Autumn 2019 HackIT update

I’m starting with a confession… It’s eleven months since I did my last ‘quarterly’ HackIT update. 🙁

But I’m committing to getting this back on track and my latest update on the work we’re delivering across our team is now available to read here:

There’s lots going on and it’s always hard to include everything that different people across the team are working on. Some headlines from recent months include:

  • A small squad of HackIT digital ninjas have successfully delivered the Council’s new website, running on WordPress. This will provide simpler, more user friendly access, at dramatically reduced cost, with design that builds on the work of the Government Digital Service. The new website platform also makes it easy to connect the Council’s online content to mobile apps, Alexa skills, voice-activation technology, chatbots or any other digital product that our residents and businesses prefer to use in future.
  • Our work with colleagues in Housing Needs to respond to the Homelessness Reduction Act has opened up exciting opportunities to go even further in designing services that provide excellent support for vulnerable residents.
  • Work to refresh the Council’s computing equipment is close to completion, providing all of our users with faster, easier to use and more resilient devices. This has included the introduction of a new ‘Grab n Go’ service, making it easy for any officer to access a portable device when they need one. This new service has already been used by c 1,000 users on over 4,400 occasions, with 94% positive satisfaction.
  • Hackney won the Information & Records Management Society Innovation of the Year award for the Council’s work on a digital service for Freedom of Information requests and Subject Access Requests.
  • Our Data & Insight team have been doing great work which includes using data to help develop the Council’s poverty reduction strategy, support our property and asset management work, and provide easier to access insight for managers across the organisation.
  • Hackney’s ‘cloud first’ model for access and security has been highlighted as an example of good practice by the Government Digital Service PSN team:
  • The HackIT digital apprenticeship programme has continued to develop well and further opportunities for apprenticeships (including part-time apprenticeships and work placements) are being explored.
  • And through our work as a founder member of the London Office of Technology & Innovation (LOTI) we are working with other innovative councils across London to dramatically extend digital apprenticeships, provide seamless wifi across our offices, explore the potential for assistive technologies to help people live independently – and much more!
The organising themes for our work in HackIT

As well as delivering new work, it’s also essential to make sure that we are supporting our users well so that they can focus on delivering services for our residents. I’m very pleased to see that our users are continuing to report high levels of satisfaction and this was my favourite piece of user feedback:

I have made several calls over the last few months and have found the entire team to embody the Hackney values and I don’t say that lightly. I wish other teams could respond with similar verve and the obvious directive to resolve even the simplest of issues without making the caller feel small.

There’s much more that we need to do, and the update includes details of some of the challenges that we need to address. I’ll try to make sure that I report back in a more timely fashion next quarter to share details of how we are progressing.

Rob Miller, Director ICT

Want to find out more about the work we’re doing in HackIT and ways to get involved?

  • Details of the projects that we’re delivering are published on Pipeline
  • Opportunities to sell services to support our projects are published on the Digital Marketplace
  • Career opportunities in our team are published on
  • And you can follow our project weeknotes on our blog and Twitter

Might Hackney be digital council of the year?

We’re incredibly pleased to have been nominated for digital council of the year in the Digital Leaders 100 and being shortlisted alongside other councils whose work we admire and who we have been fortunate to learn from.

Local government isn’t a zero sum game – our residents all benefit when we work together, even if they live in areas of the country with very different local needs. At Hackney we are committed to collaboration across local public services and we believe strongly that local government can be much more than the sum of its parts. We’re determined to make sure that we are playing our part in making that happen and that is why Hackney was a founder-signatory of the Local Digital Declaration.

We are working in the open and are playing an active role in partnerships between councils and other partners so that as many taxpayers as possible can benefit from our work. And this works both ways – we know that we’ve benefited from the work that other councils have shared with us and the insight we’ve gained from their feedback on our work.

Among the things that we are most proud of are our open User Research Library, which shares the insights we’re getting from our user research; the improvements to Pipeline that we’ve led, helping to catalyse collaboration across local government; our ambitious apprenticeship programme, with a cohort of 21 apprentices joining our team last autumn and growing network of local employers working together to build digital opportunities in the borough; and also sharing our code through GitHub and our API hub, so that other councils can reuse and contribute to the development.

