Adopting the local government digital service standard

Have you ever used the “GOV.UK” website to find some information or to use an online central government service?  If so, you may have seen that some of the pages are marked “Beta”. Here is an example at the time of writing: https://www.gov.uk/apprenticeships-guide.

This does not mean that the information is wrong or the service is not yet ready.  Everything that is provided works as it should and the “Beta” marking is simply there to invite comments from users so that the webpage or service can be improved before it is formally considered to be “live”.  Once it is live, the “Beta” marking is removed but even then the information or service will still continue to be reviewed and updated throughout its life.

This way of working is part of the Government Digital Strategy that was launched back in 2012 and set out how government intended to redesign its digital services so well that people prefer to use them.  The approach includes making usable versions of digital services available as quickly as possible, and obtaining user views early in the process. The criteria for this approach have been documented in a Digital Service Standard and this is used to assess whether a digital service has been created in accordance with the Strategy.

Local Government has been following all of this with interest and an increasing number of councils are starting to adopt similar ways of working.  A steering group was formed last year and, with input from over 60 councils, a Local Government Digital Service Standard was created based on the one for central government. It suggests a common approach for local authorities to deliver good quality, user centred, value for money digital services.

The idea of a “standard” might sound theoretical and maybe even bureaucratic, but in reality the points in the Standard are very practical and might be considered to be common sense. As such they provide a useful checklist to help Hackney create online services that people want to use.

ICT has been exploring what the adoption of the Standard might mean for Hackney.  As well as sessions to exchange ideas with other councils, we have held three short, focused workshops to look at the implications of some of the points in the Standard.

One of the main conclusions was that more engagement with service areas, users and perhaps residents will be needed during development than might have been the case previously. Service areas might find themselves invited to be part of project teams and to be given an early view of proposed developments and the chance to influence the direction. This will no doubt place greater demands on everyone’s time although the reward that is sought is the faster delivery of digital services that are intuitive to use, meet service area needs and can better respond to change.

Within ICT we recognise that as well as finding ways to achieve this greater engagement, we will need to bring together a wider range of new technologies and services in the future. We also need to be able to assess the effectiveness of the digital services both through user and service area feedback and the use of appropriate monitoring tools.

This will require new skills and methods in running projects, designing solutions, creating user interfaces that are simple and intuitive, measuring service performance and obtaining and acting upon comments about Hackney’s digital services. Good communication will be more important than ever. There is a lot for everyone to learn but also an opportunity to make full use of anything that already works well and to draw on the wider experience in digital services that is being gained across local government.

 

 

 

Your data, protection and the right to know

Hi, I’m Neil Lang, and I am helping Hackney Council prepare for new legislation about Data Protection and how we use your personal information. This is the first of a series of blogs I will be posting over the next year about how the Council works with your information and the steps we are taking to put you in the driving seat for how it is used.

Have you ever wondered what information an organisation holds about you? In the information age, as we use online systems, we leave quite a digital footprint behind us. For example, when using free services from Google, you are making a deal. You get to use YouTube, search, Gmail, Drive and Google Maps for free.
In exchange for this free use, you agree to share information about yourself that Google can share with advertisers to target their ads and make them more effective. For instance, airlines want to present to people who love to travel. Toy makers want to target children of the right age group and interests. Read on to find out how to find out what Google already knows about you!
Google uses a lot of methods to learn about you. Some of it, you tell Google when you sign up for its services (your name, phone number, location, etc…) Other information may be less obvious. As you browse the internet, your searches all give clues to your interests — which Google collects for advertisers to direct their offerings to you. Of course, it’s not a perfect world, which is why from time to time you see adverts you might consider quite inappropriate!
But Google also takes user privacy seriously. It knows what information it holds about you (that might seem obvious, but a lot of organisations don’t have a good handle on this, or the tools to readily discover it) – and Google is able to remove information about you so it doesn’t come up in searches (the so called ‘right to be forgotten’).

New legislation

Public authorities, like Hackney, also have to look after your personal information responsibly. Next May, a new piece of legislation – known as the General Data Protection Regulation – comes into force. This will replace our existing Data Protection Act, and introduces some important new rights about how we look after and use information about you.

  • It applies to both public and most private companies.
  • It reduces the time to respond to requests for information about you (known as ‘subject access requests’) from 40 days to one month;
  • it will require parental consent for processing children’s data;
  • it provides for a right to have your data corrected, or removed (with certain exceptions);
  • it requires clear consent to data processing;
  • it allows you to object to automated processing/profiling using your personal information;
  • and you may request (following a subject access request) to have your data provided to you in a portable, machine readable format.

Hackney Borough Council is currently preparing to be able to fulfil all of these new rights, and wants to build solid digital trust with its residents in the way we store and use your data. Unlike profit-making commercial organisations such as Google, we simply want to use your information to deliver better services to you. In particular, residents often have concerns about information being shared between different parts of the Council. We will be transparent about how and why we do this, and we will only do this with your consent. Allowing us to do this will enable us to provide you with great, value for money services, at a time when all Councils are facing reductions in their overall funding.

What does Google know about you?

So how do you find out everything Google knows about you?
By visiting a page called “Web & App Activity,” you can see what Google is watching.
Then by visiting a site called “Ads Settings,” you can see what Google thinks it knows about you, and you can change what it’s telling advertisers about you.
It’s not easy to find your “Web & App Activity” page. First, you have to be logged into Google. Once logged in, go to “https://history.google.com/history/” and click on “all time.”
This brings up a long list of all the web pages you searched. You can delete them, but Google doesn’t make it particularly easy – it only lets you delete one day at a time. You’ll get a warning from Google suggesting that you don’t really want to delete this information (because, in truth, Google doesn’t want you to delete it). Don’t worry if you do, you won’t break the internet or your Google account if you hit the delete button!.
Until next time, happy browsing!

