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Many Channels, Once Service

A few years ago, after checking the website of a well known flat-pack furniture company I visited their nearest store only to find that the item I wanted was nowhere to be seen. “They only update the stock on the website every now and again” a helpful employee told me, which was however no recompense for my wasted journey. Whilst most local government services are a tad more complex than selling Billy bookcases, it’s experiences such as this I want to avoid for council service users, where people who use one channel are treated differently or are given conflicting information to others. At best it presents an impression of disorganisation and at worse it worsens the digital divide. That’s why we’re starting to roll out an omni-channel, or Many Channels, One Service approach at my place. Why “Many Channels, One Service” though? It’s easier to remember and more descriptive of its aims than “omni-channel”, and if you’re introducing new concepts and practices across an organisation, it’s m
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Rubbish digital permits

It’s been six months since we introduced digital tip permits so now seems like a good time for a retro. Paper tax discs have long disappeared from windscreens, and more and more people now choose to pay with parking apps instead of fumbling for small change, but up until six months ago we were still asking residents to display a paper permit every time they visited one of our tips.  Alongside this, although residents could apply for a permit online, the rest of the process after they clicked Submit was manual and there was therefore a cost to administering every application and to print and post a paper permit. With an added delay due to the snail mail, the whole process felt a bit 20th Century. So on 30 November 2021 we launched a new online tip permit. Created with our digital platform vendor we essentially allow users to search the DVLA’s database of vehicles and create a permit for up to three vehicles. The new permits were styled similarly to the old to create a sense of contin

Digital working isn't binary; this is not the new normal.

The move to a reasonable percentage of the population working from home was sudden and unplanned, for very good reasons, and the ensuing discussion that started almost from day one around both the benefits and disadvantages continues. There are two things to remember when contributing to the debate. Firstly, and similar to almost every other topic, your personal circumstances will influence your viewpoint.  You may be a property investor suddenly sitting on a portfolio of empty office blocks, or a commuter saved the expense travelling five days a week, every week. You may be someone concerned about climate change (and if you're not, why not) who can see that reducing unnecessary travel is not only better for people, but for the planet too.  You may be a parent for whom home working enables you to contribute to more family life, or perhaps someone who thinks a move to home working has enabled you to get away with doing less, although in that case I'd argue it's poor manageme

Running remote council meetings

In the past ten days we ran four council meetings completely remotely. This included our special Full Council meeting on 29th April, with over 40 councillors in attendance, you can watch it below. We're using Zoom Webinars and live streaming through YouTube, but this piece isn't about the technology, it's about the wider approach we took to enable us to deliver fully remote council meetings. Here's what we did: Involved everyone from the start It needed a team effort to enable this to happen. Officers from Democratic, Legal, IT, and Digital teams, and senior councillors were involved in various aspects, including research, drafting guidance, drafting policy, deciding which platform to use, deciding how that platform should be used, and testing. Researched and built on existing knowledge We'd already live streamed council meetings before starting in 2015 , and some councils were already ahead of us enabling remote meetings . This tweet by Peter Fleming,

Creating modern libraries

I've been formulating some thoughts about modernising libraries for while now, and this tweet from Neil Jefferies Libraries looking to get back to "normal" after this. Realise that this may well be the new normal, the library needs to become a virtual rather than a physical space. Funders, this also means that digitisation is back on the map. Big time. — Neil Jefferies (@NeilSJefferies) April 3, 2020 and a need to take my mind off current work around the coronavirus pandemic for a few minutes has given me added impetus to write about them. Whilst there's an obvious need for libraries to be digital, offering access to their catalogue, ebooks, and other services online, I disagree with Neil's view that they should become a virtual rather than a physical space. I do however think libraries need to change, and here's why. Let's start by asking, what are libraries' physical spaces currently utilised for the majority of the time? The answer to thi

People are not your service, but neither are your forms

A few years ago I was the discussing service redesign with a senior member of staff where I work. Some of the services they managed were changing from delivery by a member of staff to self-service and online. There were other changes in the pipeline too and they joked, "there'll be none of my service left soon" as if they saw the services they managed as being defined by the people who delivered them. This isn't the case of course, and whilst we should never downplay the role of dedicated staff who deliver a service, the service is the product of what is delivered, not who or what is delivering it. Why am I telling something you probably already know? Over the past couple of couple of years I've noticed some with a "digital mindset" have the same approach as my colleague, albeit about a different medium. I've seen some awful online services offered by central government and councils alike, and it's great we're starting embed a design
Despite discussions of more devolution you may see in the media, slowly but surely local government services are being centralised.  In this piece I'll highlight a few examples, and suggest what this might mean for councils. The first high profile service to be centralised under the GOV.UK banner was Register to Vote , or more accurately as it says underneath its page title, apply to register to vote. Whilst the creation of this service was good start, it doesn't meet the new Service Standard in that it fails point number eight which is " Iterate and improve frequently ", and it arguably doesn't meet a few others too. Because of this it's never really achieved it's full potential, and not only does it not meet a basic user need of telling people they don't need to register to vote, it creates additional unnecessary work for electoral registration teams in councils because you can register to vote as many times as you like, even if you're alread