Government Digital Service Podcast

Government Digital Service Podcast #20: Celebrating 2 years of the Local Digital Declaration

June 29, 2020

Laura Stevens:

Hello and welcome to the Government Digital Service podcast. My name is Laura Stevens and I’m a Creative Content Producer at GDS. And today we’re going to be talking about the Local Digital Declaration. This is a set of guiding principles that help support local authorities, of all sizes and capabilities, to deliver great digital services and platforms that meet the needs of their users. And since it launched 2 years ago, 223 public sector organisations have signed up to it. 

 

And to tell me more about the work the declaration has done is Lisa Jeffrey and May-N Leow. So welcome both to the podcast, please could you tell me who you are, where you work and how you’re involved with the Local Digital Declaration. 

 

Lisa Jeffery:

So yeah, I'm Lisa Jeffery. I'm a Regional Relationship Manager for Government Digital Service, GDS, I'm based in Leeds. And we're here to help open doors and raise awareness of the support that's available from GDS and to connect people where it's beneficial to do so to support digital transformation. I started working at GDS in May 2018, and that's just a couple months before the Local Digital Declaration launched in July 2018, and I've been involved ever since then really over the last 2 years. 

 

May-N Leow:

Hi everyone. I’m May-N Leow, and Head of the Local Digital Collaboration Unit. So almost a year now at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government [MHCLG], and yeah, Lisa is a fantastic champion of, of the declaration and we love working with her and GDS.

 

So I’ve actually seen it from both sides. So when I was working in the council in Southwark, we were co-signatories of the declaration, we also applied for the funds - so I have that perspective of what it feels like to be in the council. So yeah, it’s been really fantastic seeing it from both sides of, of the pond.

 

Laura Stevens:

So I described the Local Digital Declaration briefly in the introduction. But I’d like to hear a bit more about it. It’s a set of 5 principles - could we talk through them?

 

May-N Leow:

So it's, it’s, as you say kind of Laura, it’s, we’ve got 5 principles in the declaration, and it's based around the GDS Service Manual as well as the Technology Code of Practice. 

 

But the key things for us is that obviously we want users and citizens need to be first when you know, designing a system and offering good local services. And the second one is around fixing the plumbing - so we want to fix the hard, complex problems. It's not very sexy but it's completely vital for delivering good services. And then we want to design safe, secure and useful ways of sharing information and data and that's even more critical from COVID and what we've learned in the crisis response. And then the fourth one is to kind of demonstrate leadership in creating the conditions for genuine organisational transformation, making sure that it can actually happen. And then lastly, working in the open whenever we can so as many people can learn from, from each other. 

 

So those are kind of, the 5 principles we have in the declaration.

 

Laura Stevens:

So the Local Digital Declaration is a joint initiative from GDS and MHCLG. And can you describe for me who is it for? 

 

Lisa Jeffery:

 

So it's aimed primarily at local authorities and other public sector organisations that meet the requirements of signing the Local Digital Declaration. 

 

I think the Local Digital Declaration is a, is a great example of what can be achieved if, if we all work together. It's co-written by 45 different organisations, so it's really about shared ambition for the future of public services in the internet age. And it's now been signed by 223 different organisations.

 

Laura Stevens:

And can you describe some of the councils who have signed it? Sort of, are they big councils, are they small councils, who’s signed up?

 

May-N Leow:

I think it's all across the board. So we have obviously your big city, metropolitan kind of councils right through to your county and district councils. Obviously there are other organisations, other than councils, that have signed up to the declaration, so we're pretty much approaching that three quarter mark of, of all councils in England, which is you know, great and shows the level of ambition that, that councils are, are showcasing in terms of wanting to deliver like modern, amazing services to, to their citizens and community. 

 

Laura Stevens:

And I know you, both of you referenced this in the introduction, I wanted to go back in time a bit, looking back to 2018 because it's obviously its 2 year birthday coming up very shortly. So could you tell me, perhaps Lisa from the GDS point of view and May-N from when you were working Southwark Council point of view, why was the Local Digital Declaration created?

 

May-N Leow:

Yeah. And, and I would say certainly being on the other side when the Declaration was being created, it was, it was, the need born out from it's kind of like a place, one place can state what does good look like for local services and what the ambition looks like for local services? And certainly in, again, in, in Southwark, I used it as a mechanism to drive forward a lot of things that I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise - so saying here's the declaration, we’ve committed to it, you know other organisations have committed to it and this is the bar that we should try to kind of meet. So using that to say you know, we need to have user research, we need to do-build services in that user-centered way. 

