Smarter Digital Services have been working with Folkestone & Hythe District Council to identify the customer demand broadly across all services, but specifically within Council Tax. The Folkestone & Hythe teams have been collecting data month-on-month since February and are building up some very useful data that will be able to be used beyond the scope of this project.
SDS have facilitated a workshop to better understand the process across the year that the Council Tax Team carry out to identify where the use of digital methods could assist in improving both time and cost efficiency. SDS have conducted industry research to identify possible solutions and the findings from where other authorities have implemented such a change to conventional methods.
In addition to this, SDS have also been user testing the following:
Council Tax notice and letter – testing the Council Tax Reminder Notice and Summons for Non-Payment of Council Tax letter to review how residents feel about their current format and layout.
The Council Tax area of the Folkestone & Hythe website – again, to obtain the feedback from our most important asset – our user.
As ever, the user testing provides a lot of very useful information that can be used by the Council to improve the way that we interact with our residents to reduce avoidable contact and encourage digital take up.
On the 13th February, we facilitated a workshop with Ashford customer services and housing options officers to agree and map out the required process that will meet both user needs and the needs of the new Homelessness Reduction Act legislation that comes into force in April this year.
We captured insights from the existing process before discussing the key changes in legislation and identifying the user needs of two Ashford personas - Alice and Ella-Louise.
We then mapped out the end-to-end process for Alice who had been given her section 21 notice and was due to be homeless in a few months. We then did the same for Ella-Louise who was a victim of domestic violence and homeless that night.
We looked at the whole process from the point of initial contact with the customer services team, through to the housing officers and eventually to Alice and Ella-Louise being in accommodation.
At the beginning of January, Dom delivered a series of five training workshops for customer services staff in Swale, outlining the need to shift the way we provide services and interact with our customers, encouraging self-service wherever possible.
At the end of January Catherine and Jane delivered a lively morning workshop to 25 Gravesham Managers and Service Team Leaders, exploring behaviour change techniques such as MINDSPACE and EAST, along with the results of the eye tracking user testing on Gravesham letters, to help teams to think about how to improve their correspondence to encourage self-service and reduce avoidable contact.
We were delighted to receive such positive feedback again - ‘I was really impressed with the workshop delivery and content. It was full of very useful examples that all of the attendees could relate to’.
To start the year off, we invited our partners to a user testing workshop in Ashford where we explained and had a go at doing a user test, covering everything from recruiting people to take part, designing the scenarios to test, carrying out the interview and analysing the findings.
Feedback from the workshop was very positive - ‘These workshops are PRACTICAL – which is really useful'.
'Some of the best training I’ve been on’.
We hope that this will mean lots of our partners will feel confident to carry out user testing this year and we are always on hand to help out.
If any of our partners missed this workshop but would be interested in learning more about user testing please let us know.
At the end of November we conducted 10 user tests for Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council, exploring resident’s views of their website and the My Account function.
Scenarios were created to test the appetite for users choosing to create a My Account and once logged into My Account, what their thoughts were about what they found and whether their expectations had been met.
Additional questions covered what else they thought they’d like to use My Account for and how they felt about the security of the information held within My Account. We are currently analysing the feedback and will be reporting our recommendations to Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council in the New Year.
A smarter approach to digital transformation
Catherine Bright, Smarter Digital Services (SDS) manager, explains how a partnership of 12 councils across Kent and Surrey are jointly funding a responsive, independent, not-for-profit consultancy to help them to achieve their digital ambitions.
We all know the digital landscape has shifted considerably over the last few years. Business as usual is no longer an option; our customers now expect and want to access services digitally, and a sustainable future for local government depends on changing the way we do things. In 2013 local authority chief executives across Kent set up SDS, a team that could support all of them by providing external challenge, expert advice and valuable resources to improve and increase digital services, reduce costs and enhance customer experience.
Read the full article here: http://www.publicsectorexecutive.com/Public-Sector-News/a-smarter-approach-to-digital-transformation
Cambridge contacted SDS to use the team’s expertise to conduct a series of user tests on a selection of their online citizen self-service web forms.
