Hack to the future – 2030 Vision

Who can spare a couple of hours out the office helping 10 year olds think about their future city?  Yes please said lots of us. Giving back to the community is a core part of what working for Brighton & Hove City Council is about.

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Lovely place for a City Hack

The Digital First team helped out yesterday (Friday 25 May) at the 2030 Vision City Hack organised by Brighton’s MakerClub. Brighton & Hove 2030 Vision is a series of events coordinated by the council and partners looking at how we can prepare for the future.

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Smiley happy Digital First team

Eight primary schools came along to the Amex Stadium at Falmer, where Albion in the Community kindly hosted the session. As it’s out of season, we had the extra special treat of seeing the pitch being relaid, that or beach volleyball is coming to the Amex.

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There were 10 groups of around 8 children from year 5, all offering up their own ideas about how to improve the city in the future. We even had some dressed as superheroes including a Wolverine and most impressive Emmeline Pankhurst.

Mia from MakerClub had created a clever game where the kids earned tokens to spend on tech ideas that would help the city, through ideas like bike sharing schemes, seabins, 3D printed buildings, big belly bins and more.

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Mia and Mo from MakerClub

Over the next 2 hours, the groups explored the pros and cons of each solution, working out whether the benefits outweigh the negative impacts. And then the groups planned where each of their solutions would be placed in Brighton & Hove.

As a finale, each group presented their ideas. Every group demonstrated a real understanding of the issues and a great deal of empathy in how these solutions might affect residents of the city.

All the ideas will be collated and fed back to Brighton & Hove Connected to contribute to the Brighton & Hove 2030 Vision. At the end, everyone had the opportunity to say what they thought about the session, so that future sessions can keep getting better.

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Posting feedback on the wall

It was great to hear all the bright ideas from a children who will be 22 in 2030? Twelve years ago, Facebook was just being opened up to the world and the iPhone hadn’t yet arrived. 12 years is a long time in tech.

On stage, under the spotlight

Last Tuesday, Khalid, our Mendix lead, and I stepped out of our comfort zone and on to the stage for a question and answer session at a Mendix event in London.

Mendix is the low code platform that we are using to develop our digital services. We have been building up our in-house skills gradually under Khalid’s watchful eye. Khalid has previously worked with Mendix in the financial services sector.

The team at Mendix invited us to the event to talk about our experience at Brighton & Hove City Council – warts and all.  We were on stage with John from Knowsley Council who also use the same platform.

John, Khalid nor I, would normally seek out the limelight, so this was very much a case of doing something that makes us uncomfortable, to challenge ourselves.

Before we went up, and in typical tech style, we both looked at the heart rate monitors on our watches. Interestingly, my heart rate was 64 and Khalid’s was 113, perhaps I was born for the big stage after all!

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We answered questions about Digital First’s successes so far, like Report a Problem, and how we user test in the library. We also talked about building an academy to train staff and increase the number of Mendix developers in the UK.

All in all, we coped well with the questions and audience feedback was good.

The day ended with a dinner discussion around digital transformation, where there were guests from many public and not for profit organisations. There was also a lively discussion about the way forward, which has been covered in the Nimbus Ninety blog.

Without the spotlight on us, we were most definitely back in our comfort zone.

Happy New Year from Digital First

It’s a whole year since we moved into our new home in Jubilee Library. Reaching that milestone’s brought home how much we’ve achieved in that time.

In fact this was most startling when we had our team Christmas dinner in December. The year before, there were just four of us who went out. This year there were 27!

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Team Christmas lunch

Such rapid growth has given us the chance to build a dynamic, multi-disciplined team who work closely with local agencies and contractors. Indeed working with, and investing in, the local digital community was one of the cornerstones in our original plan to bring a digital transformation programme to life.

By working with the digital community, the council benefits from the expertise available in the city and the council invests back into the city’s digital sector. We’ve worked with 12 different local agencies and contractors so far, making some giant leaps in the last year.

Most notably we’ve:

  • introduced a low-code development platform (Mendix) and now have a team of junior digital developers who are learning it on the job. We’re working with Mendix to build a Mendix community in city and we’re creating a Centre of Excellence in the council
  • built a number of online apps that are on our new-look website – this includes creating a solution for mobile working, with the pest control team, which can be used as a template for other services
  • put live the new more-streamlined website,  which allows us, in its beta stage, to ask for feedback from users to help us improve pages, while we are building it
  • worked with our rubbish and recycling team to co-design a mobile solution for allocating jobs to trucks out on the road, which can also report back from the truck to the office
  • built an online dashboard to help monitor our adult social care providers in one central place and are working on a new register
  • supported our Customer Service Centres in establishing self service facilities for customers to upload information online
  • built an online tool to help customers work out if they need to apply for Universal Credit during its phased introduction

The Digital First team have become integral to the services that they are supporting. They have been advising on procuring the right systems and helped services understand that digital services need to be user focused.

There is a lot more to come in 2018 – we’ll get faster and better at delivering beta apps and reap the rewards of good discovery work from this year. Customers will also see some significant improvements through our new- look website and staff will benefit from more efficient online services.

It’s going to be a busy year!