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Opportunities Digital by Default brings to your local authority

The government’s Digital by Default strategy is beginning to reap major rewards. Central government departments have developed many new digital delivery models, enabling them to provide better online services for less.

Indeed, in 2013, the Government Digital Service launched a website that allows you to track the 25 ‘exemplar’ online services, ranging from electoral registration and patent renewals to criminal record check applications and prison visit booking.

But while the government IT strategy has become a core thread of working in Whitehall departments, the picture at local authority level is different. Leading the way are authorities like East Riding of Yorkshire Council, which is developing a virtual customer service centre to give it a single view of its customers and help achieve a £27m savings target.

At the other end of the spectrum, a 2013 survey of local authorities found that 80% hadn’t heard of the G-Cloud – a central plank of the Digital by Default strategy, and the go-to repository for public sector approved software.

So, it’s clear that many authorities have yet to fully embrace Digital by Default. However, this will change rapidly as more and more councils benefit from the opportunities Digital by Default can bring them.

Areas of opportunity

In over a decade of working with public sector organisations, we’ve seen them use our online collaboration software – Kahootz – to innovate, deliver new services, save money, engage with stakeholders and more. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

So when I recently read SOCITM’s new report, Better with less: delivering local public services in the digital age, I was interested to see that it identified five key digital principles and ten enabling principles. Many of them chimed with my experience of how public sector clients use our software, and set me thinking about the opportunities that Digital by Default brings to local government. Based on that thinking I have identified what I believe are the five key opportunities that online collaboration software like Kahootz brings to the table when local authorities work towards becoming Digital by Default. I’d be interested to hear whether you agree, or believe there are other opportunities you could add.

5 key digital opportunities

1. New ways of working

Perhaps the greatest benefit of online collaboration is the way it stimulates new ways of working. By using a connective platform that brings together individuals, teams and stakeholders in a purposeful environment, local authorities quickly find fresh ways to collaborate and innovate.

For example, South Gloucestershire Council first used Kahootz within its Planning Department to bring together individuals involved in its core strategy work. Soon afterwards, the Council saw that online collaboration could solve project-working challenges by providing users with a platform to share files, collaborate with suppliers and external suppliers and engage with residents.

By rolling out the software to other areas of the council, officers quickly embraced the new ways of working to transform existing services and create new ones. Highlights include:

• Emergency planning – bringing together the Police, Fire Brigade, military, NHS, council departments and others in a single, secure workspace.
• Online communities – such as Safer Stronger Community Groups, Community Speed Watch, a Carers’ Support Network, Tutor Support Group and others.
• Strategic planning groups — including a Cultural Strategy Group and Economic & Tourism Development workspace.
• Service management — including Waste Management projects and Broadband roll-out.
• Strategic leadership – via secure, senior level information sharing.

2. Transforming relationships

With the right context and purpose, online collaboration can help transform working relationships. It also allows you to forge working relationships with a much wider range of people, both internally and externally.

Because it costs very little to collaborate with others online, it soon becomes part of a local authority’s culture. Indeed, councils frequently use online collaboration to forge purposeful working relationships with external partners. One good example is Havant District Council, which uses Kahootz to bring four local authorities — Havant, Gosport, Fareham and Portsmouth – together as the Eastern Solent Coastal Partnership. The shared online workspace allows them to share information from any location, collaborate on projects and track time spent on different tasks.

3. Greater transparency

Using Kahootz immediately makes collaboration highly transparent. Because it has a full audit trail, you know who has accessed a workspace, which documents they have viewed or edited and which actions they have completed.. And because the software stores earlier revisions of each document, you can revisit a history of edits that have been made previously.

Contrast this to working via email with attachments, where it can be difficult to find communications, track down versions of documents and confirm whether an individual has received information. And unlike email, online collaboration software like Kahootz allows you to export all information relating to a project – giving you accountability as well as transparency.

Transparency is particularly important for public sector working. For example, by using Kahootz, Herefordshire council retains transparent data on all its collaborative working — from its online community for learning mentors to its Community Led Planning workspace and its Integrated Transport group.

4. Stakeholder engagement

Online collaboration has a unique and powerful role to play in one aspect of local authority work — stakeholder engagement. The tools available in cloud workspaces are ideal for informing, consulting and collaborating with both internal and external stakeholders.

In contrast to traditional stakeholder engagement tools, online collaboration allows you to:

• Create more opportunities for stakeholder engagement, quickly and cheaply
• Cut travel costs and increase productivity
• Widen your stakeholder base beyond ‘the famous few’
• Meet your stakeholders’ expectations, giving them a platform that allows them to engage in their preferred way.

For deeper insights into how a Digital by Default approach to stakeholder engagement can help your local authority, download our free guide Transforming Public Sector Stakeholder Engagement.

5. More for less

One of the main reasons local authorities are embracing online collaboration is the fact it allows them to do more — including the unexpected — for less. For example, London councils use Kahootz as an online procurement portal, helping them to co-ordinate bulk buying of vehicles and drive down costs. Herefordshire Council, NHS Herefordshire and Wye Valley NHS Trust used it to set up a joint partnership, enabling joined up working and significant costs savings.

From online communities for learning mentors, transport efficiency consortiums and consultation workspaces, right through to developing new shared services — wherever your authority needs to work with other people, online collaboration makes it simpler, more efficient, purposeful and cost effective.

And with budgets being cut right back, it makes sense to use collaborative tools that help you get the most out of every penny. That, more than any other factor, is driving local authorities to become Digital by Default. Is it happening to yours?

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