Cambridge wanted to explore the customer experience of transacting with the council via the self-service web forms to gain feedback as to how users feel when carrying out a specific task or transaction.
The user testing captured and highlighted:
Additionally, CCC were interested in reviewing the merits of using a Citizen Portal Account.
SDS carried out interviews both within and outside of the partnership as well as conducted considerable research to get a broad scope of knowledge on the advantages and disadvantages of the use of a Citizen Portal Account.
The positive and the negative experiences of introducing a Citizen Portal Account at various Local Authorities around the country were presented back to CCC via a report.
If any of our partners are interested in this research, please let us know and we can provide information from the report.
In July we held the first of our Really Useful Workshops at Swale House which was attended by collegues from several of our partners. This first session - User Research at the Discovery Phase - demonstrated how important it is to speak to your users/customers at the beginning of the project, so that the service you are redesigning or creating meets customers' needs and expectations.
Colleagues were given helpful tools, templates and tips and then during a practical session, they interviewed each other, fed back their research to the rest of their 'table team' and prioritised user needs before setting out the common user journeys they had discovered. The session was well received by participants and we are looking forward to the next workshop which will cover process mapping, end to end service design and lean methodologies.
We attended the LGA Annual Conference in Birmingham and gave a presentation in the Innovation Zone about the services we offer to local authorities.
With the conference theme of 'disruption', we were able to demonstrate how projects we have undertaken across the partnership have been able to challenge the norm, opening up opportunities to explore new ways of working discovered through thought provoking research.
We showcased several new innovative tools that have been implemented across various partners in Kent, including the new online homelessness triage tool and the housing register pre-assessment form.
We have received interest in the work being done across Kent by local authorities in other counties so we may be able to widen our reach and learn more from their ways of working which we can then share with our partners.
We are very pleased to announce the launch of the Tandridge District Council website on 3rd July after only 3 months in the making!
In March, we were commissioned by Tandridge to assist in scoping out their new website redesign.
The aim was to reduce the 1,000 content pages down to under 500 whilst giving the website a modern visual style that meets with today's responsive web standards.
We started by facilitating a workshop with staff where to review the navigation structure which went on to inform the framework of the website. Additional user research with members of the public cemented the framework.
SDS also undertook best practice research on design and web trends for 2017 along with analysis of other local authority websites. This research was fed back to the developers, Purple Creative Studio who took it through to their design team and after a few iterations, we were user testing the prototype with members of the public. Meanwhile Tandridge DC staff were undertaking their own content review, streamlining the user flow and cutting back on unnecessary content.
All in all, the whole team worked extremely well together, working in an agile manner pushing through iterations at a breakneck speed to produce an excellent result for Tandridge District Council which has met customers expectations from day one of it's launch.
The SDS Team were invited to attend the Spring Socitm Conference in London on 27th April. The conference involved a variety of guest speakers from across the ICT sector, local public services and private sector partners.
The conference offered a great platform for us to see and catch up with our existing partners (always nice to see some friendly faces!) as well as offering us the opportunity to meet and chat with other representatives, not only from the public sector, to forge new relationships.
The conference focused on building the business case for service redesign, developing an understanding of the policies and working practices that underpin successful transformation. With a successful transformation program in place, this would then accelerate better outcomes and savings for local public services.
This year’s Spring Conference focused on a Simplify, Standardise and Share theme.
Key issues discussed:
There were some superb speakers on the day, one of which was William Benson, Tunbridge Wells Chief Executive, who presented a selection of SDS projects that attracted a great reception from the audience and prompted conversations with various representatives regarding our work, methods and approaches.
Read page 11 of the Socitm 'In our View' magazine - "Nudging Goes Local" - where William Benson describes how nudging techniques have created efficiency savings across services in the Tunbridge Wells borough.