 

Again I could not have done without the Declaration, without kind of the Local Digital Fund. So certainly being a council officer, having something like that, it's just such a powerful mechanism to not only showcase what's possible, what we should be doing but then, but then also sort of say to senior management, this is what we're committing to so let's do it.

 

Lisa Jeffery:

And at the beginning as well, we did, we did some roadshows. I think it was really important that we got out and about around the country when, when we could, and that we could understand each other and work together across local and national government. 

 

Laura Stevens:

You mentioned there about the roadshows, and you mentioned there about how you, it showed you what good looked like specifically for local councils, how important was that creation and collaboration between local and central government?

 

May-N Leow:

I mean, I-I think it was crucial to make something like this actually work, because you, you need both perspectives of organisations from a council side, what central government is trying to achieve, and other organisations like LGA [Local Government Association] as well, that kind of fed into the, the declaration.

 

So it's, it’s not really that MHCLG kind of holds the declaration or is responsible for it, we're just kind of like keeping it for, for the sector at this point in time. And it's very much like a shared commitment and an ownership of, of the declaration. So I think it was really crucial that it was co-written and co-published.

 

Lisa Jeffery:

Yeah I-I think I'd agree. As in there's, there's, it's more like a movement of course, than a mandate. So I think we're all on a journey to improve public services and to make things better for people fundamentally - so collaboration and building capability and community and being human centered and understanding how we are connected, are all enablers to that goal really. 

 

Laura Stevens:

And Lisa, so can you explain a bit about your role as a Regional Relationship Manager? Because I know since you've been here for 2 years, you’ve made about, over 40 visits in person to councils?

 

Lisa Jeffery:

Yep. So as a Regional Relationship Manager for the Government Digital Service, GDS, based in Leeds, we’re here to sort of open doors to GDS, raise awareness of the support that's available from GDS and to connect people where it's beneficial to support digital transformation. And since the launch of the Local Digital Declaration, I’ve made 40 visits in person to local authorities and I've also met with many more local authorities through communities and events like LocalGovCamp, where the Local Digital Declaration had a launch.

 

It's been really helpful to connect with local authorities and to learn with them and to visit them in their own context. And I've seen the value of that and joining up services, people and places to act as an enabler for collaboration.

 

Laura Stevens:

May-N, I know your team is the Local Digital Collaboration Unit. Can you talk about your work there and also how you saw it from the other side at Southwark?

 

May-N Leow:

Yeah. So currently we've got a number of projects that we're funding via the Local Digital Fund. 

 

So we’re funding basically projects to solve common challenges that councils have. So we're currently in round 4 of our funding, so we do it in a stage kind of way, and some of the rounds are open so councils can apply with completely new challenges or new ideas, and some of our rounds are closed - those ones, those rounds are to allow our funded projects to kind of progress to, to the next stage.

 

So we've actually funded 23 projects so far and 100 distinct councils have actually worked collaboratively together on those projects - so we've, we've definitely shown via the fund that you know councils can actually come together and work on common challenges. And like to be completely frank, I, when, when I was still there, I was a bit dubious about this myself, ‘cause everyone knows it's hard - like yeah, everyone wants to kind of share and collaborate together but you know, everyone's got their own day jobs, it takes time, it takes you know resources to actually do collaborative working. 

 

So with, with the fund, it actually managed to bring councils together that we wouldn't have necessarily work together before. So for example, when we were running the housing repairs project in Southwark, we had Lincoln, Gravesham and Lewisham working with Southwark. And we didn't have a relationship from a housing repair side before, but because that was a priority problem for those councils, we actually came together and it worked! 

 

So I think it kind of demonstrates that when those problems are you know, unique but a priority to certain councils, councils will come together to, to solve those common challenges. So I think that's the great thing we've actually seen and proven is that, that is possible as long as we remove and de-risk a lot of those barriers to collaborative working. So obviously that's why we offer the funds so that you know councils with really stretched budgets are not using kind of like their own money and, and resources to actually solve those challenges. And some of these problems are really big for, for just one council to solve. 

 

Lisa Jeffery:

It's been super helpful I think to connect and to learn alongside with local authorities and going to visit them in their context through my visits, and I've seen the value in cross-organisational sort of connections and to join up services, people and places to, to enable the collaboration.  

