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.

Brewcamp Coventry

“That was the best 2 hours of creative thinking and discussion I’ve had for a long time” Jan Britton, Chief Exec of Sandwell Council.

Having accepted the Brewcamp baton, last night saw the gathering of about 20 local government types in Coventry for an evening of QR codes, bus timetables, museums, open transport data, filming/tweeting council meetings, eBooks and, most importantly, cake.


About 8 hours before the event I got the exciting news that we’d bagged ourselves a Chief Exec for the evening, so the pressure was on to deliver. Deep down, I knew there was no need to worry. Everyone I meet at these kinds of events make them so enjoyable and interesting, you can’t fail to learn something new and everyone feels confident enough to contribute.

Fortunately, we delivered, as you can see by the quote at the top of this post. I was sat opposite Jan, and his colleague Liz O’nions during the post-brewcamp curry and it was lovely to hear that they had both enjoyed it. So much so, that Liz has offered to take on the Brewcamp baton and is looking to host the next one up in Sandwell. Watch this space…

It was fantastic hearing about the good work being done at Shropshire Council with their new Bus Timetables site – and even better hearing them offer their experiences so other councils can do the same. Sadly, they may not be able to offer up the source code (not through choice), but they can show how they manipulated the data using the standards available. If we can get their neighbouring councils to do the same, the residents of Shropshire and surrounding areas will have a really nifty system.

I also particularly enjoyed the session on QR codes – hearing what Stuart Harrison is doing at Lichfield with them on planning notices was fascinating. It paves the way for us to start doing the same thing. Take advantage of the work being done by innovative people at councils, such as Lichfield, because it makes it easier for the top dogs to agree if you can point to someone else who has done it.

The QR code stuff has now got me thinking as to where else we could use it for council services. I have a meeting with Country Parks in a few weeks so I will certainly be looking at their area to see how it could complement the work they do.

I said it on Twitter, and I’ll say it again now: “Listening to and learning from your peers is the best kind of learning there is”. I got more out of a few hours last night (for free) than I get out of the majority of expensive conferences I *used* to go to. Bit of a no-brainer really…

The Coalition, Big Society and Ghostbusters

The night the Conservatives didn’t get elected was a strange one. As the skies darkened over Warwick that evening and the clouds swirled ominously, it was more than a little reminiscent of Ghostbusters. Looking back on the situation, it would appear that was no happy co-incidence. It’s easy to spot how the film ties in with what’s happening today. There is no need for me to add anything to the following quotes from the film, they speak for themselves:

“This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.”

“You know, it just occurred to me that we really haven’t had a successful test of this equipment.”

“There’s something very important I forgot to tell you….Don’t cross the streams.”

“I’m worried, Nick. It’s getting crowded in there and all my data points to something big on the horizon.”

Nick to Dave: “I don’t have to take this abuse from you, I’ve got hundreds of people dying to abuse me.”

“Yeah, it’s a sign, all right – “Going out of business”.”

“There’s definitely a *very slim* chance we’ll survive.”

“Your theories are the worst kind of popular tripe, your methods are sloppy, and your conclusions are highly questionable.”

And perhaps this is the future of the Coalition?

Dave: I think we’d better split up.
Nick: Good idea.
Dave: Yeah… we can do more damage that way.

An artistic commission

Just a quick post to show off my fabulous header image, a specially commissioned piece of work by the very talented Linda Scannell who can also be found on Twitter. She must have good taste as she was the one who gave me my job at Warwickshire County Council!

Linda is a really talented photographer, as well as a clever IT person, so much respect to her all round, and many thanks for “capturing me”!! You can see more examples of her work on Flickr.

Sherbert Fountain and Turkish Delight

Sherbert Fountain & Turkish Delight