The SDS team have been supporting Tandridge District Council with their website redesign. We started work on the project in March and the new website is due to go live in the summer so it is a fast paced and exciting project. Jane has carried out an appraisal of the existing site and has been exploring best practice in website design, reviewing design principles and investigating what is trending this year. She has combined this with feedback from user research into what people like when accessing council sites. This has enabled Tandridge to create a clear design brief for the web developers who they have just appointed.
Jane's next task was to run an online card sorting exercise to test this framework with Tandridge residents, the results of which have been fed back into the framework plan and are now helping to form the basis of the menu structure and hierarchy of pages ready for the design stage.
The next stage will be usability testing once the prototype site has been built.
Following on from this project, we are hoping to be working with Maidstone Borough Council on their new website, where we should be able to share all the knowledge and feedback gained from the Tandridge redesign.
If you would like to know more about this project please let us know and look out for the new website in the summer.
Those suffering with homelessness and with the threat of becoming homeless can now take advantage of a new online homelessness triage tool facilitated by the SDS in partnership with local authorities in Kent.
This tool aims to advise users of the next steps they can take to manage their homelessness issues by minimising users expectations that their local council will assist them and where necessary signposting them to organisations and local services who will be able to offer support. The tool went 'live' during the last week of March with 6 councils in Kent and will be rolled out to the rest of Kent in due course. The link to the tool is currently offered from the individual council websites.
Work has been progressing on the online taxi driver knowledge test with over 450 questions in the question bank. Questions cover policy & law, safeguarding, numeracy, highway code and road signs/markings as well as each authorities' local questions covering routes, places and streets.
SDS are also working with the partnership on their internal processes, aiming to make them more efficient whilst also improving the online offer for taxi drivers. This should reduce the need for taxi drivers and operators to contact the council, thereby freeing up officer time.
Shepway District Council have now launched their online event management system, with the aim of enhancing user experience, reduce processing times, reduce the number of enquiries and reduce the amount of administration.
The SDS team and Shepway DC worked together with event applicants and members of the safety advice group - police, fire, health and safety etc to identify the requirements of a new online system. Following this Shepway commissioned EventApp who were able to add another feature to their tool to enable all stakeholders to communicate with one another throughout the application process at any time.
The new Event App system was presented at the Shepway Annual Event Organisers Meeting and it was great to see the enthusiasm from the event organisers at making the process of applying for an event much easier and more transparent. The Safety advisory group Members have also been trained in the tool and are looking forward to using it. Shepway DC and the SDS team will be monitoring the progress of the Event App system.
The SDS Team are currently working on a very exciting project with Sevenoaks District Council to assess their current Garden Waste Collection process and look to improve the existing process.
The SDS Team have so far engaged with key service representatives and carried out a workshop in order to define and map out the current process for the booking and payment of a Garden Waste Collection by customers of Sevenoaks District Council.
We are in the process of identifying best practice by approaching Local Authorities both within the partnership and outside in order to identify the most successful approach to implement. This is proving very rewarding and it is encouraging that Local Authorities make the time to pass on experiences. Read the full case study here.
The SDS Team have carried out user testing for six new online revenue and benefits forms for Shepway District Council. User testing was undertaken in order to assess the functionality and usability of the six new forms ahead of them going live at the end of October.
The new online forms that SDS carried out user testing for were as follows:
Feedback from the test users was positive. User testers were able to focus on areas that could be improved and it was particularly interesting to have an insight into different people’s opinions on what would make an online form experience a positive one for them.
These six forms have since gone live and the SDS Team have received positive initial feedback from Shepway District Council.
SDS are looking forward to being involved in user testing for Shepway’s Phase 2 go-live which will see further new online forms user tested.
Jane and Dominic attended the GovDelivery Public Sector Communications Conference in September.
As the title suggests, this event was all about how we communicate with our customers, how we manage the expectation of those customers and how we engage with them.
Leading speakers guided us through presentations about the impact of changes within their service areas, demonstrating how they have achieved cost savings through delivering powerful behavioural change initiatives.
The message of the day was that more customers want public services to communicate with them in the same way that they connect with other organisations, companies and individuals. In today’s digital world, people are expecting information to be delivered in more personalised ways using text messaging, emails and interacting using social media.
