Councils are coordinating and delivering remarkable digital solutions to address the multitude of challenges for a council in 21st Century. We have seen the local government sector pool its resources, respond to new problems and innovate solutions. Here is a selection of best practice from the sector.
- Addressing cyber security gaps in a heightened risk environment (Bexley)
Never has the work of councils been so vital to the most vulnerable in our society, and never have the digital communications and services that councils’ use been so critical to their efforts. Yet even at this busy time it’s worth remembering that cyber threats have not gone anywhere, and many criminals will see the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to extort ransoms. This fact – when combined with the increase in vulnerabilities that distance working and new partnerships bring, and our increased reliance on digital services – means that the risk associated with a cyber incident is greater than ever. The London Borough of Bexley provides an insight into the cyber security gaps which led them to seek a major change of strategy, and how the team overcame these challenges and significantly raised its level of cyber security.
- Achieving for Children
Achieving for Children is a community interest company (a not-for-profit social enterprise) created in 2014 by the Royal Borough of Kingston and the London Borough of Richmond to provide their children’s services. In August 2017, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead became a co-owner of AfC, and we now deliver children’s services across all three boroughs.
With increased demand and pressure on children’s services, and finite resources to support this, Achieving for Children has embarked on an automation project, using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology. Acting as a digital assistant, RPA allows staff to shift their focus onto high value tasks instead of working on tasks that are manual and repetitive.
The aim of this work has been to:
- Improve and increase productivity
- Improve service quality
- Improve customer service
- Have more efficient workflow processes
- Allow workers to focus on high value tasks and/or frontline work
- Save costs
They are currently in the pilot phase of the project and have so far achieved the automation of police and online referrals that come through to the Single Point of Access (SPA) service. This was previously dealt with manually by contact officers, who were required to take information from referral forms and input this onto our case management system before allocating to work trays. This work took up the bulk of the contact officers’ day-to-day work, and had to be prioritised above all other duties.
- The benefits of the automation for the SPA service are intended to be the following:
- Having fewer people accessing inboxes to extract referrals, which will increase confidentiality and reduce the risk of information being missed, moved or deleted.
- By automating the tasks, the SPA service should be able to improve the service, by sending through clearer and more analytical work.
- Having more consistent and detailed information available in the case management system through robotically added comments that are available without drilling down, particularly concerning the type of referral and additional considerations that only come to light when comparing information from different sources.
- The Service should no longer have to deal with a backlog of information that is received over the weekends as these will have been processed overnight, by the bot, before staff arrive.
- The contact officers should be able to focus on more high value tasks.
- A user-centred Back-office Planning System (BoPS) for local authorities (Various)
Back-office Planning System (BoPS) is an open, collaborative local authority project funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MCHLG) Local Digital Fund, and led by Southwark Council & Partners.
The aim is to create a user-centred back-office town planning system that uses accurate, up-to-date records and data to increase efficiency across the planning application process and satisfy the needs of end users (Planning Officers).
For more information visit BoPS digital website.
- City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council: ‘Virtual Bradford – an open digital twin for the City of Bradford
Digital twins are an excellent tool that can be used to create what-if scenarios and enable data-driven decision making, which will be explored by the Council and others.
A digital twin for Bradford has always been an aspiration, however this is where Bradford firmly takes a step forward into the Digital Twin, Digital Revolution.
In 2017 Bradford signed up to a European Union funded project, Smart Cities + Open Data Re-use (SCORE), which is a partnership between nine cities and three universities including Amsterdam, Aarhus, Aberdeen, Bergen, Bradford, Dordrecht, Ghent, Gothenburg, Hamburg, University of Amsterdam, Aarhus University and University of Bradford. Collectively the partners develop innovative solutions based on open data and focus on sharing insights and methodologies for developing better public services.
The challenge was to create an open source, free from copyright, digital twin of Bradford that can be maintained by the Council and others. This essentially creates a 4D digital twin of Bradford to adapt to the dynamics of a richly diverse and evolving city. The digital twin will also have its own open-source data sharing platform that will be available to download free of charge from GitHub. All of this ensures that this challenge can be replicated elsewhere in the world.
Consultancy companies often create these digital twins on behalf of councils, as part of other projects/tenders. However, these are normally subject to copyright, are subject to vendor lock-in, and are therefore restrictive for local authorities to maintain. A council producing its own, open source, free from copyright, maintainable digital twin has the potential to facilitate reinvestment and expansion of the digital twin.
The approach has proven to be unlike any other related commercial contract that the Council team have previously entered into, with the ongoing partnership representing so much more since the team delivering this are based in Bradford and they want the best for the City.
The potential to stimulate growth, regeneration and innovation in and for Bradford is ultimately the aim for the digital twin. Whilst work is still in train to deliver the Virtual Bradford project it is not yet possible to realise or measure the full impact of the digital twin. However, it is already apparent that the digital twin will have a multitude of uses far beyond those that the Council originally envisaged. The Council will endeavour to return to this document and update it in 12 months.
For more information – please contact email@example.com
- Digital Dorset – help us shape the future of rural communities
Connectivity and digital issues are hot topics in rural areas, especially in the wake of the global COVID 19 pandemic which saw a massive increase in demand for technology, connectivity and digital services. Read more about the session: Digital Dorset - help us shape the future of rural communities.
- Focus Gov – Care Leavers App
Since 2014 Focus Gov has created digital services within social care and has quadrupled the number of local authorities they work with. The Care Leavers App helps Children's Services and Leaving Care Teams to engage their care leavers, provide key information such as the Local Offer and provide key services at their fingertips.
Following extensive research with young people Focus Gov were informed that support ‘dropped off a cliff’ when they left care. Focus Gov identified technology that young people use day to day and created the Care Leavers App.
Each local authority is able to customise their own app, including the look and feel and content. All Care Leavers Apps are co-produced with care leavers who get involved through a series of engagement and participation workshops.
The services that the Care Leavers App offers include:
- Information and advice - customisable sections of information, advice and guidance across a range of topics including housing, entitlements, managing money, health and wellbeing and preparing to leave care.
- Secure messaging
- Creation and publication of digital surveys
- Regional apprenticeships
- Emergency contacts - mini-address book for storing contact details of important people
- A calendar of events, helping care leavers get into their community and reduce social isolation.
- 100 different languages and accessibility features.
Analytics are provided to local authorities in real-time through an online dashboard, on a downloadable basis and in quarterly reviews with your account manager Focus Gov can provide analytics such as how many downloads the app has had and how popular each section of the apps is with care leavers.
The roadmap for the Care Leavers App, includes several new features including a Digital Pathway Plan, Embedded Care Outcomes Tools and one-to-one video messaging. Focus Gov often partners with local authorities on a pilot / early adopter partnership basis to roll out innovative tech and new functionality.
For more information on the care leavers app or for an informal conversation about a project idea you might have, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Greater Manchester Combined Authority – Local Full Fibre Networks Programme
In March 2020, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) secured a world-class digital infrastructure through biggest government full-fibre investment in the UK. Through the appointment of Virgin Media Business, up to 2,700km of new fibre optic broadband infrastructure is set be delivered across the region. The £23.8M (plus other local authority funded) Local Full Fibre Networks Programme will connect more than 1,500 public sites across the city-region.
This is the result of close partnership working between GMCA, Greater Manchester’s local authorities, Fire & Rescue Services and Transport for Greater Manchester and is backed by millions of pounds of funding from central government.
This new investment, plus existing local authority investments in digital infrastructure, make this the UK’s largest Local Full Fibre Networks Programme and will underpin a wide range of digital transformation and smart city projects.
When securing the bid, GMCA understood the importance of region wide economic and social value benefits. The scale of this project was only realised beyond the securement of the funding. Originally, the project priorities focussed a lot on filling gaps of connectivity, over time this significantly grew into bringing all local authorities together.
Stakeholder engagement was a key part of the programmes success. A huge amount of work and 1:1 sessions with IT, economic development and finance leads through looking at the whole package and working closely with each of Greater Manchester’s ten local authorities, Transport for Greater Manchester and the Greater Manchester Health & Social Care Partnership, supporting these organisations in developing their own bespoke business cases to reflect their own local and organisational assets. Improved connectivity with multidisciplinary teams and join up networks have always existed, but the focus was needed to allow the investments to succeed.
Communications has been a key driver in the success of the programme. A toolkit was created to ensure that accessible information was available to all local authorities and stakeholders across the region. Elements of social value are emphasised in the communications that are shared, allowing the information to become more humanised and relevant to the intended audiences understanding of the project and its purpose. The toolkit is updated every two months and shared with relevant communication leads from all stakeholders involved, and project leads within each local authority area, encouraging them to issue their own localised communication.
GMCA feel that their communications method and approach has been so successful not only due to the various campaigns and press releases, but also the investment in time and promotion in the topic from involved and stakeholders from across the region which have illustrated clear positive outcomes in the programmes development.
This LFFN programme across Greater Manchester is the most successful example across all regions in England. The city region continues to commit and design world class connectivity and infrastructure for all of its population. For more information on this programme, visit the GMCA's webpage
- North Yorkshire County Council – Smart parking
January 2019 saw the first rollout of an end-to-end smart parking system in the town of Harrogate, which had growing issues with congestion for both residents and visitors.
The initiative brought environmental improvements, as well as social and economic benefits.
Working in partnership with North Yorkshire County Council and the provider, Appy Parking, Harrogate Borough Council identified the key areas and spaces that were available and installed in-road parking sensors. Drivers then used an app to locate a free space and to pay seamlessly for their parking. This proved to be more time and cost-efficient and to improve overall customer satisfaction. More than 2,200 sensors were installed across on-street and off-street parking locations. Up to the end of August 2020, more than 14,500 people had used the system for 146,000 parking sessions.
Over the 18-month pilot, 627 smart parking users were surveyed by email. Of these:
- 83 per cent say that using smart parking alleviated stress normally associated with using a pay and display machine.
- 93 per cent say that smart parking is more convenient than using a pay and display machine.
- 89 per cent believe a smart parking solution makes parking easier.
- 74 per cent think the ability to pay for parking via an app is an important requirement for residents.
The smart parking trial also supported a positive vision for the town centre, with feedback stating:
- 62 per cent of users say they stay longer in Harrogate town because they don’t have to worry about a pay and display ticket expiring.
- 60 per cent of users were more likely to park in Harrogate because they can pay in-app
The smart parking trial has resulted in fewer miles being driven in Harrogate town centre, having a positive impact on the environment:
- 32 per cent of users now check availability in-app before they arrive at their destination.
- 56 per cent of users have saved time finding a car parking space. This has inevitably led to fewer miles driven in the town and reduced CO2 emissions.
- 23 per cent of users think live availability has helped reduce congestion caused by cars looking for parking.
