In the span of a year, the council of Brighton and Hove has fully open sourced its publishing platform. By sharing knowledge and skills, Croydon (and others) could do the same - but in one-third of the time.
The process of digital transformation that the city council of Brighton and Hove (BHCC) has gone through proves once again the benefits produced by using open source. In 2017, the council upgraded its content management system (CMS) from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8, as part of its digitisation programme. As a result, the new council website was launched the year after.
The switch to a fully open source environment, which led BHCC to share the code and Croydon to re-use it, was established after both the councils signed the Local Digital Declaration, which is a commitment from politicians, leaders and managers to promote best digital practices across local government, co-create the next generation of digital services, develop common building blocks as well as pursue a culture and technology shift.
Given the strongly collaborative nature of this Declaration, which calls for reusing “existing user research, service design, common components, data and technology standards before starting to design or procure something new”, the council of Croydon launched the “Local Government Drupal Project” (or LocalGov Drupal). This initiative aims to enhance collaboration amongst several councils in the UK, by reusing and sharing the Drupal code as well as building upon best practices for website content. By collaborating with the team in BHCC, Croydon’s website managed to go live in only 4 months rather than one year, thus saving up to two-thirds of the time used by the Brighton and Hove city council.
LocalGov Drupal was kicked off at the beginning of 2020. The initial phase of the project, which lasted from January until March, sought to analyse the state of art of open source in the UK local government and identify a governance framework for collaboration between the UK councils. At this stage, three main documents have been produced:
- a Memorandum of Understanding, to outline the political governance model and define the licence adopted (i.e. GPL);
- the Processes and Standards for development and contribution, to set the way for the technical governance model;
- the Product governance and processes, to identify the product group governance framework.
Between April and September 2020, the LocalGov Drupal team (composed of 8 developers, 4 product managers and 1 researcher coming from Agile Collective, dxw and Moorcrofts, as well as the councils of Croydon, BHCC, Bracknell Forest and London) launched the Alpha phase. Funded by the UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), it entailed 11 sprints of agile work to build on the work to date, re-architect the code and structure, adopt the agreed standards and automate all the testing.
Currently, the LocalGov Drupal architecture includes the Drupal 8 Core, the LocalGov Core and Base Theme (written to provide a set of common services on top of Drupal 8 Core which fit with the local government’s IT needs and environment), and modular architecture to add a number of additional features.
During the LocalGov Drupal’s deployment phase - and the relative research period - four valuable kinds of savings emerged from the adoption of this collaborative approach: a large amount of time was saved (e.g. Croydon took only one-third of the time needed by BHCC for the go live); a potential to save money on licence fees for directory software; a considerable decrease in the number of “microsites”, which were previously developed and maintained by the single council, alongside the main website; and a reduction in unnecessary customer calls to the contact centre as a result of better and more accessible content published online (the so-called ‘channel shift’). Together with these measurable benefits, it should also be mentioned the long-term positive effect of research sharing, knowledge transfer and staff upskilling.
In this regard, Finn Lewis, Technical Director at Agile Collective and LocalGov Drupal Technical Lead, said that “it is amazing to finally see local government organisations collaborating to solve common problems with open source software and publishing this work openly for others to benefit. It is clear to me that public money should be spent on public code, but the benefits of collaboration go way beyond savings on licence fees: sharing knowledge, evidence and best practice across the sector generates better and more accessible content that encourages savings and amplifies value”.
Today, there are 61 councils in the UK which use Drupal. However, not all of them adopted LocalGov Drupal. In fact, at the moment 10 councils are using LocalGov Drupal codebase (either live or in development phase), namely Bracknell Forest, Brighton and Hove, Croydon, Cumbria County, Hammersmith & Fulham, Lambeth, London, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, Waltham Forest and Westminster.
Overall, the LocalGov Drupal team estimated a total saving and benefit over a 5-year period between €31 and €44 million, if all those 61 councils currently using Drupal switched to the shared LocalGov Drupal code. In case all 343 English local authorities were taken into account, the total saving and benefit over the same period of time would sum between €175 and €248 million.