Using best practice to design services around residents' needs
On this page, guidance and resources support work to ensure council’s services are designed around the needs of residents and users, and prioritise them over professional, organisational and technological silos.
Resources and support
- Digital Inclusion Programme - supports 10 councils to work with specific cohorts of residents to support those who haven’t had the skills, confidence or infrastructure to go online so they can benefit from the potential for digital tools and solutions to contribute to improving life outcomes.
- Digital Pathfinders Programme - a programme designed to support councils seeking to innovate and develop pioneering initiatives to advance digital inclusion, digital connectivity, and cyber security.
- Video conferencing & Messaging Guide - Norfolk County Council have released a guide (pdf), which may be of help to councils as they adapt to new ways of working remotely.
- Transforming local services through digital - to explore the wider potential of digital tools, technologies and approaches to support ‘transformation’, which is the fundamental redesign of local services so that they deliver better outcomes, in a more targeted and timely fashion, at less cost.
During the August bank holiday in 2017, Copeland Borough Council was hit by a zero-day ransomware cyber attack.
The aims of the SCDIA Digital Discharge to Assess project were to develop a cloud-based case management system that did not depend on a single IT partner or supplier; allow users (with appropriate permissions) to capture, update, track, and report on data about a person’s journey through the Discharge to Assess process; create a ‘single version of the truth’, with a raft of associated patient benefits and service efficiencies.
In 2017, the coastal flooding emergency at Jaywick Sands in Essex highlighted the need for a merging of data sources between the county council and the districts in order to best identify and evacuate vulnerable residents.
Suffolk County Council launched Cassius, their county-wide digital care service in July 2021 delivered in partnership with Alcove and Rethink Partners. This was the culmination of several years of planning and research, the development of a digital care strategy and an extensive procurement process for a digital care partner (paused during COVID-19) that ran for over a year.
Achieving for Children is a community interest company (a not-for-profit social enterprise) created in 2014 by the Royal Borough of Kingston and the London Borough of Richmond to provide their children’s services. In August 2017, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead became a co-owner of AfC, and we now deliver children’s services across all three boroughs.
With increased demand and pressure on children’s services, and finite resources to support this, Achieving for Children has embarked on an automation project, using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology. Acting as a digital assistant, RPA allows staff to shift their focus onto high value tasks instead of working on tasks that are manual and repetitive.
The aim of this work has been to:
- Improve and increase productivity
- Improve service quality
- Improve customer service
- Have more efficient workflow processes
- Allow workers to focus on high value tasks and/or frontline work
- Save costs
They are currently in the pilot phase of the project and have so far achieved the automation of police and online referrals that come through to the Single Point of Access (SPA) service. This was previously dealt with manually by contact officers, who were required to take information from referral forms and input this onto our case management system before allocating to work trays. This work took up the bulk of the contact officers’ day-to-day work, and had to be prioritised above all other duties.
- The benefits of the automation for the SPA service are intended to be the following:
- Having fewer people accessing inboxes to extract referrals, which will increase confidentiality and reduce the risk of information being missed, moved or deleted.
- By automating the tasks, the SPA service should be able to improve the service, by sending through clearer and more analytical work.
- Having more consistent and detailed information available in the case management system through robotically added comments that are available without drilling down, particularly concerning the type of referral and additional considerations that only come to light when comparing information from different sources.
- The Service should no longer have to deal with a backlog of information that is received over the weekends as these will have been processed overnight, by the bot, before staff arrive.
- The contact officers should be able to focus on more high value tasks.
Since 2014 Focus Gov has created digital services within social care and has quadrupled the number of local authorities they work with. The Care Leavers App helps Children's Services and Leaving Care Teams to engage their care leavers, provide key information such as the Local Offer and provide key services at their fingertips.
Following extensive research with young people Focus Gov were informed that support ‘dropped off a cliff’ when they left care. Focus Gov identified technology that young people use day to day and created the Care Leavers App.
Each local authority is able to customise their own app, including the look and feel and content. All Care Leavers Apps are co-produced with care leavers who get involved through a series of engagement and participation workshops.
The services that the Care Leavers App offers include:
- Information and advice - customisable sections of information, advice and guidance across a range of topics including housing, entitlements, managing money, health and wellbeing and preparing to leave care.
- Secure messaging
- Creation and publication of digital surveys
- Regional apprenticeships
- Emergency contacts - mini-address book for storing contact details of important people
- A calendar of events, helping care leavers get into their community and reduce social isolation.
