A chance to change the way we do things for the better

Having once been responsible for emergency planning for a district council, I am well aware that what is often overlooked is how important it is to get the so-called “recovery phase” underway while still dealing with the actual incident.

It’s therefore been very encouraging in our discussions with local authority clients to find that many are looking to the future and taking the opportunity to reshape services in the light of experiences gained over the past six months. Technology solutions have been deployed rapidly, to the point where remote working is now the norm rather than the exception, and there is a far better understanding of the need to keep evolving and, perhaps, to take more risks. Many councils are now talking of whole-organisation transformation programmes being completed in weeks rather than the scheduled years.

This approach has, of course, long been accepted in Silicon Valley, where the “fail fast and often” mantra has led (somewhat counterintuitively) to many success stories. But it has never really gained traction in the more risk-averse arena of traditional local government.

We have been looking at a number of councils that are starting to move forward at pace with their post-COVID recovery planning and it’s encouraging to see some common themes emerging around organisational change and service delivery.

Having analysed these, we would like to offer our take on what service design principles will be important in the weeks, months and years to come. We believe that in future, councils will need to improve their customers’ experience of accessing services and participating in the democratic process in new ways while ensuring no-one is excluded – against a backdrop of challenging (and in many cases, precarious) finances.

What? Why?
Do the hard work, test and learn to keep it simple We need to regularly review our process; just because we have done it this way for years doesn’t mean it’s the best way. We need to work in an agile way and respond to feedback on processes. Customers should be able to get the information they need with one contact to a well-informed central point.

It’s ok to make mistakes, as long as we learn from them and share our experiences.

Focus on the goals and delivery We need to know the purpose of what we’re hoping to achieve. A clear path setting out how we will do this should be set out at the start of a project, as well as what success and failure look like.
Less is more We need to work efficiently and smartly. Less is more. If something works, we should look to reuse it elsewhere in the organisation.
Focus on the customer journey, making it quick and easy for customers to do more for themselves We need to use data to inform the way the customer journey is shaped. We must balance our digital personae with the need to be seen as human beings.
Don't be afraid to fail We should be seen by others as trailblazing - developing new and innovative services that can be shared with others. We must think outside the box and be risk aware, not risk averse. We should dare to innovate, whether that involves using new ways of working or existing solutions.
Seamless approach We will put the customer at the heart of what we do. We will provide easy-to-use digital services that only collect information once. We need to be consistent across council systems to provide resilience.
Minimally invasive We should have a clear understanding of the customer’s needs and only collect the information we require to address that need. This information should only be collected once, at the first point of contact and only used for that purpose.
Tell customers what to expect and keep them up to date along the way We must manage the our customers’ expectations. They should be able to track the progress of their transactions/applications. We need to tell them clearly when they can expect to hear back from us and what else we may need. We should constantly seek feedback from our customers to continually improve services.
Build-in inclusion Consider the ability of those people who use our services and create content/processes that can be completed by anyone. Ensure services and customer journeys are accessible to all.

Sitting behind this, of course, needs to be a recognition that digital services are, on the whole, still reliant on people and process. As we’ve discussed in a previous blog councils should stop pretending that channel shift is, in itself, an important tool in improving organisational efficiency and cutting costs.

In the public sector, the vast majority of contacts are costs, not opportunities – and are driven by a process failure somewhere in the system. So it’s time to focus internally, too, and look at the way your council operates. Find out what business processes are generating failure-driven contact and fix the underlying cause, rather than simply making it easier for customers to report your failure to do the job properly.

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