Like local authorities across the country, in Norfolk we’re being affected by significant
budget challenges; savings of some £69 million in 14/15 and £36 million from the next
fiscal year. Combined with how expectations of ever more connected citizens are
evolving, it is clear that the way we work needs to change.
Our traditional ‘model’ for service delivery has been to identify needs and then intervene
to meet those needs. The fiscal challenges we face, coupled with the opportunity to
exploit digital transformation is helping us to think differently. It’s helping us to think
about putting power back into the hands of citizens – enabling them to take the most
appropriate actions to solve issues as individuals, or as a community.
The development of our five-year DNA (Digital Norfolk Ambition) project is an
opportunity to refresh and re-build our ICT infrastructure and drive transformation in
information, insight and knowledge.
The cornerstone of this ambition is data driven insight about our citizens. We want to
build a clearer picture of our communities – who they are, how they behave and what
they need – which means we can develop more sophisticated relationship
management and better targeted programmes. What’s even better from an efficiency
perspective, is then being able to use data to make direct links between investment and
results – something which many councils will recognise as currently cumbersome to
achieve. Although it’s early days (we are in year one of the programme), we believe
we can begin to understand the ‘why’ behind our results – and so more effectively
re-allocate scarce resources where they’re most needed, while also being able to predict
future need for services.
There’s a risk in organisations of ‘big data’ being a buzzword, and seen as a panacea for
everything. Unearthing the value of data has been a great win for us, but something that
we’ve had to work to obtain. We’ve found that you need to have an approach which
balances rigour and curiosity.
Rigour means clearly defining the issue that you want to solve to ensure that ‘all
important’ business impact at the end of the day. Then, carefully constructing a team of
cross-functional experts – people who understand the technology possibilities, together
with those who understand the organisational processes and needs of the people we
serve. And, not forgetting all the detailed technical work that must be done to integrate
systems to deliver, and make sense of, the rich data that underpins the understanding of
our people and the impact of our programmes.
Curiosity is as important. Be ambitious about what the data can do. While focusing on a
particular issue is key, don’t be too narrow – ask broader questions around it. Don’t be
afraid to ‘take a flyer’ (or two). It may throw up something unexpected that delivers great
value. We’ve also found that having access to more interesting data has also made our
staff hungry for more. They’re keen to find out how the data available can help them
build better solutions for our citizens, or even how new data sources and combinations
can be found to solve new problems, or make new opportunities.
The ongoing challenge is engaging with communities and individuals as we continue to
evolve the services that affect them day to day. We’ll have to continually demonstrate
the benefits to our communities of them taking greater responsibility and power for
themselves. But, we’re confident that our newfound data capabilities will help provide
concrete evidence for our decisions.
To date, we have been open and transparent with citizens about the challenges we face.
We have said publicly and explicitly, that the realities of budgets and societal changes
mean we need a new conversation about public services in Norfolk. The roles of the
council, of citizens, and of our 3rd sector partners need to be redefined, leading to a new
‘contract’ between us.
As I mentioned at the beginning, when it comes down to it we really don’t have a choice.
Using digital technology to deliver services, to connect and empower citizens, and
generate insight to drive change is a critical way forward. It’s critical in selling Norfolk as a
great place to live and work. In building our reputation as an organisation that citizens
trust, want to engage with, and want to work for. And, without it we would certainly have
to make more cuts to services.
For other organisations looking to start, or continue on the same journey, I’ll leave you
with 3 things that underpin our approach:
• be open and honest about the challenges you face within the organisation and
with the people you serve
• be clear about your role and purpose as an organisation
• ensure your digital strategy helps you achieve that role and purpose and that it
doesn’t become an end in itself.