is hard
    • The ability to evolve and iterate needs to be part of the organisation's DNA
  • It's a lightning rod for culture change
    • The standard strongly encourages an organisation to be open - not just open sourcing the code, but being open about describing what you're doing along the way and why
    • It also attracts better quality people to work for the organisation
    • Colocated multi-disciplinary teams
    • Flatter hierarchies
    • More diverse workforce
    • More open and collaborative organisation

Paul Ward, Head of ICT Strategy, Systems, and Development, Coventry City Council - Implementing the standard at Coventry City Council so far

  • Because they're building some new office space to reduce the number of desks to seven desks per 10 staff members, it's just as important for them to implement sensible digital services which work for staff as it is ones which work for citizens
    • This includes moving to abolishing phones in favour of computer-based voice communication, two-in-one laptops to detach the screen from the keyboard for one to one situations, online / cloud-based working, etc
  • Opened a city centre Customer Service Centre which is modern and pleasant to visit and is relevant to all citizens, for assisted digital services
  • If as a sector we can harmonise our business processes using the LGDSS we can use that as part of putting pressure to the rubbish third-party suppliers to improve their offers
  • Use the best technology for the job rather than trying to shoehorn something designed for one thing into using it for something completely different

#localgovdigital #localgov #lgdss

 

In group Public / Third Sector Digital

Reckless acts

simon gray - 2016-09-02, 09:11:56

Dude just ran in front of a tram carrying a roll of poundland binbags. Buying binbags from poundland was a pretty dumb thing to do. 

Pork fillet on a bed of leek and celery sauce with orzo pasta

simon gray - 2016-07-21, 14:28:19

Ingredients:

  • Pork fillet
  • Leek
  • Celery
  • Orzo pasta (or rice)
  • White wine
  • Calvados (or brandy)
  • Stock cube
  • Double cream
  • Garlic
  • Tarragon
  • Salt and pepper

Method:

Set your piece of pork fillet cooking the way you like to cook it. Because I'm a bit pretentious and have a sous-vide, I cook mine at 62C for about an hour. If you don't have a sous-vide, either follow the cooking instructions on the packet, or cook it the way you usually like to cook it.

Start your orzo pasta cooking. Although it's small it still takes a bit longer to cook than you'd think, but because it's small you've got to be more careful about stopping it sticking to the pan than than usual pasta. If it's cooked before the sauce is cooked, just turn the heat off.

Chop the celery and the leek as finely as you feel motivated to, and fry in a pan for a few minutes, then add the garlic to fry for a few moments more; add a fair amount of white wine and a bit of calvados and reduce for a bit, then add a big dollop of the cream, the amount of salt and pepper you like, and the tarragon. Let all that bubble nicely for a while; the final consistency you're after for this is creamy, but not too thick nor not too runny - whilst it's cooking if it's getting too thick then thin it down a touch with some milk, but keep it on the thicker side of how you want it. When the orzo has almost finished cooking, pour some of the cooking water into your sauce as well (which is why you don't want to thin the sauce too much whilst it's cooking), and mix the orzo into the sauce for just a minute or two longer.

Assuming the pork has fnished cooking at the same time as the sauce and the orzo, pour the orzo / sauce combination on to your plate, and slice the pork into medallions and place attractively on to the sauce bed. For extra points, scatter some torn up fresh basil leaves or nasturtium flowers into some of the gaps.

#cheatcuisine

Brought to you by simon gray.

Please note! This is work in progress - if you have come across it by accident you're free to stick around, but please be aware not everything will work as intended yet. I have a To do list.