- 100 different languages and accessibility features.
Analytics are provided to local authorities in real-time through an online dashboard, on a downloadable basis and in quarterly reviews with your account manager Focus Gov can provide analytics such as how many downloads the app has had and how popular each section of the apps is with care leavers.
The roadmap for the Care Leavers App, includes several new features including a Digital Pathway Plan, Embedded Care Outcomes Tools and one-to-one video messaging. Focus Gov often partners with local authorities on a pilot / early adopter partnership basis to roll out innovative tech and new functionality.
For more information on the care leavers app or for an informal conversation about a project idea you might have, please email [email protected].
January 2019 saw the first rollout of an end-to-end smart parking system in the town of Harrogate, which had growing issues with congestion for both residents and visitors.
The initiative brought environmental improvements, as well as social and economic benefits.
Working in partnership with North Yorkshire County Council and the provider, Appy Parking, Harrogate Borough Council identified the key areas and spaces that were available and installed in-road parking sensors. Drivers then used an app to locate a free space and to pay seamlessly for their parking. This proved to be more time and cost-efficient and to improve overall customer satisfaction. More than 2,200 sensors were installed across on-street and off-street parking locations. Up to the end of August 2020, more than 14,500 people had used the system for 146,000 parking sessions.
Over the 18-month pilot, 627 smart parking users were surveyed by email. Of these:
- 83 per cent say that using smart parking alleviated stress normally associated with using a pay and display machine.
- 93 per cent say that smart parking is more convenient than using a pay and display machine.
- 89 per cent believe a smart parking solution makes parking easier.
- 74 per cent think the ability to pay for parking via an app is an important requirement for residents.
The smart parking trial also supported a positive vision for the town centre, with feedback stating:
- 62 per cent of users say they stay longer in Harrogate town because they don’t have to worry about a pay and display ticket expiring.
- 60 per cent of users were more likely to park in Harrogate because they can pay in-app
The smart parking trial has resulted in fewer miles being driven in Harrogate town centre, having a positive impact on the environment:
- 32 per cent of users now check availability in-app before they arrive at their destination.
- 56 per cent of users have saved time finding a car parking space. This has inevitably led to fewer miles driven in the town and reduced CO2 emissions.
- 23 per cent of users think live availability has helped reduce congestion caused by cars looking for parking.
From March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic meant less activity in the area, with fewer visitors to the town. However, from detailed analysis of data and user feedback the trial of smart parking in Harrogate was deemed successful. Information collated during the trial suggests that smart parking:
- Improves customer experience
- Benefits the local economy
- Benefits the environment
- Improves operational and strategic insight
- Is financially beneficial to both users and the Local Authorities
Due to the benefits identified through a smart parking solution, there is an appetite to identify and rollout a scalable solution across North Yorkshire. North Yorkshire County Council is interested to hear from other local authorities that have been working on or are planning similar smart parking initiatives to inform their research and development.
For more information and an informal conversation, please contact [email protected]
Revenue and Benefits Alpha project 2022 – funded by Local Digital
I last wrote an article for the IRRV in 2020 when we were successful in obtaining Local Digital funding for a discovery project working in partnership with five other councils to determine the feasibility of an open source Revenue and Benefits system.
Now, in 2022 we have been successful in obtaining further funding from DLUHC for the Alpha phase of the project, working with Sedgemoor, Basildon and Brentwood, Leeds, East Devon councils, and consultants @MadeTech.
A lot has changed in the world since then but some of the frustrations and concerns around the current Revenue and Benefits systems offer unfortunately still remain. In 2020 local authorities identified key concerns with the current offers, whilst accepting that they met the statutory requirements and ultimately customers were paid their benefits. Those concerns were:
- An out of touch user experience Systems performance with workarounds the norm.
- Partners estimated an average of between six and 15 per cent of Revs and Bens staff time is spent on manual workaround
- Spiralling costs with the average system are £138k per year (collectively £42.6million)
- A desire for a more modular and flexible approach with greater integration
- A need for a new service model
At the end of 2020 into 2021 Revenue and Benefits teams were faced with a new set of challenges. New schemes were launched to help struggling businesses and vulnerable customers. Seven business grant schemes, test and trace support and council tax hardship payments to be administered and paid ASAP.
Some councils found that they could not configure their existing Revenue and Benefits systems to respond quickly, and there were delays with suppliers developing their own solutions (at a cost).
