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Weeknotes #8: Back-office planning discovery with Southwark Council & Partners

Graeme McCubbin, April 11, 2019

Unboxed has been working with Southwark Council, Hackney Council, Greater London Authority and Connected Places Catapult on an 8-week discovery phase to explore a user-centered back-office planning system.

Weekly update - 12 April 2019
The final week of the final sprint and we’ve wrapped up the discovery phase activities for exploring the back-office planning system with Southwark Council, Hackney Council, GLA and Connected Places Catapult.

This week has mainly been focused on honing in activities around user research with Planning Officers, final rounds of concept testing, synthesising insights into the final discovery report and exploring next steps.

Some of the activities covered this week include:

Presenting at PlanTech - April Breakfast Show & Tell

Tuesday morning was the PlanTech breakfast ‘Show and Tell’ event at Connected Places Catapult, where Jack shared a short session on discovery progress to date, alongside others from GLA and Snook sharing progress of their projects.

Further user interviews and concept testing

The team took our early prototype concepts back on the road for further testing, supporting the next set of user interviews, with Planning Officers from Huntingdonshire District Council, Islington Council and Lambeth Council.

Collectively, feedback has been generally positive of the two propositions - one based on a data-informed workflow, the other based on a collaborative 3D workflow:

  • “This will streamline so many applications”
  • “This would be very helpful for a junior planner... particularly comparing similar applications is quite useful”
  • “This would save us a lot of time and hassle”

This week, concepts were tested with Planning Officers from across three councils - Huntingdonshire District Council, Islington Council and Lambeth Council.

Overall, four different concepts were tested:

  • a) Automated validation
  • b) Assessment helper
  • c) Collaborative 3D workflow
  • d) Keeping applicants informed

All four ideas were well-received, with participants thinking that they would each provide value.

When asked to pick a favourite, participants votes were split between 1) automated validation, 2) assessment helper and 3) collaborative 3D workflow.

It was felt that concepts 1) and 2) would help in the near future, whilst concept 3) offered a glimpse into an exciting future that allows Planning Officers to move away from the dated systems, used today, and take advantage of existing and future tech to make their jobs more rewarding, allowing them to focus on the decision process and less on the administration process.

“This is cool... It gives a more streamlined interaction with the applicant.”

When asked which to address first, participants overwhelmingly opted for 1) automated validation as this would make the biggest difference and add the most value today.

“... ensuring that when a Planning Officer looks at a thing, the thing is ready to be looked at as much as possible.”

Holding Show & Tell #4

Wrapping up this 8-week phase with the sprint four (and final) Show & Tell on the planning floor at Tooley Street, sharing progress from across the final two weeks. It was great to have colleagues from MHCLG and Open Systems Lab come along too.

What’s next?

Over the next week, the team is planning on:

  • Wrapping up the discovery phase report, which is to be published and shared openly
  • Working out the next steps to securing the project’s next round of funding, alongside Hackney Council, GLA, Connected Places Catapult and MHCLG
  • Preparing for our upcoming mock discovery service assessment