I am writing to you on behalf of the Local Area Research and Intelligence Association (LARIA). This is our formal response to your consultation on the future of the Knowledge Hub. We have put together this response with a working group of our members and we also placed the draft on our own Knowledge Hub site for discussion. Please note that no staff member employed by the LGA has directly contributed to this response.
In summary, our members take part in an active Knowledge Hub group and we think it would be the wrong decision to close it. We value the Knowledge Hub, the principles behind it and the work that the LGA and the team have done to develop and maintain it. We think the Knowledge Hub works and currently building momentum. A social network take time to build and now is not the time to give up. There are alternatives to closing the Knowledge Hub and LARIA is willing to be involved in future discussions on the details of its future and offer what support we can.
Why we support the Knowledge Hub
As the LGA say on your own website;
“Councils are often the single most important source of practical advice to local communities who want to take on more responsibility. This means collaboration and partnership, and working across boundaries, actively involving people in the design and delivery of their local services.”
We believe that the Knowledge Hub embodies this sentiment and in particular that it provides the LGA the key benefit of being able to communicate with middle and junior managers and staff. These are individuals who may not be able to go to conferences or discuss issues with you.
The Knowledge Hub provides a secure place for collaboration and innovation. It encourages local councils to communicate with each other, share best practice and solve common problems. There are some alternatives but these have two problems. The first is that they often relate to one specific topic area or discipline. The Knowledge Hub enabled the sharing across a wider range than any other platform but still within the specific topic area of being relevant to local government and local areas. The second is that the Knowledge Hub offers a secure and relatively private place for discussion. The closest alternative we can see would be LinkedIn. However, this covers too many issues around the globe and does not offer a secure place to discuss issues.
There are specific examples of where the Knowledge Hub has helped our members. This saves local government money.
1. Community Regeneration and Tackling Poverty Learning Network
Discussion through a Community of Practice forum led to the formation of a virtual action learning set which in turn led to a position paper.
This evolved naturally based on interests and expertise. It brought together people who would not normally work together (community development workers with statisticians), involved people across wide geographic areas (Glasgow, Argyll and Bute, Moray, Fife), and did not involve a lot of time to participate.
2. SOLACE Improving Local Government Benchmarking
A high priority piece of work for all Councils where communication was absolutely essential and the project had suffered from a lack of it up until the establishment of the Knowledge Hub. Although Finance, Performance and Communications contacts in Councils had existing networks, there was no one place to bring key developments together and raise questions. Benefits of this included seeing the bigger picture, e.g. Finance being unaware of statutory performance reporting requirements. The Knowledge Hub was also used for document and version control, logging of what issues had been raised and the changes made as a result. This group currently has a real need for what the Knowledge Hub has offered (discussion forum, document library) to continue in the short to medium term. Without it we fear for its future.
There are alternatives to your plans
If there is a fault in the Knowledge Hub it is that it tries to do too much in terms of encouraging a network based around individuals you are following. This can also lead to some aspects of it not being very usable. We would be happy to work with the LGA to help simplify the system around the needs of users. We find the LARIA group structure works well and that the email alerts are useful. We understand the frustration of different discussions on the same topic occurring in different groups but feel that the system can regulate itself. The usability of the site would be improved by simplifying the processes, and encouraging members to take a more active role in sharing information. We would be happy to consider taking a more active role in monitoring the content and ensuring the maintenance of the site.
We would be keen to know the budgetary savings that you are planning and what alternatives may be available to help you meet these needs. We think that the ESD bulletin boards would be a more obvious area of savings.
The most radical alternative would be to encourage greater use of the Knowledge Hub but focused more on collaborative working and reviewing the areas of activity the LGA takes as a whole. The underlying platform we believe could be used more creatively by allowing completely closed groups to work on projects. This could be incredibly useful for areas such as peer reviews, research and training. Using the Knowledge Hub to reduce your own travel, meeting and project costs would be a more constructive approach and probably save you more money. Similarly aspects of the Knowledge Hub could be licensed to local authorities as an intranet solution or at least a collaborative workplace. We believe that the skills of our members in working on budget consultations and the options available could help you creatively find solutions. This is what the LGA should be encouraging local authorities themselves to do and should lead by example rather than just having a 30 day consultation period.
The help we can provide
We would be keen to help you in any way we can to support the future of the Knowledge Hub. We hope you agree with us that it is a valuable resource that should have a future. As well as dealing with any technical issues we could help with promotion of Knowledge Hub to drive use to ensure value for money is maximised. At the very least we would ask to be involved in any process to help transfer content or contact details elsewhere.
Thank you for the chance to take part in this consultation. We appreciate that it is a difficult financial situation you need to resolve. LARIA has been supported by the LGA over a long period of time and we are eternally grateful for this. We know many of the staff within the LGA, not just on the Knowledge Hub team, and appreciate their hard work and dedication to the sector. We firmly believe that it would be the wrong decision to close the Knowledge Hub when there is opportunity to use it to drive greater efficiencies elsewhere in the LGA and to encourage greater use across the sector to drive savings there too.
Photo credit: Bodlian Library, Oxford taken by dale_mcentee