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Working in a culture of openness


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Openness has two aspects - facing inwards to promote the mindset inside an authority, and outwards to share developments and knowledge with others.

Chorley Council has made a virtue of the former through a programme of ‘tech talks’ for its staff to ensure they understand its digital plans, and how they fit into the picture.

ICT and programme manager Emma Marshall says the initiative was launched in the autumn of 2018 to make people aware of what new technology is coming, how it will affect the way they work and why it is needed. The purpose is to make sure they understand and to take them along with the change rather than stirring up an idea it is being forced on them.

It is mandatory for staff affected by the introduction of a new system, bringing together everybody in the relevant teams for a session that usually lasts around hour. It involves a digital inclusion officer to respond to any training issues that arise, and people from teams such as customer services and communications to raise any points relevant to them.

“We have an ambitious ICT strategy and have been making some ambitious changes in terms of how we operate and encourage people to take up digital services,” Marshall says. “It’s necessary to explain to people why we want to make the changes and the benefits for them.

“It means the right people are there, if they have concerns they can raise them and if necessary we can address things. For example, one of the biggest concerns people had was around the use of headsets with health issues. It gave them the opportunity to air those and helped them feel they had been listened to.”

In this case the ICT team was able to provide reassurance, but in others it can influence details of the implementation. The programme also involves gathering feedback as part of the roll out.

Super users

“We have ‘super users’ in each department,” Marshall says. “Any technology we roll out goes through trailblazers as well as to ICT. They will use it for two weeks, report any issues before we push it out to the whole organisation.

“They will be the people who are trained first and within each department will support other employees in adopting the technology.”

Marshall makes clear there are some cases in which it is not considered necessary to share the plans so widely – such as with the council’s use of AWS for its data back-up and disaster recovery planning – as there is no need to demand people’s time with something not related to their day-to-day jobs. But it remains an important element of Chorley’s approach to how it uses digital.

Hackney Council provides one of the leading examples of responding to the other element of the fifth principle, sharing its plans and experience through digital channels as it works on projects.

Its digital team regularly posts updates on projects on its HackIT blog, providing ‘weeknotes’ on their progress to highlight specific issues and share its thinking on how to deal with them. During November 2019 it was focused on improvements in the council’s repairs hub for contact centre agents, getting into details such as how to flag up when a dwelling is a newbuild or any cautionary information.

It outlines how the team is approaching the issues, acknowledges any problems that arise and makes clear when it has made significant progress. This can keep Hackney’s own workforce up-to-date on developments, and shares the experience with other councils looking at similar projects of their own.

Encouraging collaboration

HackIT goes beyond the blogs with a collection of case studies, details of its teams and guidance on how it works. This is designed to encourage collaboration with other parties, leading them into processes such as writing an API, securing the council’s systems and data, and meeting data standards for systems that link to property and asset management data.

It gets into the management of contracts and finances, with guides on buying from the Digital Marketplace, deciding when to reuse, buy or build software, organising a software demo and evaluating a project.

Underpinning all this is the HackIT Manifesto, developed by its team to outline how it aims to work. This includes a series of principles including ‘more doing, less planning’, ‘think big, act small’, ‘fail in a fortnight’, ‘share, don’t send’, ‘act ethically, always’ and, in line with the fifth principle of the Local Digital Declaration, ‘open up’.

This amounts to a resource that could be widely used in local government, and Hackney has taken its commitment to openness further with a lead role in the reactivation of the Pipeline platform, hosted by the LocalGov Digital group, as a public repository for details of ongoing digital projects.

Pipeline has emerged as a significant resource: in early June 2020 it contained details of 356 projects from 154 organisations, spread across those in discovery, alpha, beta and live stages. They include initiatives such as Hackney’s effort to build an ‘API factory’, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s common data model for children’s services and Maidstone’s council tax reminder texts.

An increasing number of local authorities are making use of such resources, indicating that there is a rising sentiment in favour of open working on digital projects. Councils such as Chorley and Hackney are helping to turn the fifth principle into a regular part of how they work.

(Main picture credit: iStockphoto/eternalcreative)


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This story is an excerpt from UKAuthority's latest report. With support from AWS, we have been exploring the impact of the Local Digital Declaration on the front line - Download ‘Fixing the Plumbing: Principles of the Local Digital Declaration in action (PDF)

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