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Tendring Council’s visualisation of service improvements


The leadership of Tendring District Council has highlighted the importance of data visualisation as a core element of its digital transformation – and in how it was able to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Located on the Essex coast, Tendring has serious challenges as one of the most deprived areas in the UK and a high proportion of its 150,000 residents being over the age of 65.

“The transformation of the council was for both budgetary and for citizen connection reasons,” says Ian Davidson, the council’s CEO. “We needed to be able to better connect with our residents and our visitors.

“We have significant challenges of deprivation in Tendring, we have some of the worst mental health issues in the country in Clacton-on-Sea and the second highest suicide rate in the UK.”

It began its digital transformation in 2018 and took a significant step in October 2019 with the launch of the My Tendring portal.

“We created the My Tendring portal so that residents can contact us 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Dan Pobjoy, the council’s IT operations manager. He adds with a smile: “Those contacts are both good and bad, but there are lots of ways that residents can help themselves.”

The move has produced significant results. By October 2020 the council had saved 1,924 hours as a result of the self-service capabilities of the portal, and in turn had been able to reduce the number of buildings it uses, now focusing on delivering services from the town hall and its Pier Avenue buildings, both in Clacton-on-Sea. 

Forms and automation

Other benefits have come from the use of intelligent online forms and automation on a platform provided by the Granicus to respond to resident needs such as missed bin collections and car parking fine payments. The council states that the reporting for this type of service was typically £5 per transaction and is now five pence.

Pobjoy cites how the recent move to new garden waste wheelie bins for subscribing residents is a process that typically took 20 minutes per subscriber and is now three minutes per subscriber; and the majority of subscribers are using the self-service options on the portal.

But the council saw a further potential in using visualisation technology to increase efficiencies.

It undertook a data definition programme with its technology partner Intergence, the provider of the Stratiam data aggregation tool that provides the visualisation. The programme ensured that the data visualisation aligned with the key performance indicators of the local authority.

It used agile development methods to create a rough outline, wireframe and then final build, and now has a web browser based dashboard application that provides visual insights into the performance of council services.

For example, the waste collection and recycling tile uses images of green and black wheelie bins, along with waste collection bags and refuse collection trucks and the data for missed collection alongside the imagery.

Clearer than spreadsheet

The benefit of visualisation is that it is often clearer than reams of data in an Excel spreadsheet, and can be drilled into and filtered. The tool provides a variety of visualisations to the user, such as heat maps, bar graphs and trend lines.

In addition, APIs integrate into multiple sources of data across the organisation to create a single view.

At Tendring, the council also uses the data visualisation tool for analysing net promoter score (NPS) data of interactions and transactions on the My Tendring portal. Stratiam analyses the trends and comments made on the site and delivers a visualisation, which cuts the time spent on analysing NPS data and allows the council staff to instantly respond.

“Data visualisation has helped us to understand our processes, visualise a process, help higher authorities understand our processes and then see if there are any trends that we can improve,” Pobjoy says, adding that its capacity to help cut response times makes it a reputational tool.

“We can be more responsive, and we are much better at interacting with our residents,” Davidson says, adding that data visualisation of services allows Tendring to identify efficiencies and continue to be able to deliver services to its residents.

Leadership engagement

Davidson says that the council’s political leadership were really engaged with the need for the transformation and digitisation, which would benefit the authority during the pandemic.

“For some local authorities, spending on the back office and IT is hard to see as a benefit, as it is not immediately visible, but if you stand still, you are only going backwards really,” he says.

The portal and data visualisation both showed their value even further in the response to the pandemic.

“The pandemic meant we had to close our doors, but we were able to communicate with the residents,” Pobjoy says.

“Because of our data visualisation, we were able to engineer a local business grant system and paid out £56 million,” Davidson says of how district councils played a key role in protecting the UK economy during the pandemic.

Behaviour shift

With an ageing demographic within the community, the council had not expected to see large scale adoption of the portal, but, as with so much in society, the pandemic has created a significant shift in behaviour.

“The pandemic has accelerated the changes in working patterns by 10 or 20 years,” Davidson says.

The council’s leadership is now taking stock of its transformation and considering the next steps.

Davidson sums it up: “We are now going to do a review of what we have got in place, and what are the successes. So the pandemic is an ideal time to sit back and take stock and see where the hybrid ways of working and interacting with citizens are, and what we need to do next.”

Image from iStock, kanawatvector

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