BIM: the digitisation of the built environment

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by Stacey Dingwall

Last month, the Department of Architecture at the University of Strathclyde hosted a seminar on the digitisation of the built environment and how digital is disrupting the construction sector. The event focused on the use of Building Information Modelling (BIM), and its use in Scotland in particular.

What is BIM?

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As defined in the UK government’s industrial strategy, BIM is “a collaborative way of working, underpinned by the digital technologies which unlock more efficient methods of designing, creating and maintaining our assets”. Specifically, it embeds key product and asset data, and a 3D computer model that manages information throughout a project’s lifecycle. BIM has been described as a “game changer” for the construction industry, and can be used in the construction of new buildings as well as retrofitting and refurbishment.

Speaker: David Philp, AECOM

The first presentation came from David Philp, Global BIM/MIC Consulting Director of AECOM and the Chair of the Scottish Futures Trust’s BIM Delivery Group. The Group was established on the recommendation of the Scottish Government’s 2013 Review of Scottish Public Sector Procurement in Construction, and tasked with delivering a BIM implementation plan for the country, which was published in September 2015.

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David focused on the pathway set out in the implementation plan for Scottish public sector projects worth over £4.32m to adopt Level 2 BIM by 2017, as recommended by the 2013 review. In England, the industry was required to have adopted Level 2 by April of this year; a recent survey carried out by Construction News found that almost 70% of main contractors, consultants, professional services and clients had either fully embedded the Level 2 standards into their systems, or were using Level 2 when it suited the project.

The suitability of different levels was something that David stated was important to consider on a case by case basis – while the goal is to be Level 2 capable, sometimes Level 1 may be more appropriate. This is different to the approach taken in England, where the government has mandated that only Level 2 should be used from now on. As highlighted by David, the Chancellor’s latest Budget also included a commitment to “develop the next digital standard for the construction sector – Building Information Modelling 3 – to save owners of built assets billions of pounds a year in unnecessary costs, and maintain the UK’s global leadership in digital construction”.

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David also described the benefits of using BIM, particularly Level 2, in construction projects, in terms of efficiency, reducing risk and the creation of more sustainable and intelligent infrastructure. He also touched on the use of BIM in the construction of the High Speed rail link between London and Birmingham (HS2), due to begin in 2017. BIM has been described as the “backbone” of the HS2 project, which will be the largest BIM project undertaken in Europe so far.

Speaker: Professor Bimal Kumar, Glasgow Caledonian University

The seminar concluded with a presentation by Professor Kumar, Head of BIM at GCU’s School of Engineering and Built Environment. Professor Kumar, who works with David Philp as part of the BIM 4 Academia Working Group spoke about his department’s work in embedding BIM into the taught curriculum of the courses they offer, as well as his work in developing a BIM strategy for NHS Scotland, which involved mapping their existing processes to BIM processes.

Professor Kumar also shared some of his personal opinions on the adoption of BIM in Scotland, stating his belief that it will take another 30 years before Level 3 is fully adopted. He emphasised the need to ‘demistify’ BIM, as too many organisations still think that it will cost them too much in terms of effort and money to comply with the standards.

Overall, the seminar offered a good opportunity to find out more about something that, while mystifying to most, is set to transform the global construction industry.


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Performance appraisals – does the public sector need to be more innovative?

Innovation Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.By Heather Cameron

In a time of austerity, there is increasing pressure to get the best out of staff in order to improve organisational performance, particularly in the public sector.

Staff performance appraisals are a well-established practice in most organisations but there has been much debate over their effectiveness. Many say they are time-consuming and involve too much paperwork. Others say they are a key part of an organisation’s human resources strategy and align the strategy and objectives of an organisation with those of individuals, which is necessary for effective service delivery.

Why performance management?

A number of reasons have been highlighted for implementing performance management in any organisation, including:

  • to provide information on organisational and/or employee effectiveness and efficiency
  • to improve organisational and/or employee effectiveness and efficiency
  • to improve employees’ levels of motivation
  • to link employees’ pay with perceptions of their performance
  • to raise levels of employee accountability
  • to align employees’ objectives with those of the organisation

In the public sector, the aim of performance management is to motivate staff and managers to improve organisational performance and therefore effectively deliver services.

But while this may seem simple enough, is this what is happening in practice? Some would argue that performance appraisals have the opposite effect of motivating staff and lead to increased pressure and stress, resulting in poorer performance.

Concerns

A recent survey of over 25,000 civil servants highlighted widespread concern over how performance management is working in practice.  A huge majority (94%) said it was unfair that 10% of staff should be ranked as ‘must improve’, a recommendation that has been suggested to lead to discrimination against black and minority ethnic (BAME) staff, those who are disabled and part-time workers.

Performance appraisals have also been described as a “waste of time” or “tick-box exercise”.