Other platforms were used to develop customer forms and automate processing, notifying customers of updates on their claims and processing payments. This was achieved by downloading data from the Revenue and Benefits systems and developing forms and processes to cross reference with this data rather than using the systems themselves or purchasing third party add-ons.
Despite Covid pressures, Sedgemoor have invested in the last two years in rebuilding their Revenue and Benefits system and undertaking user acceptance testing for their first module, Business Rates. The new system is:
- being rebuilt as open source
- componentised and cloud native
- has layers for data, business logic, interfaces and user interface
- has APIs for every feature of each layer
- has APIs to connect to enterprise platforms including identity management, records and document management, workflow and payments
- multi tenanted for immediate core functionality updates
- separates core functionality from localised policies
- enables each council to configure their use of the system to suit their needs, and local environment
We’re working in an open and agile way: the change and progress is rapid and, of course at times, unpredictable! Currently we have hosted the Sedgemoor system in azure and data mapping business rates data from one council’s existing supplier’s system to migrate into the Sedgemoor system. ! If successful, the financial, digital and customer benefits could be significant.
This is no mean feat as migration is seen as one of the biggest barriers to local authorities adopting a new system. Whilst a new system supplier could have access to a council’s raw business rates or benefits data, they may not have access to the ‘source code’ that creates and processes the data, nor will they have the full database documentation. Possibly the legacy supplier may decline to provide it.
On a positive note it looks like the migration of data from one supplier is looking promising, but we are still in negotiation with the other legacy supplier to see if they are willing to assist us.
If you’d like to see how we’re doing and would like to be kept fully in the loop, please register your interest on our website at openrb.localgov.blog and check out Slack at LocalGovDigital #revbensalpha
Amanda Pujol, Head of Community Services and Improvement, Teignbridge District Council
Since the COVID-19 outbreak started, online library memberships have grown by as much as 600 per cent in some areas. With online books and other digital services proving of special interest to residents during lockdown measures, the City of York Council has provided library service partners (Explore York) £17,000 of funding to expand the range of virtual services available. The additional funding will grant library members access to:
- an extended range of e-books and e-audiobooks
- Press Reader, including access to 7000+ daily newspaper and magazine
- Virtual Rooms Explore, which uses video conferencing software to create a virtual space for group discussion (including local book groups and artists spaces are in the future),
- and support for residents who are isolated, vulnerable and/or residents with limited access to virtual content due to lack of skills/experience with technology or lack of broadband (currently in development).
The City of Lincoln Council has created a new system to protect the safety of staff and residents, which has helped to ensure that people can access vital services at the council while observing social distancing measures.
The council have implemented an online booking system to prevent people waiting in queues or waiting areas. The booking system has also helped to minimise the number of staff required in City Hall, while maximising the use of resources. To accommodate residents that face access difficulties or who have reservations about entering public facilities, the council have offered alternative contact channels, such as the option to video call for appointments.
The bookings system implemented uses a Microsoft Bookings app, provided through the council’s Microsoft 365 subscription. After making the decision to use this app, the council scheduled a meeting with their Microsoft partner, who provided an overview of the software. Two council staff who attended that session then trained a small group of customer service agents on how to use the system. Using an Agile approach, the minimum viable product was ready within the week, allowing the customer services team to start taking bookings on behalf of customers for ten different services.
Primary considerations when deciding what software would be suitable was that the data had to be secure and that the product would be easy to use. The Microsoft bookings app satisfied these criteria and also supported the council’s preference for a product that would support the council’s development and transition around the ‘new normal’. The council said that they would continue to use the data gathered during this pilot project to inform future phases. At the time of writing, the council was looking to expand the use of the system across a range of services and to adapt processes to suit this model (including use of Microsoft Teams).
The implementation of the booking system has helped the council to achieve minimal presence in their corporate buildings and has been penned as a potential long-term approach to reduce space requirements. It was also being considered as a way support out-of-hour bookings such as evenings and weekends, which may help to meet new demands and working requirements.
The council has also looked at how this booking system and other Microsoft PowerApps could be support other processes, including bookings for internal services such as inductions, training and appointments with support services.
Fraser Trickett, Organisational Change Lead, [email protected]
The Sevenoaks District Local Strategic Partnership (LSP) have pooled resources for a new digital solution, which is helping residents to travel in ways that observe social distancing measures. The LSP is led by Sevenoaks District Council and comprises others including Kent County Council, the local NHS, Police Service, and a range of VCS and faith sector partners, such as Age UK, and Sevenoaks’ network prover, Go Coach.
