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.
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.