Chart 1: Strategic breakdown of the topic of local authority digital strategies
This overview covers 16 of the 22 Local Authorities (LAs) in Wales. The 6 LAs that are not included are publishing their Digital Policies at the start of the financial year so were not available at the time of writing.
Chart 1 displays common features of the policies. It should be noted that all policies stressed an interest in creating a better experience for the user, in this case the residents of their county borough, but it is not included in the chart because it can be taken as expected. Below, each strategic point included in Chart 1 is given a brief overview of what was mentioned by the LAs and any thoughts surrounding it.
Internal Change to Way of Working
94% of the Digital Policies included the need to change the way they work to a more ‘Agile’ way of working. The main actions outlined to achieve this is to give employees mobile phones and laptops, enabling them to work from home.
Agile Working seems to have been misunderstood by some, ‘flexible working’ would be a more appropriate label for allowing employees autonomy over where they work.
However, some Local Authorities do detail a more conventionally Agile way of working. If this is desired, getting internal communication correct would be key for early adopters. I would suggest some councils would benefit from adopting software that can help them meet their Agile goals- such as collaboration tools and digital Kanban boards
88% of Digital Policies highlight the need to be able to reach all communities
This is closer to being an ICT requirement than a Digital Service ask. However, this will need to be given thought when creating digital services, i.e., how to create the same standard of service for residents who have barriers to accessing digital services.
63% of Digital Policies call attention to data. Many mention the need for data to drive future decisions internally. Also, Data has been cited as a way to improve the service by quickening decisions.
To be able to reach the ambitions for data driven decision making, it would be valuable to have a standard format of data reporting across Local Authorities which can be combined so analytics can be viewed from a national level. This is so comparisons can be made, and insight gained as to why some services are better in some areas and why residents are behaving differently in others, eg coupling theory. This can be done by creating a common set of data principles and building alignment and capability in the collection, processing, and publishing of data. This will provide the foundations for better analysis and allow opportunity for data science functions and innovation in future.
Data has also been mentioned as a way of improving the service:
Smart: Smart Data has been explicitly mentioned in a couple of Policies, this can be used to save time for the user, and the internal operations of the Council, by actioning decisions in real-time by using the data available. This could increase the speed of services.
Open: Open data has also been highlighted as something to improve. There are many benefits to open data being present in a democracy. It gives residents the opportunity to make informed assessments, supported by raw data, of Local and wider government performance. However, there will need to be caution with how the data is stored. Posting a lot of data and information on a webpage will not be easily consumed by a user. Doing this could lead to allegations of being purposely misleading, Enron can be cited as an extreme example. To avoid this, thought will need to be given to how the data should be presented. It will need to be posted in an easily digestible way, steering clear of overwhelming the user with too much data or including public sector jargon or intricacies which are not easily understood.
Data Sharing with other organisations
This could have been included within the Smart Data section. Although, it has been separated as it is a specific aim that has been consistently called out by LAs.
Sharing user data between organisations can help give a more rounded view of the resident. This can be particularly useful within Healthcare for example. Social Service data being shared with the NHS, if appropriate, can help GP’s understand the patient’s personal circumstances, which can be considered when making diagnosis.
Integrating systems can also help to improve the user experience. For example, reducing duplicate data entry by auto populating a resident’s information.
Self Service Hub
69% of the 16 Local Authorities documented a Self-Service Hub as an action to create a better resident experience. The Hub is seen as a place where all information and services are stored relating to the resident. There is potential for all public organisations to feed into the hub.
This would be a substantial project where a vast number of considerations will to be thought about. To name a few:
- Understanding the needs of residents and businesses, to ensure the service is effective and efficient
- Creating a consistent service across integrated organisations
- Preparedness to change internal organisation structures to satisfy the requirements of the service
- How to make the service equally usable for every resident
Just under half of the Digital Policies have a focus on training residents to be able to use electronic devices, ICT equipment, and Digital Services.
Even if successful, there will be a cohort of the population that will not want to be taught and will never be digitally proficient. This will mean that they will be reluctant to use Digital Services. Services created need to have this in mind and integrate offline methods of service delivery with online solutions, creating choice for residents.
Below are two features that are missing from most of the Digital Policies.
User Research provides an essential foundation for design strategy. It enables the digital service to provide optimum results against resident need. Also, later down the line, it will be the qualitative and quantitative data that can be relied upon to support discussions about design with stakeholders and steering committees.
User research needs to be undertaken by LAs to understand what the current pain points in services are, what it is that residents want, and then to record the different behaviours and characteristics of residents. This will provide the project with a comprehensive catalogue of qualitative and quantitative data to drive the design of the service.
There are a few policies where assumptions are being made based on the demographic a certain user sits within. This can lead to stereotypes being used to justify the design of services for people of certain ages or backgrounds.
Effective qualitative data should go into a further level of detail. In place of having the spread of population within certain groups, recording behaviours will add more value. Identifying a handful of common resident behaviours, and then ensuring that the services created serve these groups will be more rewarding.