Service deliveryDigital Customer ServiceWhy the Local Digital Declaration matters to Stockport

Why the Local Digital Declaration matters to Stockport

GovTech Leaders talks to Stockport Council about the recently launched Local Digital Declaration and what it means for its own digital strategy

Last month, the Local Digital Declaration was launched, setting out the guiding principles that will help support local authorities to deliver digital services that meet the needs of citizens.

The key principles include designing with users in mind and creating an open learning culture that encourages local authorities to share learning. These are the principles that have been guiding Stockport Council’s digital programme for a number of years – and the reason why the council was involved in the drafting of this declaration.

Main positives

When asked what the main positives of the Local Digital Declaration are, Lee Emery, Project Manager for Stockport’s Digital by Design Programme told GovTech Leaders: “At Stockport Council we value the Digital Declaration and have been working really hard to live by all five of the principles. We’re proud of what we have achieved so far as we recognise how hard fought each gain is.

“We’ve been thinking in these terms for many years and we’ve come to realise that we can’t achieve what we need on our own. That’s why the fifth principle about collaboration is key as it goes wider than what we are all trying to achieve individually in our own local worlds. It is only with collaboration that we will be able to work at the scale and pace needed.

“Digital transformation is a complex, expensive and time-consuming activity and if we try to do it alone we will not have the resources to do it in the right way – falling back on outsourcing and software that doesn’t meet customer needs. Big IT systems are currently not suitable and it is only with collective clout that we have any chance of influencing what’s on offer.”

Open data

Recognising this need for collaboration, Stockport is sharing its new digital capabilities as code via open-source.

Councillor Elise Wilson, Cabinet Member for Reform and Governance at Stockport Council says: “We already open-source our new digital capabilities so that they can be reused by other organisations and we frequently share our learning experiences. In September we will open our doors with the launch of our Open Days, which will offer regular opportunities for other public bodies to see what we have done and how we are doing it.”

While it’s hard to quantify how this open data sharing is benefiting citizens at this stage, the council says that by sharing its data and code with other public bodies, it hopes to encourage further innovation and the collaborative development of technology that everybody can use. That, ultimately, will offer real benefits to citizens by providing digital solutions more quickly and more economically than if everybody worked in isolation.

People first

An important aspect of Stockport’s work is its ‘people first’ mantra. Councillor Wilson says: “People are at the heart of everything we do in our Digital by Design programme. The people who develop the services in our digital teams, those who deliver them at the front line and the residents who use them to support their lives. We may be delivering new technology but our end goal is to use digital to improve the customer experience.”

This means the council is taking a new approach to the design of its services, as Emery explains: “For too long we’ve made assumptions about what our customers think and have been judging and designing for them, not with them. We are now testing these assumptions by going to places where our customers are while we are still in the design phase – cafes, libraries, community groups – and actually asking them about their experiences and using them to test mock ups of new technologies.

“What we’ve discovered is that we have often underestimated their ability but have complicated and confused them with unwieldly processes and unclear, jargon heavy language. Once a system is in place we are also trying to be smarter with the metrics we can gather and using it to guide us. With digital services it’s possible to track the journey of users to see where they have abandoned their service request. We are now looking at ways to empower Service Managers so they understand and study the digital journeys they offer and measure whether it is effective.”

As mentioned above, digital transformation is a complex, expensive and time-consuming activity and local authorities are all faced with reducing budgets. The Local Digital Declaration encourages public bodies to work together in the future and pool local authority collective ability and resources to better effect for all. If Stockport is anything to go by, the declaration could be a very welcome initiative.

  • You can find out more about Stockport Council’s digital programme and Open Days updates by clicking here.

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