Exploring how local authorities can effectively engage people and develop their cultures to successfully implement digital transformation.

Full Application: Not funded at this stage

Local Authorities are undertaking digital transformation so that we can meet our residents’ raised expectations. We have had some success digitising services but found it harder to engage our staff and develop our cultures.

We believe there are some factors limiting full digital transformation:

  • Difficulties engaging with people and creating the right culture
  • An inability to apply concepts and lessons from internet era organisations.
  • Achievable cost savings aren’t obviously tangible
  • Absence of a shared narrative of ‘digital’. It may be seen as synonymous with technological change and associated with job losses
  • Not understanding the root causes of a problem or not considering a holistic change to culture, process, information or organisation.
  • Not effectively supporting our staff with the skills and strategies to change behaviours.
  • A lack of emphasis and engagement in the use of research and analysis to inform decision making.
  • Transactional leadership and hierarchical management styles.
  • An empowerment paradox where the messages of empowerment are far more positive than the reality, resulting in overt compliance and covert opposition

To guide us with overcoming these challenges, we have key resources for setting overall guiding principles, like the Local Digital Declaration, and best practice processes such as the GDS’ service manual. Most authorities have competency and behaviour frameworks based on best practice. There are tools available to capture or audit culture. In acknowledging this, we still think a problem remains for transforming organisations.

We believe the problems are caused by:

  • Not clearly understanding the barriers to digital transformation
  • Not having in place an open, accessible knowledge bank with key resources, practical advice and interventions that make a difference.

This has resulted in an overwhelming amount of online content, consultancy services and anecdotal evidence that attempts to meet this user need. We think that:

  • The distributed and sometimes contradictory nature of this content causes more confusion
  • The use of consultancy services to fill the knowledge gap adds to the cost of digital transformation

Our staff are our main stakeholder and vital to digital transformation. We need them to engage with the design of user-centred digital services and be empowered to own their service re-design. We think we need to do a better job meeting their user needs in order to meet the raised expectations of our residents and other service users.

Outside of local government, we think our key stakeholders are:

  • The Government Digital Service, with their 7 Lenses of Transformation and the GDS Academy.
  • Suppliers, particularly digital agencies
  • MHCLG and other central government departments, as catalysts for transformation through legislation, funding or policy.
  • Local Government Association

City of York Council’s recent research on digital transformation found that:

  • Organisational culture impedes improvement
  • There is a lack of buy-in from the business to work in a different way

We believe that our discovery project can investigate if these findings are valid and reproducible in more than one local authority. We will also be looking to see what user needs exist to respond to and resolve these problems.

We suspect that there is considerable university research that could be applied to this problem, for example the output from the Digital Culture BA at King’s College London. We also have initial interest from other universities to work collaboratively on building an evidence base of what works.

We believe that a freely available knowledge bank with evidence-based resources will help local authorities engage their staff and develop their cultures to achieve digital transformation.

We believe that by changing the attitudes, skills, behaviours and ways of working of local authorities, we are more likely to see successful digital transformation projects and programmes

That there is a positive correlation between measures of digital maturity and:

  • benefits realised through digital transformation
  • staff perception of change and improvement.

We suspect that:

  • Local authorities may have digital visions, strategies, competency frameworks, values and behaviour frameworks. They may not be visible, understood or aligned to other strategies. They may not have a measurable impact. Leaders or managers may not have the right skills or techniques to implement them.
  • By empowering staff to own service redesign, the pace and scope of change will improve. But that the way we govern and structure our organisations can impact how empowered and enabled staff are to suggest and own improvements.
  • We need to model and facilitate the emergence of new attitudes and skills
  • That where best practice service design standards and management models are in use, they are not consistently applied across a local authority.
  • That digital transformation programmes are insufficiently resourced considering their ambitions.

There is some existing work on this subject:

  • The GDS 7 Lenses of Transformation as a strategic level tool could provide us with a consistent approach and language.
  • The GDS Service Manual is a great resource for technological change and may be a good template for this work.
  • Suppliers, particularly digital agencies, whose blogs and consultancy services have supported much transformation activity within local government. We believe their knowledge and experience with these organisations are important to tap into for this work.
  • MHCLG’s local digital collaboration discovery may have findings that can be applied to this research.
  • Local Government Association has existing research may provide a useful perspective for this work.

