We’re in catch up mode on our blogs due in part to the recent Pre-election rules on publicity.

So — what we’ve been up to over the last month….well — quite a lot — here’s a round up of some of the things we’ve been up to….

We’re moving ever closer to opening up the tool for private beta. We have over the last few months been inviting users to register an interest in using the tool to submit their LDC (Lawful Development Certificates) applications.

In preparation for this, we started a series of scenario testing. This meant developing a series of dummy planning application scenarios that could be fed through the system by planners to see what glitches they came across.

Initially — our first round of scenario testing was carried out using a document — RIPA BoPS test scenarios — which provided an overview statement and the planning considerations listed for officers to consider. As we moved through to our second round of scenario testing, dummy plans were developed to accompany the scenarios so that it was a more ‘life like’ experience for officers testing the tool. This piece of work was largely developed by Emily of Buckinghamshire and Michael from the MHCLG team.

Using a feedback spreadsheet and the feedback widgets that are on the tool — the partners recruited planning officers and we have been busy gathering comments and suggestions to help improve the tool further, but also to pick up where the tool may be giving the wrong outcome, or where glitches occurred, such as a page full of HTML script.

Fast forward and we’re now in a phase where we are doing scenario testing with non-planners, to see how far they can progress in submitting an application using the tool with little to no guidance. Again, they’ve been assigned scenarios (only three for our non-planners) to work through and we will be having a catch up over the next sprint to see how they’ve been getting on and get their feedback.

Turning to other things, the Lambeth team have been drawing up an Accessibility brief along with Lam, our User Researcher, and Egle our lead from the MHCLG team. This was sent out to seven companies who carry out this type of testing. We are likely to be looking to start undertaking this piece of work in June onwards — so more on that in a later sprint.

We’ve continued to carry out user testing, and have now started reaching out more actively to applicants across the country. Bobby from Lambeth has been pouring over Weekly Lists from councils. These are lists that show all the applications that have been submitted to a particular planning authority over the previous week. The information is generally loaded to that council’s website. It’s an arduous task — there’s no digital way to pull this information from those websites, so Bobby’s been reading through lists to identify users who’ve submitted LDCs, and manually dropping this information into a master spreadsheet — ready for a mailmerge of the RIPA project headed letter to ask if they would be willing to volunteer for user testings. It’s early days, and we know from the Lambeth mail out to applicants, for every 500 emails we tended to generate responses in the low ’00s. But, hopefully we will succeed in getting some volunteers from across the country and this will enrich the feedback and user input tremendously for the project. It will also mean the visibility of the project should be increased across the country.

Metrics and Benefits Case

One question that we’ve been grappling with is how do we monitor data from systems to assess benefits/data etc? Both Lambeth and Southwark have launched time recording to monitor the data to measure the benefits for metrics.

The Camden team’s data was considered perhaps the easiest to collect as planning officers validate their applications and tend to group and do validation in block. Rich from the Camden team will look at which case officers validated and ask them how long they were spending doing those validations.

Thanks to the brilliance of Kev from the Buckinghamshire team, planning officers in Wycombe already benefit from a time recording system that captures the time they spend on the Uniform system that is used to manage the planning applications received. This will be perhaps the easiest and most accurate data we can use of all. However, this doesn’t capture if an officer works ‘off line’ on a report in Word and then loads it back into the Uniform system. We know there will be gaps in the information and that it won’t be exact — but it will give us a reasonably good picture of the time it takes for officers to validate and assess applications. Toby from the Lambeth team is also looking into past benchmarking information for time to assess planning applications that came out of a project he was involved in with the team at PAS (Planning Advisory Services). Whilst this is potentially around 8 years old, it will still be useful data to consider.

We agreed, for the metrics, we need any kind of data available. We also agreed that we would accept a scoring system whereby we could rate the quality of the data. If we were high in confidence about that data, it would be scored green; if we were so-so, then it would be scored amber — and so on.

Pipeline of Adoption: we’ve also had further discussions around widening the engagement from planning authorities across the country.

We agreed we needed to have a more strategic approach around how we were engaging with other councils — getting some commitment to trial the RIPA tool is what we are after.

Sizing up what that onboarding would require will be part of the task with a need to reflect on how long it took the partners to get the items in our golive checklist together.

Whilst there’s lots we’re learning there is also a lot we don’t know about onboarding as a process and model, such as what kind of support would be required. One idea is for us to start thinking about it by creating a vehicle that is a more formal group — and inviting them along to join our group including encouraging them to start attending meetings and workshops, thereby letting people come on the journey at this uncertain phase.

We agreed it would be useful to develop an onboarding document that fleshes the detail out from the existing checklist and introduce it in a forum with the right sort of attendees. If someone’s outside looking in, we have to recognize that the complexity could wash over them and it could look as if this is an easy thing. By getting involved in the process early on — future onboarders will have a better understanding around things like GIS — and realize “Oh we have to sort out our GIS map — we could start on that now.”

At this stage — we don’t know what the issues may be for interested councils — is it LARS, GIS etc — so we need to start finding out and engaging with other councils. There was discussion around what the early adopters could potentially opt into. Would it be just the LDC as the first point of adopter, just RIPA or BoPs — or both? Ideally we want them to engage with both BoPS and RIPA so our hope is to find early adopters to both. Ultimately — only by talking to councils will we find out what they’re interested in.

We agreed that at the moment, Private Beta is our priority. We agreed if anyone has the extra capacity to start looking at other things — then we could start brainstorming what is the best approach. This is one we’re not immediately picking up — but once the private beta is under way — it’s coming our way as a priority.

As we approach private beta, we’re aware that we’ve had to focus on workarounds for the mvp (minimum viable product). There won’t be any reporting functions in our mvp, and the option to redact is also unlikely to be possible. Access can be restricted to documents, but if anything needs to be redacted it will need to be done using a tool outside of BoPS. Discussions around ward boundaries — in particular changes to boundaries and whether that would impact past applications — and consultations attached to wards — how would this occur if wards are not currently shown in the BoPS system. These are items that may need to go on the backlog so that we can reach our mvp for private beta. The main thing will be to manage expectations, recognize that this is mvp and that ultimately — both the tools being developed are a fantastic improvement on the current system and really exciting developments into a digital 21st Century planning system!

Catch our next Show and Tell — we will be back broadcasting live on the 21st May 2021. We hope to see you then!