Understanding user need for technology in housing

We are working with our colleagues in housing and FutureGov to understand what our tenants and leaseholders need from the Council’s housing service, and look at how technology can support those needs.

The work has identified that too often many of our existing processes and systems are too complex for most residents. And because these have developed organically over time, it can often be hard for the service to be confident it has the information it needs to make the right decisions about how to handle problems and where to invest. That’s the starting point for a new piece of work to decide on what technology is needed – including whether the ‘one system’ approach is actually the right one, or whether we should move towards a more ‘loosely coupled’ approach.

One of the most powerful findings of our research has been that the services and processes which support our tenants and leaseholders share many of the same characteristics as the services and processes needed for many other transactional services that the Council provides for our citizens. Reporting a blocked drain isn’t so very different from reporting a broken streetlight – or at least, it shouldn’t be.

Happily, this work fits very neatly with three other workstreams in our programme to deliver digital change for everyone:

  1. our review of our CRM platform
  2. the need to renew our master data solution
  3. work to understand how we accelerate the delivery of services through Hackney’s One Account

This is a great opportunity for us to think much more broadly about the underlying technology we use, and how we can build on it to make sure that we support successful, cost-effective customer journeys based on a single view of our customers and assets (homes, buildings etc).

We are now assembling the team needed to make this happen. The team will comprise user research, service design and development skills, overseen by a Product Owner empowered to make decisions about the design of the service. We will reduce the risk of this complex project by working to Agile principles: breaking down the requirement into individual user stories, delivering them in fortnightly batches (or sprints) with the priority of testing working code directly with residents in weeks and using their feedback to drive our direction.

So, rather than just buying a new housing solution, we’re planning to look at how far we can go by using generic solutions which we can use as a platform to build the end-to-end digital services that our residents need. Throughout the project we’ll be working openly. Nothing we do is likely to be unique to Hackney. If other local authorities, housing associations, or innovative software companies have part of the solution already, or want to work with us to fill a gap in user needs, we’d love to look at the potential to work together and share our learning.

This project will be our next major step towards the ICT service that the Council wants, and our residents need. We’ll be consolidating the ideas we have already been working with: user-centred design, Agile, open source development and working to the local government digital service standard.

This isn’t ICT-led or technology-led change. We want it to be genuine service transformation facilitated by the vision of the senior leadership of the organisation. We’re fortunate to work in such circumstances, which makes it all the more important that we deliver the right solutions for our tenants and leaseholders.

New ways to publish health needs

My name’s Katherine, and I started work in the Intelligence bit of the Public Health Team in 2014. One of my first jobs that summer was to look into commissioning a website for information on local health and wellbeing needs.

Over the next two years, I wrote a lot of business cases, learned a lot about procurement processes, and missed a lot of deadlines. The one thing I didn’t do was test anything out. We’d already consulted with stakeholders in 2014 – why would we need to talk to them again before we’d commissioned a website for them to test?

Then, at the start of 2017, we met with Matthew. Great, he said, I like your idea – now try it.

The Intelligence bit of the Public Health Team has four members. We don’t build websites. We can whip you up a lovely infographic about vaccinations (good) or smoking (not good), and if you stand still near us long enough we’ll probably explain some statistics to you, but we don’t build websites.

We built a website.

We decided on the least possible amount of content we could put on the website to make it worth testing. We decided on the most important basic things that the website needed to do in order to be worth having. And then, using free online tools and a couple of half hour tutorials in Matthew’s office, we put it together.

In two weeks of building this simple, quick, bare bones prototype, we learned more about our idea than we had in two years of talking it through. We refined it down, discarded the bits that didn’t work, and realised that we’d been making life needlessly complicated. We can now use free tools for things we thought we’d have to spend half our budget on.

Over the next few weeks, we tested it out with actual humans. We asked them to do things on the website, and got them to talk us through the process. Pretty quickly, we learned a second thing: What people want out of this kind of website is several simple ways to search for content, not one super whizzy way.

From this, we learned the difference between what stakeholders may say they want and what they actually want. We understood better how people will use our website, and what will make them abandon it. We now have a clear idea of what we want the site to look like and do – which will save us time and money when we bring in an external designer.

That bit comes next. I’ll let you know how we do…

Personalising our support service

Hi, I’m Cate, and I work on the service desk.

At Hackney we are constantly working to improve the way we support our colleagues. Over the last couple of years we’ve been changing the way our users contact us and now the majority of calls are logged online, rather than over the phone.

This has provided our support teams with the opportunity to innovate and look at new ways that we can interact with our users – making our support more personal and responsive. We started this with drop-in support workshops, where users could speak with people from across ICT and get advice and support. And we’ve now extended on that, holding regular ‘pop up’ clinics at buildings across the Council’s campus on a weekly basis, providing support and advice as well as quickly swapping out basic equipment which users might not have had time to report to us as faulty. In the last few weeks we’ve also started to offer bookable appointments, making it possible for users to book a 15 minute slot to speak with one of our team to get help with issues they’re having or to ask for general advice on the systems they use.

These changes have proven to be very popular with our users and we’re now looking to expand these services to include more specialised advice and support from other support teams across the ICT team.

We have found that this more personal approach not only benefits our users but also gives our staff a better understanding of the daily challenges faced by users across the Council’s services. Another benefit is giving more variety to the work our support teams do and regular face-to-face contact which helps broadens their knowledge and experience.

We are continuing to look for interesting ways that we can further improve the support we provide for our colleagues, and are now looking at introducing web chat and mobile-friendly access to our service as our next developments. We’d love to hear from support teams elsewhere to hear your ideas and see whether we could look to include those in our future changes. Do please get in touch!