Building digital capability in your organisation

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For any digital transformation effort to be a success, it needs to have a organisation that is open to change to work with.

This is often a bit of a stumbling block, because even if you have an amazing digital team and a kick-ass programme in place, if the people across the organisation don’t understand what you’re on about, then you’re in trouble.

This is why one of the projects you need to initiate early on is a digital capability programme. This should provide just enough digital knowledge, understanding and – most important – confidence in the people you work with to keep things running smoothly.

There are a few different ways to approach this. Here’s some of the things I have found work well – you can pick and choose and adapt as you see fit!

Build your leaders’ digital confidence

There is no getting around the fact that you must have the buy in from senior people in your organisation. In fact, buy in doesn’t really cut it – they need to own this thing. Oftentimes leaders -whether they be politicians or senior management types – need a regular reminder of what really matters when it comes to digital and what they need to do to support this.

What I have found is that a one-off workshop is great for getting some excitement and momentum, but it’s really, really easy for that to dissipate if you don’t follow it up. I’d recommend getting workshops booked in for every other month with your most senior management team, if you can.

Another idea is to put in place a form of one to one coaching for senior people. Often they might not be willing to confess to not knowing things within a group context, so providing a safe space where they can perhaps be a little more vulnerable might be a good idea. It also helps foster your own relationship with them and builds trust, and gives you the chance to help them take a long term view of their need for understanding and commitment to the digital cause.

Digital champions or advocates

Building a network of enthusiastic and knowledgeable digital people across your organisation can be an incredibly useful way to spread goodwill about your efforts in departments other than your own. It’s really important though to avoid ‘milk monitor syndrome’ in creating yet another opportunity for people to volunteer for something nobody wants to do. One way to do this is to maybe avoid titles like ‘champions’ and instead go for something newer sounding – I like ‘advocates’.

One key thing is to engage with the already-enthused. Any network or community of practice like this will die a death if people feel they are forced to be there. Find those hidden, motivated digital enthusiasts who want to be a part of something and will make change happen because they want to.

Some of the things you can do to make your advocates network something people might actually want to join:

  • Run face to face events as well as online networking to build trust in the network
  • Make things available to your advocate network that other’s don’t get – whether early access to new digital services, learning and development opportunities or even just a sticker for their laptop
  • Organise an excursion – maybe to visit another similar organisation to yours to see how they do things, or perhaps to a digital company in another sector

Big thanks to the digital doers community for their help in sharing what has worked for them building these internal enthusiast networks.

10 things you need to know

This is something I have been banging on about for a while, and I have seen it – or similar – done really well in a couple of places. To me there is a basic amount of knowledge that you would want everybody in the organisation to know about digital and transformation. Not the specifics on how to use certain products or services, or even how to run agile ceremonies or user research, but instead focusing on the big picture things people really need to understand to ‘get’ what you are trying to achieve.

This could be delivered in a number of ways, but I like the scalability of an e-learning course, one that could be pitched to anyone in the organisation, from the CEO to front line workers. It should give everyone the core knowledge they need, so you can move quickly when working with other service areas.

Internal blogging or newsletter

Working in the open makes things better, we know this. However sometimes we can work more openly internally, to let people know what we are up to. It’s a great way to spread your cultural tentacles, whether in the form of a regular newsletter or an internal blog. It helps you ‘show the thing’ to a wider audience than can attend show and tells, for instance, and can bring your weeknotes to more people’s attention.

You might worry that people won’t be interested but my experience is that people are way more interested than you assume they are – and if you can add some character and humour to your comms, that will help a lot too.

Come along for the ride

A final idea is to get people from other departments involved in the work you are doing even if they wouldn’t ordinarily be a part of the project. Digital volunteering, in other words. Say you have someone who you’d like to expose to agile delivery methods – why not invite them to play a role on the team, attend the ceremonies, and deliver some of the work. There is no better way of learning this stuff than by doing it and being surrounded by others doing it, and creating a way for people to get experience of it before being involved in a project they are truly responsible for is a great approach.

The importance of inclusion

I can’t finish this article without flagging up the importance of taking an inclusive approach to your capability building. People’s backgrounds can have a huge impact on how they engage with change and new ways of looking at work, and it’s important to ensure that whatever training, workshops or other learning activity you put in place acknowledge this and are built around the needs of those engaging with it. Take the time to understand the people you are going to be working with, and demonstrate that digital doesn’t just mean churning out cookie-cutter experiences using technology.