We plan to use these user research methods:

  • Desk research to build up an understanding of the different approaches taken to tackle culture change
  • Assumptions gathering to help the types of questions needed to help understand the problem
  • Surveys and questionnaires to baseline where organisations feel they are in addressing cultural change and identify success stories and lessons
  • Semi-structured interviews and focus groups to conduct a deeper inquiry into stories including barriers to success and what helped, areas of interest and dynamics within organisations
  • Potential workshops to understand what helped organisations implement change and improvement
  • Synthesis to bring all the research together to identify user and organisational needs

To undertake this research we will:

  • Share information through our own collaboration tools
  • Conduct interviews through face-to-face meetings where possible. If there are geographical or time constraints, we may use video conference facilities instead.
  • Conduct focus groups and workshops face-to-face.
  • Recruit participants from the project partners. We will also recruit participants for surveys and interviews from other local authorities using social media, existing networks, localgovdigital slack and MHCLG contacts.

We have developed an outline project plan on Trello.

According to Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, “Digital transformation has a mixed track record across government. It has not yet provided a level of change that will allow government to further reduce costs while still meeting people’s needs.”

We experience this mixed track record in local government. It represents a significant cost to our local authorities, that is often intangible and hard to quantify. We can sometimes measure it indirectly through the actual savings realised by our transformation programmes being less than the expected savings.

A lack of internal capabilities or capacity can result in the use of expensive consultancy services with mixed results. A transformation programme that aims to achieve digitisation won’t realise as much savings as full digital transformation.

The outcome of these challenges means that attempts to improve service delivery are less likely to succeed and threaten to undermine specific projects.

Nationally, local authorities spend nearly half a billion pounds each year on management consultants. These consultants are a response to a user need that local authorities are unable to meet themselves. Meeting these users needs could see the spend on management consultants reduced and redirected to service delivery.

According to the Nesta report ‘Connected councils’, digitisation programmes, that bring in widespread technological change, have the potential to save up to 13% of a council’s expenditure. A full digital transformation programme, that change the practices and ways of working as well as technology, has the potential to save up to 40% of a council’s expenditure.

Using the latest local authority service expenditure data, this would suggest a potential difference in expenditure of up to £37 billion each year. At this scale, even a marginal increase in the success of digital transformation in local government could have a huge impact with reduced pressure on council budgets.

We will seek to size and validate this cost in two ways:

  • Collating information from project partners and widely with local government on cost and benefit realisation of digital transformation, categorising them as digitisation or full transformation.
  • Collating information from project partners and widely with local government on the use, cost, success and failure experienced by engaging management consultants and similar services.
  • Understanding any correlation between the user research and financial research.
  • Scaling up the findings to get a national estimate for the cost of this problem.

Our project partners will work in regional groups (Hampshire, Yorkshire and London), so that we can undertake co-located collaboration. The City of York will use their in-house user research team within their region in conjunction with the digital agency, while the other regions will work with the digital agency. We’ll take the same user research approach and collate our group findings together into one set of outputs.

Each project partner will provide at least one member of the project team from their transformation or organisation development teams. Rushmoor will provide project management and a project team member.

We value the use of simple, accessible tools to manage the project. We will set up a Whatsapp chat for the project team to communicate effectively and share documentation using github.

We will set up a github site as a document repository, to share outputs and talk openly about our progress.

We will take an agile project management approach to governing this discovery. Working alongside the digital agency, each project partner lead will agree their contribution to the work at the beginning of the project, each phase and each sprint. Regular progress updates will be posted to the Whatsapp group. At the end of each sprint, we’ll run a review to share our work, consider any lessons learnt and agree next steps.

We would need our project team to undertake the following training together:

  • Agile for Teams
  • Introduction to User-centred Design.

We would like help raising awareness of any surveys, research and progress updates with the rest of local government through the collaboration unit’s email newsletter and twitter feeds.

Before publishing our Digital Marketplace opportunity, we would like the collaboration unit to provide advice on using the framework and feedback on our requirements.