London’s Royal Borough of Greenwich launches first ever digital strategy

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez November 30, 2020 Audio mode
The borough’s head of digital and tech outlines how Greenwich will focus on the solid build blocks of a modern public sector organisation.

Image of Greenwich
(Image sourced via David Mark from Pixabay )

Digital strategies are a dime a dozen in 2020, but it's not very often you come across one that stands out as not only hitting the right tone, but also could serve as an exemplar for how they should be done. That's especially true when talking about public sector organisations.

However, at the end of last week London's Royal Borough of Greenwich released its first ever digital strategy and did exactly that. Instead of opting for pie in the sky thinking and a series of buzzwords aimed at wowing council leaders, the strategy clearly lays out a series of digital building blocks that will be prioritised to both improve the lives of local citizens and council employees. 

Not only this, but the strategy is accessible, fronted by an introduction from Greenwich's digital and tech lead Kit Collingwood, and makes a clear commitment to be executed in the open - with a call for feedback from residents. 

There's a lot to the strategy and it is worth taking a look at in full (found here), but we thought it was worth highlighting the key takeaways as food for thought for others mulling their digital agenda in the midst of COVID-19. 

Collingwood joined the Royal Borough of Greenwich back in January to head up digital, tech and customer services, but their plans, like many others, have been interrupted by the impact of COVID-19. However, lessons have been learnt. Collingwood said:

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. 

Collingwood added that this strategy makes a new era for the council, where it is starting on a 4-year period of investment in digital technology. Councils across the UK are struggling financially, but Collingwood and the leadership at Greenwich believe that digital is one of the biggest opportunities to keep the borough on a sustainable financial footing. They added: 

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.

Vision and guiding principles

Before diving into the more practical building blocks for Greenwich's digital strategy, front and centre are the Borough's guiding principles. These should be considered when carrying out any digital, technology and data transformation work. They include: 

  • A relentless focus on resident needs - service transformation will focus on meeting the needs of Greenwich residents, particularly those who are most vulnerable. 

  • Being data-led in decision making - the data the Borough collects about its users' needs will support every aspect of the digital strategy. 

  • Treating staff as valued users - staff time is precious and Greenwich will take the same rigorous approach to internal service development as external. 

  • Continuously develop services and products - leave behind the era of ‘Big Bang IT' and large outsourced contracts, bringing core services and platforms in-house, giving the Borough better control and the ability to iterate and meet user need. 

  • One council, one team - becoming a digital council needs true team work, with shared goals and shared teams. Greenwich will build empowered, cross-functional teams for everything it does. 

  • Agile and iterative delivery - moving away from large, static and opaque programmes, to small, iterative work packages backed up with research and data. 

Six workstreams

With the above guidelines as the framework for the digital strategy, the Royal Borough of Greenwich has also outlined six core workstreams for its focus. The strategy goes into detail about what these will include from a technology and outcomes point of view, but at a top level they are: 

  • Building new online services for residents - unsurprisingly, Greenwich is looking to build great online services for its residents. But importantly, it is also committing to keeping non-digital channels open for those who need them. 

  • Giving people the tools they need to do the job - the council's employees' needs are being given as high priority as residents, businesses and visitors. The strategy commits to giving staff better hardware, systems and platforms so that they can get on with their work. 

  • Getting better with data - Greenwich will be working on a range of data projects, in order to understand what services people living in the Borough need from the council. The aim is to become data-driven in how it makes decisions and prioritises work. 

  • Making infrastructure modern and interoperable - this will underpin most of the council's service transformation work. It will build s systems that are loosely coupled and joined via APIs, cloud hosted, and using the best of commodity technology. 

  • Building digital capability - A new Digital Group will be formed of product, delivery, technology and data skills. The thinking is that its people, not technology, that are the most vital assets. 

  • Support innovation across the borough - using the best of technology to stimulate the local economy and improve Greenwich Borough. A range of projects are being explored, including using technology to improve energy use in social housing, as well as using data to make neighbourhoods smarter. 

My take

As I said above, it's worth reading the strategy in full to get a deeper understanding of what is planned at the Royal Borough of Greenwich. However, what's clear is that Kit Collingwood & Co have done an excellent job thus far of articulating the council's digital plans - putting in place a clear structure and measurable outcomes. The team is asking for feedback, so there's an opportunity to have your say if you live locally or have an interest in the area. We look forward to watching how this progresses over the coming months and years.