Over the past 10 years, our changing society and austerity have pushed UK local authorities to deliver more with less. This has put them in a challenging position. To thrive, they must aggressively revisit all models of commissioning and delivery, but many don’t have the tools to affect the required scale of change.
So, how can local authorities deliver the required change in a way that’s cost-effective and valuable to their residents?
The private sector faces similar challenges, needing to respond to change quickly and effectively to remain competitive. Increasingly, these organisations recognise this is only possible by focussing their efforts on building organisational agility. For example, AstraZeneca adopted agility to transform their organisation and stay one step ahead of competitors. Because of this, they’ve seen delivery accelerate by 40-60 per cent, costs fall by 25-40 per cent and improved quality.
Local government can benefit from adopting a similar approach, embedding agility to help them transform their service models and propositions.
Commercially-focused organisations strengthen their organisational agility by devolving decision-making and empowering teams to deliver new things. Employees have responsibility for new areas and can influence their immediate work processes and environments, working in cross-functional teams focussed on customer value streams.
With local government being hierarchical in nature and heavily governed (understandably due to their stewardship of funds), the focus on empowering people would help create a bottom-up change. Organisational agility can bridge the gap between diverse services, such as housing, benefits, revenues and social care, by making them work more closely and innovatively.
For example, a client wanted to streamline planning applications processes across three local authorities, so it had teams run a backlog of improvements using Scrum. This created a massive cultural change and team members said they were more empowered and positive about their work.
Commercial agile organisations release new products and services to the market as soon as possible, getting value to customers quickly and iterating to make improvements. The focus is on testing minimum viable products in real market conditions before attempting the next iteration or enhancement. Most products and services go through several iterations, changing their features based on customer feedback.
Local government could adopt a similar approach by piloting new service delivery models or digital solutions with a sample of their customer group before embarking on end-to-end service re-design projects. This is the approach PA took when working with the National Institute of Health Research to develop a public-facing web portal for dementia research. Customers could feed back on iterations of the portal as we developed it in a series of fortnightly sprints. This process meant we could launch the portal in just 16 weeks.
Did you know the top 10% of financial performers are 30% more agile than the rest?
Adaptability is a primary concern in agile organisations. They don’t build new digital solutions for a single purpose, instead opting for processes that can easily reconfigure to respond to changing demands.
This was the case when we delivered a project with the Swedish Transport Administration, Trafikverket. Like many other organisations Trafikverket was transforming itself in a bid to digitise the way it manages rail traffic and become a truly sustainable organisation of the future. By moving away from paper-based processes Trafikverket was building a system able to deal with an increasingly busy railway network.
Local government works in a constantly changing environment influenced by social, economic and legislative developments. It’s subject to frequent changes in political direction. By looking at how to transform legacy digital systems into modern ones capable of evolving, local authorities will be able to respond to those challenges more quickly and scale services up and down flexibly.
In our world of growing challenges, the ponderous pace of change that characterises the public sector makes it difficult to meet people’s evolving needs. But by empowering people at every level to make decisions, looking for ways to deliver value to residents quickly and creating systems that can evolve with changing demands, local government can rise to the challenge. Making these changes won’t be easy, but they’re necessary for delivering enduring results.