Celebrating 1,000 issues of the Idox Information Service Weekly Bulletin

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by Stacey Dingwall

After turning 40 last year, the Idox Information Service today reaches another milestone: the 1,000th edition of our Weekly Bulletin.

The Bulletin is circulated to our members every week, as part of their subscription to our service. It contains a selection of abstracts of some of the 100+ articles and documents added to our database each week. The Bulletin highlights the publications that our team of Research Officers think will be of the most interest or importance to our members, across our core subject areas:

  • Government, politics and public administration.
  • Business and economy.
  • Management and organisational development.
  • Equalities and diversity.
  • Employment, jobs and careers.
  • Education and skills.
  • Planning and development.
  • Transport, infrastructure and communications.
  • Regeneration and community development.
  • Arts, culture and leisure.
  • Health and social care
  • Crime, justice and rights.

Also included is a section of new government publications, which features any consultations, guidance and announcements the UK government and the devolved administrations have published that week.

The Bulletin was first published in 1975, back when the Information Service was known as the Planning Exchange. In his book on the early days of the Planning Exchange, Barry Cullingworth notes that at the time, “neither central nor local government [was] adequately organised to provide information”. According to founder Tony Burton, the Planning Exchange had therefore found itself dealing with an unexpected volume of requests for information, “not only from the general public, voluntary organisations and elected members, but also from academics, professionals and officers of local and central government”.

This resulted in the Planning Exchange gaining funding from the Leverhulme Trust to provide a weekly roundup of abstracts of articles and research on planning and housing-related matters to elected members in a couple of local authorities in Scotland. While this was intended to be a limited service, at the end of its trial period several local planning officers asked the Planning Exchange to continue sending the Bulletin, as they found it so useful.

Today, the Bulletin is sent to our members in local authorities across the country, central government, planning consultancies, universities and commercial organisations, among others. It forms part of the key current awareness service provided by the Idox Information Service for our members, alongside separate subject specific updates, personalised alerts and our recently launched election updates.

You can read more about the many benefits our customers enjoy from their membership of the Idox Information Service in our previous blog post here. We have also been recognised by the Alliance for Useful Evidence for our work in making research relevant and accessible to practitioners – not just researchers.


Organisations that join the Idox Information Service are committed to using a sound evidence base for decision-making and policy formulation. They also support the professional development of their staff. Being part of our community gives them the knowledge and tools to improve both frontline services and forward planning and strategy.

Membership packages can cover an entire organisation or a specific department or team. We also offer subscriptions to our current awareness services to individuals who are not affiliated with a suitable organisation.

To find out more please contact our team on 0870 333 7101 or contact us online.

Introducing Reading Room: a trusted digital partner

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Last year, Reading Room became the latest company to join the Idox group. Reading Room is an award-winning digital consultancy with an international reputation for innovative strategic consultancy, design, and technical delivery.

The experienced team, based in London, Manchester and Glasgow, blend the best design and technical expertise with insights from behavioural science and psychology to deliver highly effective solutions. For public and private sector organisations looking for help to reach their full digital potential, Reading Room is a tried and trusted digital partner.

Diverse clients … diverse needs … diverse digital solutions

  • NHS Lambeth Federations : Reading Room supported the organisation to transform their business via a digital strategy to encourage more people to interact with their surgeries online and establish trust. New digital features, including digital triage of symptoms and conditions, tools to support online appointments with a GP, and a social media campaign all encouraged behavioural change.
  • Durham at War : In 2014, Reading Room developed an interactive online presence for the Durham at War project, which tells the story of County Durham and its people during the First World War. Managed by the archive, museum and archaeology services at Durham County Council, the resource allows members of the public to upload and share their memories and reflections. Reading Room were also responsible for a striking brand identity for the project, based on a First World War poppy from France that was sent home by a soldier from County Durham.

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  • Victim Support : Reading Room worked with a specialist young people’s research company to explore the questions and fears of children who are required to give evidence in court cases. Following in-depth audience co-creation sessions, an innovative online interactive courtroom now familiarises young witnesses with the court system and guides them through what to expect when giving evidence.
  • Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC) : Reading Room supported OCC in presenting their work in a way that appealed to both adults and children, and addressed some sensitive subject areas. The result was colourful and clear web pages that covered the range of services provided by the organisation.

