Exploring the case for a mobile, digital entitlements and credentials ‘wallet’ for local residents
Context: We propose to investigate the case for creating a mobile digital wallet of entitlements for local residents and local community assets, using the latest digital identity and data provenance technologies. In this specific ‘discovery phase’ proposal we are seeking to investigate a single use case: issuing and using social care package entitlements; the same technology could be applied to a very wide range of local authority licensing and entitlements functions (e.g. issuing parking permits, market trading or skip licenses, licensing HMOs, or even in the growing field of social prescribing).
The problem: Recipients of social care services sometimes can feel that services are ‘done to them’ rather than delivered with their specific circumstances in mind. One cause of this is the division of ‘us vs. them’ generated by having to deal with local bureaucratic structures or processes. Service users can sometimes feel that they do not have agency when choosing between different service options, do not understand clearly what they are (and are not) entitled to, cannot often maximise the potential benefits of the services they receive, and cannot always draw from the strengths of the local communities in which they live.
At the same time, and in part precisely to address these types of problems, many local authorities are seeking to unlock local capacities and assets to help in the delivery of local services, create more resilient communities, and give service users more creative and personalised service options. This shift is positive, although seasoned frontline professionals can still struggle with giving up control over service choices to service users, and worries over safeguarding continue to prevent full use of all the services that communities potentially have to offer. Furthermore, the new kinds of freedom and flexibility required by frontline service professionals that would allow them to truly work in communities and help to empower their clients, remains a difficult problem to solve from within legacy systems and accountability structures.
These problems have been widely recognised and are explicitly called out in documents such as the Greater Manchester public service reform agenda, The King’s Fund’s work on the integration of health and social care, Public Health England , and the New Local Government Network, among many others. To quote from Public Health England, “Community-centred ways of working have often been poorly understood and located on the fringes of mainstream practice, which has largely been dominated by professionally-led solutions. There are a number of reasons why this situation needs to change.”
The most common route to solving this problem in the dynamic between service providers, community resources and service users, is to apply what have become commonly known as “asset-based” and/or “place-based” approaches to service delivery. These approaches encourage frontline professionals to work collaboratively in hyper-local geographies, empowering and helping residents to make use of local assets to help meet their needs. And as these approaches have become more widespread, the need to focus on a practical, right-sized technological infrastructure which supports them has become more pressing.
In fact, the specific need to explore the potential for new technologies to help catalyse these shifts in approach is specifically recognised by the NLGN: “As such, the role of technology needs to help a shift away from supporting just individual, bilateral interactions between the customer and service, towards fostering wider networks of user groups and residents to harness their collective power vis-à-vis the service.” and by Greater Manchester: “ENABLING BETTER PUBLIC SERVICES: The creation of innovative […] information management and technology to incentivise ways of working across GM, so that our ambitious aims can be realised.”
The councils involved in this proposal are not starting from scratch. Lambeth’s ‘cooperative council’ initiative was one of the earliest attempts to create an asset-based approach to the delivery of local services, and Wigan’s “The Deal” transformation is widely recognised to be one of the most advanced and fully realised working examples in the country. A great deal of service-user research went into both, and as such, there is a wealth of evidence on which this new project can draw, including providing the basis for personae that can be developed to aid an initial prototype for user testing. Further, we are proposing to test a specific digital entitlements and credentials model.
In brief, we propose deploying a prototype new mobile credentials wallet, to enable residents to securely and privately hold trustworthy digitised entitlements, and for service providers to hold digitized approvals, all administered by local authority frontline personnel. The wallets are based on a data protection technology tested within the U.S. government, with the potential to streamline person-to-person service delivery in local government areas, enhance the trust of residents in the system and in service providers, improve privacy and fraud protection through a decentralised digital infrastructure that is overlain directly on community service structures.
Our working hypothesis then, is as follows: that the creation of a mobile digital credentials and entitlements wallet eco-system for use by frontline service professionals (e.g. social workers), service users and community assets, will enhance the latest innovations in social care service delivery, and empower service-users, by…
- providing a means for service-users to take control of their entitlements issued as part of, for example, social care packages; and use them flexibly within communities, via a mobile app.
- introducing a new service professional / service user dynamic by giving social workers the ability to issue entitlements during face-to-face contacts.
- Enable service users to verify that they are dealing with genuine a social worker or other frontline service professionals and service providers.
- Enable social workers to verifiably prove they are interacting with a proper service user.
- allowing social workers to issue service provider credentials to identified community assets, while they are in the field.
- All interactions between the two parties are peer-to-peer between mobile devices, in the field. Therefore, all interactions are between the service professional and the service user without the need of intermediaries thereby improving on security and privacy characteristics.
- Each interaction between the service professional and the service user are tracked in their respective devices creating a strong audit trail.
The discovery project would then seek to test a number of things:
- The appetite among the different stakeholders (including the councils themselves) for this kind of digital wallet, as well as feedback on the features in the prototype.