In other words, your capability programme should be a great exemplar of user centred design itself!

Three levels of digital change

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Even if we adopt Tom Loosemore’s definition of digital – and we should – it’s still necessary to interpret it in the context of the service you are looking to digitise.

I’ve worked out a really simple framework for thinking about this, by dividing the options into three distinct levels, or approaches to, digital change. None is necessarily right or wrong, but it’s always likely that one is more appropriate to achieving the outcome you desire for a particular service, in a particular context. Moreover, they shouldn’t be seen as fixed – instead, you can evolve a service through the levels as context changes. The levels are digital access, digital redesign and digital transformation.

Digital access

Digital access simply means taking a process that currently doesn’t work on the internet, and making sure that it does. Much of the digital work before around 2012 was of this nature, often called things like ‘e-government’ or, later, ‘channel shift’. A lot of the early efforts were based on putting electronic versions of forms on a website, often as a PDF, which would have to be printed out, filled in with a pen and then returned, either by scanning and emailing or, most likely, sticking it in the post.

That sort of thing isn’t really good enough these days, and so the more modern approach is to have online web-based forms that the user can complete there and then. It’s quick and simple and does one of the most important things – it makes things convenient for the user, at least at the start of the process.

The downside is that these forms when used just for digital access tend to email details to the back office, where a human has to read them, process them, enter details into the line of business system and so on. Also, the user won’t be aware of the progress of their transaction unless they phone up and ask. More troubling is that if services never evolve beyond digital access, it masks a lack of progress and ambition.


  • Cheap
  • Fast
  • Demonstrates progress
  • Convenient for users (especially if they are used to paper)


  • User will be frustrated with what is still a fundamentally manual service
  • No efficiency gains for the organisation
  • Can be a mask for a lack of progress (we’ve digitised all of our services! errrr…)

Digital redesign

Digital redesign cranks things up a notch, and I suspect it is the area where most attention is being paid at the moment. It goes beyond digital access by creating real changes to services when they are digitised. These come in two main flavours:

  • redesigning processes and user experiences
  • making the technology work smarter, through integrations and introducing new capabilities

Digital redesign takes longer than access, but the rewards are greater in terms of better meeting people’s expectations and potential for savings and other efficiencies. The outcomes are also less certain, which means risk levels are a little higher – so taking an agile approach is definitely a good idea.

To make this work, you’re also going to need to do things like user research and employ some service design thinking – considering the whole service from end to end from the user’s perspective to ensure it meets their needs, as well as those for the organisation.


  • Greater returns from your effort
  • It’s actually properly changing something, rather than just sticking forms on the web
  • It’s not so ambitious that people won’t understand what you’re trying to achieve


  • Needs more people, more skills, potentially new technology, which means more money
  • Can take a while, so unless you manage the work in an agile way, it might take time before seeing results
  • Integrating into back office systems can take years off your life

Digital transformation

So what, then, is digital transformation? Well, when a service is truly transformed for the internet era, it takes a completely blank piece of paper approach to its design. You take as first principles that the majority of your users have access to the internet, wherever they may be, and design around that.

This is the bit of Tom’s definition of digital that refers to business, or operating, models. One of the best ways to describe this idea is to think about some of the new, digital age companies that have come to have such an impact on our lives:

  • AirBnB is a global hotel company that owns no hotels
  • Uber is a global taxi firm that owns no cars
  • Amazon is a global retail empire that has no (or very few!) actual shops

These companies base their operating model design on the fact that the majority of people have access to the internet the majority of the time. It’s what makes hailing a cab via a smartphone app viable.

True digital transformation does the same thing, but with existing services. Note that this is much harder than it sounds – coming up with workable, transformative operating models isn’t an easy thing to do in the first place, but even less so when a service is live and working already, in a mature organisational setting.

Another issue is that some of the rather trite ways that this is presented – “What is the Uber of social care?” – can be rather off putting – over-simplifying what is an incredibly complex web of interlocking services, providers and funding mechanisms. Nonetheless, sometimes a rather blunt way of expressing a problem space like this (“the AirBnB of emergency accomodation!”) does help people start to think a bit deeper about how they might redesign a service from the ground up in the digital era.

