Made to measure…

photo (8)Warwickshire County Council has volunteered to lead on one of the transactions identified for the next phase of the Local Gov Performance Platform in conjunction with GDS. This follows on from the phase 1 work carried out with Solihull Council and their missed waste collections.

We are focussing on library renewals and are currently establishing what key data would be valuable to display on a performance platform. This dataĀ needs to be translated into information that would be useful to service managers. It should provide them feedback that will support the improvement of services and creating a better experience for users.

It is important to recognise that the purpose of the platform is to promote, not replace, analytics. The platform will visualiseĀ sets of data that might trigger further analysis, show trends that prompt questions andĀ ultimately enable service managersĀ to make decisions based on data. The platform shouldn’t just be ā€œthe number of visitors that came to your site last weekā€, it needs to present data that can be used to inform, challenge, support decisions.

We have a number of ways customers can currently renew a library item:

  • online
  • via our automated 24/7 renewal line, available 24 hours a day ā€“ call 01926 499273;
  • by phone, fax or email to your library ā€“ contact details for libraries;
  • in person at any library

Our current thoughts around what might be useful for library service managers around renewals are:

  • Library locations – which areas attract the most customers renewing online
  • Online renewals for WCC libraries vs. community libraries
  • Digital vs. non-digital renewals
  • Successful completion rates

If you have any ideas about other pieces of information that might be useful, please get in touch using the contact form below.

We are hoping to have something up and running on the GDS site soon, so watch this space and I’ll be writing more about it as the platform progresses.


Starting with…. User Needs

DbD ResearchFollowing theĀ leadĀ set by GDS in theirĀ Government Service Design Manual, myself and a few colleagues at WCC have been exploring how we might adopt these service standards and how they couldĀ fit with our own internal procedures, governance structures and (most importantly) our people. Ā In order to really get to grips with it, we have chosen 2 “demonstrator projects” to put everything to the test and see how we get on. The first project is looking at care leavers and how we can better support them, the second project is looking at skip license applications – both very different areas of the council with a mix ofĀ users.

We are working with 2 organisations,Ā ESROĀ andĀ leapSTONE, to support us on this journey. In May this year, 40 WCC staff members from a wide variety of disciplines attended a couple of workshops that explained the high level principles of Service Design and User Research (specifically ethnography). A sub-set of that group (including service managers, researchers, business analysts, project managers and web developers) are being taken further down the service design road and are working on our 2 demonstrator projects to put these skills, tools and techniques into practice.

We are just entering our “discovery phase” for both projects, where we are focussing onĀ gettingĀ a high-level understanding of user needs, what the existing service landscape looks like and a sense of what ourĀ initial prototypes might explore. SomeĀ challenges we have had to think about so far include…


  • How easily can you pull together an internal team with the right skills to focus on the project?
  • How much time can they give to the project?
  • Can you be co-located?

We don’t have the luxury of being able to pull people off their day jobs to work solely on one project, so how can we work within those constraints? We don’t have offices to co-locate people, so how can we collaborate virtually?

User Research

  • Do you have people with user research skills?
  • Do you have the right kit to do this properly (e.g. camcorders)?
  • How would your internal finance processes cope with being able to incentivise people to take part in research?
  • How could you share this research across the council to maximise its potential use?

What we are doing

Following the workshops in May, the project teams have been busy recruiting for the ethnographic research phase. The research itself will be taking place for 3 weeks from the end of June into the middle of July. We are then re-grouping at the end of July to explore the research themes, analyse the work we have done so far and hold an “ideation seminar”.

It is early days for us, and we are writing a diary to keep track of what is and isn’t working in order to inform how we can embed this more widely across the council. I will be blogging as regularly as I can so we can share our experiences more widely. One thing we are very lucky toĀ have is 2 teams of people who are incredibly enthusiastic and keen to make the most of this experience.

If you would like to get in touch and find out more about our work, please feel free to get in touch with me at or viaĀ Twitter.

Assisted Digital Thoughts

Last Wednesday (20th March 2013) I hosted the 2nd LocalGov Digital G+ Hangout and the topic was assisted digital (my last post had a rough agenda). It was an interesting start, as I posed the question “does anyone have any good examples of where people are doing assisted digital really well?” and there followed an eerie silence (yes, I did check to make sure the volume was turned up!). However, we did move onto some very useful discussions.

What is already out there?
There are already a number of areas within councils providing some form of assisted digital support, such as community learning, library volunteers, Adult social care staff, Customer Services teams talking people through completing online forms, etc. As well as support from within the council, there are also groups out there that are working to support and improve the digital capability of communities. We need to get better at pulling all of this together to ensure there is capacity to provide the right level of support across all services where it is needed.

John Popham has been working on something called “Our Digital Planet” – an outdoor street gallery exhibition highlighting the impact of the internet. This initiative focusses on finding the touch-points in people’s lives. If you can get people interested in getting online by using the things they are most interested in and enjoy, they are more likely to want to use the internet.

Ben Carpenter told us about the work done by Age UK to encourage intergenerational volunteering with their MiCommunity project. “The aim of the projectĀ was to useĀ digital technology to bring together older people and younger people in the capital”.Ā The website provides a toolkitĀ to support people wanting to run similar initiatives in their own area.

What can we learn from what has been done?
Asking staff within organisations to support customers using digital channels is not always the best way. When a result of driving channel shift is loss of jobs, there is little motivation for staff to provide any kind of support to users.

Getting people to sign up to become “digital champions” in their community is easy; getting people to actually go out and support their community is not so easy. Oh, and using the phrase “digital champion” can put people off.

Once customers are able to complete transactions online, tell them about it.Ā Some councils are finding channel shift isn’t happening as quickly as they would like, but when you look at the reasons why, quite often it is because they are still heavily promoting the non-digital channels.

Central Government have pulled together a list of standard transaction types (booking an appointment, providing/requesting information, requesting a licence/authorisation, requesting benefits/grants/loans, making a payment (taxes and fines), ordering goods). Ideally we need to look at these to see if local government transactions fall under the same types. I suspect we will have more, and they are likely to be more complicated.

What next?
We need to start pooling all of this information together. Where there are pockets of good practice, we need to identify, share and re-use these ideas. The LocalGov DigitalĀ steering groupĀ is the perfect place to start doing this, and I think one of the reasons we exist.

We need to watch out for what is happening with GDS and the framework of contractors that is being looked into for providing assisted digital services. Will local government be able to benefit from this framework and how could we support it?

Finally, I’ve got some really good names to make contact with and see how we can take this further.

Thanks very much to Phil Rumens, Ben Carpenter, Jason Williams, John Popham and Tim Dumbleton for giving up an hour of your time on a Wednesday evening, it was a really useful discussion with lots of food for thought.