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Digital public service dashboards enter new generation

22/07/14

The panel lines up at this month’s hot topic event (left to right): Matt Harrington; Steve Halliday; Katie Sahota; John Platten; and Amanda Wilde.Hot-spot maps; data breakdowns by customer type; and self-service dashboard apps are among innovations in live development by central and local government pioneers, delegates heard at this week's Local Digital Campaign 'hot topic' event on digital service performance dashboards. The event was hosted at the Department for Communities and Local Government in London in collaboration with the Government Digital Service (GDS) and Socitm.

More than 100 prototype service dashboards are now available on the GOV.UK service portal, most relating to central government departments and agencies but with some local trials as well, said Matt Harrington, associate product manager at the Government Digital Service (GDS).

These break down as 37 activity dashboards, which simply show the most visited web pages on the portal, offering some insight into the most popular services; 85 overview dashboards, showing quarterly figures; and 19 more detailed dashboards, showing up to date or live data in easy-to-digest graphical formats for services ranging from Carer's Allowance applications to voter registration.

Data displayed on the detailed dashboards include live service usage; digital service take-up compared with non-digital channels; cost per transaction; user satisfaction, from those who respond to an online survey; online service completion rate; and service availability.

The main users of the dashboards will be service managers, Harrington said, who can see at a glance how things are working and how they might be improved, and will benefit from automate data collection replacing repetitive manual reporting.

Examples of potential uses that came up during the event included managers being able to plan the best time to take a server down for maintenance, by identifying the lowest usage periods; or for libraries to be able to optimise their opening hours.

Data can even be useful to see if it does not change much, Harrington said. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), for example, used a dashboard to spot that digital take-up of car licence application had remained static at about 56% over a whole year. This meant the agency realised they had to improve their service to keep take-up rising, and so led to them redesigning it, he said.

"There is not always a need to make clever combinations of datasets to offer valuable insights - it can just be about making people aware. So a simple graph of digital take-up can give us the business information that we need to make a change."

Currently, the dashboards are developed centrally by GDS from agreed online data-streams which bodies set up using APIs (application programming interfaces), Harrington said. Just a few days ago, however, a GDS team has started work on a self-service app which will allow organisations to build their own dashboards without any development capability - "to drag and drop, and publish".

This service will be available in a few months, he said, but other new services will appear sooner including new data components to the detailed dashboard such as time taken to complete a transaction; and sources of visitors to digital services for example whether they came from social media activity.

Steve Halliday, chief information officer at Solihull Council which helped GDS develop the local digital dashboards, said another innovation in the pipeline for local service data views was the ability to see data on local maps.

Solihull has used data from its missed bin collection reporting service to develop dashboards, but there is interest now in how wider information on how the bin collection service is performing as a whole (i.e. not just reporting of missed bins) can be embedded into the same system, Halliday said. "We can grab the opportunity to do some stuff that is not necessarily to do with the digital world, but to do with relevant services."

Solihull is developing data map prototypes based on digital mapping from supplier ESRI to view missed bin collection reporting through all channels by ward and down to much smaller areas including individual streets, he said.

Problem areas can be highlighted, and service managers can then drill down to smaller zones such as postcode areas, which might reveal the problem is being caused by missed collection in just two cul-de-sacs, he said. This could then start a conversation with the refuse collection contractor to find an explanation, which could be as simple as something relating to building or street architecture, Halliday said. "Maybe the bins are behind a low wall, so the collection team thinks they haven't been put out."

Publishing service data on maps will make it easier for both service managers and armchair auditors at home, he said.

The use of dashboards in building business cases for communication campaigns was highlighted by Amanda Wilde, customer strategy manager at East Riding of Yorkshire Council, which is piloting dashboards for council tax collection channels.

The ability to segment the data by type of customer, for example by age group, had allowed her team to identify the realistic potential for increased digital take-up by customer group and show it as a dotted line alongside the current take-up data, said Wilde. The difference between the lines shows the savings which are there to be had. "That can be quite powerful when showing to councillors and senior managers."

Analysis by customer age is also becoming a priority for Cambridgeshire County Council in pilot work tracking performance in issuing concessionary bus passes, the council's web strategy manager John Platten told delegates.

Once more detailed data is built up about customer age and mobility, analysis could benefit other public services such as the NHS by helping them target poor health or accident prevention messages on anything from right-fitting slippers to handles in baths, Platten said. "The NHS has said this could save millions."

Another interesting dashboard sub-plot highlighted by Patten was that the mere act of collating data and tracking it can sometimes lead to useful outcomes. For example, his team found that over the course of 014, the percentage of concessionary bus pass applications completed online, as a proportion of all applications, rose from 3% in January to 46% in June. However the actual number of online applications had not risen much, so the difference was actually due to a big fall in the number of telephone applications.

"What has happened? Maybe they were being coded wrongly before, or maybe we are now catching out more fraud by looking more closely at renewals."

Further evidence of the value of breaking up service data by customer type was offered by Kate Sahota, digital by default programme manager at Warwickshire County Council.

Her team has been tracking online library renewal service use by borrower type, and so have been able to gain deeper information by age group or disability. This in turn could lead to vital information about digital exclusion - what types of people find it hardest to use online services, and where they are located in the county, Sahota said.

"Will the digital take up rates by borrower type provide evidence of digital exclusion for some of our customers?" she said. "If we add location information, might we identify areas of digital exclusion in Warwickshire?"

It is important to think about questions such as these and any other questions you might have about your service when you start to design performance measures and dashboards, Sahota said. "Have you thought about all these things we want to know, to help service managers deliver their services more effectively?"

The issue of tracking comparative costs of online services compared with services accessed through traditional channels came up in a panel debate session.

"We do know that digital service design can change the cost of a transaction, so we need to make that data available", said Matt Harrington. "For example the way a digital claim form is laid out might mean a person has to complete an entire claim when they are ineligible from the start."

The problem with accurate tracking of cost per transaction is that "the dashboard does not work out, it just presents it - and everyone works it out differently", said Steve Halliday. Cost per transaction also depends on transaction volumes, and this shifts as channel use changes over time, Halliday said. "You need to get pragmatic - find a ballpark figure, and put it on the dashboard."

The key was to keep your methodology consistent, said Harrington: "That way, you can at least track improvement."
Pictured: The panel lines up at this month's hot topic event (left to right): Matt Harrington; Steve Halliday; Katie Sahota; John Platten; and Amanda Wilde.
GOV.UK Performance: www.gov.uk/performance
"Storify" summary event: https://storify.com/CommunitiesUK/dclg-local-digital-campaign-hot-topic-on-performan
Local Digital Campaign events: http://www.ukauthority.com/LocalDigital/EventsTimetable/tabid/236/Default.aspx

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