A new digital strategy for Croydon – how your input helped

Around 200 people shared ideas for Croydon’s new digital strategy. Here’s what they said and how it helped.

Over the past few months we’ve been collecting ideas, comments and issues from residents and businesses, as well as experts outside the borough, to inform the new digital strategy for Croydon.

This post briefly summarises how those contributions have helped shape a better, stronger and bolder strategy that we are confident addresses all the issues Croydon cares about. 

Who we’ve heard from  

Appropriately for a digital strategy, we took a digital-first approach to this consultation, seeking ideas online via this blog and through a dedicated site: strategy.croydon.digital. [Update October 2020: the consultation site is now closed. The strategy was published in July 2019]

We asked for thoughts in response to 3 big questions, publishing the resulting comments along with our replies so that everyone could see and join the discussion. In the final 2 weeks of the consultation we shared the draft text of the strategy online too, inviting comments on each section.

We’re acutely aware of the digitally excluded, so alongside this digital activity we gathered views in person, via drop-in sessions with residents in the Whitgift Centre and in New Addington, and a workshop with experts from Croydon tech businesses. 

The strategy has also been heavily informed by what we routinely hear through face-to-face contact with residents using the council’s frontline services, and via elected council members, who shared the concerns and feedback they frequently hear in constituent surgeries. We heard from elected members from both parties and most notably through a discussion at Scrutiny Committee – you can see the minutes and video

We consulted internally within the council with a survey that went to all staff, and numerous workshops and discussions with key people who lead the council’s service delivery. 

Finally, we also held discussions with experts in Smart Cities and other digital specialisms, including local firms PCSG and Kintechi, and public sector digital experts in our own network (thanks especially to Gavin Beckett).

What we’ve heard

Between 1 April and 24 June, more than 70 ideas and thoughts were submitted through the strategy consultation site, with 100s more gathered from the 38 members of the local tech community who came to our workshop. Responses received from the public in the Whitgift and New Addington were entered into the consultation site to maintain a single record of response data. More than 80 people filled in the internal survey, and our meetings with specific experts also yielded dozens of ideas. 

Some clear themes emerged, all of which have been incorporated into the strategy, either directly or in the form of a higher level commitment. Some more granular ideas have been incorporated into our roadmap. 

Ideas for a more digital borough

  • Public WiFi – there is clear demand for better, free connectivity in public areas and public buildings, and some people had suggestions for how (and how not!) to deliver this 
  • Business listings – several people proposed using digital tools to raise the visibility of Croydon’s retail, leisure and other businesses to support the local economy
  • Smart City ideas – numerous specific ideas were shared from smart automated parking payments to digitally enabled wayfinding and “clicks and mortar” hybrid retail experiences – and even “switch off” spaces where people can go for a digital detox
  • Tech ecosystem – you said we need to do more to support and attract digital businesses in the borough, put Croydon on the map as a tech business destination, and help all businesses (not just tech ones) adopt digital
  • Tech career pathways – this was a particularly high priority for many, with lots of useful thoughts on improving education provision for people of all ages from code clubs and makerspaces, to better training for adults as the job market changes

Ideas for better digital council services

  • Findability and usability of council services online – this was by far the biggest single category of responses, with many people expressing frustration with their experience of interacting with the council online for services ranging from missed bins to adult social care. You made it clear that you would much prefer council services to be online, so you can use them at your convenience rather than needing to phone, but that they need to be much easier to use so you can do so without help or errors, and they must be accessible to all users regardless of their ability
  • Assisted digital, offline alternatives and digital inclusion – almost as many people raised the alarm about not leaving behind those people who can’t or don’t use online services. We agree, and are making it much clearer through this new strategy that digitisation should never result in removing offline channels, plus we will commit to improve the help we give people who need it both when using our services, and to develop their digital skills more generally
  • Online engagement – there were several comments about the council needing to be more engaging and inclusive in how it communicates and collaborates with residents
  • Innovation in digital services – a few people offered ideas for more innovative approaches to service provision, from the use of QR codes for payments to AI-powered  image recognition to help people know what they can recycle

Ideas for a more digital council workforce

  • Procurement – a few people raised frustrations about their experience of selling to the council, and proposed online tools could help make it easier to find and respond to opportunities and get paid more conveniently
  • Local involvement – some mentioned the potential to involve the community more in helping the council meet its goals, for example through open sourcing council software for others to contribute, or running online competitions for residents to submit ideas
  • Data – there were calls for better use of data, including making more data open across the local system and unlocking the power of structured geographic data
  • Council IT and systems – internally, we had a mixed response with as many staff praising as criticising the quality of internal corporate ICT, but with clear demand for improvements to collaboration software and lots of frustration expressed with the high number and the lack of interoperability between different internal casework systems and databases
  • Workforce digital confidence – many staff said they would like more support to get the best use out of the digital tools we already have, to collaborate and communicate more efficiently and reduce both meetings and email

Incorporating these views

We were delighted with the quantity and quality of the responses we received, and are confident that the resulting strategy addresses all of the points raised. 

Many of the comments validated things we were already planning to include in the strategy, and some were things we hadn’t thought of and have consequently included. We’ve been following up on several of the specific ideas raised, by talking directly about them to the people who raised them. Some of the public feedback has gone directly into the strategy verbatim, as supporting quotes. 

I personally am very proud of the new strategy, and am in no doubt that it is all the stronger thanks to the thoughtful and considered responses we’ve had from the community. 

What happens next

The resulting proposed strategy is being discussed on Monday evening at Croydon Council Cabinet. You can see the papers, including the proposed strategy, here

I will blog again briefly to let you know when it’s adopted and live. 

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