Local councils given green light to drive e-citizenship

9 Dec 2003

The Local Government Computer Services Board (LGCSB) has won funding for an ambitious e-citizen community programme to be rolled out across four local authorities in the first half of next year.

The Information Society Commission has given €250,000 to the Mobhaile Community and Voluntary scheme, the second phase of LGCSB’s Mobhaile project where the aim is to push council data out to the public through accessible online portals.

The LGCSB will provide a portfolio of hardware services to local authorities who will make them available to community and voluntary groups as well as small and medium-sized firms.

Services will range from offering organisations web sites and shared functionality, such as online forms and an e-payment platform, to tagging council assets for an interactive management information system where citizens can help improve local services.

“There are things that we can do quite quickly,” explained Tim Willoughby (pictured), director of the LGCSB, “like putting an SMS number and a unique tag on every asset we own. So if a litterbin is full or a streetlight is broken, the public can send us a text and tell us. It costs a lot of money to have people going round checking these services. If people are spending 3 or 4c telling you a bulb is broken, it is more than likely true and it’s a more efficient way of maintaining a service.”

The LGCSB invited local councils to make submissions as to why they thought they would be suited to pioneer the project. Councils from North and South Tipperary, Offaly and Westmeath were eventually chosen and given the green light.

Each one will be funded from January to appoint an ‘e-champion’ to go out evangelise on the project, engaging with high profile voluntary organisations and local bodies such as the Chambers of Commerce.

The scheme is designed in such a way that the adoption of the services should mushroom. “It’s all about self-provisioning,” said Willoughby. “We will enable the head of a community group to create a website and if they want to open it up to other people then, that’s fine, it’s up to them. A tennis association, for example, may have twenty tennis clubs that they can pass on the authoring rights to set up their own sites.”

The LGCSB is taking a modular approach to the Mobhaile project, concentrating efforts on different sectors and features at any one time with overall completion expected within five years. In the first phase, pilot sites at South Dublin, Meath and Mayo council have explored ways of categorising their data according to function, location and time. Functional categories would include tourism, employment, children’s issues, domestic services, social services, transport and housing. The locational view is provided by an interactive map which provides an accessible way for accessing and cross-referencing information in real time.

The ultimate goal is to combine both Mobhaile projects through a single interface, providing a rich vein of information for citizens while empowering local authorities with portals that will massively increase their own efficiencies.

By Ian Campbell