 

I think it's really helpful what the, what the Local Digital Declaration is doing to sort of highlight the good work that councils are doing, and finding those assets that we can build on together and it's also helping create that space for the people and organisations to create their own value within, within that space. 

 

Laura Stevens:

And this has sort of preempted my next bit of question, because I was gonna ask about what has it allowed to happen over the 2 years.

 

May-N Leow:

Yeah. I guess that, that bit about demonstrating the willingness and the ambition in council. So when the Local Digital Fund was first announced and we'd launched the first round, we had 389 expressions of interest which was amazing, and the majority of the ideas were all really sound.

 

And I think that, that bit about, what Lisa was saying, on the amplifying the great work that is happening - most councils just don't have the time to kind of blog and write about the amazing things that they're doing, and a lot of the times they don't think it's amazing. 

 

So I think the, the sharing and the learning from each other can't, can’t be underrated - it's, it's so important, whether they're funded projects or not funded projects, I think it's really important to get all these different approaches out so people can say, ‘yeah that works, that will work for me’, or ‘no I can actually just tweak this kind of approach’, so they're not starting from zero. 

 

Laura Stevens:

And I think one thing as well, in terms of not starting from zero, we've seen the increased use of common components across local government. Pete Herlihy, in last month's podcast, said we do have nearly as many service teams in local government using GOV.UK Notify as we do in central government. And so, and things like GOV.UK Pay as well, that local government able to pick up and use in their service. And Lisa, I know you've spoken at design calls about, about this as well.

 

Lisa Jeffery:

Yeah, absolutely. I think local authorities, they're delivering complex services, there's, there’s limited resources and it's often done at pace in, in these super challenging times - so there's real potential for platforms to improve outcomes. 

 

So for example, yeah Lisa Trickey, at Dorset Council, ran a great session with us the other week about how they are using GOV.UK Notify and Pay within their services. We announced GOV.UK Notify and Pay local authority pilots back in 2017, and then we opened a lot more alongside the launch of the Local Digital Declaration. And since then uptake of these platforms, especially Notify, has grown a lot as you say, in local government. And there does seem to be a universal willingness as May-N said, among Local Digital Declaration projects to be using government platforms - so that's just fantastic to see. 

 

Laura Stevens:

And you've teed that up very nicely, because we now have a clip from Lisa Trickey. 

 

Lisa Trickey: 

So I am Lisa Trickey. I was appointed last summer as the Service Manager for Digital Strategy and Design at Dorset Council. So we're a relatively new council. We were only formed on the 1 April last year, and prior to that I worked in the County Council and I was, I've always pretty much been involved in technology and digital work. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

So as you said Dorset is a new council, and in a blog post you wrote, by signing the Local Digital Declaration in the summer of 2018, “it was great timing for us because it aligned with our digital aspirations, work we were already doing and has enabled digital to be at the heart of the new Dorset Council that is being formed”. So can you talk a bit more about that, how it's helped you? 

 

Lisa Trickey: 

We, we were really keen. we wanted to create this brand new council you know taking the best of the bits of the work from previous councils but we wanted to create something new and different. But obviously on day one we didn't have all the policies and strategies that you would normally have in place for a new council. So the declaration for me in particular has been that mandate that I can reference, I can hook the work onto and I can talk about to the organisation. 

 

We were able to create dedicated capacity for digital and change. So we've got that dedicated capacity to help the organisation to adopt digital but what was really important is we didn't want it to be seen as technology - we wanted it to be seen as something different to that. And from my perspective for digital to be a success it has to permeate through everything in the organisation.

 

But there is this really fine balance all the time between technology and then bringing it back to people and designing services. So the other thing that we've done is celebrated Services Week. So that's been a brilliant initiative from GDS because actually when we started to celebrate Services Week, which we've done for 2 years, we actually had a different set of

people coming to the room and suddenly realised that actually digital isn't just about technology it's about yeah, doing things really differently and making sure that we meet the needs of our customers. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

What do you think by signing the Local Digital Declaration, it’s allowed Dorset to do that it would have been able to do otherwise?

