Case study: ‘Keeping the wheels of democracy turning’ with Microsoft Teams

How Trustmarque helped a borough council to deliver its first ever online council meeting.

Background to the project

As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, this particular council in the North East of England was unable to run its usual face-to-face council meetings and needed a way to connect its 30 councillors, responsible for key democratic decision making in the borough. They needed a fast solution to discuss important matters surrounding the pandemic and other pressing issues.

Their Legal and Democratic Services Manager, explains: “Democracy was a key consideration. We had a time with so much uncertainty and no platform for crucial meetings. For many reasons, we had to hit the ground running. Not least, because we had started agreeing a new senior council team, so the council needed to make some big senior decisions. If they didn’t, then the implications were massive.” They needed a partner who could help them identify the right solution and support them with the end-to-end migration to online meetings.  And with limited experience of online meetings, end-user training was pivotal to ensuring a successful deployment.

About the council The council in this case study is based in the North East of England. They are a democratic organisation with 36 elected Councillors who are responsible for agreeing policies about provision of services and how the council’s money is spent. The Councillors represent approximately 90,000 residents in the borough.

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Why Trustmarque was selected as a partner

We are a leading IT partner to the Public Sector with more than 30 years’ experience working with the majority of local authorities in England. Our dedicated Central and Local Government team has deep understanding of the sector and is committed to helping organisations improve through digital transformation so they can best serve their employees, councillors, and constituents. We were able to demonstrate to the council extensive experience helping similar organisations to implement the technology and infrastructure needed to move online, alongside the technical support required for user adoption, culture change and implementing new ways of working.

Trustmarque delivered best value in terms of safeguarding the public purse and it was clear they could provide a raft of resources we could draw on to initiate the online meetings.

ICT Project and Strategy Manager at a Borough Council in North East England.

The Solution

A collaboration powered by Microsoft Teams

Key considerations were that the solution needed to be secure, intuitive and compatible with both corporate and personal devices, making Microsoft Teams the ideal choice. Microsoft Teams is a high-performing collaboration, productivity and connectivity platform that can facilitate remote-based meetings and events of up to 1,000 members. Trustmarque quickly helped to establish a tight-knit project team led by one of our expert consultants in Microsoft 365 and Teams. Working closely alongside the council, our Consultant held an extensive review of the council meeting protocol and how to bring this to a Microsoft Teams setting, as well as how it could help council members engage proactively. We also carried out due diligence and documentation of findings including people skills, which helped to identify members in need of more detailed training. We delivered a series of 1:1 and group training sessions to council members, some of whom were being issued IT equipment for the first time.

Trustmarque assisted in all areas of the set-up, implementation and support needed to conduct a formal council meeting online, using Microsoft Teams. This included: carefully preparing the meeting content and structure with the council’s IT and Democratic Services Teams; creating a protocol of how the meeting should be run; extensive user training and support, including a full knowledge transfer to the core delivery team to enable them to self-serve in the future. To ensure everyone was confident and fully prepared ahead of the inaugural meeting, we ran a mock practice meeting to identify any challenges. Our Teams Consultant also attended on the day of the first live meeting to ensure everything went smoothly.

Teams in action

Microsoft Teams

Key considerations

  • Limited experience with online meetings
  • Needed to facilitate mix of corporate and personal devices
  • Some members using devices for the first time
  • Scope of meeting grew from small test group to full Council meeting
  • User and adoption training crucial

Outcomes

The council successfully held its first virtual meeting in June 2020. The scope of the meeting grew from a small sub-committee gathering to a full 4.5-hour council meeting, which the team describes as “a baptism of fire”. The meeting was a huge success for the council, facilitating strong debate, decision-making and formal voting. There was a bit of saying at the time that Trustmarque helped them to “keep the wheels of democracy turning”. According to one of the team, the meeting was a hit with Councillors who welcomed the new format with relative ease. Their colleagues within the council have also been impressed with the smooth transition to Microsoft Teams. They commented: “Our Chief Executive quoted a couple of times that we went from 0 to 100.  When I think of where we started, we have come so far and we now have a full diary of meetings, almost back to where we were before the pandemic. As a team we are so much more confident and that comes back to teamwork. We are working well internally and drawing on the support of other teams, dealing with new scenarios every week.”

The Council has already started to use Microsoft Teams for similar meetings including planning sessions, briefing seminars and school forums. A key benefit they have seen across all meetings is an increase in attendance, as members find remote sessions easier to fit into their busy schedules.

“We can’t undervalue that we knew nothing about this going in,” explains the council team memeber. “To pick up complex democratic processes and move them online, is not something we had any experience of. However, Trustmarque was able to work with us to define what the process should look like, what technical support would be needed. They clearly highlighted the benefits of 1:1 training Vs group training and furthermore they were instrumental in delivering that training. It was a complete end-to-end approach.”

Feedback on the project team

He said that given the choice, the Council would never have deployed Microsoft Teams in such a short timeframe and that it is a “huge achievement” that he accredits to the close collaboration between all parties and particularly the “commitment by Trustmarque and the Technical Consultant”. He added: “The Trustmarque team could look at the project from an unbiased point of view and bring in experience from other projects. They worked with our teams and it was all very flexible and consultative, not prescriptive. We had fun together and there was a real can-do attitude. It was a pleasure working with Trustmarque and a hugely positive working experience. I don’t usually get that working with external teams.”

Next steps

The success of the project has paved the way for an expansion of Microsoft 365 technology and specifically Microsoft Teams, which Trustmarque is well-positioned to support. One of the team members comments: “We have become victims of our own success. There is a real acknowledgement from members that lengthy meetings are better from the comfort of your own home. I think that even after Covid-19 restrictions, we will continue to utilise Teams. It has become the normal process – business as usual. Everybody wants to use Teams and we will be leaning on Trustmarque to support us as we roll that out further.”

FastTrack to Microsoft 365 with Trustmarque

FastTrack Ready is a Microsoft-funded programme designed to help eligible customers to adopt Microsoft 365 software including key applications like Microsoft Teams. As a select FastTrack Ready Partner, and with 30 years’ experience as a top-rated Microsoft UK partner, Trustmarque is ideally placed to help you with your Microsoft 365 transformation journey.

FastTrack with Trustmarque

By Katherine Murphy, content creator