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The CIPD Employee outlook surveys have consistently revealed a general dissatisfaction with performance management practices among employees, with the most concern shown in the public sector. The most recent survey highlights a slump in job satisfaction and a lack of motivation among employees, and an increase in the number believing their performance management processes are unfair.

And this is not new. There have been concerns over the effectiveness of such systems in the public sector for some time. Research by the World Bank in 2003, which considered factors influencing better performance in public administration, concluded that performance management systems demonstrated remarkably little influence on anything and in some cases produced negative effects.

Lack of understanding

The literature suggests that the reasons for such criticism of performance appraisals more recently include: people generally don’t like to evaluate or be evaluated; the nature of public affairs being hard to quantify makes it difficult to develop performance objectives and measureable performance indicators; these systems tend to create more paperwork and increase both performance pressure and stress; and a lack of understanding of such systems among managers.

As a former chief executive of the Institute for Leadership and Management (ILM) emphasised:

“One of the skills that is often not developed is understanding what an appraisal is and why it is relevant to the whole organisation’s success… Being able to appraise is a fundamental management skill.”

So rather than scrapping them all together, perhaps a culture change within organisations is what is needed.

Good practice

Indeed, there have been signs of innovation within the public sector when it comes to performance appraisals.

An innovative approach to the employee appraisal form was taken by South Lakeland district council which has shown promising results. A personal qualities framework was created which was used to redesign the appraisal form. It was tested, staff were informed about it and line managers received training in how to use it.

After two years of the framework being introduced, peer reviews were good, their Investors in People award was the best yet, the staff survey highlighted many positive messages, and customer and member satisfaction had improved significantly.

Similarly, Wiltshire Council developed a successful transformation and ongoing culture change programme which resulted in significant efficiencies being delivered.

The council’s behaviours framework was developed to clarify social expectations of staff by defining ‘how’ staff are expected to approach work alongside ‘what’ they deliver. The behaviours have since been embedded into: a new on-line appraisals solution, job description templates, recruitment procedures, human resource policies and employee well-being initiatives, and corporate awards categories and selection criteria.

A training programme for all people managers also inspired new thinking and provided approaches and skills for performance managing for the behaviours, skills and objective setting.

Research by Nesta suggests that performance appraisal can also help to harness motivation to innovate in the public sector by valuing appropriate behaviours.

So perhaps staff appraisals have a future after all.


Read our previous blog post on performance-related pay in the public sector.

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Fairness Commissions: tackling poverty and inequality in the UK

by Stacey Dingwall

Next month, Brighton and Hove will become the latest council area to publish the report of its Fairness Commission. Established in 2015, Brighton and Hove’s is one of 24 Fairness Commissions set up in the last five years across the UK, in areas ranging from Dundee to Plymouth.

What are Fairness Commissions?

Fairness Commissions began to come together in 2010, in the wake of rising inequality in the UK. Inspired by the publication of The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson (the founders of The Equality Trust), local authorities came together with academics, trade unions, and third and private sector partners to draw  up recommendations for ways of tackling inequality and poverty in their local area.

Similar to a parliamentary select committee, Commissions begin their work by gathering evidence from the public, which is then analysed and synthesised into a final report containing recommendations to the local authority. Typically, this process lasts for a year.

In their report on Fairness Commissions published in July 2015, the New Economics Foundation outlined the typical stages of holding a commission:

  • Scope: decide what and whom you are targeting with the commission.
  • Language: decide what to call the commission and define its purpose.
  • Resource: decide on a proportionate budget and allocation of staff time.
  • Leadership: invite commissioners to participate and appoint chairs.
  • Communication: start talking about the commission locally and invite people to participate.
  • Participation: gather evidence and solutions through a range of methods.
  • Analysis: develop recommendations based on the evidence and possible solutions.
  • Recommendations: make recommendations for change to the relevant organisations.
  • Implementation: put the recommendations into action.
  • Evaluation: monitor progress, measure change, and report on it.

Fairness in London – the Tower Hamlets story

Two key reports have been published by Commissions in London: one by the pan-city London Fairness Commission and another by the Tower Hamlets Fairness Commission. Inequality between the East and West of the City dates back to Victorian times and while Tower Hamlets has seen some improvements, most notably due to investment in education, this gap still persists. Although home to the global financial hub Canary Wharf, a major contributor to the borough’s £6 billion a year economy, 49% of Tower Hamlets’ residents live in poverty – the highest proportion in the entire country. Despite ever increasing house prices and rents in London – an average income of £75,000 was required to privately rent in the borough in 2012 – a fifth of its residents earn under £15,000 a year.

These figures, alongside evidence of stark health inequalities and the impact of welfare reform, formed the basis of the Fairness Commission’s inquiry in 2012-13. Speaking to residents, the Commissioners found a distrust of the big business that now dominates the borough, partly due its perceived contribution to the gentrification of the area. Residents whose families had lived in Tower Hamlets for generations spoke of feeling like they existed in a “parallel world” and that opportunities in the borough were inaccessible to them. The Commission’s final report made a total of 16 recommendations, for local and national government and the third sector, aimed at bringing the local community back together and making Tower Hamlets a fairer place to live.

