Digital strategy for Natural Resources Wales 2022-25


This is a strategy that will help make sure we put people and the environment at the heart of designing services. Whether that’s a citizen, business, partner organisations or our own staff that support overall service delivery. It’s about how we improve people’s lives and the environment, and how digital is a powerful tool to do that.

It focuses on the changes we need to make as an organisation if we are serious about transforming our public services and how we work.

Delivering this strategy will require change in culture, governance, ways of working and many other different aspects.

There is growing political ambition for better digital service delivery through collaboration in Wales, as described in the Digital Strategy for Wales.

What do we mean by digital?

“Applying the culture, processes, business models and technologies of the internet era to respond to people’s raised expectations.” Tom Loosemore

Throughout this strategy we use the term digital to include the three elements of the Government digital, data and technology profession. We have also taken account of the aspects of the Digital Strategy for Wales that are most relevant to NRW’s remit and challenges in this area.

Many challenges facing Natural Resources Wales are not unique to our organisation. In delivering this strategy, we will work as collaboratively as possible with others in Wales and further afield to learn from best practice and share experiences.

Be it understanding flood risk, getting a permit or species licence, accessing our evidence about the environment of Wales to make informed decisions or to use our forests for recreation.

Getting this right will mean services are simpler and more accessible for the people that need them. It will help people do the right thing, and help us make more of a difference - to achieve our work to tackle the climate and nature emergencies and serve the people of Wales.

Vision for digital at NRW

By 2025, NRW will provide better and simpler services for the people and environment of Wales, and support our work in tackling the nature and climate emergencies. Our staff will have the skills, tools, and confidence to support this.

The journey so far

When NRW was created in 2013, it brought together three organisations and all the services they delivered to the people of Wales.

Many of those services depended on web content, data, systems, and technical functionality that were provided by the parent bodies.

In our early days there was focus on replacing systems, websites, and applications and to transfer and maintain legacy data assets and establish NRW’s stand-alone capability and capacity.

To make sure the organisation maintained business critical services, there was immense pressure to replace like for like and to bring in Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) based on NRW’s view of requirements rather than user research into needs.

That work has continued to this day. But we have now ended up, in many cases, with disjointed services, different platforms, systems that are not integrated and too much content that is impenetrable to our service users, which is creating poor user journeys and overall customer experience. We need to break the cycle and reposition our starting point for designing services, putting user need at the heart and the start of the discovery and development journey.

More recently, we have started to take a more user-centred approach to designing services, and the more recent flood services – accessed by hundreds of thousands of people during flood events – have had positive feedback from users.

The journey to delivering our vision

It's about accepting iterative change.

We will design a set of clear, easy to understand prioritisation criteria and a published roadmap of now/next/later work.

We will commit to agile user centred design, iterative improvements, being open about how we’re working and consulting customers along the way.

We will work to the Digital Service Standards for Wales and will contribute to future iterations of these standards as we all learn from our experiences in creating better services for the people of Wales.

The 12 digital standards for Welsh public sector organisations are:

Meeting user needs

1. Focus on current and future well-being of people in Wales
2. Promote the Welsh language
3. Understand users and their needs
4. Provide a joined-up experience
5. Make sure everyone can use the service

Creating good digital teams

6. Have an empowered service owner
7. Have a multidisciplinary team
8. Iterate and improve frequently
9. Work in the open

Using the right technology

10. Use scalable technology
11. Consider ethics, privacy, and security throughout
12. Use data to make decision

Mission 1 - designing good services and content

People’s expectations of doing things online have risen. It’s not only the Amazon, eBay and Airbnb experiences setting the bar.

Public services, such as applying for a passport, booking a covid test or sharing your driver’s licence can be done online with ease.

Most of our services should work for people online. It should be easy for people to find the information they need and complete most tasks without calling us.

This would free up customer service and business areas to deal with more complex casework or technical support.

We will

  • develop a definitive list of NRW services and identify service owners for each. We will also contribute to the digital landscape review for Wales being undertaken by the CDPS.
  • review existing services and prioritise a backlog to develop better services using the digital standards for Wales.
  • prioritise services for improvement based on user needs.
  • undertake extensive user research to understand the users and their needs, giving us the solid evidence to prioritise our work.
  • develop a clear proposition to explain what the NRW website is and isn’t for.
  • continue to embed best practice for developing good, clear content that meets the needs of users.
  • redesign forms and guidance as part of overall service transformation.
  • understand what data we need about our customers to support each service and we know the standard that data must meet – for example location and environmental data.
  • continue to monitor and evolve how we engage with people online, to ensure we’re responding on the channels that people expect us to

