Made to measure…

photo (8)Warwickshire County Council has volunteered to lead on one of the transactions identified for the next phase of the Local Gov Performance Platform in conjunction with GDS. This follows on from the phase 1 work carried out with Solihull Council and their missed waste collections.

We are focussing on library renewals and are currently establishing what key data would be valuable to display on a performance platform. This data needs to be translated into information that would be useful to service managers. It should provide them feedback that will support the improvement of services and creating a better experience for users.

It is important to recognise that the purpose of the platform is to promote, not replace, analytics. The platform will visualise sets of data that might trigger further analysis, show trends that prompt questions and ultimately enable service managers to make decisions based on data. The platform shouldn’t just be “the number of visitors that came to your site last week”, it needs to present data that can be used to inform, challenge, support decisions.

We have a number of ways customers can currently renew a library item:

  • online
  • via our automated 24/7 renewal line, available 24 hours a day – call 01926 499273;
  • by phone, fax or email to your library – contact details for libraries;
  • in person at any library

Our current thoughts around what might be useful for library service managers around renewals are:

  • Library locations – which areas attract the most customers renewing online
  • Online renewals for WCC libraries vs. community libraries
  • Digital vs. non-digital renewals
  • Successful completion rates

If you have any ideas about other pieces of information that might be useful, please get in touch using the contact form below.

We are hoping to have something up and running on the GDS site soon, so watch this space and I’ll be writing more about it as the platform progresses.


Starting with…. User Needs

DbD ResearchFollowing the lead set by GDS in their Government Service Design Manual, myself and a few colleagues at WCC have been exploring how we might adopt these service standards and how they could fit with our own internal procedures, governance structures and (most importantly) our people.  In order to really get to grips with it, we have chosen 2 “demonstrator projects” to put everything to the test and see how we get on. The first project is looking at care leavers and how we can better support them, the second project is looking at skip license applications – both very different areas of the council with a mix of users.

We are working with 2 organisations, ESRO and leapSTONE, to support us on this journey. In May this year, 40 WCC staff members from a wide variety of disciplines attended a couple of workshops that explained the high level principles of Service Design and User Research (specifically ethnography). A sub-set of that group (including service managers, researchers, business analysts, project managers and web developers) are being taken further down the service design road and are working on our 2 demonstrator projects to put these skills, tools and techniques into practice.

We are just entering our “discovery phase” for both projects, where we are focussing on getting a high-level understanding of user needs, what the existing service landscape looks like and a sense of what our initial prototypes might explore. Some challenges we have had to think about so far include…


  • How easily can you pull together an internal team with the right skills to focus on the project?
  • How much time can they give to the project?
  • Can you be co-located?

We don’t have the luxury of being able to pull people off their day jobs to work solely on one project, so how can we work within those constraints? We don’t have offices to co-locate people, so how can we collaborate virtually?

User Research

  • Do you have people with user research skills?
  • Do you have the right kit to do this properly (e.g. camcorders)?
  • How would your internal finance processes cope with being able to incentivise people to take part in research?
  • How could you share this research across the council to maximise its potential use?

What we are doing

Following the workshops in May, the project teams have been busy recruiting for the ethnographic research phase. The research itself will be taking place for 3 weeks from the end of June into the middle of July. We are then re-grouping at the end of July to explore the research themes, analyse the work we have done so far and hold an “ideation seminar”.

It is early days for us, and we are writing a diary to keep track of what is and isn’t working in order to inform how we can embed this more widely across the council. I will be blogging as regularly as I can so we can share our experiences more widely. One thing we are very lucky to have is 2 teams of people who are incredibly enthusiastic and keen to make the most of this experience.

If you would like to get in touch and find out more about our work, please feel free to get in touch with me at or via Twitter.

How do I prioritise thee?

For anyone involved in the current “digital by default/design” trend in local government you may have noticed, like me, there is a wealth of opportunity and potential for delivering our services digitally. To say I have been overwhelmed the last few weeks is an understatement. Some of our services are already doing fantastic work, other services have a good understanding of where they need to go and know how they want to get there. There are a minority needing a little helping hand in the right digital direction, which is absolutely fine and one of the reasons for creating our strategy and programme of work.

I have compiled long rambling notes from meetings, undertaken research around what we are doing currently and what we need to think about doing in the future, reviewed existing worklists/projects and joined forces with other council wide reviews to make best use of time. I now need to compile this into some sort of educated list to allow our board to make decisions on what we need to focus on first.