Fairness and inequality – the political agenda

The London Fairness Commission was one of the organisations who made recommendations to the new Mayor of London ahead of his election on the 5th of May. In a poll conducted one week prior to polling, the Commission found that three out of four respondents believed that the income gap between those on the highest incomes and those on the lowest incomes had increased over the last five years, and that the majority would welcome the introduction of an annual London Fairness Index to test whether the city is a fair one in which to live.

The Index was one of the key recommendations in the Commission’s final report, which described the city as a ‘ticking time bomb’. Housing, transport and childcare were identified as the three biggest issues facing London, and the Commission made a number of recommendations on how to address these, including:

  • a binding London minimum wage of £9.70 per hour;
  • setting ‘affordable rents’ at 30% of household income rather than 80% of market rent; and
  • suspending the right to buy scheme for five years while supply is increased.

Reducing inequalities was also a key feature of the Scottish Parliament elections, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pledging that the SNP would “use every power” to tackle poverty and inequality in the country. Sturgeon also detailed plans to implement the recommendations of the Independent Advisor on Poverty and Inequality, publish a Fairer Scotland Action Plan, and reintroduce the socioeconomic duty for public bodies to consider the impact that their decisions will have on narrowing inequalities.

With the UK government committed to continuing their austerity programme, and persistent evidence that the UK is one of the least equal of the world’s developed countries, it’s clear that reducing inequality and striving for fairness will, and must, remain high on the political agenda for the foreseeable future.


Read more from our blog on poverty and inequality in the UK:

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Overworked and under-resourced – ‘mission impossible’ for social workers?

By Heather Cameron

A year on from my previous blog on the emotional pressures facing social workers, have the headlines improved any?

Going by a new Guardian survey of social workers, it would seem that the answer is a resounding no.

The Social Lives Survey revealed that while the majority of social workers enjoy their job, two-thirds say they can’t focus on what really matters and only a quarter feel their workload is manageable. Almost 80% work overtime every day, and 86% don’t get paid for doing so.

Heavy and increasingly complex caseloads was the most common reason given for stress among social workers in last year’s Community Care survey.

Unmanageable caseloads

Unison surveyed social work staff from across the UK about their work at the end of a day in April 2014. Just over half (52%) said their caseload size was affected by covering for staff shortages and nearly three quarters highlighted that there was no formal system in place to help manage their caseloads and ensure they are at a safe level. A significant minority (42%) noted that they left work with serious concerns, the main reason for which was being unable to complete paperwork, followed by being unable to speak to other agencies or professionals involved.

Similarly, in May 2012 the British Association of Social Workers published the findings of its State of social work survey which indicated that 77% of the social workers surveyed said their caseloads were unmanageable. One child protection social worker said “the team I work in currently is working at dangerous caseload levels in terms of child protection work”.

The emotional impact of the challenges of social work were highlighted by a number of respondents, as one mental health social worker described:

It makes me so sad that this job seems only to be possible if you sacrifice your own health and wellbeing

The subsequent inquiry into the state of social work report by the All Parliamentary Working Group at the end of 2013 also emphasised the extent of stress among social workers who are overloaded and under-resourced. It heard from a local authority social worker who said:

 “the more cases we have, the more corners we have to cut, and the more corners we have to cut the more we have significant numbers of children for whom we haven’t had the time to do a thorough assessment”.

Another social worker said that as a result of budget cuts, “the conditions for child-centred practice and safe working are being eroded”.

Impact of austerity

A little over two years on from the inquiry, it would seem there is no let up on the impact of austerity on the social work profession.

A huge majority (92%) of social workers who took part in the Guardian’s survey highlighted that spending cuts are affecting services and putting more pressure on care professionals. And it was felt by 88% of respondents that social work isn’t as high on the political agenda as other public services.

With further cuts to hit local authorities from April this year, following the government’s announcement of a 6.7% funding cut for councils, things may get worse before they get better.

To help offset the impact on social care, local authorities will be able to raise an extra £2 billion through a 2% Council Tax precept and the £1.5 billion Better Care Fund.

Nevertheless, it has been argued that this will not be enough to address the immediate social care crisis or to prevent an estimated £3.5 billion funding shortfall by the end of the decade.

‘Bad press’

As well as spending cuts increasing pressure on social workers, the negative perception of the profession was also raised by the Guardian’s survey:

“The government and media need to stop portraying social workers as child-snatchers and do-gooders. They should sometimes focus on the lives we have saved and positively changed.”

It was suggested that newspapers should also focus on the pressures put on social workers rather than always on when things go wrong, and the government should be supportive of the role and address the lack of recognition and support at the national level.

Way forward?

