Exploring local government customer needs for the creation of a standardised open data set in order to give them access to common property-based queries via all channels including AI

Full Application: Not funded at this stage

At the moment, none of the partner authorities have sufficient skills or capacity to carry out effective user research. Therefore we are all unsure whether we are meeting user needs. This means we are making too many assumptions about what people want.

Lack of resource, or resource not being directed in the right direction, is a major cause of the problem but there is still a ‘we know best’ attitude in local government and a history of designing services around operational need rather than the user. This has led to many departments and councils working in silos on multiple systems which makes it very hard to unpick and redesign.

To move forward, we will be dependent on our suppliers to collaborate with us to help us draw the correct data from their systems to enable us to create common standards that we can share across all three partner councils and beyond as, if successful, we’d like to engage with other partners.

We have all made attempts to create user-centric information on our websites but all three councils have taken their own approach but we feel there is a common solution that we can share with other partners in local government and beyond by creating common data standards.

https://www.northdevon.gov.uk/my-neighbourhood/ (must enter postcode) or https://www.northdevon.gov.uk/mapping/ (more general)



We currently use various data streams to predict what our users need but we rarely actually ask them about their needs or involve them in service design and when we do we’re not sure we are using the right methods to get accurate customer feedback

So far, all three partners have made significant progress is providing digital access and yet telephone calls continue to increase so our assumption that making services available online will decrease telephone calls was incorrect and could in part be attributed to not adequately identifying user need/want or understanding how to effectively engage.  We’ve assumed there is a large digital audience out there, but we could be wrong and we’ve also assumed that young people aren’t interested in their local council because they don’t engage with us.

We currently use Google analytics, web hits, call stats, customer feedback, CRM stats, satisfaction surveys and social media stats to give us an idea of what people need and want and have used these to design our services, but we haven’t taken the critical step of fully involving our users to tease out purpose and design.

As we lack the resource and skills to carry out the user research, we would seek to engage a third party to act on behalf of all three partners to either carry out the research and involve us so we get trained ‘on the job’ or seek training for our staff to give them the confidence and skills they need to carry it out consistently with each engagement exercise. We want the solution to be sustainable to enable continuous improvement and provide a skills set and toolkit for neighbouring authorities to call on.

We believe that this problem is common across many councils, but particularly smaller district councils where resources are tight. A lot of resource is allocated to taking phone calls across all three partners and we would look to make a direct impact on this by providing more fit for purpose digital services. By working together on a common standard, the project could be replicated across other authorities who have the same issues.

An average call centre employee costs around £25k so even if all partners were only to reduce calls by 10%, this would see a significant saving for each council.

Partners in the project have attended recent GDS events where they have picked up the ideology behind the agile approach for development projects. We would blend existing project management methodology but use the agile approach once those products have been designed and pushed into the development phase.

The three councils are geographically quite close so distance is not a huge barrier so regular face to face meetings are entirely feasible but equally, virtual meetings can take place using tools such as Skype.

We would envisage setting up a shared digital workplace where we can collaborate and work on ideas together and allocate a project manager and appoint a project team to oversee the discovery stage. Project milestones will be reported through formal management team meetings and committees. We would seek sponsorship from all three Chief Executives.

We would welcome and happily accept any help and guidance from the Local Digital Collaboration Unit. As expressed above, we do envisage training in user research skills to be a major part of this discovery phase, either through being involved with a third party carrying it out or through training our staff in those skills directly.