Our team blog shares updates from the work we’re doing and our team’s progress. When I joined Hackney I was pleased to find that the Council had taken digital seriously for a long time, with investment in in-house skills, data and bringing core systems up to date. By sharing our work in the open we have been able to raise the profile of Hackney’s digital work, make new connections, broaden our supplier base, bring in innovative new thinking, and attract great people to join our team which is helping us to accelerate our progress.

We are also making some big strides towards addressing some of the key technology challenges that all too often hold back real transformation of local public services. Our work in Housing Services and Planning is helping us to move away from big monolithic systems provided by a single vendor, which is too often cited as a reason why councils have struggled to meet citizens’ rising expectations for services. Through use of the Government’s Digital Marketplace, open source software and open standards, based on modern cloud services we are demonstrating that local government can work with SMEs, tackle vendor lock-in and develop user-centric apps that can be continuously improved to better meet users’ needs.

The Mayor of Hackney’s Digital Advisory Panel, bringing in local digital experts to help us explore emerging issues and opportunities, and our determination not to have a standalone ‘digital strategy’ but instead to embed technology and data across the strategic plans for every Council service show Hackney’s deep commitment at a senior leadership level to using technology and data to deliver better services at lower cost.

Looking forward, we know that we have plenty of challenges that we will need to focus on. We need to continue to push ourselves to deliver excellent digital services for our residents through the work we have in progress. We are working hard to provide our users with workplace technology that will enable modern and collaborative working styles. And we need to make sure that we apply the principles of user centred service design to internal processes as well as to the services we provide to the public. Our residents’ expectations and the need to respond to the further budget challenges facing local councils will make the contribution that our works make ever more important.

Whether or not our work at Hackney makes us digital council of the year is for others to judge. But we are delighted with being nominated and shortlisted and we see this as an endorsement for the commitment and vision shown by everyone at Hackney (including our suppliers and partners from other organisations that we are working with) who is helping us to deliver digital change for our borough, not just the people with ICT on their badge. In my first year at Hackney, I emailed 76 colleagues across the Council at Christmas to thank them for going above and beyond to support our work. Last Christmas it was over 200 people and this year it will be even more.

An autumnal HackIT update

This is the second of our quarterly progress updates that we’re posting in the open (the first is here: I find it extremely useful to take a moment to pause and reflect on the work that we’re delivering and supporting across our team. This highlights the breadth of work we’re covering, shows many very positive signs of progress and also identifies a number of areas where we need to give more focus.

We’re continuing our commitment to the Local Digital Declaration through publishing our roadmap on Pipeline and are now also sharing our user insights through the User Research Library which we have recently launched as part of the shared Local Gov Digital platform. Publishing our API standards and playbook are other important steps forward in delivering on this commitment. We are now working with a number of other councils in joint bids to the MHCLG Local Digital Fund for shared projects.

Within Hackney we are seeing exciting progress across a really varied range of projects. These include supporting the design and delivery of user centric services across the whole range of Council services, including adults social care, housing and public realm.

Underpinning the changes we’re delivering, we are continuing our focus on data – covering data quality; use of analytics to help us design and assess services; developing our ethics framework to make sure that we are always using data responsibly; modelling how we use data across our systems; and training all of our users in their data protection responsibilities.

Internally, we are making strong progress with the introduction of improved technology to help teams across the Council adopt mobile, flexible and collaborative working styles. And we are also continuing our work to update our overall architecture approach to adopt a modern, web-based model.

Our HackIT blog includes regular posts from our teams sharing updates on their work.

This quarter’s report includes analysis of our annual user survey. We’ve been pleased to see continued year-on-year improvement in user satisfaction, but equally important to us are the areas where our users have highlighted areas that we still need to improve. These range from the responsiveness and accessibility of our support services to greater focus on training and advice to help users get the most from the tools we provide. We are building these into our work and the survey results provide a useful yardstick that we can use to make sure that we are continuing to head in the right direction.

Finally, one of the most exciting developments this quarter has been our 21 Digital Apprentices starting their roles with our team. The apprentice posts cover all areas of our service across applications, data, delivery, digital service design, infrastructure, software development and support. I’m really pleased to see the programme launch and am looking forward to seeing what our apprentices achieve during their time with us.