Perhaps the rest of the UK should be looking to Wales for good practice, where the happiest social workers reside.

In Wales there are lower caseloads, more support from managers and better integration with health. According to one social worker, “it’s a better place to be a social worker. Social work is recognised and valued; in England I don’t think it is.”

Social services in Wales have also been more protected from cuts than elsewhere. And you don’t see the same negative language about social workers in Wales as you do in some parts of the media in England, according to the Welsh Government’s minister for Health and Social Services.


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

Further reading: if you liked this blog post, you might also want to read Heather’s other article on engaging fathers with social work.

Costs and benefits of the National Living Wage

English money

By Heather Cameron

Britain’s bosses have been urged by the government to prepare early for the introduction of the National Living Wage (NLW) in April next year.

Firms are advised to follow four simple steps:

  • know the correct rate of pay – £7.20 per hour for staff aged 25 and over
  • find out which staff are eligible for the new rate
  • update the company payroll in time for 1 April 2016
  • communicate the changes to staff as soon as possible

Support

This push coincides with a new poll revealing that 93% of bosses support the Living Wage initiative, with a majority believing it will boost productivity and retain staff.

This is supported by new research by the University of Strathclyde and the Living Wage Foundation (LWF), which uses real-life case studies and evidence from employees working for accredited Living Wage employers. It suggests that paying staff a living wage leads to many business benefits – such as staff retention, more efficient business processes, improved absenteeism and better staff performance.

Potential benefits

Many of the findings highlighted relate to research on the London Living Wage (LLW). Among these include:

  • 50.3% of employees receiving the LLW registered above average scores for psychological wellbeing, a sign of good morale, compared to just 33.9% of non-LLW employees studied
  • an average 25% reduction in staff turnover was reported for organisations moving to the LLW
  • and 70% of employers studied reported reputational benefits through increased consumer awareness of their commitment to being an ethical employer

Estimates show that 4.5 million employees will see a rise in their wages as a result of the introduction of the NLW in 2016, with a further 2.6 million gaining from spillovers. By 2020, 6 million employees are predicted to have received a pay increase.

Up to one in four workers are expected to experience a significant positive impact from the NLW. If the result is indeed a happier workforce, perhaps the knock-on effect for businesses will be improved productivity.

There will however be variation across different parts of the UK and across different households, depending on how the NLW interacts with the tax and benefit system (it should be noted that many estimates were made prior to the u-turn on welfare reform). And let’s not forget that the NLW is not for all as under-25s will not be eligible.

Costs to employers

The impact on employees and therefore employment generally, will also depend on the actions firms take to prepare for the NLW in order to mitigate costs.

Indeed, the research from Strathclyde and LWF recognises that implementing the NLW will inevitably involve initial costs to businesses and could represent an issue for some companies more than others.

According to the Federation for Small Businesses, a negative impact on business is expected by 38% of small employers, with many expected to slow their hiring and raise prices.

It has been estimated that the NLW may lead to an increase in the unemployment rate by 0.2% points in 2020; resulting in around 60,000 more people unemployed and total hours worked per week across the economy around 4 million lower.

Businesses may also look to employ those under the age of 25 who won’t be eligible for the NLW. This could particularly impact on those sectors with a high proportion of lower paid employees, such as social care – a sector that is already under financial pressure.

The roll out of the Living Wage has certainly raised concern over potential costs for councils, which are having to deal with increasing budget cuts. The Local Government Association (LGA) has estimated that the NLW could cost local authorities £1bn a year by 2020/21.

So while increasing wages for low paid workers may seem like a no-brainer in the bid to help reduce in-work poverty, the full impact on employees, employers and therefore the economy, remains uncertain. Only time will tell what the true impact of the NLW will be.


Further reading: if you liked this blog post, you might also want to read our previous blog on the Living Wage

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.

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Budget cuts hit research in councils’ adult social care departments

 

By Morwen Johnson

The news that budget pressures have affected councils’ ability to carry out research in adult social care won’t come as any surprise to those working in the sector. Councils have cut £4.6bn from adult social care budgets since 2009-10, equivalent to almost a third of net real terms spend, according to Adass. And with research seen as non-essential, it will always lose out in favour of frontline services and care packages.

A recent survey carried out by the Social Services Research Group (SSRG) and commissioned by the Personal Social Services Research Unit (PSSRU), highlighted the scale of the problem though, finding that there were fewer staff to do research, and those who were left had fewer resources and less support.

Dr Chris Rainey, one of the report authors commented: “In-house research is critical to finding out what, how and why services are delivered and what difference they make. The survey points to the need to reinvest in local research capacity to ensure sound evidence is used”.

Barriers to the use of research

As well as low capacity to undertake their own research on local needs, the survey also identified restrictions on training and professional development.

Like other professions, those working in public health and social services face barriers to keeping up with the latest evidence and commentary. This includes lack of time but also the accessibility of much research (both in terms of knowing it is out there and being able to understand how research relates to practice).

