By Phil Swan, iNetwork Director. 

A new generation of local public service websites are quietly being born which are increasingly striking and often, dare I say, beautiful. This new generation of sites aims to draw people in, find information, self serve and transact through compelling design, focus and integration. Given the pressure on local government finances it is telling that eGovernment has come of age driven by necessity and not grant funding.

Lancashire County’s website is a case in point. Clearly it is highly arresting, featuring as it does a hard hitting message about the perils of speeding. Interestingly it also ties in with the Government Digital Service’s research, namely that many people simply want a good search function and not a lot of clutter. This message came up time and again during the event with several councils using Google’s capabilities.

Striking but different is Bolton’s website (www.bolton.gov.uk) which John Morrissy and John Ryan talked through at iNetwork’s recent event “Intelligence led service design: the case for digital self service”.

They explained “online was once viewed as being an additional channel with additional overheads. That view is now
changing with online becoming the main channel and other channels possibly being seen as additional”. Bolton’s website literally draws you in and invites you to explore the services available through judicious and appealing use of images, icons, colours and content.

The business case for channel shift is compelling as long as the integration is achievable – un-integrated online services are more costly to process than telephone contacts which is why councils such as Chorley have focussed on their telephone service. This continues to drive debate on the value of off the shelf CRM systems – but that’s a bigger subject that I don’t want to get into here.

There were a number of items of distilled wisdom shared at the event which I’ve summarised below. I appreciate this lacks the richness of the dialogue at the event but will I hope provide some pointers and ideas for colleagues. The presentations are available online for iNetwork members on the Knowledge Hub here: https://knowledgehub.local.gov.uk/group/inetworkformerlynwegg/activity

Distilled wisdom

1)    Small shifts in channel use can reduce costs considerably. Integration or at least reducing rekeying data drives savings – a great example was mobile device task lists for street scene workers.

2)    Web channel strategies should be based on good community intelligence – how and why people contact services. There is a wealth of evidence available from open data and internal systems.

3)    Website content should be streamlined on an 80:20 basis, enabling self-service for the majority of contacts which are relatively simple.

4)    Some councils are considering the potential for differential charging for people who interact with the council in different ways.

5)    There is an increasing trend towards personalisation, by postcode and to a limited extent, by account.

6)    The biggest challenge is still back office integration with line of business applications.

7)    Changing the behaviour of citizens / people is hard so design has to be simple and easier than other means.

8)    A number of services resist moving online or into contact centres, however there are some great examples of where customer satisfaction hugely improved once they have been. An example relating to planning was a case in point. The current financial pressures can be seen as an opportunity to transform services that have resisted change. Back offices have had to adjust and this isn’t easy.

9)    There are some great tools available now to support self-service, dynamic and transactional – Asidua, LookingLocal, Gandlake, NDL, VisionWare.

10) Social media is being used to engage and inform people with alerts relating to gritting, weather, school closures and bin collections. Social media tools are also being used to develop social capital through websites such as the excellent www.demenshare.com.

11) Better use of open data has real potential, particularly where it can inform and support the efforts of the 3rd sector. http://www.infotrafford.org.uk/ brilliantly demonstrates the art of the possible.

12) One stop shops are using the same web channel as citizens – no point duplicating and this approach ensures that the website is well tested.

13) NHS has developed a range of online “decision aids” (http://www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk/decisionaids) which help people understand their options given a range of conditions. I haven’t seen any councils social care services offering this – yet.

Amanda Derrick from the Government Digital Service kindly gave an update on www.gov.uk and the work of the ID Assurance Programme (http://digital.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/category/id-assurance/) which to my mind is a potential game changer for local public services.

ID assurance is not a new concept but the technology has matured, people are getting used to the concept and if it underpins Universal Credit then local public services and individuals can benefit from using the same model the DWP is deploying. She invited any local public services that already have a specific and well defined ID assurance requirement to get in touch with her as the GDS is looking for alpha pilots. The general sense was that citizen accounts are being developed and tested but for most this is still relatively early stage.

If you want to know what ID assurance is a good summary is here: http://digital.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/2012/10/04/less-about-identity-more-about-trust/#more-5536.

Keep an eye on our weekly In the Know newsletter and the https://i-network.org.uk/ for upcoming events and support. If you’ve any thoughts on this blog please comment below – I’m sure I’ve missed some excellent examples so let’s shout about some of these successes and recognise them for what they are.

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