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  • Australian Government, Department of Communications : Reading Room’s online version of the Australian Department of Communications 2015 annual report set a visually rich, new benchmark in the way government agencies present complex information.
  • London Councils : The organisation represents London’s 32 borough councils and the City of London and wanted a new website that allowed users easy access to information about services. Reading Room worked with London Councils to create an intuitive website as well as a simplified Content Management System.
  • National Archives : Reading Room partnered with the National Archives on a digital resource to help children understand the significance of the Magna Carta. Activity focused on the idea of a ‘Chronicle’ which the children write as they move through chronological chapters featuring original videos, maps and other digital assets from the National Archives. Children can earn badges and points by answering questions about what they’ve learned in the chapters and receive instant feedback. The resource helped mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta by King John at Runnymede.

Reading Room has also provided digital consultancy to support many other clients, including Visit England, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Skoda and West Yorkshire Police.

Award-winning digital consultancy

The expertise and client-focus of the Reading Room team has led to some great accolades for the company:

  • Top recommended digital agency – Recommended Agency Register 2015
  • Best in Web Design & Web Development – Recommended Agency Register Digital Awards 2015
  • Ranked number 1 for digital design services in the Marketing Week Independent Agency Reputation Survey
  • Top 5 Marcomms Agency – B2B Marketing Magazine UK Agency League Table 2015
  • Top 10 for customer satisfaction – The Drum 2015 independent agency census.

Reading Room is also part of the UK government’s G-Cloud framework, which provides an online marketplace where public sector bodies can buy cloud based services. There are now over 100 software solutions and consultancy services across Reading Room and the wider Idox group on the marketplace – helping to deliver a simpler, clearer and faster way for public sector bodies to buy what they need from the group’s offerings.

Reading Room are especially proud that in January of this year, their development of the Magna Carta educational resource for the National Archives won the British Educational Training and Technology Award for Free Digital Content/Open Educational Resources. And in March the Magna Carta resource was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the MEDEA awards for “exceptional innovation in pedagogic or technical design.”

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Find out more about Reading Room’s work, or get in touch with the team.

Our blog has also featured Reading Room in previous posts:

Grand designs: the Glasgow office for Idox is one of Scotland’s best buildings

By James Carson

As a proud Glaswegian, I feel lucky to live in a city with an abundance of eye-catching architecture. With styles ranging from the classical and the exotic to the medieval and the ultra-modern, a walk through Glasgow can be like a journey across the city’s history.

So, it was a particular pleasure to learn that the office building from which Idox conducts its business in Glasgow has been selected as one of Scotland’s 100 finest buildings from the last century. The list, chosen by the Scottish public, was announced by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) to launch a year-long festival celebrating the best of Scottish architecture.

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Historic foundations

The Scottish Legal Life Assurance Building is located in Bothwell Street, in the heart of Glasgow’s central business district. Work on its construction began in 1927, when architecture here was beginning to respond to the influence of steel-framed commercial buildings in the United States.

The chief architect was Edward Grigg Wylie, whose practice had also designed the Glasgow Dental Hospital and Hillhead High School. When it was completed, in 1931, the eight-storey building became the headquarters of the Scottish Legal Life Assurance Society, which had grown from a burial society founded by six working men in 1852 to become one of the biggest life insurance firms in Britain.

Bothwell2Bothwell5The honey-coloured Northumberland stone façade of the building reflects the values that an insurance company would want to endorse. Bas-relief carved panels depict Prudence, Thrift and Courage, and above the triple-arched entrance a gilded crest evokes a proud heritage. At either end of the building two majestic clocks mark the passing of time. Inside, the impressive features continue, with an imposing staircase, marble tiling and art deco light fittings.

The building has been part of the fabric of Glasgow for the best part of a century, and may also deserve a footnote in the history books. One of the stories associated with the building concerns Rudolf Hess. In 1941, Adolf Hitler’s deputy made a dramatic flight to Scotland, claiming that he wanted to hold peace talks with the Duke of Hamilton. It’s believed that, after being captured, Hess may have been held in the basement of the Scottish Legal Building, pending his transfer to a prisoner of war camp.

An enduring legacy

Today, Scottish Legal Life Assurance still operates from the B-listed building, while other floors are occupied by companies providing construction, engineering, property and financial services. The seventh floor became the Glasgow home for the Idox Group in August 2011.

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The architect died in 1954, but the name of Edward G. Wylie lives on, not only in the title of his architectural practice, but above the doors of a pub occupying the ground floor of the building he created.