The final consideration I would raise here is that many of the business models of these modern internet companies is also based on their access to many billions of dollars of venture capital funding, which is used to fund fast growth, soak up early losses, and establish brand recognition and market dominance. Public services have no access to such funding, although they do often have a natural monopoly – which while is not the same thing, it could perhaps be leveraged to make an operating model redesign more likely to succeed.

To sum up, true digital transformation is extremely rare, but is the pinnacle of what can be achieved when completely redesigning a service for the internet age. As local public services become increasingly cash-strapped, it’s something that more organisations must start seriously thinking about.


  • Genuinely transformative, creating services built for the digital age that meet users’ expectations
  • The kind of change that is needed to protect local public services in the future
  • You’re likely to attract great people to work on such a project


  • A lot of work. You’ll have to go back to first principles and design out from there, which will take time and effort
  • Risky, there are a lot of opportunities to make missteps, so taking an agile approach will be key to minimising the impact
  • This requires organisation-wide buy in and support, so building a coalition to commit to this will be a massive job

Summing up

Hopefully that helps. The important thing to remember is that there are different ways of approaching digitisation, each with its own balance of risk and reward. Which you choose will depend on a number of factors, including the digital maturity of the whole organisation and the service itself, the people and tech you have access to, the amount of time you have, and the outcomes you need to achieve.

Also, bear in mind that you don’t have to take just one approach. It’s perfectly plausible to start with applying digital access to a service, then evolving it into a digitally redesigned service, all the while plotting a complete transformation further down the line.

Why leaders need to understand digital – and what they really need to know

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Folk in all sectors are being constantly bombarded with instructions to digitally transform their organisations, or calls to digitise services, and to make use of the cloud.

With all these meaningless exhortations, it’s easiest just to ignore them. After all, isn’t this the sort of thing that our IT departments are hired to worry about on our behalf? It’s just computers and software, and dealing with technology is just operational detail!

Well… no, not really. It’s actually absolutely vital that those in leadership positions in councils, whether they be politicians or officers, understand the potential and the pitfalls of embarking on a large-scale digital change programme.

Technology for technology’s sake can lead organisations down the wrong path very easily. That is what makes it so important that leaders provide a vision and understand how that vision is enabled by digital and IT. It’s too important to be left to the technologists!

Digital is fundamentally not just about taking services and putting them online – a classic case of doing the wrong thing righter. Digital is also not guaranteed to save you money. It can save money – but only when it is done well, and that users are happy to take up your new digital services.

Good digital transformation happens when leaders grasp three strategic principles:

Firstly, that digital transformation is in response to people’s raised expectations. Those expectations have been raised by almost everything that has happened to the organisations they interact with, no matter what the sector, in the last decade or so.

People can now open bank accounts on their phones, without needing to speak to a human being or use a pen at any stage. They can set up limited companies in the same way, and tax their cars. Their shopping is done online, they watch television via the internet and they communicate with friends, family and colleagues using voice, text and video on a bewildering variety of apps.

And yet, when it comes to their local council, they still need to download PDF forms, print them out, fill them in and post them back. It still takes days or weeks to get decisions or responses. And all of this is true for the staff working in councils, too. They get as fed up with all the printing, scanning, copying, rekeying and general inefficiency as anyone else.

We have seen the pace at which councils can embrace digital workflows through the pandemic, and that has given both staff and citizens more than a glimpse of what could be.

Meeting these raised expectations is key to the success of digital transformation. You have to meet the needs of your users first. If everything you do in digital is to save money, you will likely end up with digital services that nobody wants to use, and that will result in failure and more expense. Instead, put the user front and centre, design around them, and the organisational benefits will surely follow.

Second, one of the key changes that taking a truly digital approach will make in your organisation is cultural. An organisation cannot succeed in digital transformation with the same culture it has always had. What does this look like?

The culture of the internet age is open. It rewards those that share and collaborate. Think about Wikipedia – an entire encyclopedia written by people giving up their knowledge and time for free. It’s a remarkable achievement, and yet we barely even think about it these days. Likewise, almost the entire internet is built upon software that has been shared openly, often for no cost, with volunteers of all descriptions contributing to fixing bugs and adding functionality. Modern organisations need to operate in similar ways.