From March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic meant less activity in the area, with fewer visitors to the town. However, from detailed analysis of data and user feedback the trial of smart parking in Harrogate was deemed successful. Information collated during the trial suggests that smart parking:
- Improves customer experience
- Benefits the local economy
- Benefits the environment
- Improves operational and strategic insight
- Is financially beneficial to both users and the Local Authorities
Due to the benefits identified through a smart parking solution, there is an appetite to identify and rollout a scalable solution across North Yorkshire. North Yorkshire County Council is interested to hear from other local authorities that have been working on or are planning similar smart parking initiatives to inform their research and development.
For more information and an informal conversation, please contact Jon.Savage@northyorks.gov.uk
- Open Source Revenue and Benefits systems – a reality?
Revenue and Benefits Alpha project 2022 – funded by Local Digital
I last wrote an article for the IRRV in 2020 when we were successful in obtaining Local Digital funding for a discovery project working in partnership with five other councils to determine the feasibility of an open source Revenue and Benefits system.
Now, in 2022 we have been successful in obtaining further funding from DLUHC for the Alpha phase of the project, working with Sedgemoor, Basildon and Brentwood, Leeds, East Devon councils, and consultants @MadeTech.
A lot has changed in the world since then but some of the frustrations and concerns around the current Revenue and Benefits systems offer unfortunately still remain. In 2020 local authorities identified key concerns with the current offers, whilst accepting that they met the statutory requirements and ultimately customers were paid their benefits. Those concerns were:
- An out of touch user experience
- Systems performance with workarounds the norm. Partners estimated an average of between six and 15 per cent of Revs and Bens staff time is spent on manual workaround
- Spiralling costs with the average system are £138k per year (collectively £42.6million)
- A desire for a more modular and flexible approach with greater integration
- A need for a new service model
At the end of 2020 into 2021 Revenue and Benefits teams were faced with a new set of challenges. New schemes were launched to help struggling businesses and vulnerable customers. Seven business grant schemes, test and trace support and council tax hardship payments to be administered and paid ASAP.
Some councils found that they could not configure their existing Revenue and Benefits systems to respond quickly, and there were delays with suppliers developing their own solutions (at a cost).
Other platforms were used to develop customer forms and automate processing, notifying customers of updates on their claims and processing payments. This was achieved by downloading data from the Revenue and Benefits systems and developing forms and processes to cross reference with this data rather than using the systems themselves or purchasing third party add-ons.
Despite Covid pressures, Sedgemoor have invested in the last two years in rebuilding their Revenue and Benefits system and undertaking user acceptance testing for their first module, Business Rates. The new system is:
- being rebuilt as open source
- componentised and cloud native
- has layers for data, business logic, interfaces and user interface
- has APIs for every feature of each layer
- has APIs to connect to enterprise platforms including identity management, records and document management, workflow and payments
- multi tenanted for immediate core functionality updates
- separates core functionality from localised policies
- enables each council to configure their use of the system to suit their needs, and local environment
Reflecting on the findings of the Discovery project, the purpose of the Alpha set out to demonstrate that migration is possible, and provide evidence of the level of risk by:
- Testing migration and interoperability - proving that data can be transformed and loaded into the Sedgemoor system, and connect to local enterprise components e.g. CRM, Payments, Document Management, Workflow.
- Proposing governance, support and sustainability - setting up and testing a community of practitioners and developers, and giving assurance that the system will continue to be developed and enhanced. Building value-added services such as training and support and testing options for a funding model are also key elements.
- Improving customer experience - demonstrating that the digital and interoperable features of the SDC system can lead to a better, more joined up experience both for business rate customers and staff.
We’re working in an open and agile way: the change and progress is rapid and, of course at times, unpredictable! Currently we have hosted the Sedgemoor system in azure and data mapping business rates data from one council’s existing supplier’s system to migrate into the Sedgemoor system. ! If successful, the financial, digital and customer benefits could be significant.
This is no mean feat as migration is seen as one of the biggest barriers to local authorities adopting a new system. Whilst a new system supplier could have access to a council’s raw business rates or benefits data, they may not have access to the ‘source code’ that creates and processes the data, nor will they have the full database documentation. Possibly the legacy supplier may decline to provide it.
On a positive note it looks like the migration of data from one supplier is looking promising, but we are still in negotiation with the other legacy supplier to see if they are willing to assist us.
If you’d like to see how we’re doing and would like to be kept fully in the loop, please register your interest on our website at openrb.localgov.blog and check out Slack at LocalGovDigital #revbensalpha
Amanda Pujol, Head of Community Services and Improvement, Teignbridge District Council
- Public Switched Telephone Networks
Local authorities across the UK own a multitude of assets that rely on communications technology to keep in contact with business, customers and third parties.
Over the past decades, reliance on ‘legacy’ technology – such as telephone lines – has diminished, as an abundance of emerging technologies have replaced solitary phone lines. Read more about Wirral Council’s take on this.
- Wigan Council – Digital Wigan and Tech Mates
During the Coronavirus pandemic, Wigan Council identified an opportunity to keep their residents digitally connected through their Digital Wigan programme. At a time when some of the most vulnerable were detached from their local community, the Tech Mates initiative provided a lifeline to those who needed support.
The programme is a digital mentor service run by local volunteers and council staff. It was introduced and developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to prevent isolation for some of the borough’s most vulnerable residents.
The programme provides one-to-one basic digital support via digital platforms such as telephone, Facetime, Zoom and MS Teams, to prevent isolation for the most vulnerable residents who are unable to leave their homes. The service also aids residents to develop and learn skills of using digital technologies such as smartphones, tablets, computers and laptops which has enabled digital literacy and confidence across the borough to grow. From helping people to get online, to educating families on how to stay safe online and teaching children to code. The Wigan digital community can help everyone embrace digital technology safely and confidently.
The programme tackles social exclusion as well as digital inclusion and has evolved into a digital community partnership involving organisations such as Wigan and Leigh Carers and Think Ahead Stroke. The upskilling of residents has created less reliance on council services. This feeds into the council’s five year strategy of improving connectivity in the borough by making sure:
- People can access a wide range of digital learning, skills and educational resources
- Businesses can connect with each other and develop opportunities to grow their market
- People can access health and wellbeing services across the borough
- All our residents and businesses can interact digitally with our key services
Through funding from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, a lending library for tablets will be made available for residents. Dependant on their needs, residents are being buddied up with volunteers and council staff to provide the services that they specifically need. This can range from online food shopping, keeping in touch with friends and family, regular wellbeing and check in call’s, and upskilling one’s own personal development by looking for employment opportunities.
Wigan Council is open to networking with councils and/ or organisations who would be interested in finding out more on this initiative, or who have begun to roll out digital transformation programmes across a local community. For more information please contact - T.Boffey@wigan.gov.uk
Internet of Things
- Assistive technology scheme (Leicestershire)
Leicestershire County Council, in partnership with five local district and borough councils (Charnwood, Blaby, North West Leicestershire, Hinckley and Bosworth, Oadby and Wigston) are launching a pilot project for 50 individuals to participate in an assistive technology scheme to help people with dementia live at home independently for longer.
The council has selected MySense Ltd as the supplier for this pilot to deliver the service. It will be delivered through an Internet of Things (IoT) gateway installed into the participant’s home to monitor certain aspects of the individual’s daily routine and activities. The information collected is transferred and collated to a dashboard available to the Council and also on an App for close friend or family member of the individual to view.
The information collected by the gateway is gathered from sensors that are located throughout the house to identify movement or activity. For instance, sensors measure when the bathroom door is opened, or the fridge was accessed. The scheme also provides a smart plug that connects to the kettle so it can indicate when it has been used. The MySense product includes a sleep sensor fitted under the mattress, to identify sleeping patterns and a wearable device that monitors heart rate and steps.
The pattern of behaviour for the individual are learnt by the system, which allows for issues of concern to be identified as well as a timeline of activity. Those with access to the App and dashboard will receive an overview of daily patterns and will be notified immediately via text of any alerts. This notification system will provide real time information if certain patterns have been disrupted, to ensure the individual is living as safely and independently as possible at home.
The pilot was launched in October and will be delivered for the next 6 months, after which the Council will look to evaluate the success and impact of the scheme on those taking part. The evaluation will survey carers, friends and families about the scheme and the Councils will review the data and outcomes over the 6 month period.
Contact: Katy Griffith Project Manager – Assistive Technology email@example.com
- Launching an app to aid the town's recovery (Middlesbrough)
In response to Covid-19 pandemic, Middlesbrough Council have launched a new app to aid the town’s commercial, cultural and social recovery during further lockdown restrictions.
The council had established thematic working groups with local stakeholders to work on different sectors of accommodating recovery and renewal in the face of covid-19 challenges. The combined recovery group focusing on the business sector and town centre was made up of local universities, federation of SMEs, Colleges, council officers and a consultant from the local tech cluster.
This recovery group sought to launch an app that would host information on the town centre’s shops, restaurants and cafes in a move designed to boost the accessibility and real time information on local businesses that often lags behind the usual online search engines.
Furthermore, the group wanted an app that did not duplicate but add a quality of information to an already crowded space in the covid-19 narrative. The app therefore embraced a smart places agenda to create hub for data inputs to produce a reliable source of visualised information.
The Visit Middlesbrough App provides important travel and safety information to encourage a controlled return to the town centre using sensors to track footfall to allow the most vulnerable and shielded people plan their visits by highlighting the quietest and safer times of the day. The app is also working to integrate rail and bus company timetables that also provides a seat counter to let residents know the busier times for the public transport system.
Users will also have the latest news from the council immediately at their fingertips with push notifications to receive up to date covid-19 information directly.
The App rather than developing a completely new map system, integrates google maps information and interface to provide easy and direct access to local business websites, contact details and opening times. The council want to make it as easy as possible for residents to find relevant information given the ever-changing environment with restrictions. The app also has accessibility options for text size and day/night mode to ensure the usability is as easy as possible.
Through a £20k fund the council onboarded Dominic, Lusardi, digital consultant/project manager, and supplier MCD, a Digital Product Engineering Company based in Middlesbrough's Boho Zone, who have offered extensive support and development opportunities for council staff to learn the skills to update and work on the app through a wireframe structure that ensures a high level of content management for the app.
Moving forward the council and recovery group are seeking out new opportunities to develop the app by including a ‘What’s on Guide’ when lockdown restrictions make this possible. This would include events profiles, QR codes or beacons for front of house in shops that will be accommodated with discounts and offers to encourage residents to return to shops, businesses and cultural venues.
The app is available for free on the Apple App Store and Google Play. Search ‘Visit Middlesbrough'.
Sam Gilmore, Head of Economic Growth, Sam_Gilmore@middlesbrough.gov.uk
Dominic Lusardi firstname.lastname@example.org
- Community funding campaign (Gedling)
Gedling Borough Council’s recent funding campaign has drawn in substantial funding in support of local residents in need of food during the crisis. The campaign funding target, which started at £20,000, was met within the first 48 hours and this target was subsequently revised as £25000. This target was also achieved and resources are now being distributed to food banks supporting the council’s COVID-19 response.
