Dorset Councils Partnership – our digital journey (so far)

Digital Journey, man on tablet

Written by Penny Mell, Head of Business Improvement at Dorset Councils Partnership

Dorset Councils Partnership is a unique organisation. We have a single Chief Executive and Senior Leadership Team. Our combined workforce serves the three sovereign councils of North Dorset District Council, West Dorset District Council and Weymouth & Portland Borough Council. In starting our journey to become one, we committed to investing in our people and in technology. In order to design a coherent approach to change, we developed our Stronger Together Portfolio and have delivered 9 programmes of change since the inception of the Partnership in 2015.

In reflecting on some of our recent activities and commitment to digital, including being an active member of Digital Leaders South West, it is an interesting moment to recognise that none of these programmes were labelled as digital when we began. Yet despite this, our transformative journey has been characterised by digitally enabled change.

The formation of the Partnership itself brought the challenge of connecting three previously separate organisations. We needed to future-proof our IT infrastructure. This involved the introduction of one single telephone solution and the creation of one single email organisation on a shared exchange (@dorset.gov.uk) for the Partnership.

Next we turned our attention to reducing the number of office buildings. To achieve this, we introduced a Smart Working Programme. Our offices are now characterised by work zones and 77% of our staff are now mobile. To assist teams in making the shift from being present to productive anywhere, we introduced a Team Agreement process so that we could support teams to take time to think about how they would work differently in a digitally enabled world. This covered topics such as office cover, lone working and how to maintain team cohesion without a traditional ‘team space’. Having these structured conversations helped teams prepare in advance of the changes. A clear desk policy was implemented and the IT Team worked alongside colleagues to support them in their choice of mobile device.

Improving our customer experience and the need to reach across a large rural area has naturally lead teams into expanding their digital offer. As we have gathered pace in the digital arena, more and more services have been made available on-line. We have introduced an appointment booking system for customers and use a text messaging service routinely across a number of services to improve the speed and accuracy of delivery, for example in benefits processing.

Staff and visitors can also access WIFI connectivity at Partnership buildings which has more recently been expanded to our harbours – a key part of life on the coast. To support this approach, our Customer Services Team are Digital Access Advisors, supporting people to access services on-line. This includes supporting residents to self-serve at our reception points and the introduction of web-chat.

Altogether our three sovereign councils are represented by 111 elected Members. Some of our elected Members are now Digital Mentors supporting the Partnership to go digital and 98% of our elected Members now work with mobile devices and no longer receive paper committee agendas.

Working together we are supporting each other to work in new and different ways. More recently, we have extended this much further with over 80 local businesses attending a Google Digital Garage learning event. Hearing from local businesses and their ambitions for their digital future was truly inspiring. More recently, we welcomed GDS to Dorset and over time we hope that through initiatives such as our Digital Ideas Campaign, we will be able to work with colleagues to develop some ideas from prototype to capability.

So having got this far in our digital journey, here are some of my reflections of going digital in local government:

Digital has the power to unlock talent in your organisation – I have truly enjoyed meeting so many colleagues from all parts of our organisation taking their first steps into digital, being willing to try and then try again.

Going digital will challenge your existing organisational culture – digital is a marvellously creative, unpredictable and disruptive presence in any organisation. Use it to accelerate all other changes.

Digital has the power to be transformative and inclusive – I am struck by the power of digital to create opportunities to bring so many people together to share ideas, to self-learn, solve common problems and build a positive view of our future.

 

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