The huge shift to remote working due to COVID-19 has been enabled by technology. But the cultures, processes and ways of working – in local government and many other organisations – need to keep pace to support staff productivity, health and wellbeing.
What is the first thing that springs to your mind when you hear the word digital? Maybe it’s a device like your phone, laptop or even your watch. Maybe it’s conjuring up images of a life inside ‘the mainframe’ of The Matrix?
‘Digital’ is more than technology
When we talk about what it means to be ‘digital’ it can be easy to jump quickly to technology and to overlook broader human and contextual factors.
The digital government community in the UK has tended to rally around a broader definition of digital, most eloquently expressed by Tom Loosemore, formerly of the Government Digital Service: “Applying the culture, processes, business models & technologies of the internet era to respond to people’s raised expectations”.
The Local Digital Declaration
We have internalised this in Local Government digital projects. The Local Digital Declaration is a set of five core principles co-published by 45 key organisations that now has 233 council signatories. Launched in 2018, it established a set of commitments that guide how we work as a sector and how we design and deliver local public services.
Principles 4 and 5 explicitly emphasise the broader changes we hope to see, and to help catalyse.
- We will demonstrate digital leadership, creating the conditions for genuine organisational transformation to happen, and challenging all those we work with to embrace this Local Digital Declaration.
- We will embed an open culture that values, incentivises and expects digital ways of working from every member of our workforce. This means working in the open wherever we can, sharing our plans and experience, working collaboratively with other organisations, and reusing good practice.
The impact of COVID-19 on council operations
When the pandemic hit, the biggest shift in working practices in many of our lifetimes took place overnight. Local authorities across the country have had to adapt on the fly, working well beyond the norm to keep local services running and their residents safe.
In June the Local Digital Collaboration Unit in the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government launched a COVID-19 Challenge fund for councils to work together to develop common approaches to their most pressing needs. In total we’ve funded 11 projects to undertake vital work in key areas ranging from data sharing to digital resident engagement.
Support for new working practice
We’re excited to support the Future Work Design project, led by East Riding of Yorkshire Council. The project seeks to provide tangible guidance to council leadership teams on how to navigate the shift to new working practices so that staff can go about their jobs as effectively and as safely as possible.
I recently sat down (virtually, of course) with Becky Colton from Hull City Council, Helen Knights from North East Lincolnshire Council and Dr Katie Cunnah from the Centre for Human Factors at the University of Hull to hear why this work is so important.
Helping Council staff to embrace remote work
The video is part of the learning materials for Embracing remote work: A boot camp for Local Government, a short online course we have put together in partnership with Apolitical, to provide training, tips and advice to council staff working from home at this time. The course is entering its second week and – if you work in local government – it’s not too late for you and your team to join the 1,000 people who have already registered.
If you’re working in Local Government and your council has not already signed the Local Digital Declaration, you can read more on our website. Doing so gives you access to free training courses and the opportunity to bid for digital innovation funding, just like the Future Work Design team.