The campaign’s success is owed, in part, to clear and simple campaign strategy, involving multiple technologies and handful of messages, shared via different platforms. Spacehive provided the crowd funding platform and campaign messaging was spread through traditional press, social media and, most effectively, email. Using multiple platforms helped the council to engage a more diverse audience and maximise reach.
The campaign email was sent to 19,000 subscribers, had a 51% open rate (9,620 users) and the link was clicked through by nearly 1,000 users. The email had a strong, emotive subject line and a clear call to action. The council used the image of a local foodbank in the email and created strong branding around our ‘Giving for Gedling’ logo, which was used for several campaigns as part of the COVID-19 response. The familiarity of this branding helped to reassure residents that the email came from a trusted source and therefore ameliorate concerns it might be a scam.
The social media aspect of the campaign was managed through Orlo, an online engagement platform, involving three main platforms, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The posts were short, with a strong brand and clear call to action. Facebook proved the most successful as it used by most community members.
The communications and broader strategy surrounding this campaign were developed by the council’s communications team in collaboration senior management and leadership.
The non-technological aspects of this campaign are explored under Finance and economics on our good council practice page.
- Culture at home (Craven)
Skipton Town Hall, run by Craven District Council, has put together “Culture At Home”, a huge collection of online resources for arts and culture. The Craven Museum team has also been running an online roadshow, showcasing their own most-loved treasures from home, via social media, and encouraging other Craven residents to do the same.
- Plymouth Good Neighbours scheme (Plymouth)
Plymouth City Council have helped community groups and charities gain access to resources they need—including buildings, fleet services and volunteers—through the Plymouth Good Neighbours Scheme. The council run initiative achieves this via an online platform, which invites these groups to raise specific support requests, while asking potential volunteers (individuals and businesses) to share what skills and resources they have to offer. Using this information, the council are able to facilitate suitable matches between those who offer support and those who request it. The result is a mutually effective COVID-19 response – supported by community groups and charities with greater access to the resources they need and volunteers, deployed in ways that match their skills and interests.
The platform also invites individuals and groups to share ways that they are currently supporting the community. This information is collected to help avoid acts of duplication that might otherwise lead to a waste of resources.
- Remote council meetings (Various)
Despite these unprecedented times, local authorities still need to deliberate and make decisions about the future of their localities, enable democratic participation from applicants and residents, maintain momentum on major developments in their boundaries while adhering to social distancing and new government regulations during the COVID-19 emergency. The LGA’s case Remote Council Meetings: Case studies hub sets out notable examples and resources of councils that have piloted virtual meetings using various video conferencing platforms, including Zoom and Microsoft Teams, signposting you to key points to consider and contacts.
- Virtual family court proceedings (Dorset)
Dorset Council have worked with local judges and numerous internal stakeholders to embed a digital solution to enable Family Courts to continue despite the lockdown restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 outbreak. Family Courts provide vital services to the children and families of Dorset and are a vital cog in the process in ensuring the most vulnerable children can be safeguarded through issuing proceedings under the Children Act. Hearings within the family court are not traditionally run electronically, requiring, in most cases, physical face to face meetings involving social workers, judges, the other parties to proceedings and legal representatives.
Dorset were requested by the local Designated Family Judge on Wednesday 18 March to provide an electronic solution to enable the provision of safeguarding, with a deadline set for Monday 23 March. The responsibility for this would usually fall with the courts; however the court was not able to facilitate the processes required, so passed responsibility to the local authority. Though the council had limited requirements and was not familiar with all the necessary stakeholders, the first court hearing was able to take place the following day.
The council has attributed this achievement to the following:
- Quickly building relationships and establishing a common collaborative internal team across Children’s Services, the Child Care Legal Team, ICT, Property and Estates – primarily through MS Teams.
- Understanding the problem– must have MVP requirements, documenting a process to elicit requirements and identify misunderstandings ASAP:
- Hearing must be recorded
- Hearings can last a whole day
- Available for judges, social workers, other parties and legal representatives
- Some parties may not have access to the required technology – venues needed where they can easily join the hearing
- Working with colleagues to ascertain tools that could meet the requirement, adopting common sense and pragmatism – the decision was to use Skype, which at the Council is a tried and tested technology (Dorset Council had only recently started to use MS Teams and staff did not yet have expertise in the platform; and their Skype rooms did not then support MS teams – for this reason, MS Teams was discounted).
- Skype recording - Skype Video conferencing units with 1 room in Weymouth 1 in Ferndown – available to be booked by DC on behalf of families and their solicitors. The Skype rooms are simple to use – with one click, participants can join the meeting. It is understood that Dorset was the first local authority in the UK to provide this level of support to parents in care proceedings, something which was recognised by the senior judiciary;
- Skype calls working with the judges and DC legal teams – training them on the calls
- 1:1 Training and support for key users- Judges, legal admin
- Adapting to changing requirements – after go live, the requirement emerged that legally the judge needed to record the call rather than the DC legal admin’ team. DC enabled federated access for our legal admin staff which allows the judges, who sit in a different organisation to record (note MS Teams does not allow this).
Reflecting on the implementation of the new system, the Dorset Council have highlighted that a good understanding and prioritisation of requirements is essential to a successful agile delivery need to exercise common sense and pragmatism (focus on the most important requirements first and be prepared to adapt to evolving needs). With this, they have impressed the importance of pulling together a design for review and comment as early as possible; adding that “often issues get picked up at this early stage rather than post development – in our case we documented a process map and shared it”. A further learning takeaway was that the customer should remain the focal point. In this case, that meant ensuring hearings could continue, with appropriate tools to get the job done and ensure that safeguarding responsibilities could continue – “bells and whistles can always follow”.
Having made the system work in the current environment, the council are looking to it might be continued; including whether the solution can adopt capabilities from other platforms. With the easing of lockdown measures, the future direction of this work will hinge on what the court decides but the Council have expressed in enthusiasm toward working with Judges and the Court IT and admin’ teams to achieve whatever is required to secure the best outcomes for children and others within the legal system.
Justin Hoffmann, Programme Manager, Digital and Change, Dorset Council email@example.com
Hi everyone I'm Justin Hoffman and I'm a programme manager at Dorset council and I work within the council's digital and change team and, like Gareth, you know I've sort of been thinking back over four months how much the world has changed and remember four months the day that they announced the lockdown colleagues and I thought this would be a good good time to have a real good play and see, see what we can get out of Microsoft Teams and we just sat down and we we took the opportunity just to try a few things out just as a white board and making sure that basically the video conferencing side of things was all working well, little do we know that a couple of weeks ago everyone would be using it.
Actually on that same day I ended up ringing around local food banks as well and it's it's been amazing how everyone across the whole country's adapted and done different things, I was ringing around food banks giving them donations for a thousand pounds just to get them up and running but literally the day after that the digital requirements really did start and I got involved in two main pieces of work one which I'm going to go over today which is about the family courts and this is the gist of what the slides are about.
I also want to go a little bit about what we did within our community shields piece the community shield was, well it's an amazing piece of work which the council operate with all its partners and volunteer sector and it was about ensuring that our public remains safeguarded so we had shielded people from our shielded list we had customers who were ringing us who might have a social care need they may need to take, support with bathing for example they may need their dog walked or shopping done or in significant cases they may need urgent or food and medication needs the council really adapted very quickly with colleagues across multi-agency, to put in place solutions and I was brought in a couple of weeks in with a couple other colleagues to see if we could try and join all those processes together and the approach we took is much the same as what we take with the family courts in that we were able to to listen to people and join up processes and we've actually ended up with an end-to-end system which is taking contacts from the outset and actually delivering and tracking those contacts all the way through to delivery including through to delivery within our volunteer sector so we've actually joined up with our volunteer sector and it is sort of a fantastic opportunity to think in the future to take that further forwards.
But if I move on to my first side what I really want to talk to you about is the family courts so bear with me as the slide transitions. Right so with family courts children's and family still needs to be safeguarded despite what happened with Covid-19 and part of the way we do that is through issuing proceedings under the Children's Act but the judiciary which is traditionally a face-to-face meeting organisation and for as long as, yeah, basically forever that's been the process couldn't, they could no longer accept face-to-face meetings overnight and we still needed to ensure that our children remain safeguarded so we received a request could we support them in trying to get the family courts up and running and keeping that service, service running getting that service running as soon as possible and we were literally given five days to get that, that started but we had no brief, no requirements the limits of what we had were that we needed a solution in place to enable the courts to run and from our children services directorate they requested that could we enable people to access the service who not don't necessarily have technology at home, so that was a limit of our requirements and the other thing which I think many of you will come across is that none of the stakeholders has passed across before so not only were we having to deliver something really quickly we hadn't met with anyone before, and we didn't have the ability to meet face to face that we had done traditionally in the past so it was a real challenge it's basically gave us something really to focus on so the approach we took was very much about remaining on, focused on that outcome.
The outcome was that we needed children and families to remain safeguarded to do that as soon as possible we needed that family court process to run and that helped us all the way through to ensure that where other requirements were coming in, we may focus is this essential for us to deliver the service if it's not then it's not a must-have requirement we must get this we must get the overall solution delivered and what we had to do very early is actually identify engage with stakeholders and there are a lot of stakeholders involved in the process so not only do we have our own legal, internal legal, admin teams our children social work teams but we had our external customers we had their legal representation we had their own internal ICT department and our facilities management teams.
All those stakeholders had to be engaged in some way and I'd have to hold my hands up at this point in time it was almost impossible for us to engage with a customer stakeholder in those time frames, in that particular situation and that's something that is a lesson learned for all future projects we want to make sure is, the customer is at the centre very centre of the decision-making process involved in their design process and there's a piece of work kicking off in the council at the moment around actually looking at getting our child protection conferences running digitally and we're testing some things out there and actually ringing people up and listening to what the customers experiences are so that's something that we're taking the lesson learned from what we've done here and taken into the next piece of work but by identifying engaging in our stakeholders what we're very quickly able to do is to draw out what the requirements were now I've used a technique many of you probably heard this before but Moscow rule so must have, should have, could have won't have this time around and that very quickly is able, makes it able to focus and understand what the most important things that must get delivered so very quickly we were documenting requirements and understanding as from a minimal viable product what were the things we needed to do.
And when I say minimal viable product those are our must-have requirements those are things that are essential for success. It really focused the mind as said earlier it, it kept us focused at desired outcome as well it's a great tool and I generally in the projects that I run if it's a bigger piece of work I'll have two two sets of requirement priorities, a requirement will have a priority for the overall programme but it might also have a priority for current piece of work and they could be different so you might have a must-have requirement for the overall programme but it's only you should have or won't have now but I think it's a good technique to use and adapt and something I'd advocate but bringing us back to where we were of the family court we needed to be prepared to adapt to meet those evolving needs so by taking a good approach we looked at things such as the people, the process, and technology in one it's not just about the technology.
