Exploring cross-local government User Research: can one council learn and improve the same statutory service from another council UR insights?

Full Application: Funded

Local authorities experience common problems – dealing with increasing demand, reduced budget and as a result less staff. They are also experiencing a vast set of common goals and needs – improve user journeys, simplify contact, reduce inefficiency, make it easier for users to access care, find information, apply and pay, inform us of changes. There are many local authorities separately dealing with the same statutory services whilst having stretched resources – we are all well aware of some of the common problem areas – applying for housing, financial assessment for care, licensing and enforcement, social care provision, monitoring and safeguarding for example.

What do you think is causing the problem?

  • Busy overstretched organisations often mean to share insights but it gets lost or repeated even in the same organisation –staff leave, programmes end, so we continually repeat research on the same statutory services.
  • User Research in local government is relatively new and there is not a well established cross- organisation community
  • Councils can’t easily share their user research activities and findings. The user research library needs further work to allow councils to easily access it and add their insights before it can be promoted more widely.
  • Benchmarking  is hard to find and there is less collation of data happening across the sector e.g. CIPFA council contact benchmarking has stopped.
  • The mechanics of collaboration – different councils have access to or are restricted from certain tools
  • The time, resource and budget constraints on the entire sector


Why are we all trying to solve these problems separately? Why is collaboration hard? Why can’t one council use the research of another council’s more easily?

Can we create a shared repository of user needs and user research that any council could use? What would that look like?

What are the dependencies and stakeholders related to the problem e.g suppliers, central government?

In terms of the problem of not being able to share research – some of the dependencies/stakeholders are:

  • Governance structures – getting collaborative working approved, fear of risk of collaborative working slowing down a piece of work or adding no value to the organisation
  • Local legislation
  • User needs in each location – rural/urban parish/unitary
  • tools and technology available – information security decisions on collaborative tools vary across councils
  • methods used to create digital products and services (eg GDS service manual vs other approaches)
  • availability of skilled people in each organisation – need staff with enough experience to be confident to collaborate
  • Culture of different organisations – open /closed siloed/networked
  • Pressures of central government legal requirements – Adult social care and Childrens SEND requirements cause teams to separately purchase systems to quickly meet legal demands

Suppliers are not a dependency on the problem of creating collaborative research that anyone can use, but they may be a dependency on creating the required outcome for users from the research.

With supportive narrative, please link to any relevant outputs from your previous discovery phase, either with an accessible url or page reference in an attached pdf.

Our plan has a slightly different form of previous discovery phase. The creation of the local digital collaboration unit and the local digital declaration is in itself the result of all our individual discoveries and conversations about why we are all repeating the same research. Whilst all councils will have undertaken previous pieces of analysis and research, our plan is to be able to do a collaborative piece of discovery to create work that could just be picked up and used by others.


Our plan

One area in which all councils are experiencing significant increased demand and reduced budget, in a statutory area that costs a lot of money to deliver, is Adult Social Care.

We will do joint research in an adult social care area to understand how people currently access adult social care services, their interactions with our social care teams and their current experiences of this. We’ll do this with the aim of identifying pain points which could be areas of future focus.



The Local Digital Declaration calls for collaboration between signatories to design services that best meet the needs of citizens and deliver better value for money. It also puts user needs at the core of designing services and products.

As signatories to the declaration, the London Borough of Croydon and Hackney Council decided to start a collaboration aiming to:

  • Establish collaboration within user research teams in different local authorities, to develop new skills and techniques and share knowledge
  • Build on the great work that Hackney has done to develop the user research library to understand whether other councils could benefit from user research done by other local authorities
  • Support previous work Essex County Council did with Futuregov to iterate their service pattern library
  • Investigate future collaboration and research opportunities, aiming at developing a user research group network


We want to research the same problem at each council, share and collaborate on the results, identify problems to sharing research, ideally overcome them, and then share the results – what the achievements and barriers are. We want to be able to share the results with a council that has not been involved and see if they can use them.

We want to understand the end-to-end journey and pain points for users. We think research could take around 3 months for each council to complete.

Each council will conduct exactly the same piece of core research, developing shared methodology (such as discussion guides) as a group. Whilst each council won’t necessarily start and complete their research activity at the same time, they will commit time at the start of the project to develop this shared methodology.