The report highlighted the risk that “reliance on internet-based training and information … may result in a lack of exposure to critical debate and an over-reliance on ‘received wisdom’”.

What our members say

The findings reflect our own experience in meeting the information needs of council staff. We’ve a number of adult social care departments who use our Information Service and once staff realise the time savings we offer, they become champions of the service to colleagues. As our team is made up of information professionals and researchers, we offer experience that can be lacking internally. Resources include peer-reviewed journals, grey literature, books and practice-based case studies and evaluations – which won’t be found by searching Google.

Staff also use us for CPD purposes – nowadays spending on event and conference attendance is unlikely to be approved, but our briefings and current awareness services can help keep them up-to-date with essential topics. We also have a lot of resources on general management issues, such as managing teams, benchmarking, performance, equalities and communication.

“From time to time, we review this service and our last review showed that those who use it regularly either in a corporate capacity or in our major strategic services value it highly, describing it as quick, easy, and comprehensive. It gives staff access to a wide range of information and keeps them up-to-date across many areas that are of direct relevance.”

“I recently completed a Post Graduate course and used it as my first reference point at the beginning of each module. The service saved me a lot of time in searching for articles and books and the staff were extremely helpful. The library is well stocked and I didn’t need to purchase any books for the course.”

“Having access to the on-demand research service is a real plus, and most of our staff see real advantage to that. It saves them time in the long run and frees them up to do the day job.

The threat of short-termism

With resources in social care departments likely to remain very tight, but with practitioners under more pressure to deliver than ever, the question is how can local authorities retain and enhance the evidence base it needs to make decisions effectively?

And how can practitioners engage with the research and analysis on key developments in policy that affect social care services, such as demographic change, housing need, and independent living?

It’s worth remembering that local authority social services researchers were introduced as a result of a recommendation of the 1968 Seebohm Report. This report stressed the need for research and evaluation to be ‘a continuous process, accepted as a familiar and permanent feature of any department or agency concerned with social provision.”

But as we approach another Spending Review, it’s likely that adult social care services will face more cuts. This is despite national organisations representing the sector issuing a statement in October arguing that the sustainability of the sector has now reached a ‘crunch’ point.

Focusing on efficiency savings and short-term interventions may seem the only option at the moment, but we risk just patching up problems rather than delivering services which take a holistic and long-term view of outcomes. And that’s why recognising the value of research and evidence should be a key part of decision-making in every part of the public sector.


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Digital Agenda Norway (DAN): international digital leader but still pushing forward

Split Norwegian flag flying in the wind

Image courtesy of Pixabay via Creative Commons.

By Steven McGinty

Continuing my series on digital government best practice, I will be looking at the success of Norway and what they hope to achieve through their Digital Agenda for Norway (DAN) strategy.

Norway is already a leader in “digital government”, ranking second only behind Singapore in a study carried out by Accenture on implementation progress and citizen satisfaction. The Norwegian State Secretary, Paul Chaffey, suggests that this success has been built on a foundation of a population of tech savvy Norwegians, with a history of being at the forefront of cutting edge technology.

For instance, in 1973 Norway became the first country to connect to the US’ ARPANET, which was the military predecessor to the Internet. And more recently, maritime and off-shore technology developments in Norway have become of global importance. In particular, the use of Big Data modelling plays a significant role in finding new oil fields.

Egovernment policy development

In 2000, the government presented the eNorway action plan, a set of ICT initiatives designed to support the development of the ‘knowledge society’ and improve the lives of the people of Norway. The plan consisted of descriptions of the individual ICT initiatives of ministries, as well as common frameworks to support joint initiatives.

This soon evolved into eNorway 2005, which had the main goal of developing a set of principles for ICT initiatives. From this, the government set out three primary targets for its ICT policy:

  • Creating value in industry;
  • Efficiency and quality in the public sector;
  • Involvement and identity.

Then, the government introduced eNorway2009, a strategy that would take Norway a ‘digital leap’ forward. It argued that the public sector had to be viewed as one unit, if digital progress was to be made. Therefore, the new strategy focused on the use of multi-disciplinary initiatives and projects. There was also a recognition of the need for cooperation between all sectors and levels of the public sector, as well as the private sector.

In 2012, the government also published a report on the digitisation of the public sector. It outlined the government’s key policy objectives for their digitisation programme – keeping Norway at the forefront internationally in terms of providing digital public services to its citizens
and businesses.

Major successes

  •  ID-Porten

A major development has been the implementation of the hub, ID-Porten, which verifies citizens via electronic IDs (eID).  It allows citizens to securely login to government digital services via a single login portal. There is also a common technical platform (ID Gateway), which allows citizens to login to services using four different eIDs: MiniID; BankID; Buypass; and Comfides.