The culture is also agile – by which I do not mean hotdesking, or working from home. Agile is a way of delivering work, by focusing on getting products in a usable state as quickly as possible, letting users loose upon it, and then iterating based on feedback. It focuses on starting small and growing from there, and by reducing risk by failing – if you must fail – early, and cheaply. This is in contrast to traditional approaches to technology projects, that see long specifications drawn up, teams disappearing for months or years to implement them, only to re-emerge into a world that has moved on, or one that doesn’t like their interpretation of those requirements.

These are just two examples of digital culture. There are many more, and when put into effect they create happy, well functioning working environments.

Third, that whilst digital can apply to new technology, the real impact is being seen in operating models. AirBnB is a global hotel chain with no hotels. Uber is a worldwide taxi service that owns no cars. Facebook, the world’s most popular media entity, creates no content. This sounds strange, and yet it is true.

This is because these companies have been designed for the internet age. The way they deliver their products and services is predicated on the existence of the internet, and the fact that the vast majority of people can access it pretty much anywhere, and anywhen. Technology enables this, but the genius lies in the way the companies adapt the way they work to fit the new world that the technology has helped to create. After all, Netflix didn’t beat Blockbuster because they had a nicer website – they won because their operating model suited a world where people didn’t need to drive to a shop to rent something to watch.

So what would your services look like if they were designed from scratch, today, by people taking as a foundation that the internet exists? Imbue that vision with the public service ethos to ensure the most vulnerable are still catered for, and you have a plan for really transformative digital work.

Summing up

The really important bits about digital then are not about technology at all, but instead about focusing on people’s needs and expectations, changing your culture, and redesigning your operating models. Digital can deliver savings, but not if that is the overriding consideration above all others, and not if the work is considered an IT project.

Aspirations, culture and operating model design are led from the top – and that’s where you come in.

What content management systems are used in local government?

Just before I went on holiday, I spent a bit of time one evening researching what content management systems (CMSs) are used by local councils in the UK. A CMS is the software that runs a website, just in case you didn’t know.

The results can be found in this Google Spreadsheet, as well as the summary pie chart above. There’s been a lot of discussion about it on Twitter, which you can follow up from the replies to my original tweet.

I need to give a big thanks to everyone who has helped fill in some of the blanks, but a special thank you to Colin Stenning from Bracknell Forest Council, who has combined some previously research he has done, as well as making other updates to clean the whole thing up a lot better.


  • Jadu is the current market leader, with their own commercial product. 70 councils use it, according to the data at the time of writing
  • Umbraco and Drupal are next, showing a strong use of open source software in the sector. These numbers could potentially increase in the next year, particularly with the LocalGovDrupal project proving very popular. Of course, these open source systems will be supported by a range of different agencies and suppliers. It’s hard to estimate the potential size and variety in this market.
  • GOSS ICM comes next, the fourth most popular in total and the second most popular commercial system
  • Then there’s a bit of a drop, and the Consensis CMS comes next.
  • There are several other open source CMSs in use, including WordPress, Squiz, DNN, Liferay and Joomla
  • There are a couple of councils who appear to be rolling their own CMS rather than using something prebuilt (whether commercial or open source). This strikes me as being rather eccentric, but I’m sure they have their reasons.

The answer for poor council websites?

Finally, and most troubling, on my late night wanderings through the world of local council websites, I came across some that are simply dreadful. There are always reasons for these things, of course, and I wouldn’t want to directly criticise any council or team. Cash strapped local authorities can’t afford the web teams or the technology to do much more.

However, there are solutions out there to help. LocalGovDrupal is shaping up to be the council-website-in-a-box that could solve the problem. Or why not take a leaf out of Tewkesbury’s book, and use the £250 a year SquareSpace service? Yes, opportunities for customisation are limited, but at that price you get something modern, responsive and effective – and zero technical hassle.

The method

I took the URLs for the websites of all councils in the UK from this list on the LGA website. It would appear that it isn’t up to date and misses

Those URLs I chucked into a batch process on (it cost me $10). That detected 257 CMSs. I then started visiting each site that was missing, and checked to see for credits on the site itself or clues in the source code and caught another 50 or so. Since sharing the work on Twitter and other places, some folk have come forward to fill in some other blanks, and thanks to Colin there are almost none left now.