Intended outcomes of designing good services and content

  • services are easily available online and online is most users’ preferred choice. For those who cannot access an online service, they will receive as good a service offline.
  • people can easily find and understand our website and associated information
  • people can access high quality services in Welsh and English because they are designed bilingually from the outset
  • people trust our online presence, relying on consistent design and content to know they are interacting with Natural Resources Wales
  • people can complete the task they need to do - increasing compliance, revenue and helping to protect the environment.
  • more use of online increases efficiency and reduces unnecessary contact for NRW staff, freeing up time for other work.
  • we can analyse and track how people use our services across platforms, and be able to measure usage of online and offline transactions

Mission 2: developing skills and capability

There is a significant need to develop the right skills and capacity to enable us to deliver a better public service for the people and environment of Wales.

Everyone will need to understand our customers and how digital, data and technology play a role in delivering services to our customers in the most efficient and effective way. For those working directly in a digital, data or technology role, we will need to continue to develop and maintain those specialist skills and we will need to develop more specialist skills in some key areas, for example user research, development, content design and data analytics.

Using and contributing to improving national frameworks for digital capability and skills will help enable transition and development of our staff.

We will

  • develop digital leadership capability within Natural Resources Wales
  • recognise the skills needed to understand our users, their needs, and what makes a good service
  • align roles with the national framework for digital, data and technology
  • work with CDPS, Welsh Government and other public bodies to share learning, work together and improve digital, data and technology skills
  • develop existing staff with opportunity for on-the-job coaching and communities of practice
  • build multi-disciplinary teams around services, coalescing existing teams and skills around services to fix shared problems and improve services.
  • understand what is needed to develop a programme of digital, data and analytical apprenticeships, in partnership with other public sector bodies, where possible
  • draw on national opportunities to build career pathways for our digital, technology and data team, ensuring we can retain, develop, and fulfil them
  • procure external expertise to support upskilling and fill skills gaps, especially in the transition period

Intended outcomes of developing skills and capacity

  • our leadership understand that digital is not about technology, but about nurturing the right culture
  • our leadership understand what’s needed to lead teams and design good services
  • the skills to deliver services based on user need and digital and data skills are valued
  • our people feel confident in their knowledge and skills around the technology they need to do their jobs
  • we can hire, retain, and develop the best talent locally and nationally

Mission 3 - integrated and sustainable platforms

Making sure that people can find, use, and navigate our services will mean that people will need to be able to travel seamlessly through services.

To do this, our website, will be the single and trusted online destination for NRW information and to access services, although behind the scenes this may be composed of several components.

Fundamentally, this is about making sure we provide good services, but there is a financial and environmental cost to digital.

We’ll need to look seriously at considering the role of digital in supporting the Welsh Government Net Zero goals.

By avoiding duplicating content and data on multiple platforms, and reducing the number of legacy platforms, we will provide a more joined up experience for people. We will have a more sustainable digital presence that is safer, easier to maintain and more resilient.

We will

  • review our current digital landscape, including platforms and technology currently used to support public services and the work of NRW – including carbon footprint of our whole digital estate.
  • avoid publishing information we do not need, to reduce the amount of server space – reducing costs and contributing to cutting carbon emissions.
  • make technology decisions based on user needs, following guidance in the Welsh Service Standards and the UK Tech Code of Practice.
  • sustainability is considered and measured at every stage of developing and managing digital services.
  • undertake a review of the Customer accounts and identification system to allow customers to self-serve where appropriate and to manage their own account preferences in line with GDPR
  • optimise customer data in NRW’s Customer relationship management (CRM) system. The data not stored in NRW CRM will be determined by customer needs
  • start small – prioritise services for end-to-end redesign, involving all the right people and teams.
  • use shared platforms and components where possible. Put open standards and interoperability at the core of our IT strategy.
  • consider whole life costs of services, including ongoing support and improvement costs and structures and plan accordingly.

Intended outcomes of integrated and sustainable platforms

  • we will be able to analyse and track how people use our services across platforms and be able to measure usage of online and offline transactions.
  • the different systems, components and technical building blocks are joined-up and data is transferred seamlessly and safely
  • sustainability is considered and measured at every stage of developing and managing digital services
  • people can search by location (across different systems and platforms) to easily find the information they need related to that place
  • easy to manage customer accounts – for the customer and NRW


Mission 4 – our teams have the tools and processes

By committing to adopting the digital standards for Wales, we will need to significantly change how we plan, prioritise, and develop our services.

The current way of planning, prioritising, funding, and managing projects and systems needs to shift to a model that will enable a single empowered service owner to have the authority and responsibility to make all business, product, and technical decisions about a service.

The same person is accountable and responsible for how well the service meets the needs of its users, which is how its success will be evaluated.

