Happy New Year from Digital First

It’s a whole year since we moved into our new home in Jubilee Library. Reaching that milestone’s brought home how much we’ve achieved in that time.

In fact this was most startling when we had our team Christmas dinner in December. The year before, there were just four of us who went out. This year there were 27!

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Team Christmas lunch

Such rapid growth has given us the chance to build a dynamic, multi-disciplined team who work closely with local agencies and contractors. Indeed working with, and investing in, the local digital community was one of the cornerstones in our original plan to bring a digital transformation programme to life.

By working with the digital community, the council benefits from the expertise available in the city and the council invests back into the city’s digital sector. We’ve worked with 12 different local agencies and contractors so far, making some giant leaps in the last year.

Most notably we’ve:

  • introduced a low-code development platform (Mendix) and now have a team of junior digital developers who are learning it on the job. We’re working with Mendix to build a Mendix community in city and we’re creating a Centre of Excellence in the council
  • built a number of online apps that are on our new-look website – this includes creating a solution for mobile working, with the pest control team, which can be used as a template for other services
  • put live the new more-streamlined website,  which allows us, in its beta stage, to ask for feedback from users to help us improve pages, while we are building it
  • worked with our rubbish and recycling team to co-design a mobile solution for allocating jobs to trucks out on the road, which can also report back from the truck to the office
  • built an online dashboard to help monitor our adult social care providers in one central place and are working on a new register
  • supported our Customer Service Centres in establishing self service facilities for customers to upload information online
  • built an online tool to help customers work out if they need to apply for Universal Credit during its phased introduction

The Digital First team have become integral to the services that they are supporting. They have been advising on procuring the right systems and helped services understand that digital services need to be user focused.

There is a lot more to come in 2018 – we’ll get faster and better at delivering beta apps and reap the rewards of good discovery work from this year. Customers will also see some significant improvements through our new- look website and staff will benefit from more efficient online services.

It’s going to be a busy year!

Pest control ready for user testing

Last Thursday the Verify team at the Government Digital Service (GDS) held a user research training workshop in London. I took on Storm Doris and the usual train mayhem to get there, and I am so pleased I did. The skills and tools I learnt will be invaluable for the work we’re doing at Digital First.

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Prioritising questions at the Verify user research workshop.

Already this Wednesday, we’ll get to try out some of them when we test our new web pages for pest control. Annie, Luke (our newest team member) and I will be sitting by the entrance at Jubilee Library between 2 pm and 5 pm, laptop and tablet at the ready. Our new online booking form especially will be put through the wringer. Annie and the web development team have been working tirelessly on it for the past month, making sure everything works as it should.

Anyone is welcome to stop by and give us feedback – no advanced computer skills needed. We would like the content we create for the new website to be accessible to everyone.

Please come and see us if you have 15 minutes to spare. We can offer a slice of rodent-themed cake for those who participate.

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Annie and Luke, two of the faces you’ll see at our library stand.

First contact – designing a new referral form for adult social care

Navigating the maze of care and support services is not easy.

Although there are many great services in Brighton & Hove, services’ eligibility criteria and how or where to access services are not clear to our residents, or sometimes even professionals.

We already provide an online directory of services, MyLife Brighton & Hove and we’re recruiting volunteer Community Navigators with our partners Impetus.

I became involved through the council’s digital first programme, called Customer First in a Digital Age (CFDA). As members of the CFDA development team met with adult social care, we discovered that there was an online form for referrals. Yet it was underused, and didn’t capture all of the information needed by the team. Many referrals are being sent by email, missing vital information that the team need to respond.

Shadowing

I spent two days shadowing the adult social care contact centre (Access Point) team, listening to customers and speaking to social workers and care managers.

It didn’t feel like enough time but I learned a lot.

Identifying opportunities

As I listened to calls and discussed the current processes in place, some common themes emerged.

  • Many people calling or emailing the adult social care team needed to access a service provided by the NHS or another team in the council.
  • Referrals and information came through more slowly from professionals than direct contact with the person themselves.
  • And, as we’d initially been told, often emails that the team received contained a lot of information, but missed out important details that were needed to take action.

This all added up to it taking longer for people to get the help that they needed.

It was clear that as well as gathering the information that the team needed, a new online process could also help provide information and signposting to users.

Designing a new way forward

I started by writing out the information we needed to collect with some sticky notes.

As I created an initial order (flow) for the process, I highlighted opportunities to signpost people to services that were not provided by adult social care as early as possible in the process. Using sticky notes enabled me to move stuff around more fluidly than spending time designing a flow chart.asc-referral-postit-flow-before-build-web

However, if you haven’t gathered already, it was really complex. Following the advice of a colleague in our development team, working with an information analyst I started to focus on just one customer journey, for a referrer. This journey was subsequently split into two as we found two distinct groups with different user needs, ‘friends and family’ and ‘professionals’, before we moved on to self referrals. There are currently nine distinct user journeys in the new online tool.

Once an initial process was developed, I worked on the language and the questions being asked, using what I had learned listening to the contact centre as the foundation for the content and working alongside an adult social care manager. We also required legal sign off for the content to ensure the process complied with the Care Act, a new piece of legislation about how people can access services.

As well as the new content for the form, we’ve created notification emails that highlight the information that the access point team needs, and carefully reworded the acknowledgement given to people who email the access point team or submit a form to ensure there’s clear information about what happens next.

Challenges

Take up for this new referral form is still very low, though we’ve not promoted it, taking a soft launch approach. I feel that channel shift from email is a particularly difficult challenge.

It’s hard to know how users are interacting with the form, and there seems to be quite a high number of people who start using the form but don’t reach the end of the form and submit. This could be because of issues with the usability of the form, or because it’s simply doing its job and diverting people away to other services. We also have lots of interested colleagues trying it out.

One piece of data that I’m monitoring is which links to further information people on the form are clicking through to. However, aside from this link tracking, it’s difficult to monitor the performance of the form. We don’t have analytics tools that can help us here. The best insight will be from usability testing.

Moving forward

We will need to perform usability testing on the form to best understand how well this new content is meeting customer needs. This is scheduled to happen when a new self assessment tool goes live, as the user journey for self assessment will be funneled through the referral form. It’s really important that we get it right.

It may be that some of the information is removed from the form, and we use other patterns on our beta site, such as a “guide” to provide the information or we change the styling or the layout. There’s a difficult balance between providing useful additional information and getting in the way of our users.

I am looking at how we include information for carers on the form. There is an opportunity to sign post friends and family who are making a referral to get support for themselves as carers, as well as allow professionals to make combined referrals for someone with care and support needs and their existing carer.

Another opportunity is to work more closely with our partners and services that currently require separate referrals. For example we’re currently signposting professionals to the NHS falls service, where they need to fill out another referral form. Could we incorporate these questions into the council’s referral and provide more of a “one stop shop”?

Tell us what you think

I’m really interested in gaining more feedback about the referral tool. If you are a health or social care professional, or you’ve used our new Adult Social Care referral form for yourself or a friend or relative, I’m keen to have your thoughts. Have you tried out the form or would you use it in the future? Please leave your feedback and comments below.