With 2022 and the launch of the digital Childcare Offer for Wales service fast approaching, now seems like the perfect time to let you know about what we’ve been doing, how things are going and what we’ve learnt along the way.
We kicked things off back in May 2020, in the midst of the Covid pandemic. First up was ensuring we had the right people with the right skills. Fortunately we already had a wide range of skills at our disposal, however we brought in some colleagues with specialist technical skills to provide the necessary expertise. We were also fortunate to have a secondee from a Local Authority childcare team. Their involvement was invaluable as they brought with them a great deal of operational and sectoral expertise as well as providing ‘the voice’ of the teams that will be delivering the Offer through the new service.
We knew we can’t deliver the Childcare Offer for Wales without working closely with Local Authorities and the childcare sector. Delivery of the digital service is no different and could only be achieved through collaboration and co-production with our partners, and the continued honest and open dialogue that has existed since the start of the Childcare Offer. That’s why we’ve involved Local Authority teams, childcare providers, parents and other key users of the service in every step of the design and delivery process.
By developing and maintaining these relationships we’ve been able to broaden our knowledge and ensure we fully understand the needs and expectations of those using the service.
In fact you might have seen a tweet from our Chief Digital Officer recently, who attended one of our Show & Tell sessions, recognising the involvement from our partners and parents.
Keeping the focus
We wanted to be very clear from the start why we were making this change to our digital service, and ensure the benefits we’re trying to achieve remain front and centre. To help us remember what these were, we developed the mnemonic:
|Sustainability||As we expect more people to use the service, we need to streamline processes to make it more sustainable.|
|Expertise||We also want to help develop expertise in the more complicated processes such as assessing parental eligibility.|
|Consistency||We want to provide our users with a more consistent service, no matter where they are based.|
|Compliance||The service will need to be fully compliant in terms of Data Protection, Accessibility and Welsh Language Standards.|
|Accessibility||It will also need to be accessible via a range of devices, such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops.|
Challenges and Opportunities
The elephant in the room, throughout all of this, has been the global pandemic, which diverted resources from this project as well as, let’s face it, everywhere! We started out just as the global pandemic hit and had no idea that at that time the global impact would be so severe. Understandably it took resources away at times and also affected how quickly we could bring in people with the right skills to ensure we had capacity to deliver at pace.
Whilst the pandemic brought challenges in how we were able to engage with others during the project, it also presented us with opportunities. Face to face engagement was obviously not an option, but we discovered virtual workshops and meetings worked well. They are convenient, cost-effective and inclusive, as they don’t require travel. As with any large meeting though, it’s important to ensure all voices are heard and not just the loudest ones. We found breakout rooms helped enormously in dealing with this, as they allow more space for all to contribute, helping to ensure a wider range of ideas and perspectives are heard.
Although we had a good understanding of what our users and partners needed, we didn’t have established and direct links with all of them. In the context of the pandemic and increased workloads, this was a challenge, particularly given the pace of the project. One way we overcame this was through working with our Local Authority partners, asking parents and providers to be part of our user research. As part of this, we made sure we involved digitally excluded users, and used a specialist agency to help us too.
Learning along the way
We have been committed to learning throughout all the stages of this project. We have regularly paused and reflected upon what has happened and I think it’s fair to say that at times it has felt like a rollercoaster ride.
We have certainly learned a lot in the project but we have also seized opportunities. We are working with contractors from all corners of the UK, and working remotely by default has helped us engage effectively with them.
If we had our time again, would we do things differently? With the power of hindsight, absolutely. And if we had one piece of advice to give? Before you embark on a digital transformation journey, flesh out all the potential scenarios – some may be far-fetched but they might become a reality.
The new digital platform and support service will be in place early next year which will enable us to go into Private Beta (a limited trial with a set number of users). We’ll also be launching our communications campaign targeted at parents from spring 2022 ready for the new service to open to applications in July 2022.
Clearly we have a lot to do by then and, I’m sure, a lot still to learn, but we’ll keep you updated on progress!