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Supporting the Local Digital Declaration 5 years on

By Dr Gavin Beckett
2023-08-14 12:22:50
Placecube 5 YEARS DD Header

#LocalDigital5Years - I can’t quite believe it’s been 5 years since a small band of committed people in the embryonic MHCLG Local Digital team pulled together 40+ councils, sector associations and practitioner bodies, plus GDS and the CDOs of the devolved administrations, to draft the Declaration.

As I said in my post on the second anniversary of the Declaration, it was an absolute privilege  and a career highlight to be part of the process, and then to be able to take the principles and mission we’d forged together as a sector, and to use that to frame the values and product principles that Placecube adopted as we launched Digital Place for Local Public Services in 2019.

At that point in our evolution we’d only just begun to bring new customers onboard, but we were already putting our commitment to the Declaration principles into practice. In 2020 we co-designed and built a new CRM module for Digital Place - Customer Contact Management (CCM). Working with Rugby Borough Council ensured that it was based on the user needs of customer service officers, and that it integrated with the user centred digital services that their residents could use to self-serve. That new “cube” became part of the platform without any additional cost to other customers, and of course available as open source code if you wanted to access it without becoming a customer. In 2021 we brought Dorset and Northumberland into a collaborative project to evolve the CCM cube, and in 2023 we’ve been working with North Northants on further iterations.

So we had proved that the idea of reuse, agile iteration and reuse was a reality on Digital Place, and our council customers had ambitions to go further.

When Round 5 of the Local Digital Fund came out, with its particular focus on building solutions using open source and low code platforms, Rugby, Dorset, Northumberland, Kingston and Sutton all saw the potential to build out the capability of the platform to benefit them and anyone using Digital Place. Rugby led a bid proposing the creation of Low Code Waste Services, which was funded and delivered during 2022. The full story of the project is laid out in a series of blog posts, show and tell videos and presentations that you can find over on the project website.

At the point that Low Code Waste Services phase 1 completed  in summer 2022 we had delivered:

  • Improved and enhanced low code components in the Digital Place form builder enabling councils to create and re-configure the front end forms without programming skills
  • A new GUI to improve low code configuration of Digital Place’s Case Management module, making it easier for council digital teams to create case types that can be used by the back office teams for services that do not integrate with a Waste Management System
  • Integration connectors for three back-office Waste Management Systems - WebAspx, Whitespace and Echo. These connectors wrapped the SOAP web services provided by the suppliers, and exposed all of the methods available as a set of REST API calls that can be used with any of the services created in the project.
  • An updated Microsoft365 bookings integration connector to provide Bulky Waste collection appointments if councils don’t have a third party booking engine
  • A set of generic low code Waste Services (ready to be configured, tested and implemented by councils, depending on their current local needs).
    • Find My Bin Collection Dates (based on location)
    • Request Assisted Bin Collections
    • Subscribe to Garden Waste Collections (paid for service)
    • Book a Bulky Waste Collection (paid for service)
    • Report Fly Tipping
    • Report Missed Bin Collection
    • New/replacement Bin Requests, including New HouseholdRequests

In parallel, we got involved in London Borough of Redbridge’s Housing Tenancy Alpha, another Local Digital Fund Round 5 project, which aimed to prove that Low Code platforms could be used to build well designed user centred front-ends for Housing Officers to use when supporting tenants. We built a proof of concept, alongside three other suppliers, showing that processes like Sole to Joint Tenancy, Succession and Change of Details could be implemented in low code, with an easy to use design based on GOV.UK Design System principles. Our prototype can be seen in action on Redbridge’s show and tell recording.

Redbridge went on to procure a low code platform, and we were delighted to be selected to work with them. Between April and July 2023 we’ve built out the low code capabilities that the Alpha had identified, as well as those required across all of the dozens of Housing Tenancy processes, and have now started to build the first processes using the low code tools. Redbridge’s vision is to build up a new front-end that wraps the legacy Housing Management system and enables the council to make more flexible choices about their future direction. In this way, our work will help Redbridge to feed in practical experience to the sector's investigation of the Housing Systems market.

And finally, in this 5th year of the Declaration, at the same time as they were announced as one of the #FutureCouncil pilots, Dorset Council have stepped forward to lead phase 2 of the Low Code Waste Services project, with Rugby and Northumberland as partners. The councils wanted to build some of the capabilities that were de-prioritised during the phase 1 sprints, bringing new reminders and renewals features into the platform, and then to move on to look at Commercial Waste services. This prompted a discussion about the other low code components that would support councils that want to offer traded services - business accounts and e-commerce - and the Local Digital Team agreed a Continuous Funding bid to deliver these new capabilities.

We are in the middle of the project now, and will be working through the summer, aiming to deliver a set of new open source, low code, business and commerce services in the autumn of 2023. Several of the partner councils will be adopting Commercial Waste services, and Dorset plans to go on to develop a wide range of other traded services on Digital Place, helping them to raise income. Current and future customers get all of these major new services and capabilities as part of the annual subscription without any increase in cost, and of course all of the production code is publicly available in our Bitbucket repository if any council wants to host and run their own completely independent instance of Digital Place.

If you want to find out what it’s like to use an open digital platform, built on user research, that includes reusable digital services co-designed with councils, and supports GOV.UK design system styles, patterns and components, contact us

Check out more resources

We design cubes to be reusable, configurable without re-coding to suit local requirements

Dr Gavin Beckett

About The Author

Dr Gavin Beckett

Dr Gavin Beckett leads Placecube's product management and user experience design teams, working with customers to understand the problems they need to solve, and collaborating with them to develop solutions in Placecube's Digital Place software as a service products, built on Liferay DXP. Digital Place offers a rapid way for organisations across the private sector, local public services, health, housing and communities to adopt open standards and open source based digital services, co-designed with customers, for re-use.  Prior to joining Placecube, Gavin spent 20 years in UK local government, where in his roles as Chief Enterprise Architect and Chief Digital Officer he led the design and delivery of digital services to improve residents and businesses experiences.

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