An exhibition showcasing Scotland’s best 100 buildings will go on tour during 2016, as part of the Festival of Architecture. After that, the public will be invited to vote for their favourite from the list.

Whether or not the Scottish Legal Building wins the crown, its important position as one of Glasgow’s commercial landmarks is set in stone.

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All photographs: James Carson


If you’ve enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested in our previous posts on the subjects of architecture and heritage:

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Idox: enabling transformation, collaboration and improvement

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If you follow this blog regularly then you’ll know that we write on all areas of public and social policy. What you might not realise though is that our Knowledge Exchange team is just one part of a much wider business – Idox – providing specialist information and data solutions and services.

I’ve been working with Idox for about four years, but I’m still topping-up my knowledge about the organisation. Last week, at the company’s end-of-year get-together, my brain was like an overworked sponge as it tried to absorb a multitude of facts, figures and achievements during two days of workshops and presentations (to say nothing of the informal chats in between the working sessions).

From this wealth of information, I’ve compiled a selection that I think conveys a flavour of the depth and diversity of Idox today.

Ten things you might not know about Idox…

  1. The Reading Room, which is the newest addition to the Idox family of companies, has developed digital solutions for a wide range of customers, including Porsche and Clarence House, and this year developed a virtual reality test drive app for Skoda.
  2. Idox’s recently-launched iApply service enables planning applications and building control consent to be applied for via a single source, streamlining the application process.
  3. The Idox GRANTFinder policy and grants database contains details of over 8000 funding opportunities.
  4. Real-time information delivered by Idox’s Cloud Amber keeps the travelling public up-to-date about transport services and helps manage traffic congestion.
  5. The Idox group currently employs almost 600 people in over 10 countries, including the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, the United States, India and Australia.
  6. The Idox Elections service not only ensured the smooth management of postal voting for the 2015 UK general election, but has also supported delivery of local authority and community council elections in the UK, as well as this year’s local elections in Norway.
  7. Idox has a strong presence in the compliance sector, raising awareness among managers and employees of the importance of complying with regulations, from corruption prevention and data privacy to occupational safety and cybersecurity.
  8. Idox Engineering Information Management, provides critical engineering document management and control applications to the oil and gas, mining, pharmaceutical and transport industries in 50 countries.
  9. CAFM Explorer, Idox’s computer aided facilities management software, supports building maintenance and property management for organisations in 45 countries, and recently partnered with the Hippodrome to help maintain one of London’s most popular attractions.
  10. From food safety monitoring to licensing taxis, Idox’s regulatory services help local authorities enforce the rules that keep us safe.

One more thing…

Finally, the meeting reminded me of one thing I already knew, and it’s to do with the part of Idox where I work – the Knowledge Exchange.

Over breakfast on the second morning, a colleague from McLaren talked about the difficulties in finding the right information on the web. Search engines only go so far, he said, providing too little or too much. This is where skilled intermediaries, such as Idox’s team of Research Officers, can make a difference, identifying, sorting and presenting information that people can use to make decisions, support arguments and advance their businesses.

The Idox event was an enjoyable, if exhausting, couple of days, and it demonstrated the many ways in which the company is supporting public, private and third sector work.

Clearly, there’s much more to learn about Idox.


Our popular Ask-a-Researcher enquiry service is one aspect of the Idox Information Service, which we provide to members in organisations across the UK to keep them informed on the latest research and evidence on public and social policy issues. To find out more on how to become a member, get in touch.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Idox Elections: delivering modern democracy

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by Stacey Dingwall

It was impossible to avoid: the UK held a General Election on 7 May 2015. Voting aside, the election experience was somewhat different for myself and a team of colleagues from across the company. This time, we joined the Idox Elections team for the period leading up the election in order to help deliver the company’s Postal Vote Management System (PVMS) in local authorities across the country.

PVMS is one of the key products delivered by Idox Elections. It works by comparing voters’ original Postal Vote Application (PVA) with the Postal Vote Statement (PVS) they complete at the same time as their ballot paper. The software compares the two forms using two unique identifiers: signature and date of birth. This ensures that the postal votes that go forward to the count on polling day are authentic.

Postal voting: a brief history

Postal voting ‘on demand’ became possible for the first time at the 2000 General Election, following the implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the Working Party on Electoral Procedures. The Working Group, chaired by then Minister of State at the Home Office George Howarth, recommended that:

  • Absent voting should be allowed on demand.
  • The application and voting procedures for absent voting should be simplified.

