Council Spotlight: October

Croydon Councils Digital Journey

As part of our new council spotlight feature, we invited Croydon Council to share their digital transformation story with us. In this guest blog, Dave Briggs, Head of Digital Operations at Croydon Digital Service, and his colleagues, share their journey to building the Croydon Digital Service and the role of the Local Digital Declaration.

Dave Briggs, Head of Digital Operations at Croydon Digital Service

Signing the Local Digital Declaration followed hot on the heels of the appointment of Croydon’s first Chief Digital Officer, Neil Williams, in autumn 2018. Since then, we have been busy transforming Croydon to become a truly digital local authority. The Declaration helped us by giving legitimacy to the ideas we wanted to start implementing. It was a way of demonstrating that we were part of a wider movement across local public services aiming to achieve similar things.

Building the Croydon Digital Service

First, we built our own team, the Croydon Digital Service (CDS). We set out our vision in our digital strategy. It was codesigned in the open using collaborative technology, and by asking residents what they thought. At this point, we were aware that some of our community were digitally excluded.

By reaching out to the public, we were able to incorporate their feedback into our strategy with the aim of creating a more digital borough. The strategy enabled us to create a better experience for citizens who interacted with the council online whilst still supporting those without digital access.

We brought in new capability by adding vital digital roles such as content designers, user researchers, product managers and delivery managers. Adding these roles to the team allowed us to be able to run user centred, multidisciplinary products and teams.

We also introduced a new culture into the department, using simple things like posters and mission patch stickers for laptops. These small actions helped demonstrate to the rest of the council that a change was taking place, and that CDS would be very different from the IT department of old. It meant that people were interested and engaged in our new strategy and ways of working.

Making further cultural changes

A further cultural tweak was the introduction of agile and user centred ways of working. This involved using user research to fully understand our users’ needs, which helped us to understand the problems we needed to solve.

Changes included:

  • breaking up large projects into shorter sprints
  • getting usable products into users’ hands more quickly (such as business grants)
  • hosting regular show and tells to demonstrate what we had been working on and ensure goals were being achieved

Originally, our show and tells were held in the office. All of the CDS team were invited, plus anyone that was interested in what we were up to. We wanted to work in the open and be transparent about our progress. Once the pandemic hit, show and tells were iterated to run online and more regularly which really brought our team together.

The outcome of all of these changes has resulted in increasingly successful projects, delivered at pace, that achieve the outcomes desired by our users.

This was all documented on our Croydon Digital blog. As the ‘voice of the tech community’, it hosts content from the Croydon tech scene, but isn’t limited to the council.

Working in the open through the blog has enabled us to develop our thinking and plans in collaboration with others.

Neil Williams, Chief Digital Officer, Croydon Council

‘Building the right capability and culture in CDS is the most valuable thing I’ve done, as every other success we’ve had flows from that. The Local Digital Declaration is brilliant and couldn’t have come at a better time — right when I was making the switch from GDS to local gov and bringing those ways and means here, to my home borough’ — Neil Williams, Chief Digital Officer, Croydon Council

Fixing the plumbing

Second, we ‘fixed our plumbing’ — the Declaration’s phrase describing the process of improving core technology — by replacing suppliers and systems with new, digitally native ones. This included our core IT estate, where we introduced a new partner to provide user support on corporate devices and rolled out new multi-functional printers across the council. It has led to increased satisfaction from our users for our core IT service.

We also procured a new low code platform from Netcall, which will form the basis of our digital service as we transition away from a CRM-based setup that wasn’t working for us anymore. Using a low code platform enabled us to build new digital services quicker than our previous technology stack. Moving away from a CRM-based setup saved us money (which is always good news).

We also developed a new website. Whilst we worked with several councils, working with Brighton and Hove was invaluable. Together, we used DLUHC local digital funding to create the LocalGov Drupal system — which was cheaper and quicker.

Croydon Design System

In addition to introducing a new low-code platform and new website, we developed the Croydon Design System, a comprehensive user experience toolkit.

This design system was key to making sure that all of our users experienced consistency in:

This allowed the user journey to be consistent, as well as consistently excellent.

Responding to the pandemic

Third, we responded to the demands that the COVID-19 pandemic made on the council.

Using low code, we were able to produce end-to-end digital services that included integrations to existing technology capabilities such as GOV.UK Notify, and our payment system.

As a result, we rapidly built a case management system for shielding residents, several iterations of business grant applications, and internal tools to help manage the workforce and redeploy staff to critical service areas that needed additional support.

Annie Heath, User Centred Design Lead, Croydon Council

‘Moving to become a truly digital authority is hard, and always happens in smaller increments than you plan for. Services are still used to massive IT projects with a specific end date, after which you never see the IT team again. Our introduction of agile delivery helped overcome this. Whilst in some ways the Covid crisis derailed our work, in others it showcased agile iterative working through necessity and helped services “get it”. We built apps that met our users’ needs collaboratively, as multi-disciplinary teams, and at pace’ — Annie Heath, User Centred Design Lead, Croydon Council

Improving Croydon’s financial position

While all this was happening, the council’s financial position was revealed to be far more precarious than any of us realised.

Our mission for the next few years is to work to help the council live within its means, including:

  • redesigning corporate centre processes to make them more efficient
  • digitally transforming our front-end service delivery to residents to improve the user experience as well as save money
  • replacing an aging technology estate to ensure it delivers at pace for a newly hybrid workforce

Dave Briggs, Head of Digital Operations at Croydon Digital Service

You can follow Dave’s musings and work on Twitter, or over on SensibleTech which he created to help local public services improve and innovate using digital and technology. You can also read and subscribe to SensibleTech’s regular newsletter.

Do you want to get involved in a future Council Spotlight?

Each month, we’ll be showcasing a different council story like Dave Briggs’ blog post, so they can highlight their achievements and contributions to the local digital movement.

You can fill out the online form to nominate:

  • your council/a specific team within your council
  • your colleague(s)
  • or a great digital project

There are only 7 short questions, and the form should take no more than a few minutes to fill out. Once you’ve completed the form, we’ll get back to you within 2 working days.

You can keep in touch with us on Twitter. Read about what we’re up to via our website, or our Sprint Notes.

Local Digital Collaboration Unit

Supporting the national #LocalDigital movement.