Digital transformation – West Berkshire District Council

Joel Rosen,
Government Fast Streamer
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

Joel is on the government Fast Steam service and so is currently spending six-month placements at various government departments. He spent his last six months at the Centre, focusing primarily on the role of ‘digital’. For his last hurrah, Joel spoke to five different local places to understand more about their digital transformation journeys with the aim of being able to share their experiences to help others in a similar situation. There will be a blog published every day this week so keep reading to find out more.

“It’s about the cultural shift; not so much about the tech,” explained Phil Rumens, digital services manager at West Berkshire District Council (and also incidentally Co-Chair of LocalGovDigital). West Berkshire is on the cusp of initiating a three-year long programme of digital transformation. They are starting at the simple end and picking off the low hanging fruit (such as simple issue reporting tools in waste services and planning) before tackling more complex functions and areas.

One notable innovation at West Berkshire has been their website, where they have taken inspiration from supermarket retailers to split it into an encyclopaedic ‘about us’ part in the background and a more action-based ‘what can we do for you today’ digital services at the forefront. Other innovations are being pursued by their data science team, where, for example, they are using NoSQL database analytics to map overlapping risk factors of so-called ‘troubled families’, for example, to see which cases meet multiple criteria at the same time. They are also working on humanising their more automated processes to make them friendlier and easier to use.

I also had a chance to discuss some of the more complex future challenges in public service delivery where digital transformation and the cultural side of information sharing would intersect with Rachael Wardell, corporate director of communities. In her opinion, despite child safeguarding working well in West Berkshire, she wanted to further improve the timeliness of the notification process. For example, domestic abuse notifications could only be shared with schools which had signed up to the information sharing protocol, as there was a risk that otherwise school staff wouldn’t have had guidance about how to work appropriately with the information. Some particular challenges the council had come across touched on consent and the mountains of data being generated on subjects which referenced other involved parties; information sharing with the health sector; agreeing common thresholds with other agencies – all cultural factors in information sharing where multiple agencies would need to join up and agree common standards and workflows.

Phil also shared some great insights in his top tips for digital transformation whilst promoting safe and effective information sharing: first, find a purpose for the data, get the system, and then expand and see what you can do with it. Tech is increasingly easy, but culture is hard to change. You can come up with great products, but getting the data and using it is hard.

West Berkshire District Council has an ambitious set of dedicated leaders who are already delivering change for the benefit of their citizens – but as they approach digital transformation with more complex social matters they may be faced with increasing cultural barriers to information sharing between the relevant agencies. We will follow their progress with interest.

To read more from Joel’s week of digital transformation blogs, visit our main blogs page.

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