The first recommendation was implemented by the Representation of the People Act 2000, and the second by the Representation of the People (England & Wales) Regulations 2001. Prior to this, those wishing to vote by post were required to state a reason for applying for an absent vote, or to obtain proof of illness, for example, from a medical practitioner or employer.

The 2000 Act also made it possible for local authorities to apply for permission to trial new methods of voting for local elections, including all-postal voting. According to a review of these trials by the Local Government Association, all-postal voting was the “only new electoral arrangement to have significant potential for increasing local election turnout”.

Despite concerns over abuse of the system and fraud, the Electoral Commission maintains that there is no evidence of widespread and systematic abuse, and that it would not be ‘proportionate’ to scrap postal voting. There are many indications that postal voting has led to increased electoral turnouts, with the Post Office reporting that the number of postal votes issued increased by over 1.6 million between the General Elections in 2005 and 2010. Written evidence submitted to parliament by the Electoral Commission also highlighted that at the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections, where turnout was notoriously bad, postal votes accounted for 48.9% of the vote. During the Scottish Independence Referendum, some local authorities reported postal vote return rates of almost 90%.

Countdown to the election

For those of us new to the Elections team, work started the week beginning 27 April, almost two weeks before polling day. From the Monday, we started to arrive on-site to set up the system and meet the temporary staff employed to open and scan the PVS and ballot papers. The scale of this operation varied from one local authority to another: some of the smaller ones had 8,000 voting packs to get through before election day whereas sites like Glasgow (with an anticipated 66,000 packs) would sometimes process more than that in one day.

Polling day

On the actual day of the election, work in Glasgow began at 6pm. This was due to the fact that postal votes can legally be handed into polling stations until 10pm – we had a long night of verifying votes ahead of us. In Glasgow, we had moved from the council building to the Emirates Arena for the count, where our work continued as media outlets from across the country prepared to report the events of the night ahead.

Of course, we didn’t let the pressure get to us and the last of the postal votes were safely delivered to the council to go forward to the overall count around midnight. While the days were sometimes long, I thoroughly enjoyed my ‘sabbatical’ from the Idox Information Service team and the chance to be involved in the delivery of something as important as democracy: roll on the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016!


 

Our recent white paper ‘Democracy and voting: key organisations and individuals‘ is an overview of who is influencing thinking in elections research.

Idox Elections is one of the premier election service providers in the UK, providing outstanding expertise and knowledge across all areas of election management.

What technology brings to health and social care: a case study of Calderdale and Idox

 

By Steven McGinty

In the second of our articles on health and social care and technology, we‘re going to look at the advantages of using technology, as well as a case study of an innovative partnership between Calderdale Council and Idox.

The ‘Digital working, learning and information sharing’ strategy, developed in partnership with the adult social care sector, identifies three areas where technology would bring a number of benefits:

  • working directly with those who need care and their carers;
  • supporting the learning and professional development of staff;
  • organisational business support and information management systems.

The use of electronic notes, for instance, would be a simple step that would have a significant impact on homecare workers (highlighted in section 5 of the Burstow Commission report on the future of the home care workforce).  At the moment, care workers usually make handwritten notes and leave them in a book in someone’s home.  However, if care workers moved from handwritten notes to electronic notes, information could be shared more easily. This would mean that care managers and families would be able to monitor an individual’s care and conditions remotely.

Organisations have also seen the advantage of incorporating e-learning into staff development.  The Skills for Care ‘Digital capabilities in social care’ report found that 95% of organisations used e-learning courses to support staff development, particularly in administration-related areas, such as health and safety and fire training. For instance, instead of sending staff on full day training sessions, e-learning courses can be completed by staff in an hour, offering greater efficiency and flexibility.

However, the report also highlighted that social care related e-learning courses, which looked at issues such as dignity and respect, were of ‘variable quality’ and not able to compete with the experience of face-to-face and group learning. Therefore, it’s possible that an opportunity is being missed by education and training providers, as technology should be able to provide better solutions than the simple tick box exercises described in the report.

Interestingly, the report also suggests this might not be too far off, as one of the organisations revealed that they were looking at more interactive options and were currently working on a research project with a university in Greece, which focused on the idea of ‘gamification’.

