12 tips to accelerate local government transformation

Digital transformation isn’t the exclusive domain of central government departments or the biggest metropolitan authorities. In the UK, many of our digital public sector pioneers can be found in seemingly unexpected places - rural counties and smaller agencies.

But dig deeper, and the trend makes sense - these transformation leaders share many characteristics that set them up for success - qualities like collaboration, an appetite for risk and the sheer willingness to try new technologies. 

A great example is Norfolk County Council, which despite its rural roots, is pioneering the biggest public sector IoT rollout in the country. We spoke to Norfolk’s CTO Kurt Frary to find out what they’re doing right - and how other local authorities can emulate their success. Check out the infographic and article below to find out more.

You can also hear more from Kurt about the digital transformation work in Norfolk in his GovX Show interview and watch the replay of his appearance at GovX Digital 2021 in the panel discussion The Future of Programme Delivery

Digital local government tips (2)

Try and try again

Roll out 4-5 week pilot projects to secure organisational buy-in by showing visible results quickly. That ‘show me don’t tell me’ approach also breaks down historical perceptions that IT and digital projects are slow-moving and a drain on resources. Speed up the process by rethinking the usual levels of project governance, instead focusing on delivery and proof of concept - 80% success may well be enough to gain support, so don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. 

Don’t fear failure

An appetite for controlled risk - and not fearing failure - are essential components of organisational culture. Public sector transformation moved into a new gear in 2020 by necessity. Now organisations are looking to build on that by continuing to trial new digital projects with a renewed level of leadership support.  

Take a structured approach

Develop a repeatable process and methodology for innovation. For example: 

  • Prototype
  • Small proof-of-concept pilot 
  • Larger pilot to show scalability 
  • Develop full project funding bid or business case.

Find the right balance

Don’t let organisational focus on business as usual stop you from pursuing innovation and change. It’s vital to carve out time to research, create and trial new opportunities.

Tap into innovation networks

The public sector needs to look beyond its own space to discover new ideas, technologies and processes. Look for fellow innovators who’re sharing ideas in bodies like Hackspace and The Civtech Alliance, and join networking events and conferences to meet fellow public sector peers who are sharing best practice.

Re-imagine supplier partnerships 

Working relationships with commercial partners should be built on collaboration not conflict.

For example, Norfolk allows mobile phone operators to use the rooftops of its buildings to host phone masts for just the costs of installation. They see more value in unlocking better connectivity for citizens and businesses than the rent revenue they’d otherwise receive.

With positive relationships in place, commercial partners are far more likely to support the organisation when faced with challenges like Covid that force a re-assessment of contracts and requirements.

Read the Guide - What is Government Transformation

Repurpose existing resources

Is a building just a space to host desks? Think again. Try using the organisation's real estate in different ways to support digital innovation - Norfolk started its IoT journey by placing IoT gateways on the roof of council buildings to unlock digital opportunities.

Connectivity powers digital

Some areas of tech will be fundamental ingredients for future projects, so make sure those baseline elements are in place as soon as possible. Norfolk has been working with providers to pursue exceptional mobile and broadband coverage across the county - recognising that connectivity is a key foundation for future digital innovation.

Meet the neighbours

Public sector organisations should be collaborating, not competing, so a spirit of openness and idea-sharing should prevail. Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils are collaborating on the largest free-to-use public sector LoRaWAN IoT deployment in the UK.

Automate to add value

Public sector servants want to make a difference, and processing forms isn’t what motivates them! Where possible, deploy automation in back office functions to free up your staff to focus on higher-value interactions with citizens. 

Embrace the technology market

Technology moves fast, so knowing what’s coming down the line helps digital leaders to map out their transformation future with more clarity. Talk to suppliers, research, and talk to fellow innovators to make that happen. Technology like AI changes at such a pace that understanding what’s coming is essential to success.

Use technology  to support frontline services

Norfolk is running a live pilot with its Adult Social Care team to install sensors in the homes of elderly and vulnerable citizens to monitor their well being - are they using their kettle in the morning, have they opened the drawer where their medication is stored? Technology can deliver practical results, but also play a part in the new spirit of inter-agency collaboration between critical services.

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