min read ·
March 8, 2021

Outplaying budget cuts in the public sector: a digital transformation journey

Partner, Head of Delivery

Neha Rahaman

An expert in lean product development with over a decade of industry experience working with startups as well as big enterprises. Neha has played multiple roles to enable organisations to adopt agile principles to deliver high impact products.

This article reflects on a local council’s digital transformation journey which enabled them to overcome year-on-year budget cuts and meet rising demands.

Moving council services to digital platforms with a self-serve approach is the natural progression to meet the increasing demands while maintaining a low operational cost. But how do you ensure that you do not lose the personal touch made possible by the direct contact that tangible services provide? How can you tune-in to your citizen’s needs, wants and pain points in order to deliver them the best outcome whilst also supporting your internal staff?

One of the digital transformations that I led was for a local council in a major metropolitan area that had to overcome year-on-year budget cuts, while service demands only increased. A particular challenge was meeting the call centre demands that each year would see a rise in call volumes by more than 20%. It was a 12 months initial project that brought together different functions in the government and enabled a holistic picture of their services to majorly impact its residents. 

There were 3 key phases in the overall process adopted during this transformation

  1. Discovery workshop - Identifying the residents and knowing them better
  2. Prioritisation and Solutionising - Identifying key initiatives/hypothesis
  3. Incremental build and Validation

Discovery workshop

Understanding the core needs and wants of citizens is the most significant challenge for any council. Councils hire multiple research agencies to understand their residents and their needs. But these research are done in isolation from the departments and volunteers, who service the residents, thus missing the opportunity to empathise with their residents. More often than not these research fail to capture the needs of the internal staff and volunteers. We brought all the different departments and volunteers together to just listen, look and discover what people think about the services, and understand common issues experienced as well as possible opportunities. The workshop not only helped the council identify the key services that required optimisation in order to reduce the current load on various departments but also see a holistic picture of their services and the impact on citizens.

discovery workshop

Prioritisation and Solutionising

Through the discovery workshops, the council could identify a vast array of opportunities. While its good to understand all the areas of opportunity, it is very important to prioritise a few critical ones to get started. Once again all the departments came together to ideate on multiple solutions for each prioritised opportunity or problem. This was done through multiple facilitated design thinking activities like “Crazy 8’s”, “How Might We?” “Rapid Prototyping”. With various perspectives in the room to ideate, some truly out of the box solutions were proposed.

Incremental Build and Validation

The council adopted an agile approach to software delivery, building each digital solution iteratively and incrementally. This allowed us to constantly redesign their online services based on real user feedback and analytics. The council had citizens sign up for user testing and would regularly go out to public places like libraries and malls to test out prototypes of the various digital solutions. With the involvement of the local residents and volunteers, it truly was a product by them, for them

Since the start of their digital transformation, the council has launched multiple digital services. The council launched a brand new digital portal to move their core services online like paying council tax and, reporting potholes and faulty street lights. The portal also broadcasts communications, also to providing council news and updates any information about the council to their citizens in an efficient and timely manner. 

This has resulted in more than 60% of contacts now going through the digital channels, reducing the call centre cost by almost 100 man-days in the first quarter. Many services have been optimised and the turn around time reduced from weeks to a couple of days, thus the volunteers can now focus on the most critical cases. 

This new way of working has had an impact far beyond the digital teams delivering digital solutions. Design thinking is at the heart of the council and It has shaped how they develop their local plan or design community events to how they design services. It has successfully removed the barriers between departments and teams, helping the council in delivering better services, faster, and improving relationships with people living in the area.


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