Generally in projects as well you have things such as data and assets we need to consider but if, my feeling is experience over the years if you look at people processing technology and you consider all those things the design process you give yourself every chance of success if you forget one you're going to cause yourself some problems generally.
The other thing we did very early because it again we only had four days to deliver this we had very little understanding experience of what the family court process was we pulled together something for some people to see we couldn't very we couldn't really pull together a prototype what we did we pulled together a process map, a process map which showed all the key stakeholders on there and what we thought their role was and we put that in front of people, have we got the design right and by doing that we're actually very quickly able to understand that we've missed a requirement in this case that the judge was responsible for recording the hearing we hadn't picked that up and that could have had an impact on our overall design and actually could have caused some problems it's really important to get stuff in front of people not just because it helps direct requirements but you've got to recognise different people have different learning styles and seeing a picture or seeing getting hands-on with something helps certain people helps people draw out the requirements the other thing we made sure we did is we utilised our strengths I said earlier we as an organisation we've started to use Teams we started to use it actively but at that point in time our investment was in another product our skill set was in was another product and we were transitioning two teams so to deliver a requirement in that short space of time we had to utilise our strengths.
So I've talked a lot about approach there but where's the actual digital element of this presentation, well actually from my perspective the approach is what digital is about. I don't I don't like projects starting with a technical solution I think that's the wrong way around doing things, I think many of us have seen it in the past where someone says I've got this great solution, I've bought it and can you implement it for me but my first question would be what's your requirement?
Often when you draw it out you say well actually you've already got four of those in the organisation already so my feeling is that rather than taking the technical solution what we've done is followed a good design approach we've taken time to listen to people to involve people and be prepared to challenge and that's where the Moscow piece comes in because if you've got that tool set there you can look at requirements you can challenge people using the logical approach which everyone can understand.
The other bit about requirements is you have to be able to adapt a requirement isn't fixed so it's taken it from the point of view we've understood this requirement but things change and evolve new pieces of information materialise you have to be prepared to adapt.
Communicating designs early now you know as I said earlier prototypes and process maps I think it's a fantastic tool and it's a fantastic way of doing things and and it certainly saves you a lot of issues where if you if you nip a problem in the bud at the outset it's a lot cheaper and easy to fix and when it when after the solution has gone live and then the final bit from the council's perspective we've developed this new culture of seek forgiveness not permission obviously within reason but that helps people it empowers people it helps people to to take decisions and move forward and there's I'll put a dot dot in there because there's one piece of one sort of lesson learned from the community shield piece of work we did was about engagement and keeping people involved in this decision making process and what I thought was fantastic there is that decision making can often be slow in councils but what that particular piece of work did it involved all stakeholders councillors were actually involved in the daily stand-up meetings that we had so we'd had representation for a multi-agency volunteer sector we had our own staff covering ICT food and medication areas etc but we had councillors that decisions could be made there and then and it was a great empowering process and fantastic to be involved with, tiring, but fantastic to be involved with.
Oh I said I don't really want to talk about solutions but I have to at the end of the day what we actually put in just to let you know to keep it simple and to keep things focused what we put in for the family court solution was Skype and we used Skype enabled video conferencing units we actually had a few locations across the county which had these unit in place and we put in place a process where if a family didn't have access to technology at home they could come into the environment which was cleansed kept clean, there's hand sanitizer etc and they could literally come in press a button and they'd join in the meeting and it kept the process running and ultimately it kept people safeguarded but if we had reverted to focusing on the technical solution that people wanted at the outset we'd have actually failed to meet two must-have requirements and we'd have significantly increased costs so demonstrating these things it's important to understand that there's a reason why we adopt an overall digital approach ultimately you end up more generally with the right solution at the end and you save yourself time and money but we'll just say with a bit of continual service improvement actually the judiciary are looking at putting in place their own system they've had the capacity to move things forward and they might end up with that desired solution in the end but that's another story and that's the end of my presentation so thank you very much for your time.
- Virtual library (York)
Since the COVID-19 outbreak started, online library memberships have grown by as much as 600 per cent in some areas. With online books and other digital services proving of special interest to residents during lockdown measures, the City of York Council has provided library service partners (Explore York) £17,000 of funding to expand the range of virtual services available. The additional funding will grant library members access to:
- an extended range of e-books and e-audiobooks
- Press Reader, including access to 7000+ daily newspaper and magazine
- Virtual Rooms Explore, which uses video conferencing software to create a virtual space for group discussion (including local book groups and artists spaces are in the future),
- and support for residents who are isolated, vulnerable and/or residents with limited access to virtual content due to lack of skills/experience with technology or lack of broadband (currently in development).
- Using data to tackle the climate emergency and meet net-zero commitments (Dundee)
In March 2018, Dundee City Council signed the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, with the Dundee Partnership committing to develop a Climate Action Plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2045 or sooner whilst ensuring we are prepared for climate change.
The Covenant required that cities develop this plan in collaboration with public, private and community organisations to ensure cooperation and commitment across the City to meet the targets. 64 actions were identified by partners across the themes of Energy, Transport, Waste and Resilience.
To implement this action plan and manage expectations to deliver the 64 actions, the partnership has to baseline and measure the impact of the action plan through consultation, extensive engagement and awareness initiatives along with reliable data inputs. These measures will provide the partnership with the ability to measure and monitor the reductions from carbon saving actions to keep the programme on track for the city-wide effort.
To do this the council have onboarded ClimateView. This is a software modelling platform that can provide a coherent visualisation of the climate data held by the council, including current CO2 emissions per sector (i.e. fleets, buses or taxis), national average comparators, building project impact or electric vehicle prominence in the city. Incorporating this information can measure proposed and approved policies and indicators of how much progress is made.
This data will be fed into the software model to produce a dashboard that visualises the current image of climate change in the city. The overarching aim of the dashboard will allow the team to make the data accessible to stakeholders and the public while centralising the activities of members of the Dundee Partnership, a grouping of public, private and community organisations across the city. In December 2020, the first dashboard will be made publicly available.
The partnership has found that by digitising their data streams it has given them a simple way of measuring impact and provided key stakeholders such as CEOs and Cllrs with an easy to use and informative tool to keep track of work and city objectives. The tool has also given the council and partnership with a sustainable approach with officers being taught how to operate the model allowing them to independently input and supply the necessary data streams without having to rely on the supplier of ClimateView.
Lessons Learnt: Collaboration across multiple disciplines is essential. There can be considerable overlap and also opportunities for cooperation between sectors.
There is a need to accurately quantify the emissions reduction of actions in order to assess our progress against targets. This requires extensive scenario modelling and specialist knowledge.
Contact: Naomi Clarke, Sustainability and Climate Change Officer firstname.lastname@example.org
Remote working practices
- Council Staff App (Coventry)
Coventry City Council has taken measures to maintain strong lines of communication with residents, businesses and its own workforce during COVID-19 and beyond. During the lockdown, the HR and IT Teams accelerated the delivery of a staff app to ensure corporate messaging, training and other vital information was available to its workforce of over 4,000 employees.
The app has been developed to give unprecedented access to services in one, easy to use location on smartphones and tablets. This allows staff to have all crucial information related to the organisation at their fingertips 24/7. The app has been built in partnership with MyArk for free due to a sponsorship deal for staff deals which covers the costs of development and maintenance in a sustainable way.
The service covers the following:
- Key coronavirus information
- Recruitment guidance
- Vacancies Staff deals (supporting local and nominated businesses)
- Health & safety policies
- Online induction documents
- Learning and Development opportunities
- Access to payslips and trade union contacts
- IT ‘digiknow’ training
- Corporate comms updates
The user interface on the app is formatted under Coventry CC branding and allows staff to select tiles for the above services. In terms of information governance to download the app staff need to access it via a link or QR code. The app is a bespoke enterprise app and not available to the general public via normal app stores. Allowing for a high level of security to information aimed at Coventry CC staff.
For members of staff on the frontline who may not necessarily have corporate IT accounts, they are able to request a Microsoft account for those that require them, making it much more accessible for them to engage with the services available to them in one place.
It was crucial to roll out key COVID-19 messaging to staff and allowed the organisation to make efficiencies for staff who required the ability to work remotely and flexibly. It also supported recruitment processes and made it possible to access payslips or policies in an easy and simple way.
At the time of writing, HR and IT teams at the council were looking to integrate further crucial services and information for staff such as flexi time shift sheets to allow staff to log their hours remotely from the app. There were also scoping for messaging tiles for ‘Generation CCC’, BAME and LGBT networks to coordinate meetings and initiatives for interest groups among members of staff.
This app allowed the council to revolutionise flexible agile working to accommodate the new way of working and communicating with workforces in the 21st century and post COVID-19.
Susanna Newing Director of HR , Coventry City Council - Susanna.Newing@coventry.gov.uk
Brett Dawson, Divisional Media Manager - 01253 784323
- Digital solutions and everyday processes (Monmouthshire)
Monmouthshire County Council have launched several new workstreams and projects to improve digital literacy among staff throughout their transition to remote ways of working.
Connecting our Workforce: Prior to the covid-19 outbreak, mcc had a large proportion of frontline workers (spread across leisure services, highways operations and catering & cleaning) who did not require any form of digital links with the council to carry out their role. following the lockdown, these workers required accounts to access the council’s internal coronavirus communications hub to check in on internal resources for digital guides, tutorials, mental health and wellbeing tools. This led to an informal advancement of digital literacy within the staff body, further access to over 700 staff to digital tools and a knock-on effect of digital education for those residents and businesses working with the council.
Remote Interviews: The council has also embraced the Microsoft Teams platform to keep in touch with employees on a daily basis through video calls weekly catch ups and question sessions with colleagues and senior members. An example of one of these meetings is presented in the recording.
This technology has also allowed key service areas to remotely interview people for crucial key frontline services. For instance, the social care team held 4 interviews in one day where the team interviewed the candidate and also ran a presentation exercise with 30-minute preparation time. The team appointed an early help duty & assessment team manager into post the following day.
Talent Bank: The team have also utilised Microsoft Forms and SharePoint platforms to undertake a skills audit of the staff workforce in order to gauge soft skills and other crucial abilities or connections staff have. This has allowed the council to redeploy staff into roles that adds value to the organisation and best suit them.
Contact: For more information on this work please contact - Emma Jackson, Digital Design & Information Manager, at email@example.com
Online bookings system for council services (Lincoln)
The City of Lincoln Council has created a new system to protect the safety of staff and residents, which has helped to ensure that people can access vital services at the council while observing social distancing measures.
The council have implemented an online booking system to prevent people waiting in queues or waiting areas. The booking system has also helped to minimise the number of staff required in City Hall, while maximising the use of resources. To accommodate residents that face access difficulties or who have reservations about entering public facilities, the council have offered alternative contact channels, such as the option to video call for appointments.
The bookings system implemented uses a Microsoft Bookings app, provided through the council’s Microsoft 365 subscription. After making the decision to use this app, the council scheduled a meeting with their Microsoft partner, who provided an overview of the software. Two council staff who attended that session then trained a small group of customer service agents on how to use the system. Using an Agile approach, the minimum viable product was ready within the week, allowing the customer services team to start taking bookings on behalf of customers for ten different services.
