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Digital transformation in Newcastle

Digital Transformation In Newcastle2

by Ben Showers

How we are working with Newcastle City Council (NCC) to support the digital transformation of their planning service.

This work is in response to the government’s recent Planning White Paper. Whilst details of the changes to the planning system won’t become clear until it makes its way into law, the direction of travel is clear and will lead to changes in the ways of working and use of technology for all local authorities.

Project background

Our project with Newcastle is an eight week Discovery to understand the user needs of staff, stakeholders and users to inform how the council can respond to the white paper and improve its service to users.

Here’s a high level plan for the project:

A high-level summary of an 8 week sprint plan

As a result of this work we aim to deliver:

  • a decision making framework to allow Newcastle to respond to the changes suggested in the Planning White Paper, as they become more concrete
  • digital planning maturity assessment that will help the council understand where they are on their digital transformation journey
  • priority opportunities for prototyping

So, in the spirit of our first sprint notes, here are a few of the things we’ve been up to over the past two weeks.

What have we been doing?

We started working with Newcastle in early February, with initial workshops to plan the work and agree on our ways of working. Since then it has been full steam ahead and we have focused on the following activities:

User research

The aims of the research are to gather insights to inform the construction of a digital maturity framework for Newcastle City Council planning services and identify the needs of internal and external users of planning services. This will help us identify opportunities for digital development that will best help meet these needs.

We have so far conducted interviews with 18 users of the planning service, undertaken a session with relevant NCC staff and stakeholders and held two sessions on human centred design and design research.

Digital Maturity Assessment survey

We have also drafted a digital maturity assessment survey that will complement the user research and provide an opportunity to get feedback from a much wider audience. The survey will help us identify crucial areas for improvements to the delivery of the planning service within NCC.

To help do this, we want to understand the “as is” situation for the department specifically around communication and engagement, data and analytics, service improvement and technology. The survey has been created and we’re aiming to get it circulated to Newcastle staff and wider stakeholders this week.

Decision making framework

There’s still uncertainty around which elements of the White Paper will make it into law but even if only a fraction do, it’ll still represent the most significant change to how planning departments function for decades. This combination of uncertainty of the precise changes but relative clarity over the scale of change means making concrete recommendations on adopting the implications of the White Paper as part of the Discovery challenge.

So, to address this we have drafted an initial iteration of a framework to support Newcastle in making decisions when there is more clarity on what and how they transform their service. We’ll be working on developing this further over this sprint and share initial iterations with the Newcastle team.

Engaging stakeholders

While we’ve been hard at work doing research and developing a maturity and decision making framework, we have also been engaging stakeholders across the council.

A critical group have been the planners, and we have regularly attended the planning managers’ meetings to get them involved in helping us identify and prioritise critical challenges for them. We recently ran a Hopes and Fears session with them to understand concerns and opportunities from their perspective.

What’s next?

In this sprint we’ll be focusing on:

  • continuing the user research and making sure we’re able to speak to as many relevant people as possible
  • start analysing the results from the maturity assessment survey
  • continue drafting and iterating the decision making framework
  • continue to engage relevant stakeholders in the work and, as much as possible, get them directly involved in the development of new opportunities and ideas
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Ben Showers

Principal Consultant

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