A digital service is more than an application

During Discovery we started work on a ‘School Admissions’ digital service. We had identified a service area where there was high usage but also a high volume of customer contact, and we set about examining why this was and identifying how we might make this better.

As we moved into Alpha it became clear that parents were often confused about what they needed to do and when. This meant that they ended calling the Council in order to check that they had completed their application correctly. A major part of this was the instructions they received during the application. Whilst accurate, this was not tailored to their specific needs, and often gave contradictory advice at different points in the process.

We identified that our new service needed to break down the existing application into its component parts and tailor the instructions to the individual parent. We renamed the service ‘Apply for a School place’ to better reflect this goal.

However as we have progressed through Beta our concentration has shifted from the application itself, to ensuring that parents are fully informed of what they want, even before they start their application. Parents need to know all sorts of information before they can get their child to the right school. What schools can I choose from? Which are nearby? How good are they? and, How will I get them there? are all questions that need to be answered before they can even start an application.

So in order to create a fully end to end digital service we must start well before the application form and help guide parents through the complicated process of choosing the most suitable schools for their child. Indeed I suspect that the majority of our time in Beta will be spent concentrating on these areas, ensuring we know what information to give to parents when they finally do decide to apply. To that end we have changed the name of our service yet again to ‘Find my child a school place’.


We’re all in this together

We’re just one local authority trying to do the best for our customers, we don’t always have the answers and we don’t always get things right. But one thing’s for sure, we’re not the only ones with the same goal.

I had the pleasure of meeting the digital team at Shropshire County Council, to take a look at their approach to content and how they manage service information into reusable data. Another thing we have in common, we’re all passionate about what we do and it was easy to see here. A vision to improve each service in turn, with all the skills needed within the team to achieve this.

It’s very clear we all come across the same issues, the push and pull between the services and the team to produce worthy content. But the way it’s handled is with knowledge, evidence and a clear understanding that we want to work with the services to help them identify what’s best for their customers rather than us just telling them what they should do.

The team are very clear about being open with their customers, it’s OK to say we got something wrong, but we’ll make it better. It builds a better relationship with the customer and shows that we’re listening to what they actually need.

It’s great to be open with another Council too, there’s a lot to do, a lot of services we need to provide and it takes time to get everything right. Times are hard, teams are getting smaller and the workload is getting bigger. But working together we can each benefit from the wealth of experience contained within Council digital teams across the country, the old saying “A problem shared is a problem halved” fits in well here. There’s no competition to win, just the collective feeling that we can all build great websites for our residents.