Laying the groundwork for Hackney Council’s new electoral management system
Help Hackney Council kick-start its journey to create a modern, cloud-based electoral management system, by understanding requirements, providing estimates and creating a proof of concept to showcase the art of the possible.
Of the many essential services councils provide, elections are among the most important. Local authorities maintain the electoral register, and are responsible for ensuring that those who wish to vote in local and national elections, are able to.
Underpinning all these electoral services is an electoral management system (EMS). Hackney Council was exploring the feasibility of building a bespoke, cloud-based EMS.
Matthew Cain, Head of Digital and Data at Hackney Council, explains why: “We’re moving away from the IT model that off-the-shelf EMS products assume exists. We don’t have a corporate network, Windows desktops and the like. This means that providing secure infrastructure on which to run EMS products is becoming the exception, rather than part of business-as-usual.
“Secondly, the electoral register is one of our strategically important datasets, which can help us build a holistic picture of our residents and what they need. Having our data somewhere we can use it in this way will help us improve the services the council provides.
“And thirdly, we want to enhance the user experience for people who require postal or proxy votes, or who want to check whether they’re on the register at all.”
Hackney Council brought in Softwire to run a discovery, aiming to establish a clear understanding of the functionality required for a cloud-based EMS. We were also asked to provide estimates for the build cost, and create a proof of concept (POC) to showcase selected functionality.
Put together, this would enable the authority to make an informed decision on its next steps, and demonstrate the art of the possible to users and other councils, with whom it would be seeking to partner to build any new EMS.
We understood current ways of working and opportunities for improvement. Then we provided estimates for three newbuild options, and a working proof of concept to demonstrate selected functionality.
Understanding the domain
We carried out detailed user research with the electoral services team at Hackney Council, as well as another local authority. This enabled us to understand key users and current ways of working, how a future EMS would need to support them, and opportunities for improvement.
Shaping possible solutions
From these outputs, we began to map out the key capabilities a cloud-based EMS would require, and how these might be built. We also pinpointed where further research was needed to provide greater confidence around requirements and areas of uncertainty.
Based on these findings, we set out roadmaps and estimates for three distinct approaches to building a new EMS.
Proof of concept: Showcasing the art of the possible
In parallel, we coded a POC to support selected parts of the voter registration and electoral register management processes, based on user needs we had established. Among other things, the POC explored how Hackney Council’s other datasets could be used to improve the annual canvass and overall quality of information in the register.
Hackney Council now has the insights it needs to plan its next steps. It also has a working piece of software to form the basis of any future EMS, and to help secure essential buy-in from other councils.
By the end of the discovery, we provided Hackney Council with insights on which to base its next decisions, and a working, coded POC to help secure essential buy-in. Crucially, the rigour with which we built the POC means it can be taken forward as the basis for any new EMS Hackney Council should decide to build.
Cain reflects on the project’s achievements: “If we’re to go ahead and create a new EMS, we’ll need to build a community of other local authorities to work with. Softwire has helped us articulate what’s likely to be involved, while the POC provides something that can both inform and excite people, enabling them to make informed assessments on whether and how to proceed.”
He concludes by summarising the value Softwire provided: “We were looking for three main things in a partner, and Softwire delivered on all fronts. Most importantly, we needed the software engineering smarts to ensure the project was done, and done well. We’ve got a clear set of principles and standards for how we feel good software should be designed in the cloud, and wanted a team confident in picking those up.
“In addition, Softwire provided domain expertise, both in the workings of local government, and in elections. And thirdly, we needed user research and user experience talent to ensure we were sparking people’s imaginations in what a best-in-class EMS solution could look like.”