Q&A: Wigan Council’s Alison McKenzie-Folan discusses how to successfully embed digital culture within a local authority

Earlier this month, Wigan Council partnered with Agilisys to host a webinar titled ‘What does it take to embed digital culture?’

The webinar explored how the authority has encouraged a third of Wigan’s population to sign up to the MyAccount Digital platform that makes contacting the council, paying bills and reporting environmental problems easier.

The webinar also generated plenty of discussion about how the council has enhanced its own IT systems and technologies and recruited more staff with digital skills, including the creation of half a dozen digital innovation posts.

Following on from that webinar, Digital by Default News caught up with Alison McKenzie-Folan, deputy CEO and director of customer transformation at Wigan Council, to ask some of the remaining questions from webinar attendees.

In your opinion and from your experience how would local authorities attract people into posts while competing with private sector salaries?

Organisational culture and behaviour is key to this. There has to be freedom to utilise IT for the right reason rather than chasing sales targets, working in partnership with people who you would not collaborate with in private sector. Also, career wise local government is a key user of digital solutions so skills gained here are valuable for the future.

Could you tell us a bit more about the partnership groups? What sorts of people sit on each group, what is their separation of responsibilities?

The key group is our Digital Taskforce. This includes representatives from key council departments, but more importantly is about partners. National businesses, local businesses, education providers, the DWP, sports organisations, Deal for Communities Investment funded groups, creative groups etc. are all represented on the Taskforce. There’s no separation of responsibilities as such, which is probably one of the group’s strengths: partners contribute their own data, and are very engaged, willing to help out at events and promote what as a collective we do / achieve.

How has Wigan council involved citizens and businesses in the design of solutions? Are citizens such as your Digital Champions involved in defining user journeys and attending design and user experience research? If so how successful has this been?

Involving citizens is vitally important and has been successful for us. For example, they have been consulted to develop a public facing digital offering that is suitable for those with visual impairments. In the same way, sessions have been developed in our libraries to help citizens make the most of their mobile devices.

The Digital Taskforce provides opportunities for both citizens and small businesses to contribute to improving the digital offering. Digital Champions volunteer their services to assist citizens in becoming more digitally literate across libraries and key community partners. Regular evaluation is gathered as part of a policy of continuous, citizen-led improvement.

Do you report back to residents and users how far you are on the transformation journey and what more is required?

We do, and we do it in various ways. Last October we hosted our first Destination Digital conference, feeding back to stakeholders and businesses on our digital journey so far. We also held a celebratory event alongside the conference for residents and users, opening our doors wide to have different digital conversations with citizens and celebrate our achievements together.

Our Digital Taskforce partners provide their own updates, and as representatives of our communities, we have begun a conversation with them around revisiting our Digital Strategy: a member of the Taskforce led our first session around this. We use social media to celebrate our successes and to promote opportunities for residents, and we have achieved impressive reach across all the main social media channels.

Do you have digital champions for staff to assist in embedding changes in behaviour?

Yes. There are staff who act as champions, particularly where we have made significant changes in areas such as Adult Social Care.

What were your most successful communication methods for getting sign ups to your MyAccount, to move you from 20,000 to 73,000 in two years?

This is about having joined up customer-facing service provision and string partnerships. Our in-house Get Online computer courses in libraries promote MyAccount, and customer facing staff have adopted a ‘digital first’ approach, helping customers to become self-reliant and encouraging them to sign up to MyAccount to complete key tasks (with the added benefit of 24/7 access).

Digital Taskforce partners also promote MyAccount, working it into their own computer courses and signposting their customers to it. Having a wide range of services available through MyAccount also helps to increase the benefits of signing up to it.

How have you engaged digitally excluded staff in Wigan’s digital strategy?

Frontline refuse collectors have in-cab tech. We’ve also provided IT at depots to encourage staff to log on and access online comms, payslips etc.

How have you overcome issues around integration with back office systems when staff are out and about mobile working?

As well as using WiFi and tethering options we have offline solutions that enable staff to check out records and work offline. These records are then checked in and data uploaded back in to case work solutions when they are next online. We believe that the solutions have to be right for the staff using them and not ‘one size fits all’.

If you missed the webinar – or you would like to listen to it again click here for the recording.

Photo: Peter Searle, for LGC, January 2017

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