We’ve published our first digital strategy at the Royal Borough of Greenwich
We’re setting out our digital plans for the next 4 years
Today marks a watershed moment for the Royal Borough of Greenwich, where I’m privileged to lead digital, data, technology, and customer services. We've published our new digital strategy, which sets out how we plan to put services online, use technology to change how we work, and build sustainable digital skills.
I joined the council in January this year, with no idea what lay ahead. I live in the borough, so my job for the first time felt highly personal to my own sense of place and belonging. It gave me a sense of deep accountability to local people, and I knew very quickly that we needed a human-driven way of moving the council forward in how we were using technology. Royal Greenwich has not historically been at the leading edge of digital among local authorities, and I could immediately see the potential to improve our residents’ and staff’s lives; it was a huge but exciting series of challenges, which I was keen to capture in a simple strategy.
Then 9 weeks into the job, COVID hit, and any sense of strategic planning went out of the window as we pivoted to a series of urgent problems: making sure our staff could work from home, quickly spinning up new online services for our highest-need residents and businesses, and taking care of each other through an unprecedented period of intense work. I learned more than I can express about people’s immediate vulnerabilities — about how precarious many people’s lives are. For me, Digital inclusion will never more be about a series of accessibility actions, but about appreciating people’s entire lived experiences, and having a laser focus on how you can help them while causing them the least possible delay or worry.
It was summer before I turned my mind back to thoughts of writing a digital strategy, and what I found was that while the basis of what we felt was the right way forward hadn’t shifted, the way I was framing the problem had. What I hope I’ve expressed is not a technology plan, but a plan for how we’ll use digital technology to help people through the coming years: help them to access services, to connect to each other and to thrive, whatever their circumstances. It is designed to be an iterative strategy, focusing on real outcomes for a real set of people that I care deeply about: our residents, our businesses, our visitors and our staff.
This period has also changed my expectations of what is possible through technology. Since March, new digital services have had to be created not in months or years, but in days or weeks. Focusing on what’s absolutely necessary and iterating from there will, I hope, inspire speed and pragmatism alongside quality, and an absolute focus on user-centred design and thorough research — even when we have to start without those things in place.
Working in the open
This is the first digital strategy that the council has had, and I’m delighted that it will be open for comment from the public, to whom we’re accountable for running the best council possible. Working in the open is fairly new at Royal Greenwich, as it is in many other public sector organisations. It’s testament to the support that the Chief Executive Debbie Warren, and the Leader of the Council Danny Thorpe, have shown, that we’ve come as far as we have.
For me, this marks the beginning of a new era for the council. We’re starting a 4-year period of investment in digital technology, which is no trivial move at a time when all councils are struggling financially. However, it’s clear to us that digital is one of the biggest opportunities we have to keep us on a sustainable financial footing. By helping our residents access services more easily, introducing new channels, using service design to change our processes and systems, and using data to better understand what people need, we will make our services better as well as more cost-effective to run.
At the same time, although we have a major investment window, this is really the beginning of the new normal for Royal Greenwich; we are putting in the building blocks not only to bring the council right up to the present day, but to build the skill set, leadership, and nimble, loosely-coupled technology which mean we will never slip behind.
We’re doing this all by focusing not on show-off technology and futuristic promises (you won’t find AI or the blockchain in this strategy), but on the solid building blocks of a modern public sector organisation which uses digital technology as a means to better serve the public and meet its mission, not as an end in itself.
What we’re going to do
The strategy has 6 workstreams:
Building new online services for residents, with support for those who need it. This is the obvious one: the people in our borough deserve great online services. But this workstream also includes our digital inclusion work — we don’t want anyone to be left behind, and we’ll keep non-digital channels open for those who need them.
Giving our people the tools they need to do the job. We can’t modernise without improving our staff’s experience of technology — their needs are just as valid and real as those of our residents, businesses and visitors. Our people work incredibly hard to offer dozens of vital services across the borough, and we’re going to be giving them better hardware, systems, and platforms so that they can get on with the hard work of serving the public.
Getting better with data. In order to better understand the services people need from us, we need to get used to being data-driven in how we make decisions and prioritise our work. We’ll be working on a range of data projects, from better understanding multiple contacts from residents to building performance dashboards.
Making our infrastructure modern and interoperable. This workstream is where the core of our technology strategy and direction will live, and it underpins our service transformation work. We’ll be building systems that are loosely coupled and joined via APIs, cloud-hosted, and using the best of commodity technology and modern platforms which our new in-house services can use without overbearing contract costs.
Building digital capability. In the 8 years of my career that I’ve been working in digital, I’ve always found that people, not technology, are our most vital assets. This workstream describes the team we will build: a new Digital Group formed of product, delivery, technology, and data skills. It’s a structure that builds on the amazing skills of the people we already have, and which will also help us hire, retain and develop our most precious resources — people’s skills and passions.
Supporting innovation across the borough. While this strategy is mainly about council services to its residents and staff, we also want to use the best of technology to stimulate the local economy and improve our wider borough. We’ll be exploring a range of projects, such as using technology to improve energy use in social housing, as well as using data to make our neighbourhoods smarter.
Tell us what you think!
Writing and publishing this strategy is a lovely moment for me and our wider team. I’ll be writing more as we develop this into roadmaps and onward into services. We’d love to hear what you think; you can reply here, via firstname.lastname@example.org or @kitterati on Twitter.