With ongoing spending cuts and budgets getting tighter and tighter, it’s becoming more costly for local councils to maintain their services as they currently work. Shifting these services to digital reduces running costs, increases accessibility and reduces waiting and processing times. So what must local councils do to digitalise their services?

Digital local government pioneers from Buckinghamshire County Council and Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, as well as our Head of Product and Design Lead, gathered to share how their councils are currently making a shift to more effective and user-friendly digital services.

The event was held under Chatham House Rules, meaning we’re not able to drill down into the nitty gritty of individual discussions, but here’s a broad overview of the topics shared and a summary of each session...

Talk 1: Digital transformation in Buckinghamshire

Matthew Cain (@mcaino)
Head of Digital
Buckinghamshire County Council (@buckscc)

Matthew Cain is Head of Digital at Buckinghamshire County Council. He led the work to refresh the digital strategy, establish a digital exemplars programme and adopt a digital service standard. Matthew shared his war story in detail in making this digital transformation a reality for Bucks CC.

Matthew Cain speaking

What people think “digital transformation” might mean
Some think it means savings. Some think it’s your current web team and system associates. But what does “digital transformation” really mean?

First, identify the areas you need to address:

  • Your products and services provided to your residents
  • The skills and capacities around the staff that provide them
  • The cultural mindset in which they operate
  • Your systems and processes that underpin this
  • The data used to power our products and services

With these identified, where do you then start your digital transformation?

With financial pressures everywhere, you need to run the hardest thing first to make the most impact and see how far you get. You could do something relatively easy to make a small impact but how far will these easy things and small impacts get you? Will they really change things for your customers?

  • Surface your customer satisfaction survey data and have a very sound evidence base – let the data drive you
  • Provide your team with protection to fail – to do things knowing that they might make mistakes along the way

Bucks CC

From the inside of your organisation:

  • Listen to what your customers want to achieve by using your current service systems
  • Realise that digital transformation is more than just updating a website
  • Don’t do things you think the customer wants, listen to your evidence base

From the outside of your organisation:

  • You need to be able to say: "This is what a digital service is”
  • Give something to people to show them what it is
  • Realise that a digital service isn’t an online contact form

Talk 2: Designing digital services for local government

Leon Odey-Knight (@leonintheblind)
Creative Lead
Unboxed (@ubxd)

Leon is Creative Lead at Unboxed. In this session, he shared the realities of bringing design into the local government environment, the individual challenges to overcome and what this looks like in practice.

Everyone is a designer
Everyone should be a designer, even if they’re not a designer – it’s within everyone’s remit. When everyone in the team acts as a designer, it gives more insight and leads to less guess work. There are pockets of insight that other team members will have that a designer won’t.

Leon Odey-Knight session

Think like the customer
You need to be able to constantly validate what you’re doing with your customers:

  • Get out the building and spend time with them
  • Walk in the shoes of the people you represent
  • You will have a deep sense of what it feels like to live their lives
  • Remember, you have as much to gain from better experiences as anyone

The best way to find something out is by going out and asking your customers. Speak to a range of people, not just in one area but many areas - a large range.

Get creative holding a design studio
There’s nothing more exciting than a blank sheet in front of the team before a design studio session begins. You never know what you’re going to get. But remember to set a few ground rules:

  • There are no bad ideas
  • Everyone has the right to contribute
  • Every idea should be explored

Prototype, validate, iterate, repeat
The only way to be sure you’re designing a service that will add value to your customers is to get out there and test, test, test. From this, you’re trying to:

  • See if your service is resonating with customers
  • Gain a deeper understanding from their feedback
  • Use this new insight to move forward

Test test test

Making space to be creative
Geting into the right frame of mind can be challenging, you need a bit of space to ‘think different’

Try to leave the desk behind…
Sometimes being in the same place day in day out limits our ability to see things differently

Try being more curious
Change things up - get out of the environment you’re used to and there’s a chance you’ll discover something truly insightful

Talk 3: Using Agile approaches in service design and project management

Ian Hirst (@TWBC_Innovation)
Head of Digital Services & Transformation
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (@TWellsCouncil)

Ian is helping local government deliver online services that the average person can use without frustration, hindrance or recourse to the telephone when things go wrong. In his session, he shared how Tunbridge Wells Borough Council have adopted a service design platform in creating their future services and how this works internally.

Why agile?
When delivering services digitally, look at the difference between how you’ve been doing this and you might like to do this. If there’s a time at which you know the absolute least, it’s at the start of a project:

  • Try to involve as many people as possible in trying to gain a shared vision
  • Welcome the speed of change and deliver business benefits as early as possible

Introduce new ideas and concepts slowly - take baby steps along the way Begin your service design with an Inception Workshop – cover your:

  • Brief – Help deliver clear, simple, easy and effective services whilst out in the field
  • Vision - It’s important to have a shared vision about what you’re trying to achieve
  • Elevator pitch – What do you want the service to be? Use this to share your vision with others
  • Stakeholder mapping - Identify all the different actors in the delivery of the service and arrange them on post-its on the wall
  • Personas - Map these out

Tunbridge Wells

What’s next?
Follow your Inception Workshop with a Design Workshop. Draw out the future service – what will it look like? Combine ideas from within the team and beyond, then follow this with your user stories.

Talk 4: LoGov - The new platform for local government digital services

Martyn Evans (@martynrevans)
Head of Product
Unboxed (@ubxd)

As Head of Product, Martyn has worked on a number of public sector transformation projects, including the current Buckinghamshire County Council service digitisation project and the digital sexual health service, SH:24 (in partnership with the NHS). Martyn’s session introduced LoGov - the new platform for local government services.

LoGov: What it is
LoGov is the new, co-funded, sustainable way for councils to digitise paper/phone services:

  • Build a new digital service
  • License a service another council has built

Currently in the Beta phase, this the starting point for the services on this digital platform. It has been developed by starting with the current problem with local government services, not the solution.

LoGov is a platform for shared services; in a similar way that GDS (Government Digital Service) have ‘government as a platform’ - it’s about providing the building blocks to build the services that residents need.

Set up as a CIC (Community Interest Company) and a social enterprise, the aim of LoGov is to give people the confidence in local government that the platform is not in it for the money, but to solve three main current problems:

1. No access to digital expertise
Digital expertise in councils is placed in certain areas – IT, for example. Within the service delivery team, there are very few digital expertise – very few designers, very few developers who can build and deliver things quickly. The service delivery team tend to be focused on “business as usual” with not much strategic thinking.

The answer to this problem - a team of agile pioneers is needed:

Agile pioneers

A team of these agile specialists can come into an organisation, communicate the ‘why’ (why they’re doing what they’re doing) and integrate, embed and co-locate themselves within a council team.

2. Too many services to be digitalised
There are around 600 current services in local government that have yet to be digitalised. Within councils it’s very difficult to identify the services to be transformed, prioritise them and know where to start and which ones to do first. These are often services with a high volume of cost or high cost/low volume. Start with the hardest service first and don’t be afraid to fail fast. Run the Discovery work on the service and find out quickly if it can be done.

3. Limited funding
The restrictions and pressures to save money means that people focus on immediate business problems, and if they can buy a system that solves inefficiency, they’ll buy this generic solution. Some can be good tools but an online form is not a digital service. There are good products out there but some of them tend to shoehorn the product and you end up working around the product.

Read more about LoGov: http://logovplatform.co.uk