 

Lisa Trickey:

So I think in, in local government there are always lots of competing agendas, lots of competing priorities and unless you have legislation or some sort of government policy or guidance to hook your work on to it can be really hard to drive that work forward. Unless you've got a Chief Executive that really gets it you know and we're actually quite fortunate in Dorset that we do have a really fantastic Chief Executive when it comes to digital. But what the declaration does then is gives you a clear mandate to have those conversations, you can reference what is happening elsewhere and that's really helpful. And it's really clear it's really clear about what we should be doing and so you can start to think about the plans and priorities you know for your particular council as a result of that. 

 

Laura Stevens:

And I just wanted to ask about the common components because I know Dorset uses GOV.UK Pay for lots of your services including things like abandoned vehicle charges, highway licenses. And you also use GOV.UK Notify for other public sector services like blood online reporting tool and services to support young people. How in particular has Dorset used GOV.UK Notify?

 

Lisa Trickey: 

So we've used Notify to both integrated with our systems and just using the backend of Notify to to send information. And we've used Notify for text messaging information, emailing but also probably the biggest through posting letters. So our waste partnership for example, have used it to notify residents of changes to rounds or recycling schemes. We've

used it during COVID to respond to residents, keep residents informed and even a group of staff that don't have access to the IT network informed. It's so quick and easy to set up and in terms of trying to save money, using GOV Notify over the last year we've saved £55,000. Which I know is not massive in the scale of things but actually every penny counts at the moment for local government. So if you can quickly replace posting a letter with Notify or even better doing it by email or by text then that's that's really, really helpful.

 

We've also used it to think about how we improve our communication with customers and particularly around parents who have children with special educational needs and we had this concept of the educational health and care plan process takes 20 weeks so it's quite a long time. So how do we keep them better up-to-date? And that's changed the experience of that service completely for parents. It's improved the relationship between the service and parents so these components have a really you have a really big impact really positive impact for relatively, for relatively low time investment.

 

Laura Stevens: 

So how has being part of the Local Digital Declaration community, how, how have you been able to connect with others? Have you spoken to other councils, perhaps in other areas of the country that you maybe might not connected with before? 

 

Lisa Trickey: 

Definitely. One of the best things for me that, that came out of the declaration is now we're able to connect with people through the Slack channel that has been put in place for this. And that's just brilliant - you can reach out to anybody and just ask ‘are you doing this?’, you know or ‘we're doing this’ and that's just been brilliant. 

 

In particular we've been working with Barnsley on a Local Digital Funded project around income. So it's enabled us to get involved in that. But you know before it was just really difficult. You didn't know, especially I think being down in the south west, you know it's not like when you're in the London boroughs and you've got those connections quite close by.

 

So to, to be able to be part of that network and to be able to reach out to people. And I have to say it's one of the the best communities in terms of people are always so helpful to share information, prior to COVID, meet you, show you what they've been doing, you know it's absolutely fantastic to have that, that network, and to be able to use that.

 

Laura Stevens:

And you mentioned COVID and I saw this month you tweeted: ‘the declaration and fund has been so positive for local government in raising the digital agenda locally, sharing and learning from each other across the country, it’s definitely positioned us better to respond to COVID-19’. Could you talk a bit more how the declaration has helped you?

 

Lisa Trickey: 

Definitely. I mean because we've been in a place where we've been doing our own sort of low code and development, we’ve stood up over 10 online services. They've taken over 20,000 sort of applications so, we were able to move at pace for those things which was, which was really helpful.

 

In terms of the department, MHCLG, having the Friday calls and you know quickly putting those in place so we were able to connect into those and hear what other people were doing. And you know learn from others continually so they were brilliant - you didn’t feel so alone in what you were doing. And we, you, what we often find in the world of digital we find that information then you can share across the rest of the organisation and push into different areas so that's really helpful. 

 

Laura Stevens: 

Part of the declaration is committing to a project and Dorset's was about developing the digital skills with Dorset Council Partnership. I don't if you could tell me a bit more about that?

 

Lisa Trickey: 

Yeah, so we've done, so, so our declaration project was around digital skills and we've come at that from sort of multiple different angles and actually we've just been nominated in Digital Leaders for it so quite excited about that.  

 

So one of the strands is around developing champions within the community. So we have about 75 digital champions within the community, helping with that digital inclusion gap that we see. And when COVID hit that was, and that enabled us to be in a position where we could move that offer into a digital hotline and people were able to ring and get that support. So people who'd never even thought about going online pre-COVID suddenly were interested in order to keep in contact with their families. So we've had over 220 calls to that and I think that's just that will remain as a lasting legacy I think of COVID and will continue to grow.