Primary considerations when deciding what software would be suitable was that the data had to be secure and that the product would be easy to use. The Microsoft bookings app satisfied these criteria and also supported the council’s preference for a product that would support the council’s development and transition around the ‘new normal’. The council said that they would continue to use the data gathered during this pilot project to inform future phases. At the time of writing, the council was looking to expand the use of the system across a range of services and to adapt processes to suit this model (including use of Microsoft Teams).
The implementation of the booking system has helped the council to achieve minimal presence in their corporate buildings and has been penned as a potential long-term approach to reduce space requirements. It was also being considered as a way support out-of-hour bookings such as evenings and weekends, which may help to meet new demands and working requirements.
The council has also looked at how this booking system and other Microsoft PowerApps could be support other processes, including bookings for internal services such as inductions, training and appointments with support services.
Fraser Trickett, Organisational Change Lead, Fraser.Trickett@lincoln.gov.uk
- Video conferencing & Messaging Guide (Norfolk)
Norfolk County Council have released a Video Conferencing & Messaging guide (pdf), which may be of help to councils as they adapt to new ways of working remotely. Topics covered include video conference best practice and etiquette, recommended platforms for different contexts (conferencing and messaging) and specific guidance for Teams and Zoom. The guide also lists and number of useful tips around ‘what not do’ in relation to communications platforms.
- Delivering a holistic digital inclusion programme (Stockport)
Stockport Council have delivered an holistic digital inclusion programme through their Adult Social Care service
This video presentation from Mark Fitton, Director of ASC, Gill Owen-John, Commission Manager and Emma Bowe, Transformation Programme Lead – guides the viewer through their approach and the impact they have had on the community through the initiative.
I just wanted to start really by saying thanks for giving Stockport the opportunity really just to present some of the work that we've been doing around the sort of digital piece really.
My name is Mark Fitton I'm a director of adult social care here in Stockport and I think you know if I think back to recent times I think we've always been a council certainly that has been keen to ensure that we're exploiting forms of metaphrase you know, digital schemes and digital era as much as we possibly can in terms of whether that's a direct service delivery or ensuring that our workforce were as equipped as best as possible really to be an agile workforce, a workforce that doesn't have to necessarily just work from an office base as such, and obviously part of the initiative around Covid more recently has been the sort of greater use of teams and the way that we've managed those virtual meetings and our ability to continue to deliver on an agenda really as we've as we've moved throughout this pandemic.
What this presentation is going to just concentrate on though is where we've tried to sort of include you know a digital offer in relation to direct care and I think we begin the presentation by looking at the council's approach in general and then focusing on two specific elements within adult social care in terms of direct service delivery and how we've used technology in relation to whether that's ensuring that people can remain connected during this pandemic, particularly those most vulnerable people where for example in care homes, where lockdown is impacted significantly in relation to visiting you know and people in very difficult circumstances may well be sometimes the end of life care and how we maintain some at least social contact for those individuals but also how we've worked with health colleagues in relation to virtual consultations and also remote monitoring of people's health and long-term conditions so I won't go into the detail as such in terms of introduction but I think that's what we want to focus on for this short period and the presentation from Stockport.
So I'll hand over to I think it's Emma Bowe in the first instance that's going to take us through this and then Gill Owen-John from the Stockport team thank you.
Thanks Mark can I ask you to move there's a couple of slides on please Tom, can I have the next one please okay so my name's Emma Bowe and I am the transformation programme lead here at Stockport.
I just want to take a couple of minutes of your time to talk to you about some of the wider work that we're doing here at Stockport and can I have one slide back please sorry. So what I just wanted to talk about was a little bit about how he approached digital and how that helped us in our response to Covid-19.
So our overall vision for digital at Tyneside is to be 100 per cent digital borough where our residents can thrive and no one's left behind or faces inequalities as a result of their digital situation, Digital inclusion is really important to us and we want to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to engage with technology and we understand the close link between digital inclusion and social exclusion and through our work we are recognizing the importance of getting that digital inclusion right so that we can start to access some of the inequalities and to support individuals and one of the things that we've been doing for about two years now is our digital inclusion alliance and this is a council-wide piece of work called Digiknow and we came together as a council with some like-minded partners including our citizens advice the job centre plus and our social housing provider as well and it was having that digital inclusion alliance in place really helped us to respond quickly to Covid-19 and to harness some of the previous learning that we've done so at the start of the lockdown we saw demand absolutely rocket for devices, pieces of kit and also the support with how to use those pieces of kit and we found that quite often that was from individuals that hadn't previously been that interested to be honest in having access to digital but they recognised the importance of digital to help them to shield effectively and to also stay in touch with their family friends and their loved ones and so as a result we've launched a number of digital initiatives across the council.
Can I have the next slide please? So this infographic is just to give you a flavour of some of the work and that we've been doing during Covid council-wide so we can see that we worked with the DfE and we've distributed laptops and those of them to children with a social worker we've distributed them to year tens who receive free school meals and we've also been supporting the voluntary sector as well because what the voluntary sector have found is that all those face-to-face meetings and face-to-face engagements that they would have had just just couldn't take place anymore and so we've helped them to use zoom so that we could continue to support residents and one of the really good schemes we've had is some of the work that we've done in adult social care around helping old people to stay connected and we worked with DevicesDotNow to distribute residents, some tablets to residents to help them get online and we've got a lovely story of a lady called Mabel who's, she's in her early 90s and her daughter lives abroad she'd not seen her for many years and she was socially isolated as a result of the lockdown and the impact that having that digital device has had for her and what Mabel will say is when she's felt low or she's felt lonely she's been able to pick that device up and connect have a chat with her family and friends so one of our key things is about in using technology for well-being during the Covid-19 scheme and as part of this digital and inclusion work that we've done we grew the number of volunteers that we had and so these are individuals I think we have 12 individuals prior to the lockdown and we've grown that number and they are guys that work to support individuals access the tablets so if there's any challenges that they don't know how to use and they can provide some really practical support with the use of those and what that kind of led us to was some specific work that we've done in adult social care around connecting residents to their loved ones.
Can I have the next slide please? Thank you, so this is our digital support to the care sector and at Stockport one of the things that we really try to do is to put the residents at the heart of everything that we do and as Mark said in his introduction we recognise the challenges in the care sector in terms of not being able to visit not being able to see loved ones and also where you've got individuals that might have end of life support needs just making sure that you can try and keep people connected as much as we possibly can so following on from some of the other schemes that we've talked about we launched a specific adult social care scheme and as a council we purchased a number of and we distributed those out and donated them to our care sector so there were that went out and they went to residential and nursing homes within the borough they went to LD providers who support individuals residentially that would be supportive living or it could be a residential care home and also we've got our own in-house water tenancy scheme as well in Stockport so we provided those those guys with some tablets as well and the primary aim of these tablets was to support individuals to connect with their family and friends so we sent them out pre-loaded with apps such as WhatsApp, Zoom and we gave them access to digital champions that I mentioned before so that if there were any individuals within that care home that didn't know how to use the kit, we could provide them with some really practical support, things like setting up a Zoom account for example and so we distributed those out and we asked the care homes to primarily use it for visiting but also we started to work with some of the care homes to hold professional meetings as well, now council will always host the professional meeting because we do it through Microsoft Teams and the council will host the meeting, we would invite an individual care home in but it's one of the ways that we're starting to overcome and look to how we could use this technology for the future to support us in the longer term so just in terms of this scheme and before I hand over to my colleague Gill I just wanted to share a couple of case studies with you of some of the feedback that we've had so the case study that you can see on the screen is a lady called Edith and there's a picture there of her using her tablet and it was really lovely that Edith was able to celebrate her 93rd birthday with her family using the android tablet and we've got a quote there from Edith and she said that it made her birthday she'd not seen her son daughter-in-law or grandchild since the start of isolation and it was absolutely fabulous and then her son has also kind of said that he's been really thankful for that opportunity to be able to to connect with his mum and just have a lovely experience in what is some really quite challenging times and I think for me and the quote that I've then I had added on from the care home manager Martin it really hits the nail on the head for me that it amazes him that people from all over the world have been able to connect and it's great in times of great uncertainty families need to reconnect and it's been a great tonic for residents and relatives alike and I think that that's really true and it has been a great tonic for those who have been involved.
Can I have the next slide please? Okay so just another a couple of case studies here we've also got Nora there's a photograph there of Nora as you can see and Nora's using her tablet. At the point when we had a conversation with Nora it'd been about eight weeks since she'd been able to see her family and she'd actually been able to connect with her granddaughter Keeley who lived over in South America and she thought that was absolutely wonderful that she'd been able to do that and speak to someone so far away and because obviously flights have been stopped and she's not been able to get in touch with her and so that's another really good example of how it works.
And then last but not least we've got Gerald who's a resident one of our supported tenants and you can see a picture there of him using that tablet and he's connecting with family and friends as well so it's been it's been a really well received scheme across each of the sectors that we've supported really can we have the next slide please?
Okay and on that point I'm going to hand over to my colleague Gill.
Hello good morning everybody I'm Gill Owen-John I work in adult social care as a commissioning manager with a particular interest in technology I'm just going to talk a little bit about some work we've been doing with some of our health partners using technology during the Covid times so talking a little bit first of all about a project that we've got using a Norwegian company um called Dignio.
This was a project we started at the end of last year which was intended really to work with people with long-term conditions in their own homes particularly people with COPD used in Bluetooth devices to take vital signs off, so heart rate, temperature, oxygen saturation etc. Working with our out of hours GP provider Master Call and we funded this project through winter pressures money and I think when we were having meetings at the back end of last year they'd had quite an unpleasant flu season in Australia and we were predicting that that might come to us well we didn't get that but we got something else instead so I think we then moved into looking at the potential of this equipment and to deal with people with Covid within care homes and we had intended initially to use it with people in their own homes in the community but we were starting with care homes because it was a good sort of pilot site for us to have staff on hand to help with the measurements etc and obviously the moving into the community has been a little bit derailed by the virus but we have expanded it significantly within the care homes now and since we've been unable to go directly into the care homes we've been able to remotely onboard people and carry out video consultations picking up early signs of Covid infection so that people can be isolated quickly to protect other residents and we're now using the kit to support early discharge from hospital, the care home managers have embraced this quite enthusiastically and we've also had some feedback from the care workers to say that they've they feel quite empowered by being able to use the kit to help people to get better care there's just a little case study there about Bill who's a gentleman who was a resident in a care home where the remote monitoring picked up that he had a raised temperature and reduced oxygen saturations so remotely we were able to provide appropriate care for him.
