12 March 2021

Sally Herbert is the Business Management Partner at Newcastle City Council.

This is the second set of sprint notes from our eight-week Discovery with Newcastle City Council (NCC) to support the digital transformation of their planning service. This is in response to the government’s recent Planning White Paper.

Newcastle is keen to engage widely and be open about the work it’s is doing. The Show and Tells are open so anyone with an interest can follow our progress and participate. Our final Show and Tell will be on Friday 19 March at 1pm.

After each sprint, we’ll publish our sprint notes sharing insight into what we’ve been up to and what we’re planning. These will also include a link to the most recent Show and Tell so you can catch up on what’s been happening in more detail.

What have we been doing?

The past sprint is where we began to bring together the threads of the work to date. This sprint is critical in making sure we’re able to deliver the outputs that will be of value to NCC and support changes they want to make.

Newcastle City Council project milestones

User research

The past two weeks have been focused on finalising the research, stakeholder interviews and survey. With this research coming to an end, the team has been analysing the results and identifying some early signals and themes. Here’s what’s come up so far:

  • people expect planning services to be transparent, consistent in their standard processes and have clear and accurate timescales. These are three of the biggest challenges both internally and externally
  • people hope that digital transformation will make data and information more accessible. This means making it easier to find and understand for both internal and external users of the planning service, which will also support better collaboration and visibility across work
  • there’s a concern that digital transformation can make the process of the planning service too streamlined. People are nervous that this could lead to an oversimplification, and important details could get overlooked or lost. People fear that too much streamlining could also risk-taking away too much from the art of planning and innovative projects could be lost

The team will continue to work with NCC to transform these initial themes into insights that can be captured as opportunities. This will help form part of the evidence underpinning a roadmap for transformation.

You can read more about the research and some of the direct quotes from the interviews in this week's show and tell slide deck.

Digital Maturity Assessment survey

At the time of writing, we’ve now had over 26 responses to our digital maturity survey. The survey considers the planning service as envisaged by the Planning White Paper and seeks to understand where the council is on a scale of 1-4 for engagement, technology and data.

The results are still coming in, but a couple of initial observations include:

  • staff may be hesitant to comment on things they don’t feel they’re an expert in, such as how well the technology works if they’re not an IT specialist
  • there’s a real challenge in prioritising areas for improvement in the planning service, it was difficult for staff to choose which area was a priority. Figuring out what to prioritise first is a big part of what our research has told us

Responses are still being collected and analysed, but the full results will help us identify the critical areas to focus on with our recommendations. The results of the research and the survey have also highlighted the need for NCC to ‘fix the plumbing’. That is, get the basics in place that will enable better services, systems and ways of working. There are more details on some examples of the plumbing that needs addressing in the show and tell slides.

The survey clearly highlights the need for a roadmap or plan of action for how NCC prioritises and tackles its biggest challenges.

Developing a planning roadmap

As part of our original deliverables, we talked about a decision-making framework. We have started to think of this as more of a roadmap for the service, to help detail and prioritise the opportunities for transformation.

We’re currently drafting what the components of our roadmap will look like, with headings like Plan Making and Development Management. We’ll also start to break down the opportunities into those things that can happen immediately through to those that are going to take time so that activities can be sequenced effectively.

As part of this work we also want to focus on a specific area, a specific part of the plumbing, such as the planning part of the NCC website and use a core user journey to demonstrate how we could address the challenges it faces.

Most importantly, we’re also going to make sure the roadmap is underpinned by the research findings we’ve gathered. This will help us make sure that user needs are at the foundations of each activity and it is these needs that are driving the transformation.

Newcastle City Council research findings roadmap

What’s next?

Our current sprint is our final sprint. Over the next two weeks we’ll be focusing on:

  • fleshing out our research insights
  • analysing and writing up the findings of the maturity survey
  • finalising the planning service roadmap
  • providing clear guidance on priority opportunity areas that could be tested as part of any future design and testing

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