 

Laura Stevens: 

Well congratulations. I wish you luck with all the nominations.

 

And so if there's somebody from a council or local government who's listening, and they maybe haven't signed it, is there anything you'd like to say to sort of, to them about why or how it's helped you or they're like address anything you think they might be concerned about? 

 

Lisa Trickey: 

I, I get quite a lot of contact about people, how you get started? And I think just being part of that bigger network, hearing what other people are doing, learning you know from people like Hackney are, are doing fantastic work - I might not have had sight of that before this. So you know, having that ability to learn from others. And you know I hope we get to a point with the Local Digital Fund alpha projects that, you know they will be able to be shared and you will be able to take those and you know implement them here in Dorset.

 

You know what the declaration has done is just, it's opened up those networks. You can see what other people are doing. When you're starting out on digital in a local authority, quite often you're the only one trying to champion the cause and having people that you can talk to and see, actually the end, you know the end, well not necessarily the end results, but there's, there's good progress being made and it’s worth, it's worth the effort - that's really helpful. It kind of keeps you going and until you can build that coalition inside your own organisation to help with that messaging, those networks are really valuable.

 

May-N Leow:

I think for me that, what, what Lisa says right at the end about that you're not alone. Certainly again, in a similar kind of feelings when you're, you’re in a council and you're thinking: ‘am I just a mad digital person in the entire council?’ So that definitely resonates with me when I was working in council, is like I said, being a part of that community, being able to say here's what good looks like and here's what we should be doing, is, is so powerful. So it's great to hear that you know, we're supporting Lisa in that kind of way and also giving her a place to call home - that she's, she's not the odd one out, there's lots of people in this space and, and everyone's willing to kind of share and help each other out - so that was really heartwarming for me.

 

Lisa Jeffery:

Yeah. I think it just really struck me that, that local authorities are on the frontline of public service provision, and really helping people to do the things that they need to do within their communities and delivering such a lot, really.

 

I thought the, the comments around leadership, we're really interesting and getting that buy-in. And the focus on user-centered design as well, is really interesting.

 

I think that's kind of opened up - when we, when we held the Local, the first Local #GovDesign Day as well, in partnership with Birmingham City Council as well, that's kind of something that's kind of opened up as a, as, as, as something that's kind of come out of us all working together I think, with MHCLG - and that was something the user-centered design community did and that was attended by around 200 people.

 

Laura Stevens:

Also part of the Digital Declaration is building digital capability, we’re now going to hear from Paul Fleming, who’s organisation has gone on GDS Academy training.

 

Paul Fleming:

So, so my name is Paul Fleming. I’m the Director of Digital and Business Change in Blackburn with Darwen Council, which is a unitary authority in the north west of England.

 

Laura Stevens:

And am I right in saying you've been at the council for about 2 years now? And it's been quite a busy time for the digital team over that period - there's a new digital directorate that’s been formed, and you’ve had a new website published.

 

Paul Fleming:

Yeah it's been a bit of a rollercoaster couple of years. So I came over from the NHS, I'd, I’d worked sort of locally and nationally in the NHS. And decided to make the leap into local government and that was, that was - I think that’s 2 years this week. So it's been a really exciting couple of years.  It was a new directorate that was formed, quite a large team - just under 150 staff.  And it was really the dawn of a new era with, with digital and, and trying to take things further for our local population.

 

Laura Stevens:

And you signed the Local Digital Declaration in February 2019, how has it helped you?

 

Paul Fleming:

It’s helped us in many ways I think. 

 

So first of all, it was a real visible commitment for us, signing the declaration. It was something that was really exciting for me. I've always been around collaboration, around learning. And I think it, it provided this, this brilliant framework for us. But, but first and foremost, it was a visible commitment for us - we, we got our exec member - our, our elected member - you know stood up in front of the press with me, talking about, about that locally. It was a sign to, to the public - it was a real sign to our organisation of, of a path of travel for us.

 

And it really it gave us a framework from, from there on in that I've been able to, to work with my teams and wider teams on to, to... I suppose beyond that create, create a bit of a culture with the organisation. I think you know, a lot of that would have been achievable without, without a sort of national and local collaboration like, like the declaration, but it, it definitely helped me. It definitely legitimised a lot of the thinking that we were doing. 

 

And I suppose since then what, what it's opened up - you know some of the learning and some of the collaboration has definitely been able to take us, enabled us to go further than what we could have done I think, without it.