He did swab negative in the end but it meant that we were able to keep other residents and healthcare staff safe but provide Bill with the best care available. We've also just started using another application with care homes which is the CV-19 safe steps app I don't know if other people are aware of that being used in other areas in Greater Manchester again this was originally intended for a different purpose it was around we just go back one slide it was originally around falls prevention but it has been now repurposed to pick up what they're calling soft signs of deterioration in care home residents which is if people just aren't quite themselves and so maybe if someone doesn't have verbal communication or isn't able to give an accurate history of how they're feeling this picks that up from a sort of subjective care worker point of view to flag up that somebody might not be quite themselves and every resident is RAG rated on a daily basis and that information is sent through to their allocated GP practices and to help GPs with prioritising work and make sure they know which residents need their attention most urgently.
Okay next slide please Tom. This is just the final slide just a little bit about our standard telecare service really we noticed we have a very good telecare service within Stockport and we did notice early on that there was a reduction in demand for telecare during the early lockdown period and I think that was for a variety of reasons we had a new client record system that the social workers were struggling with we also moved our social work team out of the hospital and started a discharge to assess model but we were very aware that the telecare service could provide really good backup for people and during the time when maybe their relatives weren't able to visit as often as they had been in the past we therefore, with our providers Stockport Homes Care Call we developed a non-contact installation process to increase confidence and ensure safety for staff and residents so people could actually be in a different part of the house while the installation was going on and a lot of the history taking and information given was done over the telephone and since then we've developed further our fast track installation service which we set up a couple of years ago with support of the LGA and NHS Digital and Social Care Digital Innovation Programme around fast track installation of equipment including own phone ready to go telecare kits to facilitate hospital discharge and avoid hospital admission and in addition to doing all that our telecare service also developed a well-being check call for over four and a half thousand of their service users providing regular welfare calls food parcel deliveries medication deliveries and hobby packs so they've really stepped up to provide a really good service for us during the time.
That's it, thank you very much.
And Councillor Prior if I could just a final couple of comments before going to the questions if that's okay I'm conscious of the time but so just a couple of things I hope that demonstrates really sort of our commitment in terms of you know we have a revised operating model for adult social care in Stockport that we're still working to implement over time really but I think right from that sort of prevention side of things even whether that's in care homes where arguably you're not preventing you know any further deterioration in people's physical well-being but certainly from a well-being point of view this significant impact that something as simple as a tablet and being able to see somebody was immense and the stories speak for themselves in terms of that impact but right the way through as well to the Dignio where people do have long-term conditions and what our colleagues will tell us is that the kit actually detects deterioration and changes in people's condition before people themselves even know that there is going to be a change in their overall condition so they're able to intervene at a much earlier point in that person's care and support needs and intervene in such a way that it gives a real positive outcome to those particular individuals and my final comments was whether that's from a point of view of transformation about social care in Greater Manchester with our living well at home sort of initiative then you know tech and digital forms a key part of that, and we're you know we want to sort of drive on in relation to you know how kit and tech can enhance people's care but also experiences really to live the life that they want to live but also most certainly definitely locally a very strong commitment to wanting to even if it's a simple as what kit is already out there in everybody's homes including you know mine and yours in relation to just the simple things like Alexa what could that give to us in terms of an overall offer around health and well-being so just some final observations but thank you very much for your time.
- Digital inclusion and COVID-19 (Leeds)
The importance of digital inclusion has taken on a new urgency as people are advised to stay at home to shield themselves or family members. More and more people are coming together online to keep in touch and stay connected during the COVID-19 crisis. But people who don’t have access to the internet, or the skills and confidence to use it, are becoming increasingly disadvantaged and isolated.
Leeds Council’s 100% Digital Leeds team have identified a citywide responsibility to engage with professionals and practitioners, staff and volunteers, community based assets and people with lived experience of tackling barriers to inclusion. With many Conversations with these groups do not focus on ‘digital’, they focus on people: who are they, what are the important issues in their lives, what do they enjoy and what challenges do they face? The team’s first priority is to listen and our second priority is to learn. They spend time in communities, listening to people with lived experience of poverty, inequality and exclusion and work to build relationships based on trust, respect and understanding.
The 100% Digital Leeds team have engaged with over 200 community groups and organisations over the last two years of the 100% Digital Leeds programme. In talking to organisations and getting to know communities that are most affected by social and digital exclusion, the team have been able to work with them to find the right approach. They take a ‘furthest first’ approach, focusing on the most vulnerable in line with the council’s ambition to reduce inequalities and improve the health of the poorest the fastest. During lockdown, the team have focused on making sure that partners had the tools to continue to connect with and support their service users to be more independent and live better lives. More information on the 100% Digital Leeds response to COVID-19 is available.
- Digital Video Carephones Service (Kent)
Kent County Council rolled out a digital inclusion support package across the locality to alleviate pressures on vulnerable and shielded people who experienced heightened risk of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The support package was supplied in partnership with assistive care technology provider Alcove and a health and care transformation consultancy Rethink.
The partnership provided 2000 Samsung 10-inch tablets to vulnerable individuals and clients eligible for social need identified through the council’s adult social care practitioners. The tablets provided an easy and accessible one touch video calling service for those that found themselves digitally excluded and lacking digital skills to access everyday technology. Each device had a built in smart SIM card that established a connection with the strongest signal, not requiring the user to rely on a Wi-Fi connection to operate.
This helped to break down barriers for the user to engage with family members, friends or council staff. This reduced the need for face to face interactions while supporting individuals to remain connected to the support they needed including the usual number of appointments. This approach enabled the safeguarding and preservation of wellbeing of users, while enabling the continuation of social connections with those closest to the individual.
The tablet used the Alcove enabled app, which is screen locked to the device, to access the simple video calling software through a grid of preapproved 6-8 contacts. This provided an easy level of functionality and prevented cold calls, providing the individual peace of mind over unsolicited calls. Those contacts only needed to download the app or respond to calls via internet browser to engage with the user in a simple and accessible way.
The device was ready for out of the box use and posted to the individual. Once charged and turned on, it was ready to launch. As a level of further support, the grid of contacts included a technical support option that was available from Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm. The accessibility of the tablet was intended to help grow and build confidence in users, allowing them to develop their digital literacy and in doing so, help increase their ability to use technology to make other improvements in their everyday life.
At the time of writing, Alcove and Rethink were exploring the possibility of linking the device to other pieces of equipment to build capacity to improve the offer and develop and encourage individuals to further their appetite for digital learning.
Feedback from the early stages of the pilot showed that there has been a rapid increase of quality interactions and improved social opportunities for those vulnerable residents. There are also positive cost implications for the council in terms of saving travel costs and improving the council’s sustainability and climate contributions. It has also allowed staff to deliver services in a more efficient, effective and safe way, providing them with enhanced time resource to commit to other areas of work.
Contact: Dave Harris, Senior Commissioner & SRO of Kara Project, Dave.Harris2@kent.gov.uk
Recovery and renewal
- Online business directory (Oxford City Council)
In March 2020, due to the coronavirus lockdown, many businesses were forced to completely shut down face to face operations. The main source of food at that time was supermarkets, but they were under immense pressure to continue regular supply and provide online delivery slots. Several small local businesses across Oxford decided to try to maintain supplies to customers by focusing on online ordering and delivery, and the City Council looked to take on a supporting role of those efforts to continue operating under the new lockdown restrictions.
The Council’s Economic Development and City Centre Management team was in touch with businesses city wide to alert them to the support that was available to them including loans, grants and rate relief, and created a Survey Monkey powered questionnaire to help better understand how businesses were adapting ways of working to operate under lockdown, and how the council could best help.
The response led the team to launch an online business directory to help promote those that were still available by operating online and providing their services via the internet or by telephone. The initial businesses to feature included fresh food providers, and restaurants and cafes that were available for online delivery or takeaway. This meant that, from a residents’ perspective, the directory brought together local businesses to provide a holistic offer to those on the vulnerable and shielded list, and to those who wanted to support local business.
The directory proved so popular that the initial 60 businesses quickly increased to include additional commercial offers as the lockdown restrictions impacted more and more sectors. Book stores, photography studios and architects were some of those that were added to the ever-growing directory list.
Similar initiatives to promote Oxford businesses operating online were also created by local organisations Independent Oxford, Bitten Oxford and Daily Info. The council created links to them on the directory, which was being promoted via a coordinated social media campaign to increase awareness and its popularity.
The directory provided users with an easy to use interface with a content list of various services ranging from fresh food to revised hospitality offers. It featured links to websites, social media pages, contact details, emails and important information such as delivery options and opening times.
The links and collaboration that have been created through this portal have been substantial. For instance, a group of market traders combining their offer of products into a single online portal, and a bike courier service first connecting with local traders to be their delivery service and then creating an online local supermarket itself offering fresh produce shopping so that residents have a spontaneous food delivery service to use.
The success of the Oxford initiative prompted other councils and organisations to launch similar directories with Boston Council and a team brought together by Newcastle Building Society replicating the approach.
By the start of June, the directory had more than 275 businesses signed up and the web page has received tens of thousands of page views, becoming, for a period, the busiest on the Council’s website.
As lockdown eases, the Council is working with businesses to review the directory and agree what its best role is going forward.
Iain Nicholson, City Centre Manager, INICHOLSON@oxford.gov.uk
- Online footfall assessment tool (Newcastle)
Newcastle City Council has worked with partners to develop an online tool How Busy is Toon focused on the main high street, Northumberland Street, that helps residents to keep safe when coming into the city centre by providing data to help ensure where and when social distancing is possible.
It has been developed in partnership between the council, teams at Newcastle University and the NE1 business improvement district.
The website uses real time information from computer vision cameras that tracks footfall data from this particular street in the city centre updating information every five minutes. The technology and equipment were intended to gather routine footfall data by the University’s Urban Observatory for high street data and since lockdown they have been utilised for this COVID-19 purpose to help residents resume normality while staying safe.
The tool uses a traffic light system based on the real time information to advise people on how easy it is to social distance in the city centre at a certain time:
GREEN: The data shows that footfall in the city centre is low and there is sufficient space to safely social distance.
AMBER: Our data shows that footfall in the city centre is average and may be getting close to capacity within the social distance measures.
RED: Our data shows that footfall in the city centre is high and you are advised to delay or postpone plans to visit.
The site also has real-time information about car parking spaces in the city centre to help residents plan their journey.
Howbusyistoon had a soft launch in July 2020 to test the concept and the public’s reaction.
There have been more than 25,000 visits to the site with interest shown from users in expanding the scheme into other areas of the city which the team are actively investigating.
Contact: Jenny Nelson, Digital Newcastle Programme Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rideshare app (Sevenoaks)
The Sevenoaks District Local Strategic Partnership (LSP) have pooled resources for a new digital solution, which is helping residents to travel in ways that observe social distancing measures. The LSP is led by Sevenoaks District Council and comprises others including Kent County Council, the local NHS, Police Service, and a range of VCS and faith sector partners, such as Age UK, and Sevenoaks’ network prover, Go Coach.
