Reflections on developing Birmingham City Council’s new digital strategy

Thank you to Hannah Pinnock of Methods for this weeks blog – a wrap up of the work to date on the digital strategy!

It seems like a fitting moment as we draw to the end of the year to reflect on the work we’ve been doing over the last months, and this week we did a conveniently timed wrap up of the work to develop Birmingham City Council’s new digital strategy.

Our wrap up had two key elements, an ‘Appreciation Station’, and an ‘Emotional Journey Map’, and we were able to surface learnings from these two elements.

Our Emotional Journey Map

Mapping our individual emotional journeys enabled us to reflect on both the successes and challenges we’ve had throughout the process. As a multidisciplinary team, we’ve all had different experiences of developing the strategy, so it was cathartic to surface these different perspectives and talk them through.

If you’ve not taken part in an ‘Appreciation Station’ before, I would highly recommend it. It’s an opportunity to share your gratitude with your colleagues, for the work they have done, the support they have offered, the way they have risen to challenges, and for being an all-round good bunch. I think we all came away with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, and it felt good to close the door on that work, knowing we’ve done the best job we could have.

The last six months has been a big learning curve for the whole team, we’ve been getting to grips with both agile delivery and human centred design, which were completely new to some of us. We’ve been applying these approaches to developing a digital strategy, something we hadn’t done before, and haven’t seen many examples of elsewhere in government. With this in mind, we wanted to share some of our reflections and learnings:

A lot of the ‘digital’ groundwork was laid for this strategy by Birmingham’s previous CIO’s Sam Hall and Jane Fallon. It took time to get to this point, but it was time well spent, because when we came to write this strategy, we were pushing at an open door.

● Our new CIO, Cheryl Doran quickly became engaged with this work and put her full trust in the team, despite us being halfway through the process when she started her new role. This really highlighted that with the right support and leadership, any council can get started on its digital transformation journey.

● We had so much support from our local government colleagues throughout the process. When we asked for help, we found it, and the conversations we had were fundamental in shaping our thinking. No local authority needs to start its digital transformation journey from zero – there is so much learning and experience already out there in government, and our colleagues across government are very generous with their time and support.

Trusting the process is crucial. Agile delivery is scary if you’ve never done it before, but for digital projects it does work. Stick with the rhythms and rituals and deliver in two weekly sprints and you’ll get the value from the process.

Taking a human centred design approach to developing a strategy takes time, but if it results in a strategy that is fit for purpose and delivers seamless services and crucially value to citizens more quickly – surely it’s worth it?

● Taking this approach to developing a digital strategy was a great way of selling in the benefits of agile delivery and human centred design to a council that had limited experience of this thinking at that stage.

We invested a lot of time in getting buy-in from stakeholders both within the IT and Digital directorate and across the wider council. Across the council the strategy was really well received, within the directorate it was a harder sell and we could have done more to bring some key people closer to it. We found it was often that old chestnut of bringing the IT people and the digital people closer together – it takes time and a misplaced word can put you back weeks.

● We knew we wanted to purposefully work in the open, and we had regular show and tells and wrote sprint notes that were circulated within IT and Digital from the get-go. However, we could have started publishing our thoughts externally earlier. Maybe it felt too exposing to talk about developing the strategy before we were confident we were going in the right direction. Now we are on the journey there’s no stopping us!

We are really proud of what we’ve achieved through this process, as a team and as a council. We’ve got a delivery plan that sets us up for success going into 2022 and we’re already getting moving on some of our priorities. The real fun (and work) begins in January.

Strategy Delivery Team: 

Nicola Bryant (Delivery Manager); Sarah Greenaway (Content Designer); James Gregory (Product Manager); Hannah Pinnock (Agile Coach, Strategist); Jasvir Sandhu (Comms); Surita Solanki (Delivery); Gill Terry (Comms)

For further information contact:  nicola.bryant@birmingham.gov.uk  

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