Kent Connects Information Sharing Portal
UK public organizations in Kent and Medway collaborate in an innovative open source project. The Kent Connects Information Sharing Portal has been developed to create a flexible, virtual online space for any Kent Connects partner to share information via the internet in a secure way. This allows groups, communities, partnerships or individuals across these partner organisations to access documents, minutes, agendas etc from a central, secure store.
A case study by Zea Partners, based on an article by Kent Connects, 2009
The Kent Connects Partnership Portal is proof positive that simple ideas are often the best.
Modest in ambition, functional in design, quick to deliver, an everyday concept - a portal - has been applied in an innovative way to transform partnership working throughout public services in Kent and Medway. Kent Connects results from a collaboration between Collaboration between 17 public organizations (Local Authorities, Kent Police and Kent Fire & Rescue Service) in the UK. This sector partnerships now use their own tailored version of the Kent Connects portal making networking, collaborative and joint working easier for these groups to achieve.
Our ‘Portal of Portals’ sits over these portals providing a ‘bird’s eye view’ for Chief Executives and Senior Officers, offering them a strategic vantage point of partnership and collaborative activities. In an instant they can check progress, spot gaps and duplication of effort, and recognise new ideas and opportunities to be exploited helping to keep development of Kent and Medway’s public service goals on track.
Kent Connects is the lead technology partnership in Kent and Medway, enabling the transformation of public services through technology, with our members coming from all local authorities, Kent Police, and Kent Fire and Rescue.
Fundamental to our vision was the challenge of joining up of Kent and Medway’s inter-authority officer groups into virtual teams enabling the sharing of good practice through collaborative working. By so doing, public services and cost effectiveness improve, to the benefit of residents. Historically public services have been delivered in isolation by local authorities. With the ‘Transformational Government' agenda, officers have to seek out new ways of working together, breaking down the culture of silo-based working, that has been prevalent in local authorities. Our project makes this achievable.
Within weeks of the initial development (www.kentconnects.gov.uk/partnersportal), many other inter-authority partnerships requested a version of the portal for their own purposes. They saw the potential for technology to transform their partnership working, aiding collaboration on areas of common interest, particularly the development of shared services. This presented us with our next challenge: signing up and supporting these groups at minimal cost.
As the portal ‘franchise’ spread, we recognised the potential of the information each held. Joining up the portals into a ‘Portal of Portals’ would offer Chief Executives and others a powerful, strategic resource, enabling them to see who is doing what, when and where. This is now developing at www.kentconnects.gov.uk, starting with a combined calendar and a gateway to individual portals.
Technology solution and management approach
The portals have been developed on an Open Source content management system called Plone. One of our partners, Kent County Council, developed the initial Kent Connects Partners Portal, and this has served as the model for all the partnerships that wanted a portal for themselves. Each Information Sharing Portal conforms to a common design, offering the partnership or group:
- A searchable calendar with meetings, agendas, minutes and related documents
- Discussion forums and news items
- Email alerts to registered users – highlighting additions and changes as they happen
- Document folders and ‘self publishing’ – enabling members to add, amend and share latest documents and developments
- Password protection
The Portal of Portals, www.kentconnects.gov.uk, sits across, and provides a gateway to, the individual partnership and group portals. Here, public domain information combines in a single searchable calendar, pulling meetings and events directly from all the portals, with their agenda and contact information being accessed from this calendar. ‘Go Live’ was 1st February 2008 and the coming months will see the portal of portals develop to extend the shared resources on offer.
Project size and implementation
Since we used Plone, an Open Source content management system, there are no licensing fees, and because the portal was developed by one partner (Kent County Council) and initially hosted by another (Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council), there were no development or hosting costs for the initial implementation of the Kent Connects Partners Portal.
Due to the success of the portals, and the strategic importance that they now have in Kent and Medway, we have entered into a support and hosting contract with a professional open source business: Netsight Internet Solutions (www.netsight.co.uk). This is fully funded by Kent Connects for all our Portal Partners, thereby incurring no on-going revenue cost to these public sector partnerships for their portal.
The cost of Kent Connects officer time required in developing the individual portals for others is recouped by charging a one-off set up fee of £500 (if all members are in a partner authority) or £1000 (if there are members outside the Kent Connects partnership). This covers the personalisation of the portal, administrator training; web hosting (plus backups and restores) and ongoing support and maintenance.
The development of the ‘Portal of Portal’s’ is being fully funded from the Kent and Medway Improvement Partnership, a sub-region of the South East Improvement and Efficiency Partnership, who are keen to promote collaboration on the development of shared services and continuous improvement.
Impact, innovation and return on investment
Kent Connects has over 100 registered users of its portal. Our collaboration routinely delivers efficiencies from joint procurement and partnership working, currently exceeding £1M.
Further benefits for Kent Connects can be valued at hundreds of thousands of pounds across Kent and Medway. The branding of the portals represents free publicity and enhanced reputation. Members are reducing travel costs and officer time through fewer meetings, whilst the highest value is from cutting duplication of effort, better direction of effort and ‘free consultancy’ from within the partnership.
There are at least 35 officer networks in Kent and Medway and already seventeen of them have a partnership portal of their own, with over eight hundred registered users across these portals. Each of these groups is pursuing a similar shared agenda and their feedback cites additional benefits: a tool for innovation and promoting best practice; cultural change – breaking down the barriers to collaboration.
Ultimately, Kent Connects’ challenge with this project was to offer technology as a means to support inter-authority partnerships in their efforts to join-up, share and work collaboratively. Our aim was to facilitate new ways of working for these partnerships leading to new, improved, cost effective public services and facilities. This is being achieved, with examples benefiting citizens of Kent and Medway’s parks and open spaces, customer services, waste and recycling, and tourism.
Finally we have happier Chief Executives who are able to provide concrete evidence of partnership and collaborative working in Kent and Medway – what price do you put on that?
- Contact: Barbara Stapleton, Strategic Director Kent Connects
- Link: www.kentconnects.gov.uk
- More open source eGovernment projects: www.plonegov.org
- More cases studies on: http://zeapartners.org