The partnership has pooled resources to implement a CIL funded mobile application (developed by ViaVan) that uses Go-Coach buses to provide an on-demand transport service for residents. This service, named ‘Go2’, uses Go Coach’s vehicles to provide an affordable, rideshare service, which offers residents’ transport on ‘as needed’ basis (e.g. to purchase groceries or medication). Go2 has extended the traditional service footprint area to ensure that residents in otherwise isolated areas are connected to nearby hospitals and other key community assets—and so NHS Workers and Police Community Support Officers who rely on public transport are still able to commute to work. Passenger safety is maintained by ensuring passengers are able keep 2m distance between each other by using 28 passenger capacity buses (at a minimum) and restricting the number of people to no more than 10 per trip at any given time.
The app can be download via iOS and Google Play stores. Residents can also access the service via a dedicated phoneline, so all community members (including anyone who does not have access to or is unable to use the app) can still access this transport option. The council and VCS are using online platforms, e.g. Facebook, to promote the service across the district.
The service proven highly popular with residents, which maintains a five star rating on iOS and received more than 500 passengers within the first eight days of operating.
- Video presentation: Technology as a foundation to respond (Kirklees)
Kirklees Council harnessed technology to add value to their response to dealing with COVID-19. In March 2020, the council’s IT team launched a Technology Strategy that outlined how technology would be used to deal with the outbreak and associated challenges. This video presentation - from Head of IT, Terence Hudson—shares key principles that underpinned that strategy: getting the basics right, empowering people to become ‘digital citizens’ and connecting people, business and technology.
Digital Covid-19 response
- Croydon council builds low code coronavirus apps (Croydon)
The London Borough of Croydon has developed applications (apps) to support its Covid-19 response. One app facilitates the management of key services; another uses the Netcall App Share to accept and processes grant applications by local businesses. The grants app received 500+ applications on the day of its launch alone. Both apps were developed within a matter of days and use low code platforms: a form of software that uses a visual builder interface to build systems, rather than extensive coding. This means apps and other systems can be developed simply and with efficiency (though low code platforms also provide the option to incorporate additional coding as required). The council is now looking at further ways of using low code solutions to support further operations and has said it would welcome conversations with other councils who wish to learn from these projects.
- Discretionary grant application system (Lewes and Eastbourne)
Lewes District and Eastbourne Borough Councils partnered with a digital solutions company, Ascendant Solutions, to develop a discretionary grant application system for businesses, which has helped to distribute grants quickly and securely to businesses since the COVID-19 outbreak.
The grants system accepted and reviewed e-applications using an online portal, which collects and overlays multiple sources of data (including from commercial datasets) to check that claims are valid. On the applicants’ side, there were two main steps in this process: one, to register with the portal; and two, to complete form associated, including providing the data requested. All applicants were asked supply their business rate account number – which provided a first point of validation to ensure that only legitimate businesses would be able to claim. Once completed, applications were checked and validated by a number of pre-determined algorithms that verified the business identity of the applicant and, based on the data supplied (and commercial data sets, available through Ascendant Solutions), assessed their eligibility for a grant. Further information on the grant application process is available here: Discretionary Grant application progress (pdf).
The assessment phase of the process involved a RAG rating system where, depending on the data supplied by the applicant and outcome of the algorithm’s assessment, applicants would be given a RAG rating. Businesses within the ‘Green’ file who met all the automated checks and eligibility criteria were automatically passed for payment as they weren’t considered a risk, so received their grants immediately; The cases in the ‘Amber’ file were considered low risk, but in need of further checks as some basic data or information was missing from the original application which wouldn’t necessarily mean the business wasn’t entitled; and the ‘Red’ was considered higher risk as it contained applicants that required thorough checking and often, further information and evidence if grants were to be provided at all. Additional information on the grant assessment process and outcomes of this project can be read here: Grant approval background overview (pdf).
With this mostly automated system, Eastbourne and Lewes processed 2,642 grants (to the value of near £34.1m in total) by the first week May, 2020. Had grants been administered manually, the councils estimated that it would have taken approximately 20 FTEs to carry out achieve this result; whereas the total number of council staff supporting this work numbered 5 (supported by 3 staff from Ascendant Solutions, who developed the system).
The system also helped to save the councils time on processing claims from ineligible applicants. This was accomplished in the first instance via disclaimers, which clarified the data requirements and in doing so, discouraged applications from businesses that were unlikely likely to meet the scheme criteria. The requirement to supply business rate account numbers and the RAG system itself provided an extra assurance by helping identify ineligible and ‘riskier’ claims. These measures helped to protect against exploitation of the grants system, which presented a risk to many councils across the UK due to the pressure to distribute grants quickly.
Lewes DC and Eastbourne BC identified very early on the political and public pressure to accelerate the process of getting the system up and running as a major challenge to this project. During this development phase, the council effectively managed expectations by maintaining a presence at Cobra meetings with other agencies which included the chamber of commerce, which helped to reassure parties on all sides that progress way being made and was on track – and that payments would be processed with greater security and efficiency than would be the case than if they were to process grants manually.
Beyond this, the councils’ ability to manage the pressure associated with this project has been credited to effective partnership working with the private sector. Trust between the partners helped to maintain honest conversations and to arrive at mutually agreed goals early in the process; and decision making was also made easier due to the involvement of small teams on both sides. Given the unprecedented nature of the working environment, both partners also stressed the importance of being prepared and willing to change and adapt and, for the councils, the importance of choosing a partner they knew could ‘get things done right’ and quickly. In this case, Ascendant Solutions was selected on the basis of its technical expertise and access to necessary data; but also its capacity to deliver at speed.
- Emergency planning tool (VIPER)
Essex Online Partnership (EOLP) is a technology partnership with membership from all 15 Essex Local Authorities, Essex Fire & Rescue, and Essex Police. EOLP and the Essex Resilience Forum jointly adopted a project to develop a data tool, VIPER (Vulnerable Intelligent Persons Emergency Response), which would allow emergency planning responders to coordinate efforts utilising real time data in unprecedented times. This tool has utilised a pre-released category B vulnerable people dataset during the Coronavirus pandemic to join up emergency responders across Essex to coordinate actions and minimise harm and risk to life for residents.
- Food distribution network and stock management system (Oldham)
In March 2020, Oldham Council was given a statutory duty to coordinate food, self-care, medical supplies and other forms of necessary assistance to vulnerable groups in response to COVID-19. The council facilitated this through 5 geographical Virtual Hubs to coordinate food, medicines, mutual aid, volunteering and community intelligence and an Emergency Helpline to act as a front door and triage. Each hub had a population footprint between 30,000 – 40,000 residents.
The Council partnered with Oldham Food Bank and Action Together, which led to the establishment of a comprehensive food distribution network to support the 5 hubs. The centres are also heavily supported by a volunteer offer. Their roles range from coordination, supporting processes, managing doorstep deliveries of food and products, packing and delivering.
This included pathways to Age UK Oldham, CAB, Housing Providers, Early Help, Mental Health, Benefits and Advice and Welfare Rights. As well as a strong pathways and relationship with the Community Pharmacies, CHASC and primary care.
Due to this strong response from the voluntary sector and the community, donations had increased rapidly to an amount where the food that the network was distributing in a day was the same amount that was delivered in a week pre-COVID.
There was a need to get a handle of the current stock held in the distribution centres and the constant supply that was increasing daily. What was being donated, how long was a particular item’s lifecycle, where did it need to be stored?
Oldham Foodbank, the Council and Action Together were approached by local digital solutions company Live & Now who donated their time and resources to develop a stock management system that would allow the centres to fully understand what was coming through the doors.
The system allowed volunteers to scan barcodes on the items to create inventories on the food received. This provided them with an in-depth understanding of nutritional value, lifecycles and stock volume. As parcels were received and sent out, each one was scanned in and out allowing the centre to know exactly what the flow of parcels and donations were.
Through the system this gave Oldham Foodbank and the council the advantage of knowing what they had at any one given time and allowed them to alter communications strategy to the public if they had too much of one item to diversify the nutritional value of food parcels. It also gave them an increased awareness to prevent any unnecessary waste.
And above all the system could track where each parcel had been delivered providing a complete picture of the need in the community and a better understanding of citizens.
Through the helpline and stock management system the council provided support through:
- 4914 answered calls via the Helpline (as at 05/06)
- 5217 distributed food parcels (as at 05/06)
The Emergency Helpline and the virtual hubs, and their relationship with the Oldham Foodbank have been a valued asset for the council and discussions are being had to identify how they should become business as usual after COVID-19 due to the single point of contact and the deep understanding and insight into the community they provide.
- Harnessing technology to deal with COVID-19 (Pembrokeshire)
Pembrokeshire County Council harnessed technology to add value to their response to dealing with COVID-19. Over the lockdown period, the council’s IT team launched various initiatives to alleviate pressures applied by covid; an overnight transformation to full remote working, a digital mail room, online business support grants as well as an online coronavirus support hub. This video presentation - from member lead for Digital Transformation, Cllr Neil Prior and Digital Services Manager, Gareth Johnson shares what they have delivered and achieved through digital solutions.
[Councillor Prior] Good morning and welcome to today's LGA webinar on local government's digital response to Covid. Thank you for joining us, my name is Councillor Neil Prior I'm deputy chair of the LGA's improvement and innovation board and also the cabinet member for transformation and IT at Pembrokeshire County Council in West Wales.
So it's a real pleasure to be here today and an opportune time I think to be able to look back over the last three or four months, the incredible response that councils up and down the UK have shown by really utilising digital technology and it's really highlighted the importance and how relevant technology has become in everyday life.
If you just look at things like the internet minute, you can see things like Netflix for example have really taken a hold this is a massive digital shift, and so councils have done an amazing job to be able to respond to something that we didn't see coming and it's also testament to the fact that we're meeting here online today, which feels like it's a horrible cliché to use but a new normal where life is one endless back-to-back round of Zoom, Skypes or Teams calls.
So, there's lots of case studies on local.gov.uk, that you can look at of how councils have responded not only digitally, but we're going to hear from a few councils today before I introduce my colleague from Pembrokeshire which I'm really pleased to do. We've also got Wirral, Dorset and Stockport, we're going to be taking you through some of their digital response to the pandemic, but before I hand over at last minute I've actually been able to get my colleague Gareth Johnson to step in.
We did advertise this with Lee McSparron who's head of IT at Pembrokeshire but unfortunately due to a bit of a family emergency he can't make it, so Gareth very kindly has stepped in last minute, but that also means that you're going to hear from me just for a couple of extra minutes as I give a little bit of context before handing over to Gareth. So from a political point of view I was elected three years ago, I took over the transformation program at Pembrokeshire within a matter of weeks I think it was, and we took a little bit of time to think about what we wanted to do, but put technology firmly at the heart of the transformation program. And so what that meant in reality was three or four months’ work of stakeholder engagement I used the political process scrutiny to get back venture involvement and buy-in as well and we did some benchmarking actually and discovered that we were one of the smallest IT teams in Wales, and one of the most underfunded IT teams in Wales, so it was actually fairly straightforward to persuade Councillor colleagues that we should be investing in the technology service so whether you call it digital or technology for me, the terms are fairly interchangeable and what that meant was that we invested in the service and we've done a couple of things over the last few years I say a couple of things, lots of things, and some big things such as a large scale smarter working project to modernize the way that the authority works which in layman's terms you might call homeworking or flexible working and then lots of small scale initiatives such as using the chatbot technology, to really try and create a digital mindset.