The partnership has pooled resources to implement a CIL funded mobile application (developed by ViaVan) that uses Go-Coach buses to provide an on-demand transport service for residents. This service, named ‘Go2’, uses Go Coach’s vehicles to provide an affordable, rideshare service, which offers residents’ transport on ‘as needed’ basis (e.g. to purchase groceries or medication). Go2 has extended the traditional service footprint area to ensure that residents in otherwise isolated areas are connected to nearby hospitals and other key community assets—and so NHS Workers and Police Community Support Officers who rely on public transport are still able to commute to work. Passenger safety is maintained by ensuring passengers are able keep 2m distance between each other by using 28 passenger capacity buses (at a minimum) and restricting the number of people to no more than 10 per trip at any given time.
The app can be download via iOS and Google Play stores. Residents can also access the service via a dedicated phoneline, so all community members (including anyone who does not have access to or is unable to use the app) can still access this transport option. The council and VCS are using online platforms, e.g. Facebook, to promote the service across the district.
The service proven highly popular with residents, which maintains a five star rating on iOS and received more than 500 passengers within the first eight days of operating.
Essex Online Partnership (EOLP) is a technology partnership with membership from all 15 Essex Local Authorities, Essex Fire & Rescue, and Essex Police. EOLP and the Essex Resilience Forum jointly adopted a project to develop a data tool, VIPER (Vulnerable Intelligent Persons Emergency Response), which would allow emergency planning responders to coordinate efforts utilising real time data in unprecedented times. This tool has utilised a pre-released category B vulnerable people dataset during the Coronavirus pandemic to join up emergency responders across Essex to coordinate actions and minimise harm and risk to life for residents.
In March 2020, Oldham Council was given a statutory duty to coordinate food, self-care, medical supplies and other forms of necessary assistance to vulnerable groups in response to COVID-19. The council facilitated this through 5 geographical Virtual Hubs to coordinate food, medicines, mutual aid, volunteering and community intelligence and an Emergency Helpline to act as a front door and triage. Each hub had a population footprint between 30,000 – 40,000 residents.
The Council partnered with Oldham Food Bank and Action Together, which led to the establishment of a comprehensive food distribution network to support the 5 hubs. The centres are also heavily supported by a volunteer offer. Their roles range from coordination, supporting processes, managing doorstep deliveries of food and products, packing and delivering.
This included pathways to Age UK Oldham, CAB, Housing Providers, Early Help, Mental Health, Benefits and Advice and Welfare Rights. As well as a strong pathways and relationship with the Community Pharmacies, CHASC and primary care.
Due to this strong response from the voluntary sector and the community, donations had increased rapidly to an amount where the food that the network was distributing in a day was the same amount that was delivered in a week pre-COVID.
There was a need to get a handle of the current stock held in the distribution centres and the constant supply that was increasing daily. What was being donated, how long was a particular item’s lifecycle, where did it need to be stored?
Oldham Foodbank, the Council and Action Together were approached by local digital solutions company Live & Now who donated their time and resources to develop a stock management system that would allow the centres to fully understand what was coming through the doors.
The system allowed volunteers to scan barcodes on the items to create inventories on the food received. This provided them with an in-depth understanding of nutritional value, lifecycles and stock volume. As parcels were received and sent out, each one was scanned in and out allowing the centre to know exactly what the flow of parcels and donations were.
Through the system this gave Oldham Foodbank and the council the advantage of knowing what they had at any one given time and allowed them to alter communications strategy to the public if they had too much of one item to diversify the nutritional value of food parcels. It also gave them an increased awareness to prevent any unnecessary waste.
And above all the system could track where each parcel had been delivered providing a complete picture of the need in the community and a better understanding of citizens.
Through the helpline and stock management system the council provided support through:
- 4914 answered calls via the Helpline (as at 05/06)
- 5217 distributed food parcels (as at 05/06)
The Emergency Helpline and the virtual hubs, and their relationship with the Oldham Foodbank have been a valued asset for the council and discussions are being had to identify how they should become business as usual after COVID-19 due to the single point of contact and the deep understanding and insight into the community they provide.
Adur and Worthing Councils have developed two online community response services using a low code platform that allows digital services to be operated with minimum coding skills.
They have built a request for community support service. The pathways within this service provide information on who is isolated, if they are in need of urgent food and which neighbourhood hub is nearest in order to direct the closest volunteers to assist.
The register to volunteer service is aimed at anyone wanting to assist locally. By collecting volunteer DBS or photo ID they can on board volunteers with the necessary assurances.