Local digital declaration: turning wise words into bold action

Councils across the country are seeking to save money whilst protecting frontline services.

For many, digital transformation has been viewed as key to solving this conundrum, but the differing approaches, tools and maturity of councils means that the impact of digital has not been as great as many had hoped.

The Local Digital Declaration aims to solve this problem by promoting a collective ambition for digital public service delivery. Initiated by the UK Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the Government Digital Service (GDS), and a collection of local authorities and sector bodies from across the UK, the Local Digital Declaration commits partners to designing citizen-centric services whilst protecting their privacy and security, and challenging the technology market to offer the flexible tools and services required.

The Local Digital Declaration promises a number of benefits:
• Common building blocks that can be reused across the sector
• Peer testing and sharing of knowledge and user research to help councils to design and build services quickly, flexibly and effectively
• Trust frameworks to enable safe data sharing between bodies with the same customers

If these benefits are realised, the Declaration will help councils empower customers, manage demand and become more efficient in the way they operate.

To date there are 144 signatories to the Local Digital Declaration. However, we believe that many councils that choose to sign-up to the Local Digital Declaration will need to overcome one or more of five challenges for it to make a real impact.

Challenge 1: Understanding customers

To design and deliver services that meet the best needs of citizens it is essential that councils first understand customer needs and experience. Not doing so risks developing solutions that are not valued by customers, or simply will not be used.

Challenge 2: Customer strategy and digital governance

A council’s customer strategy should set the direction for and underpin everything it does in delivering digital services. In our experience, councils’ customer strategies are often not aligned to the wider organisational objectives and do not influence how digital services are designed. This results in silo-based decision-making and a fragmented digital offer for customers: These silos need tackling to help improve customer journeys.

Challenge 3: Digital skills and culture

The Local Digital Declaration commits leaders to champion digital services and the workforce to share ideas and engage in communities of practice to develop and try new things. However, recent research indicates that although the digital skills gap is narrowing, just 25% of digital leaders believe their workforce has sufficient knowledge and expertise to deliver their digital strategy. Councils have a big skills and culture challenge when it comes to digital innovation and the design and delivery of digital services: Digital is no longer just the responsibility of senior leaders and people working in traditional digital environments – everyone must now play their part to drive channel shift and demand management agendas.

Challenge 4: Digital channels

Councils are faced with a growing range of digital channels, including websites, apps, and social media. One of the challenges we see councils face is having a strong understanding of what they want to achieve from each digital channel and aligning this to customer need. Ultimately, if councils do not provide the right channels for the right reasons, then customers will be less likely to use them.

Challenge 5: Digital technology

One of the principles underpinning the Local Digital Declaration is that council will ‘fix [their] plumbing’ and break the dependence on inflexible and expensive technology. This is easier said than done: Most councils still rely on inflexible technology from a small number of major local government software houses that charge significant licence fees to open up their products. Changing these systems can be expensive and risky, and many councils lack the technical skills required to adopt the ‘modular’ approach advocated by the Declaration: There needs to be a new conversation about commissioning, which will drive the right architecture and solutions, and potentially remove or reduce much of this risk.

The way forward

At Ignite we believe that the Local Digital Declaration is a strong statement of intent but for it to have a real impact councils must be bold and meet the above challenges head on. To do this they should aim to achieve an optimal state of customer, strategy, governance, capability and delivery. Our digital model below illustrates how these components fit together to enable great digital services:

  • Customer need and experience must inform the customer strategy, governance, and the development and delivery of digital services
  • A single customer strategy drives delivery, and defines how digital will be used to deliver corporate objectives
  • Digital governance outlines how digital delivery will work
  • Staff experience must be one of enablement, translating customer strategy and governance into producing valued digital services
  • Digital delivery – the channels, capability, and technology – provides the mechanism for customers to interact and transact with services

We believe there are five key steps to help councils meet the challenges of the Local Digital Declaration and enable the delivery of great digital services:

1. Engage with your customers to find out what they really think about your digital services, and what their needs are
2. Establish a clear customer strategy that will be brought to life by a digital governance process that everyone across the organisation understands and can benefit from
3. Assess your workforce digital skills and culture, and develop plans to connect staff with customers, increase capability, and embed a digital ethos across the organisation
4. Review your current technology capability and roadmap, and how this translates into customer experience
5. Develop a plan to address the gaps and weaknesses identified, and focus investment where it will have the biggest impact on customer experience
Taking this approach can help with realising the benefits of the Local Digital Declaration and engage customer and staff in achieving financial savings, whilst protecting frontline services that matter most to the public.