You can read the full report here:

Committing to working in the open

Every three months we provide an update to our board which sets out what we’ve been working on, the progress we’ve made and areas that we need to focus on.

As part of our commitment to working in the open (a key part of the Local Digital Declaration) we’ll be publishing these on our blog so that others can see what we’re up to. We’re particularly keen to hear from other councils who’d like to compare notes, share ideas and suggest ways that we might be able to go even further with the work we’re doing at Hackney. And we’re very open to following up opportunities for closer working together too.

In this quarter’s update we’ve got plenty of great progress, including:

  • Over 4,000 residents checked their registration to vote in the May 2018 election using our One Account service
  • The design led approach we’ve taken for the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act means we are able to complete interviews with people presenting as homeless much more quickly and easily
  • We’re starting to link in with the ‘Government as a Platform’ services provided by GDS through our work to improve income collection
  • 50% of repairs contact is now entirely online (with no need for a call back from the contact centre)
  • Our new digital service for fostering is live, making it easier for people to find out how they can provide a caring home for vulnerable children
  • We’ve successfully moved c 3,500 people over to modern productivity tools
  • Our Local Land & Property Gazetteer has achieved the gold standard for data quality this month
  • Our commitment to data is continuing through a broad programme of work supporting the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation, including new Digital Action Plan training for all our staff – designed to make it easy for our people to understand their data responsibilities
  • We’re continuing to do the hard yards to make sure our systems and applications are reliable and secure (thankless, never-ending, but vital)
  • We’ve had brilliant new colleagues joining our team following our recent recruitment, and we’re well underway with the recruitment to our new apprentice programme
  • And our work with colleagues in other support services is helping to make it easier for our users to get help and advice when they need it so that they can focus on delivering excellent services for our residents

But it’s also essential that we’re frank about where we need to give more attention so that we can do even better. Key areas we’re focusing on at the moment include:

  • Making sure that we can demonstrate and realise the benefits of the work we’re doing
  • Supporting our team so that they can provide high quality support for the new services we’re rolling out
  • Learning more about how we can understand data and data quality
  • Making sure that we are focusing on users and user needs in everything we do
  • And making sure that we take the time to bring new colleagues joining other Council services up to speed, which is well worth the time and effort

You can read the full update here:

In support of the Local Digital Declaration

At Hackney we are working hard to provide our residents with digital services that are so good, people prefer to use them. By harnessing the power of digital technology, data and service design it is now easier than ever before for Hackney residents to check their rent accounts quickly from their mobile phone, get support to find opportunities for employment and skills development, access the Council’s help to reduce the risk of homelessness, and find opportunities to provide a foster home for a child.

This is just the start and there is much more that we want to do. We believe firmly in working with our residents to co-design our new digital services and we also believe in the importance of working collaboratively with our colleagues in other councils so that we can share the benefits of each other’s work and deliver progress together more quickly and at lower cost.

Much has been written and said about how digital collaboration in local government should be done. Suggested solutions range from formal shared services, where councils come together through joint structures, through to less formal joint working across councils based on identifying shared opportunities. The challenge is to make sure that we can continue to respond to local needs, minimise bureaucracy and set a clear and purposeful direction that will deliver at pace over the medium and long term.

We welcome the new Local Digital Declaration ( and we believe that this sets out principles that are consistent with our values in Hackney.  We are pleased that this is being developed in partnership with councils across the country, not imposed from Whitehall; we support the focus on service design, digital skills and the underlying technology foundations that need to be in place; and we share the commitment to open and collaborative working across the sector so that we can learn from one another.

We also calling on our current and future suppliers to commit to the principles in the Declaration. From our experience in Hackney we have seen how working with innovative digital suppliers can help us deliver exceptional results and we know that their expertise can also help us develop our in-house skills for the longer term. We need to work with suppliers who will adopt the best of modern digital technology, commit to open standards and can demonstrate their ability to deliver services of the standard that our residents rightly expect. You can read our open letter to suppliers here:

We are looking forward to playing a full role as part of the local government digital community to help realise the vision set out in the Declaration and we are confident that this will benefit our residents in Hackney as well as citizens in other areas of the country.

The Mayor of Hackney sets out our commitment in this video: