Our project wishes to bring joined-up, best-practice digital thinking to the challenging problem of local service directories. Every local authority, health organisation, police force, together with other voluntary sector partners are attempting to maintain some form of local directory-based information with massive duplication of effort. Typically there is little join-up, no data standards, quality assurance and little in the way of automated (= efficient) data harvesting or publishing via APIs. Many directories have artificial geographical boundaries, resulting in the poor provision of information to citizens located near administrative boundaries.
Our experience of maintaining directories, over many years, and conversations with different partners and suppliers locally and across England, including health, police and the voluntary sector have convinced us that there is considerable merit in undertaking discovery work to understand what a ‘directory as a service’ could and should look like in 2019 using innovative approaches to data contribution, curation and consumption.
We believe that the essential underpinning to any vision of joined-up data is likely to be a data standard (s). To compliment any data standard(s), and to ensure that data can be accessed and shared easily, we also believe there would be a considerable benefit to be gained by researching and defining a fully featured API or suite of APIs, with user research around how to achieve wide adoption.
We will conduct the discovery using an external service design partner working with the partner councils. We will require that partner to also provide specialist support in open data / API strategy, potentially by partnering with another specialist company. There will be a partner kick off workshop in December, after which an opportunity will be posted on the Digital Marketplace, with selection in January 2019.
User research will include desktop and primary research into the challenges of local service directories including the extent and cost of duplication, data ownership and management models and challenges, data standards, API strategy, the state of the supplier market, and deep dives into the user needs of directory consumers and listed data providers.
Despite excellent examples of local initiatives in this space, we believe significant foundational work is still required to understand the complex ecosystem of stakeholders and operating models – to bring this challenge up to a more systemic and national level, also researching national datasets and how they can be best integrated into service patterns at a local level (e.g. NHS DOS, NHS Choices, Local Links gov.uk, SportEngland, CQC, Ofsted) together with research work with existing (e.g. Open Objects, Familio) and prospective private suppliers. Good research and a pathway to deep transformation is much needed; one which does not rely on adoption of “a new tool from elsewhere”.
Our objectives are to research and document the current landscape and generate options for a high impact alpha phase. With the support of external specialists, we will create a business case with potential savings of a new approach for local areas and at a national scale. A user research report will document findings from each of the research areas listed above and a summary report will set out the requirements of an alpha phase, or indeed conclude that further work is not required, or that further discovery work is needed.
We know there is very significant duplication in the area of local service directories. It is very costly to maintain multiple directories across a local system with several administrative centres needed. There may be software savings as well, but the costs estimated here relate to the administrative burden of maintaining multiple copies of heavily overlapping data. We would estimate that implementation of canonical directories would save £50k per authority area in administration (1.5 FTE). If canonical directories or sets of directories were adopted more widely in local systems, for example in health settings, police etc, the savings will be at least double, £100k on average per area. Further benefits include:
- A catalyst for innovation, allowing third parties to consume high-quality data in a consistent fashion across – England? – to create novel applications, data mashups etc
- Far more efficient for LAs and organisations to curate data
- Development of an ecosystem of community information, avoiding the need for one single aggregator, but all participants having equal access to information
- Ability to pull data out for research purposes – how do we define community resilience, how do we target communities that need LA support?
- Metrics and intelligence – e.g. dashboarding search stats offering early warning of issues
- Will provide incentives for providers to update their information once, in an appropriate manner, in the knowledge that information can be easily syndicated via data share
The business case, benefits and user research conducted on existing services, tools & standards will necessitate on-site research at all participating councils as well as desktop research and survey work with others as needed, helping build awareness and engagement. Our tech agnostic user research, data standards, APIs and data patterns work will be published in accessible formats through the patterns & standards library, or other channels, to ensure clear and open access to all.
We will regularly blog progress, and use the LocalGovDigital slack channel to share the work and generate further feedback from the wider community. We will set up a shared workspace(s) for the project and hold regular stand-ups via video call. We will meet face to face at key project milestones.
Our aim will be to continually build engagement with other councils beyond the initial partners, but also with key bodies such as NHS Digital to hopefully raise awareness of the problem and gain momentum.
|Business case||We will gather financial information and demand data from councils, partners and supplier organisations to develop an economic comparison to evaluate any new approach developed by this project. We will embed the collection of financial information into the project.|
|User research report||We will publish all outputs on GitHub throughout our rounds of user research, and will produce a final summary report in a format ready to be published on localdigital.gov.uk. The user research team will make use of existing templates where appropriate to present user research findings in a consistent way after every round of user research. A final user research report will also be produced.|
|Data standard||We will produce a documented proposal for a data standard with API endpoints, adopting best practice. We will publish to GitHub and will reference in the final summary report.|
|Data ownership and maintenance design patterns||We will produce a documented proposal for data ownership and maintenance design patterns, which we will publish to any localgov service pattern repository that may emerge (or alternatively we will publish to GitHub) and will reference in the final summary report. We anticipate this will create a model deployable in an technology environment.|
|Products arising||If this project uncovers other key products that are required, and if time allows to research and evaluate, we will document and publish. For example – early discussion has identified quality assurance as being important.|
|A summary report & recommendations||We will produce a report that either proposes how to take this project forward to alpha stage or explains why the work should not continue.|
We use service design methods to develop our understanding of user needs. Directory-based information caters to and involves many audiences and stakeholders. Part of the Discovery work will be devoted to identifying and defining typical user groups and use cases and finding and engaging with typical users in those groups.
Below we have identified some of the key user groups as we currently understand them:
“As an older person I need to understand the options available so I can get the right support for my circumstances”
Through this discovery, we will understand the experience of users of the current signposting, IAG tools and service directories.
“As a carer, I need to help someone understand their options and get the right support”
We’ll spend time speaking to carers of service users and with some of the local non-statutory partners to understand their experience, problems and additional needs from front door services.
“As a social care or health professional, I need to quickly signpost people to the right non-statutory services so that they can get the appropriate support”
“As a GP practice, I want to help patients understand what community based services are available to them in the easiest ways possible”
“As a commissioner, I need to know what the provision of unregulated support is in my area so I can commission additional services if required”
“As a community connector or social prescriber, I wish to quickly signpost people to the right non-statutory services so that they can get the appropriate support”
“As a provider, I would like to update my details once so that users can find accurate details on any directories they are searching”
“As a supplier, I want to build applications that maximise the data available and are interoperable with other data publishers and consumers”
“As a moderator or publisher, I need to easily check submitted information in an efficient manner”
We would like to be able to benefit from:
- Use of MHCLG offices for any London-based face to face meetings during the project
- Option to access to GDS user research labs (to help us bring down the project cost for user research sessions)
- Support preparing the Digital Marketplace opportunity, including a discussion on how the procurement of the open data specialist might best work
- Badging our research as MHCLG endorsed, which will strengthen the profile of our work and encourage participation
- Introductions at the appropriate level to government agencies such as NHS Digital (eg Directory of Services, 111 online), CQC, Ofsted, SportEngland to encourage their participation and cooperation where appropriate
- Ability to send comms, surveys etc via MHCLG channels (blogs, newsletter, twitter, etc.) to help us ‘work out loud’, and to help with sharing the outputs with the local gov sector
- Help with engaging with other county councils that may want to feed into our project
There is no history of funding for this project