New pilot project reinvents local services

18 Mar 2003

The Local Government Computer Services Board (LGCSB), the body responsible for implementing technology in the regions through local authorities, is piloting an online information portal that could radically reshape the delivery of grassroots e-government.

The project — working title ‘mobhaile’ — taps into the vast data resource accumulated by local authorities, turning it into an invaluable online information service for local citizens and businesses. The data has been categorised 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.

As a proof of concept, the LGCSB worked with South Dublin County Council to provide a working model of the Clondalkin area. This was presented to the E-Inclusion working group of the Information Society Commission – whose chairman is Joe Horan of South Dublin County Council – and to the Universal Participation Group of the Taoiseach’s office.

“The E-Inclusion and Universal Participation Groups were struggling with writing policies to find an endgame,” says Tim Willoughby (pictured), LGCSB’s assistant director. “They were trying to get to the end of the process and they weren’t sure how to implement policies when they weren’t sure where the policies were leading them. We basically worked with South Dublin County Council and spent two to three weeks developing the prototype and then demonstrated it just before Christmas. We showed it to them and said ‘here’s the endgame. Now go write the policies.'”

When fully operational, mobhaile will be a portal through which users can access many different services. Clicking on a road, for instance, will bring up information about the road and will also allow the user to select layers of information. For instance, they can find out which buses run along that road. Clicking on the bus route will then access the relevant database to display a timetable. Other information would include services such as ESB, Eircom, cable or gas with a standard cross-section to show where they are relative to one another. Similarly clicking on a postbox will bring up collection times, clicking on a church will show times of services.

The next step according to Willoughby, is to get funding to make mobhaile a reality. “If we had €600,000 to €1m we could do a lot. Most of the components exist already. We have a forms engine and a procurement engine and we have a tender for the mapping. It’s really about bringing the components together in a new way,” he says.

By David Stewart