Findings from the day were shared with all our partners in the Autumn SDS newsletter.
SDS have been working with EK Human Resources to review and make recommendations for a new intranet. The HR team receive a high volume of calls from staff, however the information they are enquiring about can be found on the HR intranet. The HR team were aware that they needed to look at their intranet design and functionality in order to reduce these calls and free up officer time.
SDS conducted 3 days of user testing at Dover, Canterbury and Thanet and using this information, SDS were able to recommend a more streamlined framework from which to build a new intranet. We also reviewed contact data for all the EKS partners to monitor contact levels in order to identify what the most popular subjects were.
The revealing results of user testing on the pre-assessment form and the existing application form have been presented to Kent Homechoice for their review.
The pre-assessment form was well received by user testers and with a few tweaks to the questions, this should provide a valuable tool to prospective registrants by checking their eligibility for housing before they go ahead and complete the more lengthy housing application form.
Questions on the housing application form are being streamlined to make them easier to complete and regular review meetings will keep this project on track with the ultimate aim of creating a user-friendly form using all the principles of good form design.
The SDS team stepped over the border to one of our neighbouring councils in Surrey! Tandridge District Council were interested in projects the SDS team have undertaken in Kent and would like to share best practice. They have commissioned the SDS team to undertake some Google Analytics work. Firstly, we will be spending time with various service area representatives on a Discovery Day. We'll be analysing their pages and seeing what Google Analytics reveals about their data!
Ongoing, we will work with these results to set up some working dashboards to make the analysis easier on an ongoing basis and set some goal objectives for the future, then a training day to give everyone a chance to put their new knowledge into action. Any lessons and experience gained from the Tandridge work will be shared with the group. The work with Tandridge (and another piece of work with Eastbourne) is helping us to understand if there is a market for the services provided by the team and giving us an option to diversify revenue in the future to reduce overall costs for contributing partners. Speak to the SDS team if you would like to do a similar Discovery Day with a training session.
Over five days of eye tracking user testing at Tunbridge Wells, Ashford and Maidstone, the SDS Project team conducted over 300 tests submitted by our partner councils. Volunteers read letters and looked over webpages while the team tracked their eye movements. The results are currently being analysed and results will be fed back to partners with recommendations for improvements. Read the full case study here.
We have now launched our new, Smarter Digital Services-branded, website! Please visit www.smarterdigital.info to find out about the things we can do and read all of our case studies.
On 17th February we travelled down to Dover to deliver Google Analytics training to Dover, Canterbury, Sevenoaks and EK Services staff. The training was well received: "As someone who is new to Google Analytics, the training provided a valuable opportunity to hear what other organisations are doing, as well as how to use the tools to better understand how our website is performing and to make further improvements", "I thought the training was presented very well and really informative"...
If you would like to speak to us about becoming an SDS partner, please contact us.
We are pleased to announce that SDS has been awarded £40,000 funding from the Local Government Association to use towards:
1. The development of a new pre-application assessment form and the improvement of the existing online application form for the Kent Homechoice Housing Register.
2. The development of an online triage tool for Homelessness, in partnership with Gravesham Borough Council.
This is a great success for all SDS partners and we look forward to working with all our partners to make the most of this opportunity.
Catherine's had her baby! Little Benjamin William Bright was born on Tuesday 19th January 2016, weighing 8 lbs 6 oz. Both Catherine and Benjamin are doing great.
For the rest of the team, the year also started well. Our Homelessness Project with Gravesham kicked off with a workshop to explore what an online triage system could do, and whether the Council would still be meeting its duty to help if the service was provided through a different channel.
We held a workshop in Gravesham on Wednesday 20th January, attended by Housing Needs officers as well as Customer Services staff. The aim of this session was to understand which parts of the process of assessing, advising and, in some cases, housing people who are homeless or threatened with homelessness could be transferred online. We gained a good understanding of the different kinds of work involved from the officers who deal directly with these cases, and agreed on the scenarios where an online tool would be of most use to customers.
