A 'Digital Tool' for all Planning Functions

Full Application: Not funded at this stage

The problem is that the planning service is provided by a number of out of date systems and processes that are not linked together. This provides a confusing, chaotic, opaque system that does not work for service providers and users. There is no tool for this and there is no roadmap or business case for procuring a online tool.

This discovery would look at how to to provide a quick, easy to use online tool for the planning service that allows the end user to use and access a simple easy to navigate system that is responsive to different platforms with clear communication using mobile phones, tablets and desk top computers in order to speed up decisions on planning applications and to stimulate more development and house building.

This online tool is not just a website, it is a tool for the back and front end services within planning including searching policy documents without pdfs, data, planning applications, enforcement, maps etc. The concept is stand alone, however this will also explore whether this could be introduced for other councils and services particularly linked services such as environment, highways and land charges.

The discovery phase objectives are to explore what the online tool will look like to provide a comprehensive planning service where every activity can be carried out online, working with partners to ensure broad UX is undertaken and outcomes are considered so that they could be beneficial to all of the partners, the GLA and others.


Southwark Council is fully committed to the digital declaration being a co-publisher.

As with previous projects we will use the Digital Marketplace to procure an external company to lead this project. We have found this to be an extremely effective method of procurement, which ensures an agile, iterative approach to developing services around user needs.

The work will follow an established pattern:

Inception (week 1)

  1. Review the current service
  2. Produce a UX plan
  3. Agree a set of principles for working with partners and stakeholders
  4. Workshop with partners to agree a roadmap

Road mapping (week 2)

  1. Clarification for all partners of the project of the vision and objectives
  2. Define capabilities
  3. Identify user needs
  4. Identify dependencies
  5. Define and prioritise the scope of work

User Research and Technical Discovery (week 3 – 11)

  1. Prepare the UX plan and user journeys
  2. Prepare the business plan
  3. Prepare the conclusion and recommendations
  4. Prepare A product roadmap
  5. Share the information widely through show and tells and online methods, partner review and improvements
  6. Create safe, secure and useful ways of sharing information to build trust among partners and citizens
  7. Good practice reviews

This will be in line with the Government Service Manual and Technology Code of Practice

The digital online tool financial savings can not be quantified however the benefits are considerable and the business case will be setting this out from the research. The business case will include user experience research on the following benefits:

  1. A more efficient, accessible planning system
  2. Clear, easy to find information
  3. The impact of incorrect information and data
  4. Cost savings for developers, residents, businesses, members in both time and money
  5. More development and more homes as this will encourage applying for planning permission, finding out where sites are for development
  6. Quicker systems as information is available, less checking, less replication, less costs
  7. Agile ways of working meeting user needs based on common and open application data standards, remove supplier lock in, ways of updating easily, stimulate and be a critical component of the future digital planning system
  8. Reusable and open planning data with minimal input will create new value propositions
  9. Improved communications of planning and development
  10. Lack of co-ordinated planning information, data and services with other authorities, services within Councils, strategic organisations etc


Southwark is already leading on a London group of forward thinking digital planning boroughs and part of a national network of forward thinking digital planning boroughs. We are holding a national event on November 26 2018. This project will build on existing work in all of the London and National digital planning projects that are currently being carried out. There is a common and widespread need to revolutionise the planning system for all users so that this is online. The partners will ensure that this project is relevant to others by continuing to share knowledge, discussing common solutions and also the show and tells and user testing, google hangout, slack etc which will encourage participation nationally and ensure there are inspiration and ideas from a wide range of sources.


The project outputs will be ready to share online as they will be prepared, shared and updated throughout the project weekly with information available as it is completed.

The outputs will be

A business case that all boroughs could use to gain sign off to introduce the digital planning service. This will include costs and process and it will research, test and design so that councils can procure something new.

A user research report justifying the project’s conclusions. This will  sets out the extent to which a framework digital service and a process could be introduced in Southwark and replicated in all councils. It will give us an understanding about the most effective way to create a new digital service and the stages required. This might consider who service users are, why they find it difficult to navigate the service, what information they need, which technology, and navigation for the user. This will use Southwark as an example followed by how this can be replicated nationally with example partner boroughs.

A Conclusion that determines whether the project should proceed to alpha. The evidence included will be:

  1. A user journey map
  2. The team and resources required to build an alpha
  3. A set of metrics and KPIs to measure success
  4. An outline of the intended functionality, flows and technical considerations
  5. Summary of findings
  6. A roadmap pulling together how this project will link with others nationally and in the London Borough of Southwark
  7. The functionality, flows and technical considerations to create the new service
  8. A recommendation to go to alpha or change approach

The project outputs will be produced during sprints and released through fortnightly show and tells. User research will be shared in LocalGovDigital user research library, through the London and National digital planning groups and online more widely.

The users are split into 2 categories: those who use the back end systems and those who use the front end systems

The back end system users are planning officers, IT officers, other council officers, GLA or strategic and Government officers

The front end system users are residents, businesses, applicants for planning permission, students, the development industry, Councillors and others interested in planning

The discovery for this project will include all of the above in the user research through interviews, collaborative documents, questionnaires, testing using show and tells and other online systems

The proposed user research objectives are:

  1. To define the user needs for redesigning the planning service so that it can be a fully digital service. It will look at why the users have so many issues, what the alternative web tools and interfaces are that would make a digital tool intuitive. This includes planning policy, development management, enforcement, appeals, monitoring, research, design, links with the London Development Database
  2. To consider what information could be in a planning tool to pull information to the user rather than the user having to find it
  3. Can all planning services be accessed by front and back end staff online
  4. Can this be replicated for other services considering the interface with the entire council website, focusing on services that are linked to planning such as highways, environment, land charges, building control
  5. Can this be replicated from Southwark in other councils within and outside London