 

Laura Stevens:

And you mentioned there about the collaboration and learning. Could you give me some examples of that? 

 

Paul Fleming:

Yeah, I think one of the major things the declaration has brought is the blogs, to me. I find this really interesting that there’s this open way of working. As a council, we launched our blog - I had my eye on many of the blogs, like learning from others, and, and I just found, found them so open and, and, and so much learning in there, that was a really refreshing change for me. 

 

I think you know wider than that, collaborating on bids has been interesting. We've not, I don't think we've, we've been successful with a bid yet through, through the sort of collaborative funding over the last whatever, 18 months it's been. But what we have got from working on those bids is collaborating with others. So I know we were working with Lincolnshire Council around waste and we've talked to a number of others, Leeds Council amongst other local authorities. 

 

I think important for me - I came from a different sector, a different part the public sector in the NHS, and it's helped me speed up those connections with, with people you know, through social media off the back of the blogs, off the back of the collaborations and, and I just think that would have took me a longer time, it would have took me more, more than this couple of years to really build some decent conversations up with people.

 

Laura Stevens:

You’ve preempted my, my next question which was, if you, ‘cause you're talking there about how the Local Digital Declaration like really massively sped up things for you. I was gonna ask if you hadn't signed it, what do you think would have been different?

 

Paul Fleming:

I think the pace of change might, might have been different, I think it would have been slower. And maybe you know, if I hadn't have signed it, I'd have been looking from the outside in. So I would have been picking up all of this but without being a signatory, and we wouldn't have then made that commitment to the wider cause and that's important.

 

And since signing the declaration and picking up all those different connections, I just have a much better network. And it's really important that I commit to that network and, and you know our counsellors are full signatory to that, so that I, I share that learning so other people don't go through maybe the pain I went through before in, in trying work some of these things out. So, so really really progress and transformation can work faster by this sort of you know, super learning network that, that is built up.

 

And you know when I looked into everything, there was some really good networks going on. And, and this is kind of, this brings together a bit of, a bit of a family of, of those networks. So it just opened, opened up my eyes to the sector, opened up a lot of connections, and yeah, definitely, definitely speeded up both pace for me, and hopefully pace for others learning from us now.

 

Laura Stevens:

Yeah for sure. I think the community aspect of it is something, that when I've been researching, has come up a lot. So what shared challenges do councils have?

 

Paul Fleming:

We're all trying to do the same things - we've got the same challenges, the same requirements for people. And it's up to us then to land those solutions, working with people locally, co-designing what we're doing to get that right for people. And the more we share those designs and those approaches, I think the faster we can get to the right conversation with, with people and residents locally. 

 

We've shared challenges around, certainly COVID-19 and the pandemic and the challenges that’s thrown up. Massive amount of collaboration and good open working on that, that’s helped us. I think the website, when we released the website last year, we went open source and was doing a lot of learning from others on that. 

 

Laura Stevens:

And talking about the coronavirus response, and that is a challenge faced by everybody, I was reading a blog post you’d written where you said: ‘last summer we had undergone Government Digital Service training in Agile ways of working including rapid development of solutions, multidisciplinary development and user research - and we’re using this learning in dealing with the pandemic’. 

 

And this learning was provided through the digital declaration, wasn’t it? 

 

Paul Fleming:

It was yeah. I mean this has been, this has been, I don't know if it's luck - it's definitely part design, part luck at around timing. But we, we went through the GDS Agile teams training last summer, summer 2019. That, that was perfect timing going into such a huge crisis because everything we've learned and, and, and expanded on since then, has, has been used. And I don't think we would have handle this pandemic as well without that training. 

 

We, we really went on a journey after doing the agile teams training. A lot of the team started to get really interested in the agenda obviously, and get interested in, in the individual lines of learning you know, customer research or, or service design or, or other sections. So that started to break out, we developed our own internal learning track off the back of that, and we've expanded that across the council. And so we started with my directorate and probably, probably trained 100 people in the directorate on, on the GDS team’s approach, Agile teams approach. 

 

But then we started to break that out into different departments. So we had people from social care, we had people from environmental health, we had people from environment and waste - all doing the same sort of training that we had through, through GDS. So it, I can't, I can't stress how valuable that, that has been going through that. And the fact that it was you know, it was complimentary, it was free training for us at that time through signing the declaration, was just, was just great and massive for us. I don't know if we could have invested as much as we did. So, so we created this movement off the back of that. And you know, it's part declaration, but the big part of signing up was, was, was the input we got from the training. 

