Like all councils across England, Wealden District Council faces a decreasing budget with an increasing demand for services. As part of the drive to find new savings and improve outcomes for residents, the Council had invested in digital to move more service transactions online. However, it had not achieved the level of impact the Council had wanted i.e. customers were not changing their behaviours.
In September 2015, iMPOWER published a think piece on ‘digital demand management’ which outlines an approach for embedding demand management throughout the digital design process. The paper sparked Wealden District Council’s interest; they recognised that a behaviour change approach was required to achieve the outcomes that they wanted. The Council felt that digital demand management, and its applicability at a district level (as much as at a county council or wider system level), would help them to solve their specific challenges.
iMPOWER went through a competitive process to win the opportunity to work with Wealden to explore how digital demand management could be applied to their services; developing a strategy to manage demand as well as finding any unexplored supply-side efficiencies.
“We were really struck by the original iMPOWER think piece; it seemed to sketch out exactly what we were looking for and already thinking about. After taking a deep breath we took the plunge to work with them and are pleased we did. Their approach to working in partnership with us was a refreshing change from the usual experience of consultants and really energised staff enthusiasm for taking the work forward.”
Getting started and methodology
To identify the opportunities for digital demand management, iMPOWER and Wealden DC colleagues worked through four key activities:
- Reviewing the current digital offer and applying basic behavioural insight/user experience techniques to develop a series of recommendations for improvement
- Mapping the customer journey to spot where the Council could potentially influence demand
- Evaluating the opportunities to influence demand, producing a realistic list of high-impact interventions
- Applying behavioural insight techniques to the interventions we had designed together. This step also provided an opportunity for staff to put behavioural science theory into practice
Mapping out the customer journey and showing where effort/cost is currently concentrated in the system provided some ‘penny dropping moments’ for the team:
Example: Savings in Planning
The planning team knew that they were spending a significant amount of time chasing incomplete applications. The reasons for this were twofold; firstly, members of the public realised that the Council would help to fill in the gaps if they submitted incomplete applications, which reinforced undesirable behaviours. Secondly, the Council did not prescribe how applications should be submitted, so time was taken up processing applications from a wide variety of submission methods. As a result, we found that 40-70% of demand (the effort to chase and retype data) could be avoided, resulting in a potential financial opportunity of £119k-£172k (gross).
Examples such as these were powerful in demonstrating the size of the opportunity that digital interventions could have on demand.
As a result of our work together, iMPOWER and Wealden identified a range of opportunities – with the overall business case identifying £1m of benefits.
The opportunities to improve the existing digital offer were spread across four themes:
- Developing the digital policy and strategy;
- Increasing overall digital functionality;
- Enhancing the online portal; and
- Using behavioural science to encourage customers to self-serve.
Amongst the recommendations were opportunities for increased collaboration across departments to support the ‘tell us once’ policy, with partners and with other neighbouring councils.
“We were left with a concrete set of proposals for further development and the whole process has given a helpful kickstart to the programme that lies ahead of us.” Trevor Scott, Director of Governance and Corporate Services
Finally, iMPOWER also identified strategic, system-view themes for the senior team to consider in the future as the Council raises its ambition to manage demand in partnership with other organisations.
As a result of the project, the Council have the building blocks from which they can implement digitally enabled solutions to support a demand management approach to service design. They are now looking at prioritising opportunities for implementation, and designing behavioural trials.
The Council already had a well-developed understanding of Mindspace techniques and had implemented a number of successful interventions using nudge theories. Nonetheless, digital demand management was a relatively new approach for the council to take but by the end of the project, staff felt a greater enthusiasm for using and applying demand management and behavioural science approaches.
More broadly this project showed that, through their wider exposure to citizens from delivering place-based services, district councils have a clear role to play at informing system-wide reform and changing behaviours. iMPOWER’s digital demand management approach, as shown with Wealden District Council, is the first step in understanding how demand flows both through organisations and how it links to wider system partners. Those district councils that can clearly understand how they influence demand at a local level will be able to reinforce the importance of their role in the wider system, and their value in reimagining public services.
iMPOWER is a values led consultancy dedicated to the reform of the public sector.