Doing the hard work to make it simple – with help from the Local Digital Declaration

We are taking stock and looking toward the future at the moment. Digital First won’t be here forever and we need to start sharing our knowledge and embedding our learning now so that the kind of work we are doing carries on.

At one of our Product Manager meetings, we discussed some common themes causing delays, or blockers.

We decided that one very positive thing that we could do is to make a set of standards to share: what any third party system being bought should have; what APIs need to be able to do; what customer facing elements should be in any new tool.

We have already got an approved set of requirements for any new system so that it will definitely connect to My Account. So we have started, and with a positive mind and open heart will aim to continue.

However, there was no need to make our own set of standards, as the Local Digital Declaration was launched, including service standards and a technology code of practice. It was compiled by central government with lots of local authorities’ input.

Local Digital Declaration

The declaration is a set of guiding principles that will help support local authorities to deliver digital services and platforms that meet the needs of citizens and describes what organisations can do to achieve this. It covers all the common themes that we discussed, which are outlined below along with the relevant part of the declaration in italics:

1        There is a lack of ownership of some decisions. It can be really hard to get anyone to say that the decision is definitively theirs. This happens in all sorts of scenarios when trying to get sign off on product decisions.

The declaration commits co-signatories to “make sure that digital expertise is central to our decision-making and that all technology decisions are approved by the appropriate person or committee. This will ensure that we are using our collective purchasing power to stimulate a speedy move towards change.”

2        There are cross-cutting service elements we need that are either missing or still in the process of being put in place. These can be tools or platforms that allow us to share data, allow customers to tell us once, that modernise how we pay and invoice, or how we book appointments. So we will get quite far with discovery or innovation and then all get blocked by the same kind of elements.

GDS have committed to making their tools available to Local Government as part of the declaration. Work to incorporate Gov.notify with one of our services is in our current sprint. 

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3         Sometimes a different support team develops separately and implements change at the same time as we are already working with a service, meaning staff disengage from our work and our ability to deliver is impacted. Some strands within the organisation are not joined up enough.

The declaration commits leaders, service members, board managers and politicians to “support our workforce to share ideas and engage in communities of practice by providing the space and time for this to happen.”

4         Teams don’t always know about the cross cutting work to create a single system, for example, to ensure standardised data gathering and customer single sign on. If they buy separate products it can severely impact the plans to develop one system and the data that we will get out if it. They would have no idea of this impact and we need to fix this. We need to get that knowledge out there.

Procurement has moved on and we need to catch up with that. We don’t need to buy just one big system anymore. It is possible to buy enough to start and then add on elements that are required, if the right basic system is bought in the first place. We need to share our knowledge about how to do this with the right people.

The declaration commits technology teams and leaders “Where appropriate every new IT solution procured must operate according to the technology code of practice, putting us in control of our service data, using open standards where they exist and contributing to their creation where they don’t.”

As always, the Government Digital Service have co-developed something that follows one of their own principles of doing the hard work to make it simple.

In this case it was our team who benefited. Rather than can create our own set of standards, we now need to spread the word about the Local Digital Declaration and adopt its framework and principles. Then everyone can benefit.

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Digital First doing the hard work to keep things simple

 

Redesigning for GDPR

I wrote a few months ago about the new data protection laws coming in. We have been working with our Data Protection team to design these changes to the applications and forms on our website.

Interpreting new laws is difficult. No-one has been assessed yet by the governing body; the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). Our Data Protection team are understandably cautious, as although the ICO is keen to stress that this is not all about fining companies for breaches, we need to be careful so that we don’t risk public money.  They felt that we had to make all of the information visible to the customer on the page before they agree to continue rather than use a button where you “click here to learn more” if you choose.

Our first designs were simple but long. They met the requirements but  did not improve customer experience. For example, if you report fly tipping in your street and provide contact details to know when it is cleared, do you really want loads of writing to appear before you can hit “submit”? Would you even read it?

GDPR cityclean

Luckily, while we were talking about this with the Data Protection team, Google started to roll out their own designs. They did use “learn more” buttons so we all felt reassured and have adapted our designs to suit. Here is an example of the new design in progress:

gdpr mut exc

This is a big step forward achieved by good co-working across the organisation.

Once we have a couple of versions better designed by our UX and Digital Content team and agreed by our Data Protection team, we’ll be testing them with residents.

GDPR – designing to empower citizens

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) ensures that we will know what, why and how information about each of us is being stored, and gives us the right to restrict or revoke access to it.

Those of us working in local government have significant challenges as to how we make this work for residents on the forms and applications that they complete. It’s no small task to design data storage, indexes and platforms to deliver these customer rights.

At Digital First we are working with our Information Governance team to match the requirements of the law with the needs of the customer. There are some great discussions going on in the wider pattern design community about how we embrace this opportunity to totally rethink how we present these rights to customers.

The “cookies” acceptance is a useful example to think about. This was also made to empower users. It became “the norm” – but it became an irritating norm. If we really want to empower users with these new rights, we need to present them in a useful way, rather than making them a stumbling block.

A good example for us, and one I am working on, is when a customer comes to book a Pest Control service online. If they are met with a wall of information about what the council is going to do with their data, before even filling in their name, will that make them feel empowered or scared? How do we comply with the level of information we must give without confusing them? We need to make sure that they know what they are are agreeing to, or it’s likely that they will decide to phone instead.

There is an understandable desire to err on the side of legal caution, but how do we make this work for everyone?

As we are all facing this, we would love to share ideas and designs with others. We want to co-design and create some new data design patterns that really do empower the citizen. It would be good to hear from other councils working on this, and any developers and designers keen to share ideas, design patterns or user testing results.

Contact us via the comments, or you can email me at annie.heath@brighton-hove.gov.uk