Featured image credit: Sigmund on Unsplash

Local authorities that blog

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This is a living list post where I am keeping a note of all the active blogs run by local authorities.

If you have any to suggest that I don’t have listed, please let me know!

Big thanks to the following folk for their suggestions:

The blogs

Adur & WorthingSameRoom"...bringing people together around a shared challenge to create, test and grow solutions that work for our communities"
BarnsleyLocalGovIMSBlog for the MHCLG funded local gov income management project.
Birmingham City Council BirminghamBlog for the digital team at the council.
Blackburn with DarwenDigital and business changeBlog for the digital and business change team at the council.
Bournemouth, Christchurch and PooleBCP DigitalBlog for the digital team at the councils.
Bracknell ForestBracknell Forest Digital ServicesBlog for the digital team at the council.
BuckinghamshireBuckinghamshire Digital ServiceBlog for the digital team at the council.
CroydonCroydon.digitalA blog for the digital sector as a whole in Croydon, including posts from the digital team in the council.
CumbriaCumbria DigitalBlog for the digital team at the council.
DorsetDigital DorsetBlog for the digital team at the council.
EssexService TransformationBlog for the council's service transformation team.
GreenwichDigital blogBlog for the digital team at the council.
HounslowHounslow.digitalBlog for the digital team at the council.
Kingston and SuttonKSDigitalBlog for the digital team at the councils.
Lincoln (et al)Repairs OnlineThe blog for the MHCLG project to improve housing repairs online services.
North East LincolnshireNorth East Lincolnshire Service DesignBlog for the council's service design team.
NorthamptonDigital Northampton"...a collaboration between local digital businesses, the University of Northampton and local councils designed to support digital innovation"
Southwark (et al)BoPS projectBlog for the back office planning system project.
StockportDigital StockportBlog for the digital team at the council.
Welsh Local Government DigitalWales Local Government DigitalThe blog for the office of the CDO for Welsh Local Authorities

Quick and easy service discovery (with template)

Quick and easy service discovery
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This is a nice and easy framework to use when you find yourself needing to do a quick service discovery to find out some basic details about a service and how it can be transformed.

The point at which you might want to use this is right at the start of your digital work, when you either:

  • need to identify a service to work with
  • or have decided which service to work with already, but need to gather some up front information on what you’re dealing with

Whichever way you use it, you’ll find it a really helpful way to have a meaningful conversation with the service owner, that will help you get on the same page really quickly.

Here’s the template:

A preview of the service discovery template

How to use the template

Some quick notes on how to use this – although remember, you are free to do what you like with it!

  • Replace <Name of service> with… oh, you know surely
  • You can delete the link to this post to protect your reputation if you like
  • Add a quick summary of what the purpose of service is – both in terms of the user need and what the organisation needs to achieve
  • Consider the components of the service (whether tech or process based). Leave ticks for those that are needed and crosses for those which aren’t
  • How is the service currently delivered? Again, leave ticks and crosses in the right places
  • Think about the users of the service. Are they
    • Everyday residents?
    • People running their own businesses?
    • Professionals working alongside the organisation, perhaps solicitors, architects, or folk from other public services?
    • Politicians, whether at a local or national level
    • As well as doing the tick and cross thing, add the number of people who use the service every month, to get an idea of the size of this thing
  • Finally do some quick analysis on three criteria:
    • What would the level of benefit be to the end user if we transformed this service? Green for lots, red for little, amber for somewhere in the middle
    • What would the level of benefit be to the organisation (savings, happier staff etc) if we transformed this service? Green for lots, red for little, amber for somewhere in the middle
    • How hard would it be to transform this service? Green for easy, red for nightmare, amber for somewhere in the middle

If you are running this exercise before choosing which service to transform, this analysis will help you decide whether a particular service is a good candidate. If you’ve already fixed on a service to transform, the outcome of this might a) change your mind; or b) decide how to approach it.

Hopefully this comes in handy! Let me know if so 🙂

The roles you really must have on your digital team

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The ideal

The GDS service manual is very clear on the roles required to run a proper multidisciplinary team to deliver digital services. It states that you must have a

  • product manager
  • service owner
  • delivery manager
  • user researcher
  • content designer
  • designer
  • developer

And this is, of course, quite right. Doing good digital work means taking it seriously, and that means resourcing it properly.