One local authority that’s certainly tried to capitalise on the benefits of technology is Calderdale Council. The council has developed an innovative case management tool to support their day-to-day work, in areas such as child protection, looked after children, and fostering and adopting. Parveen Akhtar, Early Intervention Service Manager, at Calderdale Council explains that:

“The Child Social Care solution was created in partnership with schools, health and police. Providing an intuitive system to meet the requirements of front line social care practitioners, it enhances our ability to provide better services to families within our community.”

The Child Social Care solution creates a single view of a child through combining information from several sources into one record. This means that practitioners are able to create, access and share information easily and securely, supporting informed decisions and putting in place appropriate support for children and their families.

The system has a number of benefits and features, including:

  • improving multi-agency communication and response;
  • reducing the amount of time taken by practitioners to locate another agency involved in a child’s case;
  • enabling practitioners to access information remotely;
  • offering comprehensive performance and reporting tools for providing vital statistics;
  • providing the ability to monitor and track the progress that children and families are making.

Calderdale have teamed up with Idox, a specialist in providing technology, content and funding solutions to government, and are now offering their system to other local authorities. The partnership has already proven to be successful, with Calderdale and Idox providing their solution to councils in the Isles of Scilly and Leeds.

Over the coming years, health and social care will be facing ever greater demands with tighter budgets. For this reason, technology is going to be essential to support better outcomes and more efficient services.  It is therefore important that a strategic approach is taken concerning information technology, and that organisations look at its long term benefits, rather than the short term savings from cuts to investment.

The first article on health and social care and technology, “What’s preventing health and social care from going digital?”, can be found here.

Further reading:

 

The renaissance of Building Control

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Post–recession, the building industry has begun a return to rapid growth against a background of changes in building regulations, continuing technical innovation, and raised standards and expectations for developers. Building Control (the process of ensuring that buildings are safe, healthy and efficient to meet the standards set by the building regulations) is a key component in this resurgence and it’s no surprise that the Local Authority Building Control technical meeting at Nottingham University scheduled for 23 and 24 March has a packed programme and is entirely sold out.

With over 3,000 professionals working in the field and faced with competition from private service providers, Local Authorities are coming together to make infrastructure investments that will improve services and ultimately reduce costs.  A good example is the North Yorkshire Building Control Partnership formed in 2001 and now grown to provide services for five authorities.  Latest figures from NYBCP show savings of over £1m annually through this scalable and flexible shared-service platform.

The programme behind this required vision and commitment to deliver and involved hosting arrangements for a new single system, local network and IT services with support, and data migration from five legacy systems.  A case study published by NYBCP describes the programme in detail.

And the key metrics:

  • £1M reduction in salary costs
  • 55% of all applications are born digital or received digitally
  • Major reduction in processing costs
  • Remote access and remote working for stakeholders and officers
  • Improved customer service delivery as administrators are able to validate and process applications within 3 – 5 minutes

A last word to Les Chapman, NYBCP Head of Building Control, who commented, “By adopting a no compromise approach and having clear goals which have been carefully monitored I am confident that we have improved our service, significantly reduced our costs and we have de-risked the provision and maintenance of our IT systems.”

References

Local Authority Building Control

NYBCP case study

Gloucester City and Stroud DC business case for Building Control shared-service

How collecting evidence can help improve public policy: Scottish Enterprise’s approach to economic development evaluation

By Stephen Lochore

EO homeThe Knowledge Exchange has helped a range of public sector organisations to collate, analyse and disseminate their evaluation and research material. One example is the Evaluations Online portal, a publicly accessible collection of evaluation and research reports from Scottish Enterprise, one of Scotland’s two regional development agencies. We’ve recently made some changes to the portal, and though these were mainly to design and layout, it got me (as Project Manager) thinking about wider issues of accountability and evidence-based policy. Continue reading

Putting research at the heart of UK public policy

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by Alex Addyman and James Carson

At the heart of The Knowledge Exchange is a comprehensive database of hundreds of thousands of articles, research reports, and policy documents covering 40 years of UK public policy. The database is known as the Idox Information service and users include: Continue reading

Planning and housing dominate database use in February

by James Carson

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The word cloud above offers a snapshot of what our members were searching for during February 2014. As you can see, search terms such as planning, social, policy and housing were among the most frequently used ways of accessing information on our database. But other terms, such as transport, climate, leadership and employment, demonstrate the breadth of information contained in the database. Continue reading