Looking back at my roundup of 2020, it’s somewhat alarming how little appears to have changed in 2021: similar projects, same COVID (with variants), same values and culture keeping us strong. But right now it feels like there is a lot of change happening.

Team

We’ve had ten new people join the Unboxed team in 2021, which feels like far more than I can remember in previous years, and a significant milestone was reached when the company became over 50% female, including the engineering team.

Whilst we were devastated to lose Rhian to her dream job in a cryptocurrency startup, developers Stéphane and Kate joined us, with Despo set to join in January. Caroline, Tom G, Raffaella, and Laura also joined this year, bringing a real depth of experience and knowledge to our design team, especially in UX and content design. We’re also delighted that Sarah will be rejoining the design team in January after the birth of her son Raphaël. Losing Tom H back into local government and Michelle into central government was a blow but Marie and Rosanna joined to increase our capacity in the delivery management team, with Fiacré joining the business development team to enhance our online marketing and Kassie creating a new and intriguing “Storyteller” role.

However, these difficult social times continue to take their toll. With several members of staff relocating back home to mainland Europe, and remaining uncertainty about what “normal” working will look like in future, we expect a lot more change in the line-up in the coming months. Recruitment is relentless and hard but we’ll continue to find the best people from the broadest of backgrounds and maintain an environment where they can thrive.

Wellbeing

It’s been another challenging year, we’ve all worked really hard, and I think it’s fair to say that everyone is in need of a Christmas break and to be able to have time with family and friends that many of us were denied last year. See our wellbeing round up blog post for more.

Project highlights

Back-office Planning System with Southwark Council

The Back-office Planning System (BoPS) rolls on as we continue to build on our MVP with Southwark, Lambeth and Buckinghamshire Councils. The project is scaling up across many more councils over the coming months and the newly branded DLUHC are fully behind the work as part of their planning reform programme.


Repairs Hub with Hackney Council

Unboxed continues to collaborate with Hackney Council's repairs team to design and build out its user-centred 'Repairs Hub' which is used to create, schedule, track and complete a huge variety of repair works.

Important functionality delivered this year includes the ability to create and schedule work for internal and external contractors; reviewing and authorising high cost work; providing in-the-field work update functionality for operatives using mobile devices; and most recently the ability to review and manage bonus payments for operatives in a dedicated portal.

This service, part of Hackney's 'Modern Tools for Housing' suite of services, adopts modern technical tools and approaches including serverless computing and a microservice architecture.


Unitary authority website with Buckinghamshire Council

Work has continued at pace in bringing together content from 4 district councils onto the single Buckinghamshire council unitary authority website. Over the past year work has taken place to migrate content from big service areas such as: planning and building, school services, client transport and waste services. The migration phase is an opportunity to evaluate content for services and align them around the goals of residents. We are helping the council to embed this practice into their business as usual process to allow a successful transition from migration of content to ongoing maintenance of resident centred services on the website.


Remote Monitoring with Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

This has been a big year for the Remote Monitoring Platform, a service that remotely monitors patients with various conditions via Patient Reported Outcome Measures (PROMs) - a form asking them about their condition. We've added functionality so that the system can support multiple types of PROMs, so that users with different conditions can be added. This is one step closer to being able to assign multiple PROMs to patients so their hospital can build up a fuller picture of their health.


Building Safety Platform with Southwark Council

Four years after the Grenfell Tower fire, the use of dangerous wall cladding systems remains a huge problem and local authorities have been struggling to identify those buildings that need attention. We’ve been working with Southwark Council to streamline the process via a system that uses data from Ordnance Survey and Companies House, contacts building owners via GOV.UK Notify, gathers information via a smart survey and reports to DLUHC’s Delta system. You can see a video demonstration of the system here. We plan to extend the system to manage further aspects of building safety and make it available to other councils via LoGov (see below).


Integrated land use with Connected Places Catapult

Working together with Bradford University for Connected Places Catapult, we developed an integrated land use modelling tool that explored the art of the possible. Exploring how we might use different sources of planning data such to understand how new developments and planning proposals might impact local councils plans to reach net zero carbon emissions. The project is now up for another round of funding to develop the prototype further: https://cp.catapult.org.uk/event/integrated-land-use-planning-prototype-webinar/.


Other projects

We also continued with Royal Borough of Greenwich throughout the year delivering Agile training to teams across the organisation, carried out a Design Sprint together with Huntingdonshire District Council, continued our long-standing relationship with The Honeycomb Works with ongoing development, amongst others.

Starting work with new clients is always exciting, and we’ve had the pleasure of embarking on new relationships with Carwow, Thriva and Kays, with much more in store for 2022.


Ventures

LoGov

This year has seen a renewed interest in a social enterprise we set up in 2016. The Local Digital Services Platform C.I.C., or LoGov, is exploring new models to help the public sector share the great work they’re doing in digital and involves a number of projects and agencies. Some potential candidates include: the Building Safety Platform and BoPS (see above), Affordable Housing, Local Gov Drupal, and Local Gov IMS. We’d like to thank all those people who have been engaged with the project this year, especially Jack Ricketts from Southwark Council who has been so helpful in making connections and coordinating things.


AWS Partnership

Being on the AWS Partner Network has continued to bring new opportunities, particularly joining the Public Sector Partner Programme this year, with Petitions receiving the AWS Well Architected Review status and passing the Foundation Technical Review with flying colours. We’re also working with AWS to explore global possibilities for re-using the Petitions open-source codebase.


Conferences

We were thrilled to sponsor some good online events this year, including GovCamp North for the first time this Autumn. With this years’ theme ‘legacy’ there were a wealth of interesting and inspiring conversations on topics set by attendees - from infinite discovery loops to systems thinking. We’re looking forward to joining GovCamp in January!

We sponsored September’s SDinGov (Service Design in Government), with our conference highlights available to read here.

There was also an opportunity for Caroline and I to attend the Design For Planet conference, read our reflections blog post here.


In summary…

It’s been another challenging year, but on the other hand very successful and inspiring, with lots to look forward to in 2022. Though we all fully deserve a much needed break meanwhile!

We’ll definitely start the new year with refreshed vigour and positivity, continuing to grow together with our colleagues, clients and partners in the coming months.

So a big thanks to all, we wish you a wonderful time over Christmas with friends and family, and a happy and healthy new year.

Written by Martyn Evans