 

And the movement kind of started, the first thing we did, the first agile project we did was to redesign the space that the digital team worked in. And this engaged the whole team, they ran it on sprints, they ran it with kanbans in this one corner of the office that, that they had, you know. So the office then you know, a couple of months later looked completely different. I think that then grew, other people saw that, HR then saw that and they started looking at the, the department and changing their layouts, and this was all based on the learning that we picked up in those courses from, from GDS through the declaration. 

 

So yeah I can't stress how important it's been. It’s, it's kind of really changed the game culturally for us, and importantly it's give us those strong methods, that methodology, because you do need that, you do need that real learning and those real strong methods and approaches to create something good.

 

Laura Stevens:

So it seems like there's been a big ripple effect from it?

 

Paul Fleming:

Yeah, and you know that's exactly what we want. We want, we want a movement, we want a movement around digital and, and design and Agile and the best things for our residents, and, and you know these approaches help us, help us to achieve that.

 

So, so it, it has created a ripple effect, and it's really heartening to see people taking on board the, the thinking. I see things now just happening in the organisation that you know, I suppose many, many years ago you, you would have controlled that from an IT section and it would have gone a lot slower, and people would have been you know against IT sometimes, the technology teams for slowing things down. We, we've now created a movement where things, things are happening. 

 

Laura Stevens:

It's clear this has had a big effect in your organisation. And I guess is there one thing you'd say to somebody who was looking to sign up to the Local Digital Declaration?

 

Paul Fleming:

So I-I think it's multifaceted, I don't think I could say one thing why you should. You know if I was to say one thing, it would be you know come and join, join this collaboration. but really it's multifaceted in, in the fact that, you need to commit - you need to make a visible commitment. And I think you know, as, as a local authority, you’re getting the buy-in from the politicians, ‘cause really you can't sign that declaration without getting executive membership buy-in to that. And by getting that, you're raising the profile of digital. So, so I think commitment, visible commitment and political commitment is important.

 

And then the other things are, and I think 2 more things - one is the framework and the skills you get out of it. And then the third, third part would be around the learning and the collaboration. And I've not even talked, I suppose when I first looked at it you know, I saw there was opportunities around funding. And, and when I was talking to politicians, I said you know if, if we sign this declaration, there is training, there is funding available, it opens up more doors. But the funding has, has not been; I mean we, we’ve not been successful in the funding rounds, but, but that hasn't mattered. We've actually got more out of those other aspects than you know, I can't put a price on some of that stuff because it's going to be taking hundreds of thousands of pounds off our cost lines by working in this way. 

 

So yeah I suppose my, my eyes have been opened the more I've been part of, of what, what the declaration has opened up really is a whole new world for us.

 

Laura Stevens:

So, what about next things you’d like to see the declaration offering?

 

Paul Fleming:

Yeah, I think something I-I kind of called out very early on around, because I come from the NHS and they had like an academy for basically the CIOs [Chief Information Officers] that would go through you know a training, and that was basically like looking at the leadership issues we’ve gotten digital in the NHS. So I came out of that world and when I came into the council, I was looking for the equivalent. And I know the GDS Academy does certain things. I think the, the Digital Declaration could probably go a step further and look at like how we develop that leadership a little bit more in depth. I think that would be an area I’d be really interested in. 

 

But what I did think was can we post more people out, can we either have short secondments, can we expose people. I would love to expose some of my people to GDS teams, and you know some of these central team were, I think you know sometimes you're at the really sharp end. So I think more, taking that collaboration a step further and actually exposing people - so whether that's across different local authorities, whether that's working between central and local. I think that's, that's an area I'd love to see developed up. You know I'd love to personally sit in another team for a few days and see how things work and invite others to come in and do the same in our team, and, and you know ditto for all, all of my staff who have got the interest on, on that side.

 

May-N Leow:

Just fantastic to hear from, from Paul and the feedback that he's had in his council. It kind of mirrors the experience I had in Southwark as well as that. You know when you're initially trying to sell why you should sign the Declaration, you obviously use the funding and the free training as that kind of carrot to get your senior management and politicians interested, but then seeing the wider benefits of like the, the results of the training as well as that kind of organisational transformation and that ingraining of digital and user-centeredness approach is, is always fantastic to, to hear. And Paul's like a great example to showcase what, what is possible when you've got that someone who believes that and drives it and use the declaration, as well as all the benefits, to kind of spearhead the movement in his council. So I think that, that again, stuck with me. 

