“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
Frank Herbert

Thought we’d start the final blog with a minorly dramatic title — hopefully it is the end of the Annus horribilis that has been 2020. In any event, this is the final blog of the year from Team RIPA.

Our final sprint was fairly hectic. Amongst the many things we worked on, the RIPA and BoPs project leads met early in the sprint to review the risks document that we’ve set up.

There are still items outstanding on the checklist, but many are dependent on areas of each partner council outside of the project team, so it’s a case of pushing and pestering to get each item ticked off.

The Risk list is helping us prioritise and reminding us of what needs to be added to the checklist which is growing somewhat; we’ve agreed the actual Checklist will become in the future a useful onboarding tool for anyone wanting to use the RIPA and BoPs tools.

The Lambeth team met with Lambeth’s Cabinet Member for Planning, Investment and New Homes, Councillor Matthew Bennett, to discuss the project and hopefully engage some volunteers in the form of Councillors for possible pre-private beta testing…watch this space..!!

For the headlines on other things we did over this sprint — check out our project log here: https://www.ripa.digital/Project-log

The end of the sprint also saw our final Show and Tell of 2020 — Number 14 — if you missed it, catch up with it here:

RIPA Show&Tell 18December2020 — YouTube

Following the Show & Tell, we met for our last post show & tell workshop of 2020. If you missed that Alastair (of OSL) demonstrated the new widget on our online tool.

This was met with much enthusiasm.

It can be used by those testing the system and trialling it when we move into trial with real applicants the private beta and will capture feedback from users on any bugs encountered and any suggested improvements they may wish to share.

The ‘feedback fish’ — adds a nice personalised touch and will help to show users how importantly we value their feedback.

“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot’
-Michael Altshuler-

2020 has flown by for the RIPA team and the team have all put a tremendous amount of work in over the year.

The key focus for this workshop was around developing the pre-private beta testing plan for officer. They’ll be testing the tool for Lawful Development Certificate (LDC) applications in early 2021.

Planning for Pre-Private Beta Testing

Whilst we are continuing to run user research sessions to improve our service, we also need to integrate feedback from planning officers. The testing will be to see where there are system issues and bugs as well as testing whether the legislative and policy aspects of the RIPA tool are working for them.

Early in the last sprint, our funders at MHCLG had very kindly drawn up for us as a first draft to develop the plan for undertaking, monitoring and recording our pre-private beta testing sessions. (Big thank you to Egle and the team at MHCLG for this) The document had sections to monitor volunteers, their experience of the tool on specific journeys and any problems/glitches they may find.

We then scheduled in a specific session mid-sprint to review the document with all of the team

Ahead of that session we had tasked each partner to review the document, consider those scenarios or user journeys that they would like to prioritise for their specific council and come prepared to this session with those identified. This would provide us with the beginnings of a testing journey plan.

We populated our initial list of prioritised journeys, and discussed how the document would work in practice. Emily from Buckinghamshire Council volunteered to give the draft document a trial run and see what worked/what could be tweaked and where there were issues with it.

The RIPA tool contains numerous different journeys that users can follow depending on their project; for example, one person may apply for an LDC for a rear extensions, whereas another may apply on the basis of a ‘change of use’ of their property. As part of her trail run, working this time with Michael from the MHCLG team (big thank you to Michael!)

Together, they put together a ‘Scenarios Document’. This will act as a central area for tracking which routes through the system have been tested.

An important task over the next sprint will be to convert this data into clear scenarios which can be tested in the New Year, adding these to the central document.

Recording Progress

Aside from recording which journeys should be prioritised for testing, we also need to collect feedback from officers and to address this efficiently. This feedback will be recorded in our ‘BoPs/RIPA Testing Plan’ document — providing a one-stop shop for all issues/improvements needing to be made.

This document contains a number of fields — including ‘Type of Lawfulness’ being tested, ‘Type of Works’, ‘Status’ and ‘Workaround Required (if applicable)’, amongst others. A lot of time and thought has gone into creating this document over the last sprint and we hope that it will significantly help to improve our service, once testing begins in the New Year!

Spare time…

Being super efficient, we finished looking at the planning for testing document so — with half an hour to spare, as it was our last of the year and knowing we had a problem with the officer survey, we agreed to spend thirty minutes discussing/looking at what we could do to fix the problem. This survey was intended to indicate satisfaction levels for the current systems used in local authorities. We had then hoped to run this survey again after the introduction of RIPA’s online tool in order to compare satisfaction levels.

The great thing about working in an Agile way is it’s iterative, and even if you head the wrong way — you don’t (hopefully) head that way for too long because working in fortnightly sprints allows a speedier chance to spot where things may not be working….and sadly, the survey as it currently is was one of those things.

We realized, after two sprints, that the data it was collecting, whilst in some parts useful, was simply too vague and trying to please all the people — but providing information that wasn’t necessarily useful in terms of giving us something to measure and gain insight from for the pre and post experience of the tool.

After a brief discussion, we agreed to revisit the survey — an interesting half hour which included which virtual tool would be best for us to briefly workshop ideas and revised questions — led us to agree that we would split our existing survey into two distinct questionnaires; one to investigate planning/validating officer satisfaction linked with RIPA, and another to focus more on the BoPs side of the process.

We had a short Miro board session providing the valuable lesson never work with Miro boards without a good plan — however we did manage to get some useful content which we agreed we would work on.

One key thing that came out of discussions was to move from asking officers to complete the survey multiple times by application and instead find a way to ask the questions so they don’t have to answer more than once. One suggestion was to identify any exceptions in application types handled by officers by asking ‘Was your experience the same for all types of application mentioned above?’.

These questions will now be redrafted by the Lambeth team over the next sprint and passed on to Ho Lam (our independent User Researcher). And then shared with the rest of the team to relaunch the (hopefully better and more insightful) survey.

That’s it for another blog, and the last of 2020.

Thank you for following our project to this point — we have come a long way and always enjoy hearing feedback/suggestions from the public. Please get in touch with any questions by contacting digitalplanning@lambeth.gov.uk and otherwise all that is left to say is……Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

We’ve made it to Beta. An MHCLG funded project, led by Lambeth with five partners — Buckinghamshire, Camden, Lewisham, Northumberland and Southwark