That’s where Shakespeare can help us: “How do I prioritise thee? Let me count the ways”…

  1. Is it a transactional or information service? Information services are, generally, easier to deliver and we have an existing infrastructure to work on
  2. How many transactions per annum, or what is the audience size? Initial thoughts indicate the larger the more likely this will be priority, however this is not always the case
  3. Direct contact with external customers? Initial thoughts are that we should be focussing where there will be a direct impact on customers. However, early indications show there may be pieces of work that could have a significant positive indirect impact
  4. Service budget? Should we be focussing more on services that have significant budgets, or working with those who have limited budgets to increase their potential impact?
  5. Impact on other areas? Will doing this work support other areas, such as providing a platform that could be used council-wide?
  6. Impact on customers? Will the service have a low impact on a large number of customers, or a high impact on a low number of customers? Or will it be somewhere in the middle?
  7. What are the potential savings? This will be hard to measure, and may not result in direct savings, but be an enabler for savings in other areas.
  8. Dependency on other areas? Does this service rely on work being done in other areas first? How will this influence the overall priority?
  9. Level of complaints? Is this an area that has a high level of complaints/comments?
  10. Current status? Does the service already have some form of digital delivery, does this need to be reviewed? Does this work need to be promoted to increase uptake? Can existing channels be decommissioned as a result?
  11. Timescale? Is there a demand to undertake this work by a particular deadline?
  12. Demand for assisted digital? How likely is this service going to be dependent on our approach to assisted digital?
  13. Proposed digital champion for the service? Can we identify someone in the business to drive this forward?
  14. Ability to use a live customer? Are we able to use a live customer during any process design work?

Phew! I know there will be more, and that is the reason for writing this post. I’d really appreciate feedback on this, and suggestions for other information we need to be collecting to support prioritisation. Please either comment on this post, or contact me via Twitter with your thoughts.


Assisted Digital Thoughts

Last Wednesday (20th March 2013) I hosted the 2nd LocalGov Digital G+ Hangout and the topic was assisted digital (my last post had a rough agenda). It was an interesting start, as I posed the question “does anyone have any good examples of where people are doing assisted digital really well?” and there followed an eerie silence (yes, I did check to make sure the volume was turned up!). However, we did move onto some very useful discussions.

What is already out there?
There are already a number of areas within councils providing some form of assisted digital support, such as community learning, library volunteers, Adult social care staff, Customer Services teams talking people through completing online forms, etc. As well as support from within the council, there are also groups out there that are working to support and improve the digital capability of communities. We need to get better at pulling all of this together to ensure there is capacity to provide the right level of support across all services where it is needed.

John Popham has been working on something called “Our Digital Planet” – an outdoor street gallery exhibition highlighting the impact of the internet. This initiative focusses on finding the touch-points in people’s lives. If you can get people interested in getting online by using the things they are most interested in and enjoy, they are more likely to want to use the internet.

Ben Carpenter told us about the work done by Age UK to encourage intergenerational volunteering with their MiCommunity project. “The aim of the project was to use digital technology to bring together older people and younger people in the capital”. The website provides a toolkit to support people wanting to run similar initiatives in their own area.

What can we learn from what has been done?
Asking staff within organisations to support customers using digital channels is not always the best way. When a result of driving channel shift is loss of jobs, there is little motivation for staff to provide any kind of support to users.

Getting people to sign up to become “digital champions” in their community is easy; getting people to actually go out and support their community is not so easy. Oh, and using the phrase “digital champion” can put people off.

Once customers are able to complete transactions online, tell them about it. Some councils are finding channel shift isn’t happening as quickly as they would like, but when you look at the reasons why, quite often it is because they are still heavily promoting the non-digital channels.

Central Government have pulled together a list of standard transaction types (booking an appointment, providing/requesting information, requesting a licence/authorisation, requesting benefits/grants/loans, making a payment (taxes and fines), ordering goods). Ideally we need to look at these to see if local government transactions fall under the same types. I suspect we will have more, and they are likely to be more complicated.

What next?
We need to start pooling all of this information together. Where there are pockets of good practice, we need to identify, share and re-use these ideas. The LocalGov Digital steering group is the perfect place to start doing this, and I think one of the reasons we exist.

We need to watch out for what is happening with GDS and the framework of contractors that is being looked into for providing assisted digital services. Will local government be able to benefit from this framework and how could we support it?

Finally, I’ve got some really good names to make contact with and see how we can take this further.

Thanks very much to Phil Rumens, Ben Carpenter, Jason Williams, John Popham and Tim Dumbleton for giving up an hour of your time on a Wednesday evening, it was a really useful discussion with lots of food for thought.

Assisted Digital G+ Hangout #localgovdigital

I’ve agreed to host the 2nd G+ Hangout for the #localgovdigital crew this Wednesday (20th March) at 8pm, and we’re going to be talking about Assisted Digital.

