Digital & Design Round Up

We’re working on a project at the moment which will give us a platform for sharing our work and the stories we have to tell. We aim to say more and launch this in the summer, but for now, I thought I would re-start some blogging to share some of what we’ve been up to.

As people might know, we launched our digital strategy here at Adur & Worthing Councils in 2015 with the aim of taking control of change through digital, by creating in-house capability for digital development on flexible cloud platforms. Whilst it wasn’t easy moving from a traditional infrastructure & system admin capability at our district/borough scale, we successfully achieved it with the interim help of an external consultancy. Our waste management services have been running on our (low code, open standards) platform for over 2 years, slashing delivery times of our garden waste bins from a week to ‘same day’, and supporting the whole waste collection operation. We still have residents feeding back their amazement at the delivery times — a real testament to our ambition for end-to-end change. These are not ground-breaking improvements in themselves perhaps, and we know many councils have already achieved such gains. However, our approach is for very cost effective, highly rationalised (i.e. reducing the number of discrete applications) digital transformation — a bigger, longer term ambition that we stick to.

We’ve also created a number of smaller services including FOI, complaints, health & safety risk assessment, starters/leavers and annual leave booking. All these apps run from the same HR and org structure data in the platform, giving lots of efficiency and an increasingly comprehensive “my stuff” dashboard, that can be easily transferred en-bloc if a person leaves.

More recently we have supported housing with a digital triage and housing register application service, and our largest project to date is about to go live — a full housing repairs service covering self-service, scheduling and field work. This has gone down very well with tenants, councillors and front line staff so far.

We’ve always been interested in service design as the better starting point over ‘digital’, and have been building our practice here too. In 2016 we undertook a service design project with a group of systems leaders (county council, CVS, Police, health) to look at what young people needed to thrive. The main product was a compelling set of personal stories from young people which circulate in our local system with powerful effect. So much so, that I recently spent time with our local Clinical Commissioning Group, looking at their challenges and how our service design practice could assist.

With help from the LGA, we also created a digital service to support a pilot social prescribing service, called Going Local. This saw us doing agile development with GPs and community workers, and the digital service has successfully supported easier client journeys, producing powerful data on needs and service gaps. We’re expecting to do much more in this space as we unlock the power of our carefully maintained local directory of services that underpins the service. In fact, we’re currently thinking a lot about ‘data registers’ and how as a council we should create them and provide them openly. That’s certainly one for a national standards conversation.

Our housing repairs project started as a service design discovery piece, with user research undertaken by housing staff with 28 tenants, helping build understanding, enthusiasm and buy-in. Previous projects had a more ‘digital’ start, and so this was a great step forward. Starting here had many benefits-mainly that we could actually help the service deliver deeper and more meaningful change! The service re-designed their handbook with tenants, re-visited their internal and external SLAs, refreshed their approach to ongoing tenant engagement, and embarked on end-to-end digital product development. A really great project, with lots of successes and learnings too.

We want to embed human-centred design deeply into the organisation. We’ve taken service design methods across the business, but without necessarily using the language. Our Peer Reviews are one-off workshops that allow someone with a challenge to bring people together and workshop the issues using simple tools like POINTS. These Peer Review sessions are marked in the diaries of the senior leadership team, so that the CEO or Directors can be there as needed to support and unblock. Peer Reviews have covered a wide range of subjects from Temporary Accommodation, Community Buildings, Community Infrastructure Levy, Customer Services, Business Planning and more. They are well known and popular, and have helped build a new way of collaborating. Post-it notes do not raise eyebrows any more. We also ran a ‘Get Involved’ programme this year which took six teams through an online service design course that gave structure for approaching their projects, and important skills for the future. The projects included Better Inductions, Staff Well-being, Skills Sharing and Listening & Communications.

Moving back to digital, our belief is that data registers are a key future service to be provided by councils to their local public service systems, and this idea is also being developed and tested in the work we are doing on asset management. We have built the data architecture and platform to support a common approach to asset management. Our housing repairs digital service will directly update the core asset record, and we have just released an app to support management of our commercial estate. We will be trialling a digital service for condition surveying with a contractor soon, and have completed discovery and design on a compliance service (fire, EPC, gas safety, asbestos, etc). Our intention is to create a “live-updated” asset register which we will create an open API for. Our vision is that what gets managed in this system expands to a wider range of assets in our places, providing opportunities for new services to be created by others. For example, meeting room booking for community groups across multiple organisation’s assets, or “fixmystreet” type services. We also see that being data led in this way will allow us to work more easily with new software companies to build innovative solutions using our solid, accessible data core.

We have started to build a network of freelancers around our work, who support and help upskill our internal staff. We see this model continuing into the future to ensure we have the right skills and experience going into our work. This year we will be looking at our apprenticeship strategy, and also forging links with digital SMEs to help ensure that we reach out to the value that they can also bring.

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