BankID, Buypass, and Comfides all provide access to a high level of security (level 4). These IDs are required when accessing personal data and only issued to individuals who appear in person. However, MiniID provides only a medium-high security level (level 3) and pins codes can be sent via mail or through SMS. This is the most common eID (used by almost 2.7 million citizens) and provides access to digital services provided by the tax services and the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund.

  • Altinn.no

In 2003, Altinn was launched to provide a single web portal for public reporting. This was driven by the amount of time Norwegian businesses were spending on statutory reporting. To resolve this problem, the three large public agencies in Norway – the Norwegian Tax Administration, Statistics Norway and the Bronnoysund Register Centre – started Altinn.

However, the project has now moved beyond that of public reporting. Now it’s responsible for providing an array of electronic forms (over 700) and digital services, as well as providing information for businesses.

The most used service by citizens is the completion of tax returns online. In 2009, more than 440,000 businesses chose to do their statutory reporting through Altinn.

  • Regjeringen.no

This is the main information portal for the Norwegian government. It has a user friendly design and in many ways is similar to the UK Government’s website GOV.UK.

Digital Agenda for Norway (DAN)

In 2013, the Norwegian government published the white paper on the Digital Agenda for Norway (DAN).  The strategy is linked to the Digital Agenda for Europe, and is also related to the Europe 2020 strategy.

The DAN explains that the government’s primary goal is that:

Norwegian society take full advantage of the value creation and innovation opportunities that ICT and the internet offer.”

This has been the philosophy from the early stages of Norway’s digital development.

The DAN highlights that greater digitisation is inevitable but notes that it will be important to identify areas with the greatest potential for development.

In terms of the public sector, the DAN identifies a number of areas for development:

  • Public sector information – increasing the accessibility and reuse of public sector information.
  • Digital services for citizens – improving digital registration for property rights and creating a paperless justice sector.
  • Commons technical solutions – the development of digital mailboxes for citizens and businesses, the use of digital document exchange, and the creation of common registers to support the public sector.
  • Organising and coordinating for more efficient use of resources.
  • Adapting laws and regulations to a digital public sector – requiring digital communication to be the standard method of communication for the public sector.

Looking to the future?

Norway has earned their reputation as a ‘digital leader’. Over the years, the government has set out a series of clear policies to support the transition to the digital age. Although not perfect, significant improvements have been made. For instance, 93% of Norwegian households now have access to the internet; this figure was only 55% in 2003.

The new DAN presents Norway with an opportunity to continue the success of recent policy initiatives. And on recent evidence, this is a clear possibility.

However, with other countries looking to improve their performance in digital government, it will be interesting to see if they will overtake Norway in international comparisons or if Norway’s sustained focus will pay off and enable them to be the world’s number one in terms of using digital services to increase citizen engagement and improve service delivery.


Enjoy this article? Read our other recent blogs on digital government:

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IDOX specialises in election services, with Idox Elections offering end-to-end solutions for electoral management systems. Idox was awarded a number of contracts to support the Norwegian municipal and county elections held in September 2015. This follows Idox’s success in delivering similar election services during the Norwegian General Election of 2013.

The Government Digital Service: successes, turmoil, and the focus for the future

By Steven McGinty

In April 2011, the Government Digital Service (GDS) was launched to lead the digital transformation of government. The focus was on making public services digital by default (a policy which envisions most public services being delivered online), and simpler, clearer and faster to use.

Their first major project was the development of GOV.UK. It was to act as the primary source for UK government data and would replace a number of existing websites, including DirectGov. Overall, GOV.UK has been viewed as a GDS success story.

In the latest GDS progress report, it was highlighted that:

  • Over 300 agency and arm’s length bodies’ (ALB) websites had been transitioned over to GOV.UK by the end of 2014;
  • The GOV.UK website averaged 12 million weekly unique visitors in the first quarter of 2015 (25th most used website in the UK);
  • The GOV.UK website saw 13.6 million unique visitors and 21.2 million visits in the last week of January 2015 (this was the likely the result of the 31st January Self-Assessment tax return deadline).

However, GOV.UK has not been without its critics. In February, the Register revealed documents that said that the GDS knew that GOV.UK was:

destroying useful online services and replacing them with trendy webpages bereft of useful information

One noted failure was the transition of the Home Office visa and immigration site to GOV.UK. According to their own analysis, the GDS did not have a good enough understanding of the users’ needs.

GDS in turmoil?

At the beginning of August 2015, Executive Director of the GDS Mike Bracken announced he was leaving. In an interview, Mike Bracken explained that he was leaving due to the “stresses and strains” of the role. The current GDS Chief Operating Officer Stephen Foreshew-Cain will move up and replace him.

There have also been a number of other senior GDS leaders departing. These include:

  • Deputy Director Tom Loosemore
  • Director of Strategy Russell Davies
  • Director of Design Ben Terrett
  • Head of User Research Leisa Reichelt
  • Transformation Programme Director of the Government Digital Service Michael Beaven.

