Until now, every year parents and carers in NSW devote more than six million hours a year to filling out school forms, while administration teams spent 11 million hours processing them. That’s about to change.

The Digital Restart Fund has partnered with the NSW Department of Education (DOE) to reduce the burden of paper forms, starting with school enrolment. We funded discovery stages of the project right through to beta testing, focusing on an iterative and agile approach to project delivery.

The funding process allowed the project to progress through discovery and alpha stages and pilot an online beta at six schools over 3 months in 2019. During this time, the product was continually improved based on feedback from parents, principals, and school administrators. The subsequent beta was trialled across 20 schools, then 62. Now, following a successful pilot, it has been rolled out to over 1,500 NSW public primary schools, with roll out to high schools occurring in 2021.

Digitising the enrolment process will cut down on hundreds of thousands of hours of administration. It can take 40 minutes to process just one of the current 16-page paper enrolment forms. Schools using online enrolment are reporting that they are saving on average 15 minutes per application and can complete simple, new applications in as quickly as 5-10 minutes.

How the Digital Restart Fund helped the project

The Digital Restart Fund is supporting human centred design and agile delivery. Ben Xu, Director of the Digital.NSW Accelerator and partner with DOE, says the iterative approach is what made the project so successful. “If we didn’t have the Digital Restart Fund, it would have been a very different project altogether,” he says. “If we had followed a traditional funding model it would have taken longer to get to where we are now, and we wouldn’t have any certainty about how well our solution would be received.”

The iterative approach allowed for ongoing engagement and continuous improvement, Xu says. “This reduced the risk of wrong assumptions being made, or external elements changing while we’re in the middle of building things,” he says. “The benefit of checking with users on a continuous basis meant that it would only be a couple of weeks until we realised that something needed an adjustment. This is opposed to the two years it may take if we were using a traditional, waterfall approach.”

Discovery leading to better outcomes

The discovery phase began with the team conducting desktop research and consulting directly with parents and school staff over a six-week period. This research was used to gain a clear understanding of the enrolment user experience and build journey maps to visualise the experience.

Xu says that the discovery phase saw the team look at enrolment as a whole, not just as a form that needed to be digitised. “We uncovered challenges throughout the entire process of enrolment,” he says. “We discovered that not every school enrolment would be the same and all the different types had their own processes and policies.” Additional challenges were also identified in verifying the identity of both the parent and the child.

From this, the team was able to break the project into more manageable streams of work, based on different customer needs and seek subsequent funding from the Digital Restart Fund. They started with standard local enrolments, followed by out of area enrolments, the transition from Year 6 to 7, and then an enrolment management portal for parents. By using an iterative approach, the first stream was funded and already being piloted in schools by the time the discovery phase began on out of area enrolments. This meant that the learnings could be applied from the first stream, accelerating the delivery of each subsequent stream.

The enrolment project has demonstrated within DOE IT how an iterative approach better manages risk and can speed up delivery project development. “We were fortunate that the IT department saw us as a pilot project, not just for enrolment but as a different way of working,” Xu explains.

The next step

Given the project’s success, DOE is now looking to expand into digitising other physical forms. This will start with those most frequently used, such as parent-teacher interview bookings, student absences, and HSC subject selection.

Apply to speed up your project

The school enrolment project is just one initiative the Digital Restart Fund has supported. The fund is dramatically transforming government processes and is now accepting applications for projects. To be eligible, your NSW digital project must improve the customer experience, minimise duplication across NSW government agencies, transform legacy systems, or build the skillset of NSW government employees.

Key to the school enrolment project’s rapid success was the DOE being prepared for the application. It was clear about the problem it was trying to solve – the time-consuming enrolment process – and the benefits it would provide parents and school staff. More information on what projects are eligible and what to expect from the application process can be found here.

Once you have reviewed the criteria and would like to fund your transformation project, contact us by emailing digital.restart.fund@customerservice.nsw.gov.au.