- The ease with which such a system could be deployed and integrated into existing local authority IT infrastructure.
- The potential barriers to widespread use (both within individual councils and across the country).
- The opportunities around feature development to make the technology more attractive to potential users.
- The role such a wallet could play in an ‘invest to save’ model of social care delivery improvement, by creating more resilient communities; and the long-term efficiencies gained by having a more mobile workforce able to work in communities.
- The technology being tested is potentially very powerful, with a number of different use-cases emerging were it to be fully developed and deployed. These could include: the potential for myriad local authority issued licenses and permits to be issued into the same digital wallet; the potential to provide local residents with a portable set of identity credentials; and the potential to widen the first use case into all instances of ‘social prescribing’ and asset-based working. Some attention will also be given to these longer term use-cases for council staff and local residents during research.
The proposed programme of research would be as follows:
- The councils and the Valididy technology team (see below) will create a working rapid prototype of the digital entitlements and credentials wallet to give to 5 social workers in each of the councils. There is existing technology to base the project on, the councils will work together to ensure appropriate user testing to design how the technology will be used and prototyped for this digital entitlement use case.
- The social workers (with the help of the project team) would be briefed on how to use the wallet, and how to issue entitlements to both service users and community assets.
- The participating social workers will be encouraged to recruit a small number of service users to sign up to a trial period of using the wallet (with the aim of recruiting at least 20 service user participants across the councils.*)
- The trial would last for 4 weeks (+1 week deployment time), during which 8 ethnographic research visits would take place to observe the ways in which participating social workers and service users use the technology in the field.
- Ongoing feedback mechanism (either online or through update calls) 6 x post-trial, co-design workshops will be held with trial participants (2 workshops with each of the stakeholder groups)
- 6 x in-depth interviews with Local Authority IT staff (2 from each council) to determine the technical challenges to, and feasibility of, wider roll-out.
- Benefit analysis, definition of a business case and forecasting of long-term financial gains for the participating councils and wider case study for the public sector.*Incentives will be offered to participants to engage in the trial, provide honest feedback, and attend post-trial co-design workshops.
Current activity in this space:
The current landscape of digital identity and credential issuing services is mushrooming. We are aware that there are other providers working on similar kinds of digital wallet services, targeting different segments of the population, with different imagined use-cases and business models, behind them.
Other models that have grown up specifically around asset-based working include community asset platforms, and social prescribing platforms that include cloud-based data-analytics services. The model we are proposing to test is different in a number of ways:
- It does not seek to capture service user data in a cloud, but instead decentralises all entitlements and personal activity trails out to the mobile apps deployed in the community
- The platform would remain entirely under the control of the local authorities and the wallet holders
- Resident entitlements and service provider approvals are granted directly by frontline personnel, interacting person-to-person; the technology overlays onto existing council administration processes without changing the way councils work.
This question is difficult to answer. The crisis in funding around social care services is well documented of course, and the technology we propose to test could be viewed in two ways with regard to this:
- It should introduce efficiencies that allow frontline service professionals to work in more agile ways, freeing up time currently spent on administration duties. With rising demand on services, this should allow frontline professionals to more accurately target their time and efforts.
- It should be viewed as part of an ongoing effort to improve early intervention, prevention and enhancement of community resilience. These efforts (which are taking place in every council in the country) are often seen as ‘invest to save’ models because they are designed to reduce demand on higher threshold services further down the service intervention chain. Even without the introduction of specific technologies, for example, Wigan estimates that some £18m in savings were achieved in Adult Services in the first year alone, by shifting their service delivery model to one the proposed technology seeks to enhance.
Outwith the contexts and impacts of austerity and rising demand in social services, the technology we are proposing to test could also have longer term implications in terms of digitising council licensing and entitlements systems, by streamlining a number of different services and radically reducing the costs of dealing with less complex cases.
We would of course expect to produce a more concrete analysis during the project.
The team (including the councils themselves) is already made up of long time collaborators. This should help to ensure good communication between the different stakeholders. However, we also believe, given the centrality and importance of social care functions to all local authorities, and the current drive to transform and improve the delivery of early-intervention, prevention and care services in line with asset-based approaches, there is good reason for all to stay engaged. That said:
Lambeth will dedicate a Senior Digital Transformation Manager and Digital Change Manager to lead the project.
We will set up and maintain agile service transformation practices, working in the open as signed up to in the Local Government Digital Declaration.
We will devise short daily stand up scrums, two-week sprint cycles, with 6-week show and tells working on Trello, Slack, Google Docs and making the best use of live video calling and recording facilities to enable open collaborative working across councils in different geographical locations.
The project will need a specialist in Dev Ops to create work with the existing technology and, taking the user research, devise the right front end design for the platform for our use case. We will access the digital market place to procure the right specialist supplier for the work.