We’ll need to have the right mix of skills and experience for the current stage of development, the team should be able to explain how the make-up of the team may change over time, and what funding will be needed to support a team responsible for the service’s continuous improvement.

We will

  • support multifunctional teams centred around service owners and gather around agreed priorities rather than organisational structures
  • adopt agile working practices when designing services for people so that we can iterate and improve based on feedback
  • work in the open and talk about our work, sharing experiences to engage users and build trust
  • adopt the most appropriate tools to help people to do their jobs and work to the standards, e.g. prototyping kit.
  • redesign delivery frameworks in support of working to the 12 standards and SMNR principles and develop clear prioritisation criteria for service improvement
  • review our ways of working to ensure they support agile delivery and working to the standards, e.g. finance and governance
  • where possible we will work in partnership with other organisations to share our work and create joined up, once for Wales digital services

Intended outcomes of teams having the right tools and processes

  • staff have access and can find and use the tools and information they need to do their work
  • empowered multidisciplinary teams can manage services from end to end
  • we use service manuals, prototyping tools, and design libraries (our own or shared) to enable easier and more efficient delivery.
  • our people feel confident using modern technology, are aware of its risks and opportunities, and can fully participate in agile delivery and service design
  • our systems and processes (e.g. finance and governance) support user-centred design and delivery
  • teams work together to remove duplication and improve inter-linking of data and information

Mission 5 data and collaboration

NRW is the custodian of a large, complex, and unique collection of environmental data and information for and about the environment of Wales.

Our environmental evidence base informs and supports Wales’ response to the climate and nature emergencies and provides a historical record of the environment in Wales.

Managing this vital evidence base and making data available to people in ways that meet their needs will help strengthen environmental decisions, improve the delivery of public our services, help business adapt to the future and enhance people’s lives.

The Environment Wales Act and our response to the climate and nature emergencies call for our data to be analysed, interpreted, and presented at multiple spatial scales. Our data needs to be integrated, to enable decisions that return multiple benefits, and greater sharing and collaboration.

We face significant growth in both the volume and complexity of our data holdings and the complexity of requirements, compounded with increasing demand for interpreted data ‘products’ over raw data. This Mission aims to respond to these requirements.

We will

  • provide data and information as interpreted outputs that are meaningful to our customers and meet people's needs.
  • give people a picture of the environment in the places that matter to them and provide an integrated view of our data to highlight multiple benefits for or about that place.
  • enable the automated flow and exchange of data and information between systems and those that need it.
  • develop our approach to digital preservation, and data and information archiving to create efficiencies, drive down costs and consider our carbon footprint for storage.
  • develop and implement an NRW approach to data ethics drawing on the Open Data Institute’s Data Ethics Canvas.
  • support and develop innovation in our data management to improve services and create efficiencies. This could include AI, machine learning, data science, Internet of Things, and data visualisation, where they support user needs.
  • link and share our data, using standard formats and structures and providing quality metrics. Build on our existing ‘open by default policy’, aiming for 4-5* open data standards to stimulate the information economy. We’ll adopt the (Q)FAIR data principles (Quality, Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Re-usable).

Intended outcomes of data and collaboration

  • people can easily find data and information linked to the places that are relevant to them to support decisions and actions to help tackle the nature and climate emergencies
  • people can glean insight, analyse, and make evidence-based decisions in ways that meet their needs
  • we openly and seamlessly share data and information with people who need it, in ways that meet their needs, creating better outcomes for the environment and people of Wales
  • our data and information are linked, and meets standards and industry best practice, so others can make best use of our evidence-base
  • people trust that we are treating their data and information responsibly, handling it securely and using it ethically
  • we preserve the historic record of the environment of Wales for future generations
  • we take advantage of new technology that supports NRW to improve services and deliver efficiencies, including through increased use of automation and data science
  • we consider our carbon footprint, how we can create efficiencies and drive down costs associated with the flow, processing and storage of our data and information


The hard work starts here.

This strategy sets out our ambition for improving our digital services and explains what we need to do – by ourselves and working with others – to achieve our vision.

There are hurdles and challenges to address as we move into delivery, which include:

  • how can we finance and resource the transformation required?
  • how do our governance procedures support a more agile approach and how do we plan around user needs?
  • how do we build multi-functional teams around service/product owners?
  • how do we develop the skills we need?
  • how do we make our evidence accessible in the simplest ways for most users while allowing experts to dive into the detail?
  • how do we get a balance between keeping going with projects already in motion versus working in a different way?

We will work through these challenges as we move into delivery, focusing on our ambition to create better services for the people of Wales, so that they can more easily work with us to deliver for the environment in Wales.

Version. 1.1 24 March 2022

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