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We at Tasman District Council have been working on modernising our organisation for a while. We have worked on a digital strategy – trying to position the organisation to better face some of the challenges of the future.

We had some successes, and a few things that haven’t gone so well. Like many other organisations, we’ve realised how fundamental the changes are. Not only to systems and processes, but also to our culture and how we work. As a local government entity, we struggle with resourcing, and there is a constant risk that increasing complexity and increasing expectations could overwhelm us.

While there are plenty of vendors who’ll provide services and offer slick slideshows, it’s difficult to find collaborative and open learning opportunities between agencies at any level. That’s why we were pretty keen to visit the Service Innovation Lab (the Lab) at the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) – and we weren’t disappointed.

So what did we learn?

Heaps! Let’s start with the basics: Waugh’s Laws.

  1. Build with integrity - This means doing the right thing, not the easy thing. It means doing the hard work so our citizens don’t have to
  2. Share the glory - Encourage others to tell the story and spread the word; and
  3. Build demand - by delivering demonstrated value for citizens.

Pia Andrews, Integration Lead at the Lab explained those laws better than I ever could, but I’m reasonably certain she would also say that while there’s no perfect way to start, it is important to just start. We have to avoid analysis paralysis, or letting our fear get in the way.

We also learned quickly the benefit of being offsite. Having dedicated time outside the shadow of business as usual meant we had far greater and more sustained clarity and purpose. This is hard to achieve in the day-to-day grind.

We learnt the importance of co-design. Getting the people who actually use the service in the room means much better outcomes. We saw the massive road maps of the service design in action. We saw the large number of people from different agencies collaborating. We saw goodwill and a desire to make things better.

We learnt about the Rates Rebate trial and the Notice of Sale project. We learnt about legislation as code. We learnt about the importance of working across agencies and across disciplines.

We learnt that all of these things help drive a team dedicated to innovation. In turn, they can feed improvements back into the service ecosystem to help improve business as usual.

It was time well spent, and I’d encourage other councils to take the opportunity to visit the Lab if it presents itself. We met enthusiastic people doing great work with a genuine passion for better public services and in particular, making it easier for citizens. The Lab team were generous with their expertise and happy to help us learn.

Digital services are where people meet our policies and our processes. Simplifying those processes isn’t the easy thing to do, but it is certainly the right thing to do.

We have plenty more to learn and plenty more work to do. We know the Lab’s work will cascade down to local government level and we sincerely hope we can work together again in the near future.

If you'd like to keep up with what's going on in the Lab, please join our mailing list.

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