Indeed, 7 people doesn’t sound like that many, right? Well, in some organisations where the entire digital and IT team is only 10 people, which includes application support and the helpdesk, it’s huge. And most importantly, it’s never going to happen.

The compromise

In this situation you have to be prepared to compromise. I think you can get this down to three people in terms of a full time digital team, with the need to borrow a bit of time from others to get really specialised stuff done.

What this means though is coming up with some new roles that combine some of those in the GDS list.

First you need someone who understand both digital and services and can work between the two. In a traditional project this would probably be your business analyst, but that won’t quite cut it here. This person needs to be able to do a bit of BA, but also be handy at running user research sessions, writing user stories, and managing the backlog. Some kind of service design thinking would be helpful too, ensuring a focus on building an end-to-end service that delivers on that user need.

In my chat with Ben Unsworth, he mentioned a role in his team called ‘Business Designer’. Now, to be clear, this is NOT the role I describe above, but it is a great title for it!

Second you need someone who can build your digital service for you. This depends on your tech stack of course in terms of the specific skills, but a developer will be the person to do this. Now, in this smaller team, they are likely to need to be skilled in various disciplines, as they are likely responsible for not just the new digital service, but also building the integrations, the workflows, the web forms and so on.

Third, you need an organiser. They will need to be more hands-on than a pure Delivery Manager would be, but would combine elements of that role with more traditional project management activities, including liaising with suppliers and other third parties. The organiser would also pick up some other bits, such as managing the performance of the project, perhaps using OKRs, managing the transition from project to live service and BAU support, and also considering how the success of the service will be judged in the future.

Other specialist roles you either need access to, or some time from up front from, include:

  • Someone to influence others – in smaller organisations, it might well be a good idea to have a sponsoring Director that you can use to get others to toe the line, and to ensure others at the top are making the right decisions, and supporting the work
  • Someone to get the interaction design right – this is such an important element of successful digital services but often gets overlooked. At the very least, hire someone to produce a design system that can be easily followed by your developer
  • Someone to (re)write the web copy – having good content design is absolutely vital to building a successful digital service. Hopefully you will have someone in the web team or the comms department who can help out with this when needed
  • Someone to check what you’ve done – with a small, tight squad, it’s often easy to take pride in your work to the extent that you might miss whether you’ve done the right thing or not. So it’s a good idea to have someone neutral who can do a bit of quality assurance on it. A good way to do this might be to run a service assessment on completed projects before they go live.

Is it ideal to build end-to-end digital services using just a team of 3 people? No! But the reality of the situation in many smaller organisations is that having dedicated product managers and service designers is just never going to happen.

Having a small, motivated and enthusiastic squad of three adaptable multi-skilled people working together on multiple projects, and this building their trust in one another, can really get a lot done. Just as long as they are allowed to focus and don’t get dragged into other stuff all the time!

The thing you mustn’t miss

What I have neglected to mention until now is the vital importance of having committed involvement of the service you are transforming involved in your project. You need both a leader from that department around, to make decisions and to ensure there is strategic buy-in for the changes being made.

Then you’ll also need some front line folk and managers on board so they can give their perspective and also ensure they feel like they are part of the change, and can champion it to their colleagues.

The elephant in the room – capability

The question all this leads us to ask, is where can these three people with this amazing set of skills be found? Are there service designers who can also product manage, user research and process map just sitting around in large numbers, waiting to be called upon?

No, of course not. However, I can pretty much guarantee that somewhere in your organisation, there is a great organiser, an enthusiastic techie and, yes, an eager person who has a really good empathetic understanding of the needs of the users of your services.

I am not intending to diminish the professional importance or ability of the roles described in the GDS service manual. Where possible you should always try and find the budget to employ properly trained and experienced people in what are genuinely specialised roles.

But when you just can’t afford to do that, stick to the maxim that you hire for attitude and train for skills. Find the people who want to do this: those with ideas and the fire in their bellies needed to make change happen – and make sure you support them to give them the skills and experience to help them do a great job – whether through training, coaching and mentoring, or pointing them to websites with loads of sensible technology and digital advice.