These changes have led to speculation about the future of the GDS. Last financial year, the service had a budget of £58 million and approximately 700 members of staff. Computerworld have suggested that the GDS could undergo substantial cuts as part of the HM Treasury’s spending review.  If so, the impact could fundamentally change the GDS’ role.

The future

In August, Matt Hancock MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office, reiterated his support for the GDS. He said:

“the work that GDS is doing, and the vision of Government as a Platform, is changing the core infrastructure of shared digital systems, technology and processes.”

The Minister then went on to emphasise that the GDS has extremely talented people and has a lot more to contribute in the future.

In addition, Eddie Copeland, Head of Technology Policy at the Policy Exchange has outlined 5 points of focus for the ‘next phase’ of the GDS. These include:

  • Be guardian of the rules – the government should lead the way in defining the standards of how front-end government IT should work, although should not be concerned about who provides it, whether that’s public or private sector.
  • Focus on the user / citizen experience – the government should focus on providing a positive customer experience and creating online transactions that are needed.
  • Lead on open standards for data – the use of open standards would reduce the technical barriers to sharing information between different systems.
  • Be an informed customer – failed IT projects were often the fault of the government, therefore the government needs to become a smarter, more demanding customer.
  • Scale best practice – all departments should learn from the successes of the GDS, and try to implement innovative solutions where possible.

 Final thoughts

It’s likely that the GDS will play an important role in the continued digital transformation of government services. However, some – including Eddie Copeland – believe that the GDS will become a smaller organisation.  As a result, there may be opportunities for the private sector to get involved in supporting the digital transformation, particularly if they can provide a solid business case.


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e-Estonia: leading the way on digital government

By Steven McGinty

 “We should talk about a digital-embracing government, not e-government”

These are the words of Andres Kütt, system architect and adviser to the Estonian Information Security Authority. By this he means that the term ‘e-government’ implies a separation between digital and government. So, instead he advocates the term ‘digital-embracing government’ as it highlights that digital should be embedded within all aspects of governance.

Why does the Estonian view matter?

In Estonia, digital has become the norm, and most government services can now be completed online. They have managed to find a way of creating partnerships between the government, a very proactive ICT sector and the citizens of Estonia. As a result, the country of just 1.3 million people has become a leader in digital government.

The ‘core’ of the Estonian model 

  • Electronic ID cards

Key to the Estonian approach is the use of an electronic ID card. As of 2012, more than 1.1 million people have ID cards. The Estonian population have been described as ‘tech savvy’ and ‘pragmatic’. This could be the reason ID cards have been successful there, whereas in the UK concerns about threats to privacy have always led to their rejection.

The ID card acts as both an identity document and, within the European Union, a travel document. It provides a way to verify citizens using online services. The card is secure, and is used for activities such as internet banking, participating in e-elections, and buying public transportation tickets. Mobile phones can also act as an ID card, allowing citizens to confirm their identity online.

  • Population Database

The Estonian government has a national register (called the Population Database).  This provides a single unique identifier for all citizens and residents in Estonia. Similarly to the use of ID cards, these forms of large scale database are unlikely to be accepted by the British public. For instance, concerns were raised when it was suggested that a Scotland-wide ID database, which would have included records from 120 public bodies, could be introduced.

Estonian digital government services

  • e-Elections

Since 2005, Estonians have been able to participate in e-elections using their ID card or their mobile ID. Once a voter’s identity has been verified, the connecting digital signature is separated from the vote. This allows the vote to be anonymous.

In the 2011 Parliamentary elections, 140, 846 people voted online, representing 24% of the eligible voting population. Recent elections have also shown that online voting has had a positive effect on voter turnout.

However, security concerns have been raised over Estonia’s voting system. Researchers from security firm SafelyLocked have suggested that the software has insufficient security safeguards to protect it from hackers.

  • e-Health record

As of January 2010, Estonia’s citizens have been given access to their medical records via a medical information system. It contains information such as diagnoses and doctor’s visits and is accessed using the ID card.

What could the UK learn from Estonia?

In a recent presentation, Andres Kütt was the first person to admit that you can’t simply take the Estonian approach and implement it into another country. However, he does suggest that methodologies used by Estonia can be adopted by other countries to help them come to their own digital solution. There are also wider lessons that can be drawn from the Estonian experience.

In the UK, the Government Digital Service (GDS) have an ongoing arrangement with the Estonian government – a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2013 committed the two countries to working together to advance digital public services. The GDS highlights that a lot of Estonia’s success comes from the fact that they started with no pre-existing infrastructure. This means that they were able to avoid legacy problems, such as the challenge of integrating older and newer systems.

However, Pete Herlihy of the GDS, reported that on a visit to Estonia he realised that:

  • The government needs to publish details of the data it holds for each of their systems
  • The government needs to publish an agreed set of open data and messaging standards and protocols, to allow easier communication between systems.

