Our team has just wrapped up the tenth and eleventh sprint of our Back-office Planning System (BoPS) beta phase with Southwark Council, MHCLG and partners.

Our aim is to create a user-centred back-office planning system that uses accurate, up-to-date records and data to increase efficiency across the planning application process and meet the needs of local authority planning teams.

Find out more about the project here: BoPS digital.

Progress across the last sprint

The theme for the past two sprints has been centred around implementing improvements such as evidencing the assessment of the application, iterating the validation process, and testing the tool. A new user testing approach has been implemented, formalizing the feedback process from users of the tool and feeding it into the trello board to prepare tickets to iterate the tool further with new functionality. Talks have taken place with planning officers evidencing and asking questions about how they assess a lawful certificate application against GDPO regulations and the process they take formally and informally. Also a look into how to use the references of the GDPO in the tool but also using plain english around how we simplify the GDPO regulations for the user. A new validation flow has also been looked at so when an application is received through RIPA, the process a case officer takes to assess the documents they receive and how they communicate with the applicant or how valid documentation is received for invalid cases.

Work we have done during sprint ten and eleven includes:

New team member

Stéphane has joined the BoPs team from Unboxed Consulting to be part of the development team.

Real Applications

The BoPs tool is currently processing private beta applications after going live earlier in the summer. Private beta is when applications are invited to submit applications through RIPA into BoPs. So far it has been a success, more applications are needed to be processed to iterate and show the success of the tool. The public beta will be introduced in the near future to increase the number of applications. The benefit from and processing live applications in the MVP is the tangible proof that it supports the improving the processes. The application process is brought to a point where it is responsive to the users (applicant and case officers). The feedback received from both case officers and applicants helps to improve and iterate the tool each week.

Validation dates

The case officer needs to be able to communicate with the tool and give the case officer the key information they need as they determine the planning application. A lawful development certificate application has a start date and a finish date in which the application needs to be determined. The objective with BoPs is to increase the speed of this process in order to get the decision to the applicant quicker. The case officer therefore has to know the important dates and this sprint, work has been done to iterate the language which is used to communicate to the case officer when the application is valid. A lot of time went into finessing the invalid application process allowing the applicant to understand quickly why their application was invalid and then create a functionality for the applicant to send across the right information to validate it. This update then gives the case officer the information of when the start date is.

New Mapping tool

A consistent approach to mapping across the RIPA tool and the BoPs tool has been made. Having the red line plan being consistent on the boundary on the application site is important so it does not produce different outcomes. As developers it is key to have OS maps so that there is the potential to redraw a red line if that is the reason for it being invalid and then send the updated red line to the applicant as they can also see the OS map. When the applicant assesses the red line and approves it, they can see exactly what the case officer is seeing, bringing confidence to the case officer and the applicant.

New Validation Flow

The validation flow is an important flow that has been worked on and one of the areas regnosied was that if an application is invalid, an applicant needs to be told so that it can be resolved as quickly as possible. So if an applicant is not told why their application is invalid, the application cannot be marked as invalid. This is important to ensure the process for the applicant is fast and issues are resolved quickly.

Email both agent and applicant

Through BoPs, councils are able to communicate with the applicant and the agent, previously communication was done through each partner councils own text, via notification emails. All councils have now come together to consolidate that text notification to find common wording. This is what now gets pushed out in the notifications. It has also been worked out that if an agent or applicant is on the application form, communication needs to be had with both or one depending on the information submitted. Now notification emails are sent to the right person.

Validation requests updates

If there are a number of reasons for an invalid application, the case officer will inform the applicant through the invalid application request. The case officer needs to see the reasons for it being sent, so there has been an update on the validating request screens so that it is clear: the request, the date it was sent, the reason why and the status i.e. has the applicant responded or not. If the applicant has responded the case officer can also see when that was received which could be the valid application date. The user interface is now clear and straightforward for the case officer and this update was made on the back of user feedback.

BoPs Validation request updates screenshot

What’s next?

The theme for sprint twelve is evidencing the assessment against policy and validation improvements.

There is going to be a further look into GDPO references and assessing it against the regulations along with further design work and development work.

File type uploads will be looked to be aligned particularly around the sizes of files to ensure there is a consistency around RIPA and BopS. Further Iteration of the validation process will be looked at and adding scale bars to site maps along with design work around immunity application

The BoPS team is keen to speak to more planning teams in other local authorities across the country to set up user testing sessions. If you’d be interested and can spare some time to help with the project, please get in touch via bops@southwark.gov.uk.

See the full recorded Show and Tell as well as a live demo here:

Follow BoPS on Twitter for the latest updates: @BoPs_Digital.

Written by Fiacré Baidoo