Blaenau Gwent – a new approach

5 min read Written by: Cory Hughes

Blaenau Gwent is alive with the buzz of digital innovation and has already become the home of new business for many tech start-ups and new digital industries. The Tech Valleys programme, based in Blaenau Gwent  is creating a perfect environment for the kind of clever, quick-thinking industries that are changing the way we live and work.

Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council has been working with Tech Valleys and the Welsh Government to deliver this change. From enabling over 30,000 premises to access superfast broadband, to ensuring access routes and railway provide easy access to the area to building the skills, knowledge and opportunity to attract business – this collaboration has already led to some rapid progress.

The council has also taken inspiration from this new lease of digital life to look at how its own services could be improved to provide benefit to the residents of Blaenau Gwent, and also how it could help change the way the council delivers its services. Also, council services are often the most common opportunity for people to try online services.

A new approach to digital service design

When Tech Valleys looked at how it could support Blaenau Gwent there were some good opportunities to take a new approach to digital service design. Much of the way that public services have evolved through the years have been around designing new digital services based on the traditional services, such as ones that had evolved from customers contacting business through their call centre. This was certainly the case when it came to how the council managed the waste and recycling part of the business and was causing frustration from residents and operational pressure within the council to maintain a level of service that suited user needs.

Since March this year Blaenau Gwent have been working with Perago, with support from Tech Valleys, to look at how they can deliver better digital services to their residents. We set out to discover what problems could be solved with the application of new technology and agile, innovative thinking.

Working collaboratively and the discovery phase

We quickly created a collaborative team with members from Blaenau Gwent Council where we set out to:

  • improve resident’s experience of Blaenau Gwent Council services
  • improve waste services in Blaenau Gwent Council
  • build in-house capacity for web-site enhancement and back-room functionality; tangible changes to the Blaenau Gwent Council web-site that can be seen and used by the public
  • onboard an apprentice to work on, and learn about, digital
  • Provide digital awareness training and up-skilling of senior Council officers and Councillors
  • share learning with wider Gwent partners

After a huge amount of research, user interviews, data crunching and analysis we identified that one of the  problems for Blaenau Gwent was the way in which residents requested new recycling or waste equipment.

Digital and being user-led.

With this clear problem, we worked collaboratively with senior leaders right through to front line operatives in the Council to understand existing processes for ordering recycling and waste equipment. In this discovery phase we looked at:


What the user is trying to do


What we’re trying to achieve, shaped by strategy, ethics or policies 


The things that make the service work like technology, systems and data 


How we’re structured to make the service work like governance, finance and procurement


How we make decisions and behave, being responsive and agile 

As we worked this through in collaboration with Blaenau Gwent, we were really keen to share our ways of working with the team.

Matthew Stent, Service Manager – Neighbourhood Services said, “We’ve been trying to work toward a ‘one council’ approach and I think this project has improved that ‘working together’ approach, bringing in all the necessary stakeholders to focus on a solution to a problem. It’s been a great benefit that will certainly continue.”

The Council’s first digital apprentice

We also wanted this work to feed into Tech Valleys ambition for the local education system to prepare the next generation for high-skill, high-value jobs and focus on the current and future well-being of people in Wales. To support this we worked with Blaenau Gwent to develop, advertise and recruit the first of their digital apprentices. Luke Walden from Abertillery, was successful in a field of high calibre applications from across the borough. Luke is now in his third month with the Council working not only on the Recycling and Waste project but also on several other projects giving him an excellent opportunity to take his learnings and apply them across his other work too.

With Luke on board, and the problems identified, we then moved on to getting residents view on what they need, what problem they are encountering, and getting their ideas on how digital services could be improved.

Our next blog will share how we recruited people to take part in remote user research… in the middle of a pandemic.