Final thoughts

The eventual solution for the UK will have to be different to that of Estonia. Yet it’s clear that when government, the private sector and citizens come together, it is possible to create a society that is digitally connected.

Here are just a few final facts about the success of Estonia.

  • 98% of banking transactions in Estonia are conducted through the internet
  • In 2013, over 95% of income tax declarations were processed through the e-Tax Board
  • Cabinet meetings have become paperless sessions using a web-based document system.

Further reading

IDOX is a market-leading developer and provider of a broad range of software solutions for UK and international public sector organisations – especially local government. These solutions are designed to help clients comply with regulatory requirements, as well as enable online delivery of public services.

Social labs … tackling social problems through collaboration and design

Crossing out problems and writing solutions on a blackboard.

by Laura Dobie

Nesta’s LabWorks 2015 global lab gathering kicks off today in London, bringing together innovation labs, units, offices and teams working within and with government to address social challenges.

Today on the blog we look at social labs, their potential to improve public services and a couple of social labs who are carrying out innovative work in public services.

What are social labs?

Social labs are platforms for tackling complex social challenges.

Zaid Hassan highlights the following key characteristics of social labs:

  • They are social, facilitating participation by a broad range of stakeholders
  • They are experimental, taking an iterative approach to problem-solving
  • They are systemic, seeking to address the root cause of a problem, and not just its symptoms (Hassan, 2014, p.3)

Social labs draw inspiration from design thinking, which is centred on the following principles of design which were promoted by design firm IDEO:

  • A user-centred approach to problem solving
  • Using direct observation as a main source of learning
  • Moving quickly to creating prototypes as a means of generating additional knowledge
  • Learning from failures to refine and redevelop

Social labs in the public sector

The public sector is making increasing use of design, policy or social labs as a means of complementing and reinforcing skills in public policy, programme and service design. They contribute a different perspective to challenges and use a range of research methods and facilitation techniques to foster ideas and insights that attempt to incorporate many different points of view.

Recent Canadian research on a What Works Lab, which was established to develop approaches to increase employer engagement in workplace training, found that using lab methodology enhances the ability to generate insights into potential policy responses, and that lab techniques can also substantially reduce the transmission cycle between research, policy and service delivery. The research also highlighted how experimentation in a lab setting can be used to de-risk an initiative before wider implementation, and demonstrated that labs are an effective means of generating high-quality policy work.

Social Innovation Lab Kent (SILK)

SILK is a small team based within Kent County Council established in 2007 to ‘do policy differently’. They consider that the best solutions come from people who are at the heart of an issue, those with lived experience, families, friends, volunteers, and front line workers, and they ensure that these groups are involved at all stages their projects.

Projects are broken down into the following phases:

  • Initiate. Involve the right people, create a project plan collectively and decide who needs to be informed about the project.
  • Create. Collect as many insights as possible, involve a broad range of stakeholders and generate ideas for testing in the next phase.
  • Test. Test the ideas which were proposed during the create phase, and continue testing until a model that woks is identified. Trial runs, prototypes or ‘mock ups’ can be a part of this process.
  • Define. A model which has been tested and known to work is defined and consolidated.

SILK has delivered a variety of projects across the themes of future services, service (re)design and sustainable services, and tackled a range of social issues, including accessible and affordable food, the resettlement of offenders and creating a dementia-friendly community.

MindLab

Based in Danish central government, MindLab employs a human-centred design approach to address public sector challenges. Its board sets its strategic direction and approves its portfolio of projects, ensuring that their work is aligned with their sponsors’ priorities. Its emphasis on human-centred design helps to forge links between the perspectives of end users and government decision making.

MindLab’s team has a variety of skills which are indicative of its ethos and method, including social research, design, public administration, project management, organisational development and creative facilitation.

In one project MindLab worked with National Board of Industrial Injuries (ASK) to increase the number of people who remain in employment after suffering an injury at work. MindLab highlighted the potential in strategic working across working across public, private and non-governmental organisations and a change in attitude in helping these people return to the labour market.

MindLab interviewed people who had suffered industrial injuries and put together service journeys, which mapped the different stakeholders involved in a work injury case from a citizen’s perspective. They demonstrated through a case study how cooperation between the municipality, the insurance company and ASK improved an injured person’s employment prospects. MindLab also conducted internal workshops with ASK management to support a change in strategic focus from case resolution to employment outcomes for injured people.

It is clear that social labs are taking a different approach to policy and service delivery, focusing on the experiences and needs of service users to devise innovative solutions to a range of social challenges.


The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of information on economic and social policy and public service delivery. To find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading

Hassan, Zaid (2014). The social revolution: a new approach to solving out most complex challenges. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. (Available for loan from the Idox Information Service Library)

The What Works Lab process: report for the Skills and Employment Branch, Employment and Social Development Canada