Using the local digital declaration to get your digital work going

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The local digital declaration is three years old as I go to keyboard. I was privileged enough to be around at the time it was being put together, had some small input into it, and helped to promote it. I think it is well and truly a good thing.

What it does is define for the whole local government sector what digital is all about. It removes those misunderstandings that digital is just about channel shift, or better websites, or one single other thing. It explains that while good digital is not just about technology, it also is about technology, and how you have to get that and the culture right to make progress.

Hundreds of councils have signed up to it. Many did so, I am sure, because it was a commitment to doing things right, and because they believed in it. I suspect some signed up because they wanted to be in the cool crowd, even though they weren’t really bought into the whole thing. Plenty signed up because it meant they could apply for some funding. That’s a shame, but it’s understandable.

The truth is, signing up to the declaration is easy (thanks to it being a good digital service!). Living up to it is hard, and I would wager that not one single council could really say they are living and breathing every ambition and commitment in there. But that’s ok – it’s fine to be aspirational, as long as you are actively aspiring, and not just doing nothing.

Signing the declaration, or making a big deal of trying to meet all of its statements if you signed it a while ago, is a great way of getting some momentum going on your digital work.

Here’s 5 ways how to get cracking right away:

Use it to get the bosses excited about digital

Get some senior people together on a Teams or Zoom call, and take them through the declaration. Focus on the elements of it that are likely to resonate with them, such as:

  • fixing the plumbing of poorly implemented line of business software and untangling the spaghetti of multiple systems that overlap and don’t talk to each other (apologies for the metaphor mixing)
  • focus on the transformation of organisational culture and ways of working, which will be at the top of many people’s minds, particular now as we exit the lockdown of 2021
  • emphasise the potential for sharing technology, research, experience and knowledge through the network of signatories, including the great funded projects that can be tapped into
  • maybe mention the funding too if there’s still some available. Free money always goes down well

Encourage the leadership that this presents a clear to do list to become a sector leader in digital, as long as there is some commitment to making it happen – and maybe have a few small exmaples up your sleeve of things you could get on with quickly, and can report back to show progress.

Start blogging

A key part of the declaration is bringing the really positive open working culture of the internet age into our organisations. The best way to do that? Start blogging.

Seriously, it is not hard – and it is a great test of your mettle as a change agent in your organisation, and of your organisation’s commitment to the digital agenda, particularly if the culture where you work is one where blogging is a tricky thing to get started with.

There are loads of models to follow, but the really easy one to do, I would suggest, is:

  • register a blog at – it’s free and easy, and you don’t need to ask permission to do it. Call it something like [Name of Council] Digital – simples.
  • write some weeknotes. Just a quick bulleted list of what you’ve done that week, if your nervous, or try something more contemplative if you’re confident about it. Check out the web of weeknotes site operated by Matt Jukes for inspiration.
  • when you’ve published a few posts, show your boss and explain how it helps meet the declaration thing you spoke at with them a few weeks ago. Ask if you can email a link to your weeknote to the leadership team every week to get them interested

Boom! You’re on your way to an open, digital culture. Now get cracking on laptop stickers and posters.

Run some service assessments

Sometimes this is seen as an incredibly daunting thing to do, but actually done the right way service assessing is a great way of introducing people to what is really important in delivering good digital services.

Now, for those working with very estblishment outfits like GDS and others, service assessments can be pretty formal gateway style checkpoints, to prevent poor digital services from going live. That’s exactly how it should be for such organisations, but if you’re just starting out, then a bit of compromise is needed.

Instead, use the service assessment process to demonstrate to folk across your organisation what good looks like, and how much of a positive impact just doing a bit of user research could have, or how we could be really sure our information security is spot on, or indeed how we could have saved money if we’d just used that thing IT bought last year, rather than buying another new thing just for this service.

Find some enthusiastic friendly folk to be on your panel. If you can find someone from another organisation who has done it before, all the better. People don’t need to be digital experts, they just need to be interested and curious, and maybe have had a read of the service standard beforehand, and be good at asking sensible questions.

At the end, rather than a strict go/no go decision on whether the service can go live, you’ll have a list of improvement that could be made to it, or maybe a checklist of things to do on the next service you’ll work on.

At Croydon we did a very early service assessment on our own digital blog which was a great, low risk place to start. Here’s the summary report which gives a flavour, and how it’s not that scary a process, not really.

