Workshop 11….

There are only two hard things in Computer Science: cache invalidation and naming things. — Phil Karlton

Project Team RIPA
6 min readOct 27, 2020

Truer words were never spoken — a fact which became clear following a question asked at our 10th Show and Tell. One member of the public enquired about the name of our ‘Find Out If You Need Planning Permission’ service, questioning whether it is obvious to users that this incorporates Listed Building Consent.

A key challenge we have faced throughout the RIPA project has come from a need to simplify the language used in planning to make the process for submitting applications more transparent and easier to navigate. Having considered our options, the partners agreed that Listed Building Consent will be less relevant for the majority of users and that a change is not required at this time — however, this is something that we will keep on our radar!

Reflecting on the Process

Following another busy sprint for the Reducing Invalid Planning Applications (RIPA) project, the partners gathered on Friday 23rd October for the 11th Workshop.

In Agile, there is a stage called ‘Retrospective’. This usually happens at the start of each project meet. It’s a really good way to give people the opportunity to talk about what they’ve found frustrating as well as recognise the progress made.

We used a Retro Board to share experiences across the partners, before considering the roll-out of our private Beta — see below for discussion.

The Retro Board: Format

The Retro Board (designed by FunRetro) is a useful retrospective tool, which allows teams to reflect on their ways of working. We started with three categories at the top of the board:

· What went well/worked

· What could be better

· Actions/Questions

The Retro Board: Discussion

“Simplicity is, as simple as you make it.”
Anthony Licciane

For our Retrospective, the plan was for each partner to pick a card which was most important to them and to share it with the group for others to comment. Below is a selection of those cards chosen.

· Need more validators in the room and involved! The Lambeth validators have been sadly missing the last few workshops — and we need to encourage them back. We would also benefit from validators participating from other partners. But we need to remember that some more junior officers may feel overwhelmed and need more encouragement to get involved and give their views.

The Curse of the Live Demo:

In the Show and Tell that we’d just held, we had a live demo which went very slightly wrong. It had been prefaced with the comment that “this may not go to plan” and, when it did go slightly awry, we were able to show viewers the behind the scenes functioning to explain how and why it wasn’t pulling information through in the way we would expect.

We discussed whether it was wise to demo without lots of practice, particularly if the tool may not go as hoped.

Generally, we agree that switching between the front and back ends of the tool worked well to show our progress. However, anyone watching the Show and Tell won’t have heard the resolution to the issue from which those in the workshop were able to benefit.

Whilst we have been reliant on click-through mock-ups for a lot longer than other coding applications, our R&D partner (Open Systems Lab) highlighted that this is because:

“Our service has been built out of Lego, rather than plasticene”

· The time that all of the partners have given was applauded. The partners are all providing additional input for the RIPA project requirements on top of their usual day job and so general acknowledgement and thanks was shared to recognise this dedication to the cause of digital innovation.

Strong Knowledgebase of Partners:

A key strength of the RIPA project was expressed as the dedication and expertise of team members.

It was felt that each of the partners brings something new to the table, whether it be in recruiting participants for User Testing or grappling with the intricacies of Validation rules to input into the design of our online tool.

User Research:

There were lots of comments around this including how positive the experience of observing and not taking has been for partners — and how fascinating it has been to watch user testing in action.

The benefit and insight gained by the partners from learning how our users see and interpret things has been so useful in helping to get an understanding of what works well.

A comment was made that the approach to User Testing has grown throughout the project’s Beta phase.

One benefit from gaining a better understanding of how User Research can help us is that the findings from sessions are now fed more promptly into the design team, allowing us to integrate feedback for effectively into the design of our online tool.

Despite this, we agreed that there is further scope for partners to get more involved in User Testing — by observing sessions and taking notes.

One of the great things about this project comes in the wealth of opportunities for the team that wouldn’t otherwise be available — after all, it’s not often that you get the chance to be involved in such an innovative project that is already proving to be successful!

Summarising our approach, one partner commented:

“We have to build the steam engine first, before moving onto the carriages”

Social Media Presence

We agreed that our social media presence could be better, and that partners should engage with their communication teams. Where possible, partners should also find out which local councillors have strong social media presences and see if they can help push the message out further.

Getting more user testing volunteers

Lambeth spent the last sprint individually emailing all applicants who had submitted a Lawful Development Certificate (LDC) in the last 18 months. This has produced some really good results — with another 30 volunteers signing up for User Testing.

However, we will struggle to get users from outside of Lambeth due to partner Information Governance teams applying blocks. We’ve undertaken Legitimate Interest Assessments — and we are letting applicants know that we are contacting them because we believe it is a legitimate interest to want to improve the existing system. However, until other partners agree to take a similar approach, we can instead use their Weekly Lists.

These lists are published on council websites and document all applications submitted that week. Builders often use these lists to tout for work — writing applicants to enquire if they need a builder to do their proposed work. So, we realised that we could also use these lists to reach out for volunteers. They only provide postal addresses, so we will have to do a hard copy mail out and make the link to the sign-up form as easy for applicants to type into their web browsers as possible.

Defining the Private Beta

Next up, we still need to decide on what the LDC private Beta set up will look like. For those who have been following our progress — you will know that this is planned for December 2020!

If you’ve followed our blogs, you will have seen mention of the different approaches currently being considered — from a set number of applications sent through the system, to specific applicants being identified and asked to use the Beta tool for their applications.

Next sprint will include:

· Each partner drawing up a proposal for their private Beta.

· Start sending out the (now completed) Customer Survey to applicants.

· Obtaining Weekly Lists from all partners and working out what we can afford in terms of postage, as well as starting to contact individuals to get a wider range of volunteers for User Testing.



Project Team RIPA

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