I’ve already tweeted a link to some background reading from the GDS Design Manual and there is a good blog post from last year that looks at Getting Started on Assisted Digital. Here are a few thoughts I have running through my head that are forming themselves into a kind of agenda for the hangout. Please comment on this post if there are other issues you would like to raise, or just raise them on the night.

  1. Has anyone already got something in place to support people to use digital channels?
  2. Will/should Local Government adopt the same principles from GDS of channels being either Digital or Assisted Digital? Can we/will we be that brave?
  3. How do we work with people who don’t want to use digital vs those who can’t use digital?
  4. Which services have people identified as having the highest % of users who are unable to use digital channels?
  5. Is anyone already engaging with the voluntary sector to provide this level of additional support? Do we think this is a viable option?

I hope you can join us, particularly if you have answers to any or all of the above questions!

If nothing changes, nothing changes

For those who know me, I’ve had a number of roles within Warwickshire County Council (WCC) since I joined in 2004. However, I think I have finally moved into a role that will really tick all the boxes.

As of this Friday, I will be officially working in the role of Programme Delivery Manager for the ICT department (Information Assets). My new role states that I will “work with key stakeholders in the business and ICT to ensure quality ICT solutions are delivered that transform and improve the way WCC delivers services”.

I am currently developing two programmes:

  • Finance & HR Systems Review – this programme will enable the business to exploit the full potential of our Finance and HR systems
  • Digital by Default – this programme is building the case for, and developing an approach to, increasing the digital capability across our services and using the web to extend the organisation

As part of the latter programme, I have joined the LocalGov Digital Steering group. Through my role on this group, I will be looking to share our journey through this programme, both in terms of documentation, experiences and exploring opportunities for collaboration. My background is in technology-themed project and programme management, so I’m really focussed on driving us towards delivering the benefits.

Although there are many outcomes from this network, for me, the most important ones will be:

  • Building solid-evidence based case studies for moving to digital channels
  • Providing opportunities for councils to work together on digital strategies/solutions
  • Sharing experiences and learning
  • Using the collective voice to apply pressure on making legislative changes that currently limit our ability to shift to digital channels

I feel one of our biggest challenges will be getting the business to understand that services must be re-designed to work in a digital world:

  1. We cannot simply apply a digital sticky plaster over an underlying non-digital process
  2. An online form that sends an email isn’t “digital by default”

This will require time and investment up front, which some feel we do not have the luxury of.

Another challenge will be to truly engage with the public to design services for them, and not allow our interpretation of what they want dictate how we design things.

My first steps will be to share the programme development work we are doing at WCC, both in terms of “critical friend” review and enable re-use in other organisations.

Feel free to get in touch if you are interested in our work on this at WCC, or follow the #localgovdigital hashtag.

And now I’m back

So I’ve been out of the loop for quite a few months now. My last post was 12 months ago (shame on me). I wish I could say I’ve been working on a top secret project that I wasn’t able to talk about, or been on a sabbatical exploring the meaning of life. But I haven’t, and I wasn’t.  Now I’m back in my natural habitat (Local Government ICT Projects) and it’s like I never left (in a good way).

Last week (28th June 2012) I made it to Brewcamp in Walsall, and it was a jam-packed evening of fascinating stuff that has really helped me dust off my thinking cap. Not only did I manage a good scheme with Si Whitehouse (watch this space for an interesting, schools related open data project coming to a govcamp near you!), I also came up with a good wheeze for our Country Parks courtesy of Mike Rawlins and his augmented reality (depending on 3g signals, ensuring our country parks teams are geo-tagging their posts and photos on their blog/facebook page).

So a quick run down (if I had written this post sooner I would have forgotten less):

Steph Jennings gave a fantastic talk around the use of social media during the Christchurch earthquakes in 2010/2011 and the impact it had, both on the local community and Steph, as a relative of someone right in the middle of it. The social media side of it was great, but what I will remember most is learning about liquefaction!

The next talk was around Who Cares Walsall and how Walsall Council are putting the Social into Social Care. This was a fascinating insight into how the comms team managed the sensitivities around talking about social care issues through their blog and Twitter. It was nice to hear how well supported and trusted they are by the director of the People Group to enable them to carry out this great work. Some good lessons to be learned there by other authorities.

Finally, and disappointingly in person (we had been promised an augmented reality version), Mike Rawlins talked to us about the work being done by Talk About Local around geo-tagging content to create an augmented reality view of places, initially Stoke-on-Trent. This set the cogs going for me as we are using WordPress a lot across my authority, so there is some potential to explore this further with their plug-in.

All in all, a great evening with lots of learning, sharing, plotting and eating curry. Having missed out on the UKGovCamp at the beginning of the year and a couple of Brewcamps after that, a shot of localgov goodwill in the arm was just what I needed.

What I didn’t need was being twaped by Andy Mabbett while I was off buying him a cup of coffee…