 

And other, in terms of training, obviously it’s partner-partnership with GDS Academy. We've put through 1,183 Council Officers and leaders to date, on free training. And yeah, we've just had amazing feedback in response on, on that - especially the Agile for Teams, that kind Paul references. And because we go to the councils when we run that training - I think that's the great thing about that particular course, where it's in the council, it's with other people in your council rather than you in isolation doing that training. 

 

So because of COVID-19, a lot of our training is on pause at the moment. But we are going to be looking with GDS Academy to start the training back up again. Obviously following government regulations.

 

Lisa Jeffery:

Yeah,I mean wow, what, what, what a great story of, of change and, and overcoming challenges.

 

I really like how Paul is involving everyone on, on this journey and including people, and thinking about the enablers to change, even down to redesigning the space in which people work. So yeah, there was, as May-N said, there's MHCLG and GDS Academy run, run training to build this capability. And courses, some of them were delivered at the time at the GDS Academy venues, and then the Agile for Teams was delivered at the local authorities’s own location, and it kind of enables the teams to get this really hands-on experience about how to apply Agile methodologies within their own environment, within their own context. And I thought it was great how Paul's kind of really embedded the learning that he took from the, from the training and he's embedded it and really been able to, to use it. 

 

Laura Stevens:

Paul spoke about how the training has helped his organisation during coronavirus. And how else has the declaration helping during this pandemic?

 

May-N Leow:

Yeah. So initially at the beginning of COVID, we had weekly calls specifically around the crisis response that local authorities are facing obviously, on the sharp end of the stick on supporting the communities. 

 

And then now we're kind of moving to bi-weekly calls on that kind of phase recovery, as again councils start to kind of think of reopening services like libraries, community centres. But as well as that, that blend of face-to-face interaction versus remote interaction. 

 

And there's a real willingness and thing of momentum now from not, to not go back to the way it was. So councils have seen that you know we can do things fast, we can share data, we can do things securely, but do it in a way that actually meets resident needs. So I think there's a real ambition and a real, the right time really to kind of look at all organisational transformation and seeing how digital can actually make service delivery even better and get in, engage more, more residents. 

 

And so we’re, we're also looking at launching a special COVID round, which hopefully will be live once this podcast goes out, so that's in recognition of all that you know, the moving from crisis response now to phase recovery. So again, councils are coming up with similar challenges that we would like to help support councils with.

 

Laura Stevens:

And sort of on that, if somebody is listening from local government, how do they get in touch, how do they stay connected, how do they sign up to the declaration?

 

Lisa Jeffery:

Now I just say, the Slack channels are absolutely fantastic, and the Local Digital Community’s brilliant. And you've got GDS folks on there from all different teams wanting to support you, and answer any questions about any of the kind of support wrap that we had around the Local Digital Declaration, whether that's common platforms, GDS Academy training, we kind of raised a bit of awareness around the Digital Marketplace or the Crown Commercial Service and you know, the Service Standards. 

 

May-N Leow:

Sure, so our website, localdigital.gov.uk, has all the information on how to sign up as a signatory. You can also follow us on Twitter at LDgovUK, and we're all there. And yeah by all means, DM directly to us or to the channel, and we'd love to hear from you.

 

And because we're obviously coming up to our 2 year anniversary in July, not only the podcast, which again thank you for the opportunity to speak about the declaration, we're going to be launching a, a, a whole campaign in celebration, which is going to last a month. So there's going to be lots of activities that will amplify all the amazing work that the local councils are doing at the moment, but also kind of get people to think about how, what does it means to kind of recommit to the declaration, to like properly bring in more of the principles of the declaration, and what, what’s that kind of journey that councils, not just Lisa and Paul, but other people have had. 

 

So we'll be showcasing a lot of those great stories more as well.

 

Laura Stevens: 

So thank you both so much for coming on the podcast today, it's been great having you. And you can listen to all the episodes of the Government Digital Service podcast on Apple Music, Spotify and all other major podcast platforms, and the transcripts are available on PodBean. 

 

May-N Leow:

Thanks Lisa and Laura. It’s been good fun.

 

Lisa Jeffery:

Thanks very much. It’s been brilliant. Thank you.

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