The Kent Homechoice working group have now concluded their meetings to agree the questions that will form the pre-assessment and online application form for Kent Homechoice. The next step is for us to carry out some user testing on these questions, to ensure that they are straightforward and easy for customers to understand. For maximum impact, we will be recording the user testing sessions and showing the videos back to the working group so that everyone involved in the project can see what the user experience is like.
A number of you have told us that you are interested in a Single Citizen Account for your residents, which would enable them to login once, then access all of the services the council provides. We are therefore starting some work on this which will hopefully be useful to many of our partners. We will update you as this project progresses, and you can also keep an eye on Twitter, our website and upcoming newsletters for more details.
If you would like to discuss becoming a partner of SDS and become involved in this project and it's outcome, please contact us for more information.
We recently concluded our Events project by presenting the findings and recommendations arising from our work back to the Shepway team. Based on our sessions with event organisers, Safety Advisory Group (SAG) members and officers, we pulled together a set of requirements for an online Events system and investigated whether these could be met by existing solutions. We found that EventApp, a tool which is already used by a number of London councils as well as Tunbridge Wells, is likely to be a good match for Shepway as well.
Earlier this year, we worked with Ashford on improving the service received by customers calling the council and reducing avoidable interactions with customer service advisors. By analysing call centre data, we found that 45% of calls were transferred from the IVR to an advisor, whilst only 21% were resolved directly through the IVR. An analysis of transcripts for the IVR system also highlighted how complex and lengthy customer journeys through it could be. Based on these findings, we designed a new, simpler and easier to use IVR system. Following on from this work Ashford have given notice to the current IVR provider and will be delivering IVR in house. In the New Year we will be carrying out some user testing on the new system so that any improvements needed can be made before it goes live.
We started the month with our 'creating better websites for everyone event'. It was great to see lots of you there. Hopefully you found the day useful, if you were not able to make it there's more information below.
Around 30 people from local authorities in Kent, as well as colleagues from London boroughs and Kent Police, attended the event in Stone on 1st Dec. Stephen Elsden, Chief Executive from Compaid, started the day emphasising why improving accessibility is important for everyone and this was followed by a demonstration from Robin Christopherson, Head of Digital Inclusion at Ability Net on how technology has changed his life and highlighted good and bad practice in website accessibility. After a networking break Kane Simms, Digital Team Manager at Tunbridge Wells Borough Council demonstrated some top tips and tools for improving website accessibility and during the afternoon attendees put what they had learnt in the morning into practice. The presentations from the speakers are all available here: http://digitaltogether.net/creating-better-websites-for-everyone/. With Kent Connects we are keen to build on the enthusiasm from the day and hope to hold some more events around digital inclusion next year. If you have any suggestions for events or training sessions or if you would like further support to make your websites more accessible please do let us know.
We are working with both MKIP and Canterbury on Planning projects to reduce the amount of avoidable contact received by their respective support teams and improve customer experience.
MKIP Planning has been undergoing some significant changes recently, so this is a good time for us to have a look at improving Planning support processes and encouraging positive customer behaviours. We are particularly focusing on making it as easy as possible for customers to transition away from cheques and towards other methods of payments, and on reducing the number of invalid applications which are submitted by independent customers and agents alike. So far we have been delving deep into data from various sources in order to understand these issues better; this will allow us to target any changes at the areas which will have the biggest impact.
Whilst Canterbury is also keen to reduce the number of customers paying by cheque, which creates extra administrative work for the Planning team, the main focus of this project is on improving Canterbury City Council's website's Planning pages. The team is keen to redesign these according to Mindspace principles, thereby making it easier for customers to self-serve online and reducing avoidable contact to the contact centre, admin and Planning teams. As part of an initial data gathering phase, we have been to Canterbury in the past week to shadow one of Canterbury's Planning Customer Service advisors in the contact centre. This has given us an interesting insight into the reasons why customers call, and has already highlighted some priorities for change.