This blog is the latest in a series documenting a journey of culture change within Harrow Council to create an environment which attracts, catalyses, and incubates innovation as a way to better deliver services. You can read an overview of Harrow’s project to become a Council of the Future here.
Building on our priorities
The work we had done had made our organisation curious about the potential of technology to aid the way we deliver services. In order to powerfully demonstrate the role that technology can play in enabling improved service delivery, we wanted solutions that responded to a real need and delivered more effective and better outcomes.
The process that we went through to identify a few service areas which we felt had the potential to be better delivered with more advanced technology was valuable, and the first step to changing the way we deliver these services.
Although we had identified areas which were important to us, and having had our eyes opened to what innovations were out there, all we had was a hunch we could be doing something better. We didn’t know for sure though.
Engaging the tech industry & working with techUK
To know definitively whether we could deliver services differently, and more innovatively, we had to engage with the tech sector. Working with techUK, we created a list of areas which we thought could be innovated. Harrow officers then described how the respective service was currently delivered, its challenges, and what its objectives were. We then reached out to the tech sector and asked for expressions of interest in delivering them differently. Some areas got more interest than others. But we didn’t assume that identified everything that could possibly be better delivered; we also asked for ideas to innovate services which we hadn’t identified.
By the end of it, we ended up with a slightly different list.
So what to do with this list? Well, we wanted to get potential solutions on the table - literally. So we brought our officers who currently deliver the services together in a room with the tech companies and people interested in helping us deliver them differently.
We held an exciting and challenging workshop, here at techUK on 9 May, where new ways of delivering those services were put on the table. In group discussions they were dismissed, redesigned, and tested to their limits. We had 6 different projects, one on each table. Each table had their own audience of tech companies and officer leads, redesigning the service together. To be honest, we had no idea if what was being proposed would be a rehash of something we had looked at and rejected previously, or if the technology being proposed could be used to solve a multitude of our problems across the board.
Predictably, it was somewhere in between. The room was 90% full of tech companies, many of whom hadn’t dealt with local authorities before. Hearing about the challenges associated with a council implementing a particular solution was incredibly eye-opening for them.
Going through the challenges in an open discussion format meant it was a two-way conversation, and therefore didn’t signal the end of the conversation. So for our council officers, hearing workarounds, or alternatives, in the face of those challenges allowed them to take a step beyond conventional wisdom and find the solution themselves.
A day which started off with scepticism from a local authority perspective, ended with optimism and excitement. We had on the table, a bunch of ideas which had been challenged, and stood up to the test. They shared common ground, had starting points, and technically could be implemented. Just sitting the right people down in a room, and having an honest conversation around issues that mattered, with expertise on both sides, had made a big difference.
So what next?
We’ve got a number of ideas on the table which we could potentially take forward, but we need to prioritise. The two things that local authorities haven’t got much of at the moment are capacity and money. Anything we take forward has to help our situation in both respects.
Over the coming weeks, we will be workshopping with officers and respective departments to build a business case around making some of these ideas happen. For now, it could be 1, it could be 2 or 3. Whatever we take forward, we hope to implement a better way of delivering that service. If that happens, we will have momentarily created an environment which attracts, catalyses, and incubates innovation.
Next steps from techUK
techUK were delighted to work with Harrow Council on this joint ‘Council of the Future: Preparing for Smarter Communities’ and important project to explore and understand how we can collaboratively work together to create the environment that enables transformation to happen and innovation and the tech to flourish.
The work with Harrow Council is a fantastic example of the importance of articulating the problem first, delivering a user centric approach and early engagement with wider tech industry to understand what the art of the possible was in an environment that encourages genuine two way conversations. It was also a good opportunity for techUK members to be better informed about local government, how it works and operates and help them along with Harrow officers, to gain a bigger picture of services being delivered and where things can be integrated.
We will be using the outcomes from this project to share best practice and learn from other councils too what conditions are needed for tech to flourish in local government. We will be holding a roundtable shortly with council and tech industry leaders to discuss this and a possible roadmap further. If you are a council that would like to run a similar session or join in future Council of the Future engagement sessions please get in touch!
Catch-up on Cllr Dattani’s previous guest blogs here: