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Statutory services based on value, rather than legislation

Planning case study

This is an account of how managers became enthused and took responsibility for leading change and co-creating it with their staff within the Planning service. The approach they took was in stark contrast with their standard and legislative based thinking and obvious digital solutions. They incorporated new management behaviours and team working. Waste was dramatically cut, and the staff environment created a highly motivating culture. The impact of the customers needs was profound.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

The local government Planning service had two main initial problems. Firstly, the staff lacked team work and motivation, with staff turnover at a high level. Secondly, those who submitted Planning applications were very frustrated at the level of information they had to submit, how many times their submissions were delayed, and the inability to communicate with Planning staff.

Objectives
The objective of the innovation was to develop a motivating working environment where staff would work together as teams. And that the problems with the customers would be resolved. We hoped that the complaints would reduce, and the delays would be eliminated. It is also important to note that the economic environment for public services in the UK are that cost cutting is a priority, and the focus of senior leaders was that the service should be able to make cuts to its budget

The Methodology
The innovation itself comprised of a Design Thinking methodology that incorporates System Thinking. This allowed the Planning manager and her team to develop a new citizen centered view of the service and recognise how poorly aligned that service was with the needs of customers. The manager led the innovation herself.

Systemic Understanding
The first step was to Understand how well the current service is designed and delivers. They found that waste by repetition was very high, and that staff had no sense of ownership of the work they did. The process that was followed was highly functional and bureaucratic. The impact on customers was poor, with customers unable to communicate well with Planning officers. Then customers had to deal with a highly standardised process.

Experiment
The second step was taking real Planning applications to create several experiments to learn what customers actually needed, and how to go about dealing with applications in new ways. This was an iterative process of learning through doing. The legislation was followed, but only in the intent of the legislation, rather than interpreted word for word.

Prototype
The third step was to create a prototype way of working that incorporates the Digital tools to support the process. The staff were given end to end ownership of applications, which allowed them to have a sense of accomplishment, and also allowed to modify how they undertook the applications based on the needs of individual customers.

Perhaps the largest impact on the process is that when an application is received, the officer responsible telephones the applicant to ask them about the application, clarifying any issues they have, and asking about what is important to the applicant. This incorporates customer priorities that the officer can incorporate, and any problems with the submission can be discussed and resubmitted immediately. The old process delayed this by 3 weeks, and gave written instructions to the applicant that often was unnecessary and confusing. They had to resubmit the whole thing again.

Whilst undertaking this innovation, the manager realise that she herself has been responsible for creating the service as it was. She had functionalism the end to end service and created a standard way of working. Her basis for making decisions had been to follow the wording of the legislation.

The Outcome
The outcome is that about 30% of activities were stripped out of the process that they deemed unnecessary. And the refusal rate for submitted applications dropped from around 45% to under 5%. The customer complaints have reduced as the Planning officers are able to be flexible to their needs.

The Planning service is now a better place to work, where small groups of officers work together on areas of the town. They have a sense of ownership of the work they do. The work of managers has changed from ensuring officers comply with the rules, to supporting officers to become better skilled. Officers now turn to their managers to ask for advice and support.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

The service redesign moves away from simply improving or changing. It uses systems thinking to focus on the principles of the way of thinking of the managers that need to change. It also takes not just the views of customers, but the true needs of customers and the purpose of why the service is there for them.
The change itself was conducted by the staff themselves, and is based on an iterative methodology, rather than having clear objectives and milestones. The basis of the whole process is one of learning. The manager had no idea the real problems in her service, and she had not realised the implications of the decisions she made as a manager. She then decided to redesign the service, with people at the heart of its operations, and understanding that designing for variation in customer needs decreases costs. She also recognised the problem of applying legislation in ways that are disconnected to the purpose of the service.

What is the current status of your innovation?

The project is complete in that the new way of working is being embedded. The delay of COVID has caused this element of the project to become extended. Today the new way of working is being refined, as staff get back to normal ways of working. And the new measures are being collated over time to discover the true nature of the outcome of the project. The project is now part of the Human Learning Systems research carried out by Professor Toby Lowe of the Centre for Public Impact.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

This is different to what they would have done previously, which would have been to send out questionnaires. The customers were engaged with by actually going in to the offices, and talking directly to them. We asked open questions about their interaction with the local government service. This was the first time that anyone from Planning has actually visited their offices. The value of this way of engagement was far more direct and useful.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

The primary beneficiary are the customers who submit Planning applications they now have a direct dialogue with their Planning officers at the start of the process. And they are given the ability to directly contact the officer when they need to. What matters to the customer is now taken into account, and the end to end time to receive a final answer to the application is shorter. The staff themselves now have a great role in the work, causing their motivation to be higher.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

The primary beneficiary are the customers who submit Planning applications they now have a direct dialogue with their Planning officers at the start of the process. And they are given the ability to directly contact the officer when they need to. What matters to the customer is now taken into account, and the end to end time to receive a final answer to the application is shorter. The staff themselves now have a great role in the work, causing their motivation to be higher.

Challenges and Failures

The time is took to develop the new Prototype way of working took many months. In addition, the preparations to change offers terms and conditions of their work had to go through a process of consultation.
Setting up new ways of working in this way, took around 18 months. That is taking away the impact of COVID, which put a pause on the work several times.

Conditions for Success

1. Leadership by doing.
2. Co-creation with staff.
3. A methodology that is proven, using progressive principles of working that are different to the Taylors scientific management approach.
4. Access to a specialist in the methodology, that can guide the team.
5. A design thinking iterative and learning approach.
6. A customer centric view of the service using systems thinking.
7. Allowing the time it takes to complete, rather than management by a milestone plan.

Replication

The project is now part of the Human Learning Systems research carried out by Professor Toby Lowe of the Centre for Public Impact. There are many case studies using this approach that have occurred in the UK over several years. I myself, have been involved in up to 40 of them.

Lessons Learned

That we need to move away from the principles of New Public Management that were developed across the globe in the 1980's. This approach can be applied to any public service.

Supporting Videos

Status:

  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed

Innovation provided by:

Media:

Date Published:

4 October 2021

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