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Simplifying and sharing digital design principles for the future

Source: PSE Aug/Sep 16

Martin Ferguson, director of policy and research at Socitm, explains how simplifying, standardising and sharing digital transformation solutions could deliver better outcomes for public services across the country.

“Simplify – Standardise – Share” is the call from the Local CIO Council (LCIOC), as it sets out its vision to accelerate better outcomes and savings for local public services through redesign and digital transformation. 

In its position paper, the LCIOC – supported by Socitm and Solace – says that for too long we have been trapped in a mindset of simply giving customers a faster, better and cheaper online experience. Marginal reductions in transaction costs through cosmetic changes to the customer interface and so-called ‘channel shift’ have monopolised our thinking. 

Tackling outcomes with digital transformation 

The paper goes on to say that we have stood by and watched helplessly over a growth in process complexity; duplication and fragmentation of approaches; inability or unwillingness to share data; a tendency for provider organisations to prioritise their needs over those of the citizen; ‘atomisation’ of the individual rather than personalisation of the service; a focus on efficient services as opposed to effective outcomes; and a failure to exploit the internet to do things differently. 

Whilst improvements in online service delivery should not be dismissed, Dylan Roberts, chair of LCIOC and chief digital officer at Leeds City Council, cites a number of opportunities for digital transformation to address different outcomes in various ways in the patchwork of localities that exist across the UK. 

“Social isolation, adult care, safeguarding children, fostering and adoption, obesity, dementia and mobility are just some examples of the policy areas that demand better and different outcomes as a consequence of using data more effectively and holistically across our localities,” he said. 

“Taking this ‘place-based, outcomes-led’ approach, as we are doing in Leeds, enables us to identify, redesign and target services and to achieve radically transformed utilisation of increasingly scarce capacity and resources, including finance, across a myriad of public services and community organisations.” 

Just taking the example of mobility, the paper highlights a recent collaboration between Warwickshire County Council and the Government Digital Service (GDS). 

This demonstrated how an eight-week application process for blue badges (for disabled drivers) could be reduced to 20 minutes through redesign and digital transformation of the process. This locally designed, simplified and standardised process has the potential to be shared, producing significant savings and much better outcomes in terms of mobility, social inclusion and digital engagement for service users across the UK. 

Continuing public sector austerity, as well as exponential increases in demand, means that the Simplify – Standardise – Share principles, embodied in the blue badge example, should be adopted across local public service organisations. Local government, with its responsibilities for place-shaping and community wellbeing, should take the lead. 

Ubiquitous digital technology enables citizens to become better informed and more self-reliant, reducing dependency on public service provision. Digital can also help make public services not just more efficient, but more effective, leading to more financially sustainable local public service provision. 

The new diversity of the IT and digital market is a great opportunity because technology-based solutions can be readily aligned to an individual’s needs and wants. But it is also a challenge for public service organisations stuck in old ways of working that do not embrace interoperability and integration, and are vulnerable to organisational “lock-in” to rapidly obsolescing technology. 

Open design principles and standards are essential in order to achieve the necessary interoperability between organisations and the whole place/system. Applied by significant numbers of local public service organisations, they have the ability to drive standards, create new marketplaces, and break the stranglehold of some proprietary vendor solutions. 

This in turn provides the opportunity for local authorities to work with local communities, networks, individuals and technologists to identify and co-produce solutions to local issues that are aligned to open principles to ensure both interoperability and the flexibility to meet individual needs. 

38 information sharing

The LCIOC urges organisations to: 

  • Take a place-first, organisation-second approach to technology and data decision-making, acknowledging that organisational trade-offs will be needed
  • Work towards one digital transformation strategy and roadmap for a place, with investment decisions referenced against place-based outcomes rather than organisational priorities
  • Insist that all solutions and providers commit to using an open standards approach that enables interoperability with other parts of the system. This is not just technical – it includes information governance and citizen requirements
  • Work with citizens, local public service professionals and technologists to identify issues and collaboratively co-produce solutions to outcomes 

To pursue Simplify – Standardise – Share, public service organisations should: 

  • Connect and do less: Find out what others are doing locally and nationally and join up. Make your own successes reusable and shareable
  • Work hard to make things simple: Do not take ‘it’s always been that way’ for an answer
  • Iterate with partners: Release ‘minimum viable products’ early, test with actual users, and refine. If a prototype isn’t working, scrap it and start again
  • Understand context: Think hard about how people use services. Are they in a library? Are they on a phone? How frequently do they use digital services?
  • Be consistent but not uniform: Use the same language and design patterns wherever possible or at least be consistent. Share patterns that work
  • Place accountability for technology-enabled change with the business: Put a business-led senior responsible officer in charge of benefits realisation 

To advance the principles, the LCIOC is actively supporting the work of the Local Digital Coalition to identify organisations representing places committed to Simplify – Standardise – Share in sponsoring five projects that exemplify the approach: 

  1. Local waste services standardisation
  2. Blue badge applications (with integration to DWP)
  3. Integrated digital care records (across health and care)
  4. Securing of APIs (Application Product Interfaces) from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency for a range of driver, vehicle and licensing services
  5. Application to local government services of the GDS’s Verify service for citizen registration, identification and authentication 

Local government has a proud history of achievement in doing better with less. The Health and Social Care Pioneers, Vanguards, Better Care Fund projects, Smart City Catapults, and now devolution, enable local government to build on local diversity, capability and capacity to design and produce innovative, simplified and standardised solutions. Now is the time to adopt and adapt these simplified, standardised and shared solutions that so often in the past have been developed, but scattered on stony ground.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected] 


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