Digital transformation of planning services


In August 2020, the UK Government released the planning white paper, which set out a shift towards a more digital system

The white paper noted that planning systems are currently mostly based on 20th Century technologies and legacy software that “burdens the sector with repetitive tasks”. 

If the proposed reform is implemented, local authorities will need a very different set of capabilities, systems and services to continue to operate their planning systems.  

For example, development policies and code requirements may have to be written in a machine-readable format. Council’s will need the systems and skills to implement and manage this. 

Newcastle City Council and FutureGov worked together on an eight week sprint of user research and discovery. 

Newcastle City Council (NCC) responded to the white paper by joining with Future Gov to complete a full review of their current planning practices and any opportunities for digital transformation. The Council hopes that this will prepare them for future changes to the national system. 

Solving the problem 

Newcastle City Council and FutureGov worked together on an eight week sprint of user research and discovery. This blended team approach allowed the teams to learn together and develop tools that the council will need to take this work forward on their own. 

The user research included: 

  • 17 hours of interviews with 20 internal and external users of the planning service 
  • 28 response to an online Digital Maturity survey 
  • 3 engagement Show and Tell virtual events, including polling the audience. 

The user research was translated into specific insights that were used to define opportunity actions in five areas relating to digital maturity: 

  1. local plan production, including evidence base 
  2. pre-app service design 
  3. creating a more sustainable approach to validation 
  4. reviewing public planning information to improve accessibility and reduce demand 
  5. geospatial data and tools 

Key outcomes 

Future Gov delivered a final report that provided detail on each of these areas, including high priority actions, quick wins to build staff engagement and external examples of the successful implementation of these ideas. 

The council also received a set of resources for them to use to continue this work independently.