Get involved in a funded project

The declaration fund enabled a lot of projects to get going, and several of them have survived into being in a usable state. That sounds like faint praise, but it isn’t – it’s only right as you go through the cycle of discovery to alpha then beta then live that some stuff drops out along the way. We can’t do everything all the time, after all.

Take a look through, especially those that made it to the beta phase, as these really ought to be thing you can make use of. I’m particularly proud of LocalGovDrupal – an open source, website in a box for councils that is now being used by several councils, including Brighton and Croydon.

If you’re at the right stage to make use of something built by the sector for the sector, then that has to be a great win for you, your organisation and your digital plans.

Join some networks and start sharing

Collaboration is key to the declaration, which is music to my ears. It’s what drives SensibleTech, after all, and inspires me to share this stuff with you all.

You can get together with others in exactly the same position as you in other organisations up and down the country by connecting through groups such as LocalGovDigital and OneTeamGov. There’s also a bunch of helpful people on Twitter who you can track down and LinkedIn can be useful too for meeting folk and finding out what others are up to.

Also take a look at the events that folk like Nick Hill run, which are free and provide loads of opportunities to meet and learn from others.

If you’re nervous and not sure where to start with joining some of these network, just yell, I’d be happy to introduce you.

Creating simple user personas

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Personas are a great place to start with user centred design, particularly if the whole practice is new to your organisation. This is because they can provide a quick and cheap way of ensuring your project puts the different types of user at the heart of your service design process.

Personas are fictional representations of the different types of potential users of your service. Well written ones can bring the important user types to life, which is why it helps to make them as realistic as possible. They also help to give the project team focus, by constantly reminding them of what really matters to their users. Finally, they are a great way of engaging stakeholders with your work, introducing personality and something relatable.

They can have their downsides though:

  • often personas aren’t based on user research, but assumptions
  • they can sometimes focus on what user’s want rather than what they need
  • they can get stale quickly – don’t fall into the trap of not updating them or using the same personas over and over again
  • They should not be the only form of user centred design that is used in a project – personas are not a shortcut or a tick in a box

So make sure you use them properly, and most importantly of all – do your research first!

To make your life easier, here is a simple template to use for your user personas. Feel free to amend it in any way you like to make it work for you.

Hope it’s useful!

Matching user needs with tech capabilities

Photo by Patrik Michalicka on Unsplash

Something that I have found helps an awful lot is having a simple way to match identified user needs with the technology capabilities needed to meet them.

It helps in two main ways:

  • by encouraging people to consider the user needs they are trying to meet before thinking about technology solutions (always tempting, but dangerous!)
  • by reinforcing the message about capability-based technology delivery, as opposed to always thinking in terms of single monolithic systems

By considering user needs first, then identifying individual capabilities to meet them, it’s possible to come up with solutions that are more likely to succeed and can often be cheaper and quicker to implement.

A good example of when I used this was when I was advising on a new intranet project. The initial requirements list had all sorts of stuff in it – HR policies, telephone directory, social networking, better collaboration (whatever that means!), and loads of others.

I was able to break it down into the needs we were trying to meet, and then come up with the technology capavilities to meet those needs. I found that adding an extra translation layer betwene the teo – tasks – helped with doing this. Here’s an example below:

  • User need: I need to know if my pay will increase this April
  • Task: quickly and easily access details of pay grades and scales, via search or navigation
  • Technology capability: publish pages of content

Pretty obvious perhaps. But let’s look at another need:

  • User need: I would like to understand the organisation’s policy on remote working
  • Task: find and read a policy document
  • Technology capability: share and manage versions of documents

Now, traditionally both of these things are requirements for an intranet. But broken down in this way, we can understand that we need an intranet to publish pages of content, but perhaps for the sharing of formal documents, a more specific capability is needed?

I then add a fourth column, which outlines the potential technology to deliver the capability. In the latter case, this could be a system such as Sharepoint or Google Drive, which may already exist in the organisation.

By following this process through with all the identified user needs, you’ll end up with a list of what technology you’ll need, along with a map of what you already have that can do those things, and where you have gaps.

To make it super easy, here’s a Google Doc template, with a worked example for the intranet, that you can copy and make use of.

Hope that’s useful!