Each council would then report back our findings in the same way and get involved within a retrospective of their research and of the project as a whole.

We will understand the current experience of the people who apply for adult social care support.

The aim of each council is to do research with a broad range of users of the service, as well as the people who provide the service (not only the online bit, the service as a whole).

We will do this through:

  • examining any existing data – such as demographic information
  • reviewing any previous user research
  • interviews and visits to explore relevant aspects of their lives and work
  • observing people to see how they do things now

We will:

  • Use the participants resources and expertise, supporting ASC to measure how a service currently works
  • potentially develop ideas for possible changes that could improve things for service users and staff
  • pull together some useful data across each council to help compare what works well and what doesn’t work well in ASC

The cost of not sharing user research information effectively across local government is exponentially large. Take for example the local offer – a statutory requirement to provide SEND information and advice to local families. Our research into why parents were dissatisfied with the usability local offer website and the subsequent content redesign and updates cost £17k. If all the 343 local authorities in England also did the same research it would cost over £5million. Moving council tax change of address from paper to online forms took a year of work in Brighton & Hove, we all need to modernise food inspections and improve mobile working for social workers, we all repeat the same research over and over again.

If we look specifically at what we know so far about the proposed research area and the costs involved – applying for care- here is what we know already in Croydon:

Applying for care – Pain points

  • Can’t find application on website
  • Not sure what care options there are available from the council
  • Not sure what care options might be right for me
  • Found relevant care option, but it’s unclear how to apply (e.g. occupational therapy)
  • Application form is confusing and hard to use
  • Financial assessment process is confusing and intimidating
  • Financial assessment leaves user at risk of accumulating hefty charges

Estimate of around 2 weeks for each pain point – planning discovery, recruiting participants, Conducting research, analysing and writing up –approximately 3 months work

It would need 2 User researchers full-time and at least 2 members of service staff per pain point, part time. So that is the equivalent of 3 full time staff for 3 months – or .75FTE – approx 30k

Plus the cost of being able to incentivise participation – which is a crucial area, and often impossible to get funding for, and can make or break the success of a project. As started, we need a broad range of participants to be able to really ensure that all the different users in different councils are included in the results.

 5 participants per pain point – 35 people.

If offered £30 gift card each-  £1050.

If recruited via specialist agency – £80 each – approx £5600

So this work would cost a total of around £32-35k per organisation in user research. With each organisation having a limited resource of researchers and analysts , who cannot work on something else at the same time. These are issues that every council has. If we can explore how to develop and present findings in such a way that any council could pick them up and use them, we could save millions of pounds of public sector money.

We have already begun preparation and discovery, including exploring collaboration options.


We will:

    • Create a Slack channel on the LocalGovDigital space for the project for day to day conversations
    • Create a Trello to show activities we’re working on as part of the project
    • Run video meetings and face-to-face meetings on certain occasions where we work on large chunks of work together
    • Commit to a weekly check-ins to see how every team is doing / if there is any problem
    • Use existing channels within each prospective council to promote wider support and communication
    • Working in an agile way using backlogs, reviews, retros
    • Hold process mapping workshops
    • Find commonalities and differences in processes, points of inefficiency and common or separate unmet needs.
    • Create opportunity to pair-up to do research sessions together developing new skills
    • Commit to collaboration in creating guidelines and research objectives to create a shared understanding from the very beginning.
    • Follow the guidelines and governance that er c-create to ensure we have comparable results
  • We would welcome all support and guidance from the collaboration unit, as our work aims to support and strengthen their aims and help create a great example of collaborative working to use as an exemplar
  • This may include access to the digital marketplace on agencies to procure participants, or any other support in this area
  • We would also love support and would welcome input on any preferences the collaboration unit would have on how we share the work we have done – at workshops, conferences, via webinars, through newsletters
  • We would particularly welcome support to promote the user research library as the place where colleagues in local government add their research which will have been iterated and improved based on this research
  • We would love to be able to reach as many adult social care professionals as possible with our results
  • We would love to create a handbook of guidance on how to successfully achieve collaborative working
  • We would love to facilitate conversations with the right people to unblock areas that we discover are significant blockers for collaborative working and sharing findings.
  • We would love to be able to highlight some of the issues/blockers we will have overcome to make this happen with relevant discipline areas such as Information Management / Security and the blocking of different collaborative sites at different councils