For me you know, digital is not a thing but it's about how we do things, and so the vindication after a two and a half years of that funding and the projects that we've done has been that when the pandemic struck we were able to very quickly mobilize staff to work from home. You know we had over the last couple of years we've had people who've really embraced technology, and have used Skype and have demonstrated that digital mindset, and we've had some people who for whatever reason because change is difficult or perhaps they're not as comfortable, have actually struggled with adopting that technology, but what we saw when the pandemic struck and people were working from home was that clearly people had no choice but they had to use and adopt that technology.
So it's been, it's been incredible isn't it, we've seen the largest homeworking experiment across the UK, we've seen council staff across the UK change the way they work overnight and at Pembrokeshire, we've also, not just based on my opinion, we've actually put organisational learning at the heart of our recovery plan and so we've been interviewing staff and asking them what they feel about working from home. So yes there have been a few well-being issues which I think we have to acknowledge, so some people do struggle, some people who might have at the very early days been working on the kitchen table with their family at home as well because obviously the schools were closed. That has been a struggle, but on the whole we have seen that people have really embraced this way of working, and so what Lee would have spoken to you about but Gareth is going to give a slightly different perspective, is about how we created those conditions, how we invested in technology and how that has enabled the organisation to respond in a fairly rudimentary way to make people give people the ability to work from home securely and safely. That's been really good but from a political perspective you know, like I say real vindication that we did the right thing by investing in the technology service when the narrative feels like it's always about cuts. That's enough from me, what I will do now is I'll bring in Gareth who will talk a little bit more around the response at Pembrokeshire so Gareth, over to you.
[Gareth McSparron] Good morning and thank you Councillor Prior, as Councillor Prior had mentioned we altered the way county hall works, no stone was left unturned which was fully supported by cabinet and our corporate management team, so county hall is fully agile supporting hot desking collaboration, comfort areas, and sensitive needs, so 90 per cent of our state now has laptops which has meant that we can support the home working environment overnight as you would imagine.
Our digital plans were accelerated and we were asked to develop a digital mail room which was again a simple approach, which was just a scanning station, documents were sent then straight to the business via email, digital projects such as the development of our new online form solution which we planned to launch later this year was accelerated, this included the development of an end-to-end solution for business grant support applications. That application was actually launched and developed within four working days which was amazing, an online appointment-based solution was developed and launched for waste and recycling services for residential and commercial users, we had requests to develop click and collect services for library services, so there was a big mix of requests coming from a number of services during the lockdown period.
We also needed to make sure that the communication channels were updated so we created a Coronavirus section on our main website and also our internet pages that included link throughs to Public Health Wales, information support for residents and business users, we also needed to make sure that our social media channels were updated at the same time so we created a timeline of activity which dynamically fed straight through to social media. Our Chief Executive Ian Wesley published video blogs, they were on our website and social media channels every Friday so yes, there's been a big mix of requests coming through from various services, the last four months has really given services a bit of a shake over the last two to three years, we've been pushing services to go digital, that is definitely accelerated and there's definitely a need from users to go digital, from service users as well as users within the council, so looking forward I think we are, in a you know digital is being given a bright future. The coronavirus has certainly accelerated the way that we're working and I don't think we should be going back. Looking inward into the service Neil mentioned, we have consulted with our users and our staff, 75 percent of our staff want to continue working like this which you know shows you there is a need for that.
- Local Contact Tracing Approach (Blackburn with Darwen)
In Blackburn with Darwen council they have launched its own contact-tracing system. The new model has local teams tracking down people who could not be reached by the national system after 48 hours. If local officials still did not make contact after two days, council workers would visit their address to pass on advice and offer support. See Blackburn with Darwen's slide deck for further details on the approach.
- Low code platform for community response services (Adur and Worthing)
Adur and Worthing Councils have developed two online community response services using a low code platform that allows digital services to be operated with minimum coding skills.
They have built a request for community support service. The pathways within this service provide information on who is isolated, if they are in need of urgent food and which neighbourhood hub is nearest in order to direct the closest volunteers to assist.
The register to volunteer service is aimed at anyone wanting to assist locally. By collecting volunteer DBS or photo ID they can on board volunteers with the necessary assurances.
- Low code systems and applications (various)
The London Borough of Croydon has developed applications (apps) to support its COVID-19 response. One app facilitates the management of key services; another uses the Netcall App Share to accept and processes grant applications by local businesses. The grants app received 500+ applications on the day of its launch alone.
Both apps were developed within a matter of days and use low code platforms: a form of software that uses a visual builder interface to build systems, rather than extensive coding. This means apps and other systems can be developed simply and with efficiency (though low code platforms also provide the option to incorporate additional coding as required). The council is now looking at further ways of using low code solutions to support further operations and has said it would welcome conversations with other councils who wish to learn from these projects.
Other councils are also using low code platforms, including Cumbria, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Adur & Worthing. Adur & Worthing have developed a volunteer registration service and service that connects residents with community support using the software. The volunteer service collects volunteer details including DBS and photo ID, so that volunteers can be onboarded and with necessary assurances, while the community response service collects information about the person requesting assistance including if they isolated, whether they have an urgent food and which neighbourhood hub is nearest in order to direct the closest volunteers to assist. These services have contributed to greater efficiency at Adur & Worthing and were developed quickly – with the community response service created in less than 48 hours.
- PPE distribution network (Nottingham)
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nottingham City Council came under pressure to coordinated and distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) to social care settings and other key services to ensure that staff were enabled to carry out roles in a safe and secure way.
The distribution network was initially centred around a paper based, scanning and spreadsheet orientated process detailing deliveries, requests, batch quantity and quality. Stock was manually managed each night by working through dozens of paper records and updating PPE accounts by hand while having to comply with government returns on PPE distribution. Those collecting PPE would require identification at collection with wet signatures.
The digital team were tasked in creating a PPE stock management system to streamline the processes for recording and tracking deliveries. The team sought to make this process as convenient for the users seeking PPE as well as those tracking stock levels by taking a user centred approach to design creating a system with similar features to a mainstream online delivery service.
The customer stage allows users to request the PPE they require by filling out a form that allows account login to remember orders or associated profiles with the approved list of suppliers. The user must enter the number of staff they are providing for, what equipment they need and the size and quantity of supplies required. The user is provided with a summary of the order while they wait for the team to confirm and approve the request.
The team receive the request and triage the order. They will authorise the provider and are able to view previous orders from the user, approve repeat orders and the system gives the team an overview of current demand against the request for certain items to ensure stock is available. Once the team has reviewed the order, they are able to accept, reject or escalate the order. Escalating will forward the order onto a Public Health Consultant who is able to deal with more complex areas and queries.
The customer is then sent the confirmation email and notified when the equipment with be available for collection. While the team at the distribution centre are packaging the order customers are able to log in to their account and track the progress of the package.
At the packaging stage, staff input the batch numbers of equipment, product descriptions, case numbers and contact details for each delivery as this ensures the stock is traceable should they be required to recall faulty equipment. Each package are given a reference number which allows customers to collect the correct package without having to sign for it or provide identification. This leads the case to be closed from the initial request stage of the process.
Further to this process, the system generates power BI dashboards that detail the volume of stock over time periods for various items of PPE. This provides the council with the ability to track stock trends, areas of demand and have a true understanding of PPE provision in the locality.
James Steele, Web Manager, James.Steele@nottinghamcity.gov.uk
- PPE Inventory management and order system (Leicester)
The rapid expansion of the scale and scope of PPE requirements in response to Covid-19 necessitated the build of an end-to-end inventory management and order system. The existing processes revolved around manual communications and Excel spreadsheets tracking stock levels and orders. Stock levels were also managed across three different service areas with no overall view of stock held within Leicester City Council (LCC). Due to the ever evolving situation, adaptability and clear communication at all times were key.
The process is split into two customised builds; one for general use and one for our Social care teams. The Social care teams have more in-depth needs and are provided with more complex information and different stock to choose from. In addition, LCC also provided emergency PPE provision to local care facilities with this solution. This has subsequently been taken over by the local resilience forum (LRF). However, LCC have continued to facilitate this process and are retaining order data to allow us to forecast usage and needs in the event that we need to pick this responsibility back up.
This multi-stage process was created by the Digital Transformation and IT teams, utilising e-forms, a database, and email integrations allowing a communication and authorisation flow from the initial order to the PPE being delivered/collected. At any point in the process a summary can be extracted providing an overview of the order. Staff requesting PPE are advised by email as every stage is progressed, including any amendments that have been made and why.
The initial request form collects customer information and allows the customer to identify the PPE required whilst supplying information on maximum order quantities and stock levels. Any unavailable stock is automatically hidden from the customer to prevent accidental orders. On submission, all stock in the order is marked as ‘pending’ in the database to ensure no stock is double-booked and levels cannot dip below zero, a summary is emailed to the customer, and the order moves to the authorisation stage.
At the authorisation stage a senior manager can accept, reject, or amend the order or feedback to the customer for more information. Once approved a picklist is generated and the order can be picked. At the time of picking operatives are given a full rundown of inventory levels of requested stock to inform decision making. Again, there is the option here to amend or cancel the order if the need arises with further lines of communication to the customer. Once picked the customer is alerted and can collect the order – the stock levels in the database are updated to reflect the collection.
In conjunction with this process a Power BI dashboard provides data on current stock levels, ordering trends, and LRF data allowing LCC to make informed decisions by providing an accurate and up-to-date picture of the PPE landscape within the organisation and City. The system continues to support LCC’s Covid-19 response and so far has facilitated the provision of over 500 orders.
- Prototype code for coronavirus service support, available to local authorities (Buckinghamshire / Camden)
Buckinghamshire Council and the London Borough of Camden have joined forces, alongside FutureGov - a digital transformation consultancy firm - to create new code in support of their COVID-19 response. The code provides a prototype for online services, which people can use to search and request COVID-19 related support in their area e.g. the delivery of groceries and prescription items (for people who are self-isolating).
This code has is shareable between local authorities and is now available to councils on GitHub. FutureGov have announced they will provide technical support.
- Providing community support, digitally – Tutorial video (Nottinghamshire)
Nottinghamshire County Council have produced this video recording, which provides a comprehensive overview of how they are using digital technology to coordinate their community response. The recording explains that the council have established central hub comprising the details of all volunteers in Nottingham, requests for support and misc. offers of support e.g. hotels with additional rooms that can be used for housing. It also covers how their system works, including information sharing with districts, retrospectives (successes and challenges), learning takeaways and signposts to relevant tools and advice.