London calling! Revisiting NI14…

November 3, 2008

I travelled to an event today (3rd November 2008) hosted near the Tower of London all about National Indicator 14 for some further discussion of it. On the journey I was reviewing the literature about gaps and concluded that life was to short to cope with detailed gap analysis, so I’m hypothesising that citizen engagement feedback can be used to handle them, but hopefully that will all come out at the EiP conference in a week’s time!

Rather than a verbatim report, thought I’d pick up on the highlights or useful points that came out at the conference…

One of the introductions was by Sarah Fogden, reported to be inventor of NI14 and arch-nemesis of John Seddon, originator of the concept of demand failure, which Sarah highlighted by stating that she didn’t mind what the indicator was called but one was needed to satisfy the process-driven people at Whitehall, when I’d always thought they were target-driven and thought that all our problems would be solved if they were lead by process or system! She also tied the words ‘holistic’ and ‘transformation’ together – I wonder what Jan Smuts the South African statesman would think were he still around eighty years on? (Smuts’ definition – “The tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution”.

She did say to focus upon the key priorities of the organisation, use the CRM system to assist; that there is no right way to do it and that the overall figure for NI14 is meaningless…

Tom Wraith of the Audit Commission had little new to say but was still interesting when he stated that NI14 was:

  • the most frequently queried indicator
  • unlike most indicators
  • had far less prescription
  • moved on from BV157
  • a tool for self-improvement
  • AC won’t be directly comparing but they had a duty to make it public
  • what’s included is up to you!
  • The CLG edict that there was a need to ‘justify methodology’ was a little harsher than AC would have desired
  • It would be used as part of the conversation/dialogue with authorities about managing resources
  • Needed to be triangulated with the evidence

He was asked by Tony Hinkley who has been working for ESD-Toolkit on NI14 whether it was their intention to make it compulsory to use the Local Government Service List (LGSL) which I believe he confirmed?

Kate Batty from Tameside said that NI14 was not the whole answer but that ESD-Toolkit, Mosaic, customer journey mapping and customer service training were all part. Here words were that the order should be: people, process, then technology! One her snappy phrases was ‘lets stop worrying about measuring apples and pears and measure fruit’, which in NI14’s case was highly appropriate…

A fascinating presentation was made by Tom Benford upon the ‘call reduction strategy’ used at the DVLR. He stated that 60% of their customer wanted to use the ‘phone for service, despite frequently having got the number off the web site! In order to reduce avoidable contact and the number of telephone calls they’d looked at the end-to-end customer experience and the process times. As a result they’d made a number of changes:

  • revised the direct.gov content
  • put their the actual questions being asked on the web
  • made their URL’s friendly
  • put a link from the online directory enquiries to the web site
  • adopted plain English
  • redesigned customer-facing documents especially the highly used ones
  • cross-referenced material with online content
  • moved away from using form numbers
  • agreed customer-meaningful turnaround times for metrics
  • revised telephone book entries – put web site address first but also numbers which may not be their services but which the public think they do

One question revealed that despite not being NI14, the resultant transformation was possibly more effective than NI14

It was also stated that no local authority had included NI14 within their quota of targets for LAA…

NI14 had shifted to being outcome focused

Blackpool had realised that their ‘Customer First’ wasn’t working so they listened to customer demand for six weeks, wrote everything down and from this extracted 4000 demands, 121 of true value under seven  broad themes. With their turnover of residents they found change of address to be the most frequent demand and focused upon that initially. Their motto was “in a perfect world, how would we serve the customer?”

A lesson from Halton to their staff when training was: “to think of it from the customer’s view!”

I hope the Cabinet Office don’t mind me publicising the fact that the presentations should be available on their web site.

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Daring to be truthful?

August 9, 2012

A new report from Dare London entitled ‘Digital Britain: the truth about how we live today through technology’ (PDF, 175 pages, 7 Mb) is available from ThisisDare.com. The report analyzes usage data from a number of sources to present a view, in very pithy terms, of how the UK public is using digital media. Amongst the results they note that whilst there are less female users, those women who do use it, use it more. There are analyses of the type of things done online and the amount and time spent doing them by gender and age group, there is then the effect of e-advertsing and how it is having to change to accommodate changes in practice.

There is a similar analysis of mobile usage with a comparison of Android and Apple behaviours, along with a detailed examination of the app economy. The report also views tablet computing and the market there. Included is a lengthy study of the differing online behaviours including use of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn along with opportunities for marketing people. The analysis includes buying patterns involving the various coupon offerings and even how television and other viewing, listening as well as reading is being affected by the new media in reality.

Even bloggers get a look in with a breakdown of who does what and their demographics, along with an intense look at games. The report potentially blows out of the water a number of the myths around new technology but concludes with the paragraph that:

“The internet is becoming flatter, deeper and quicker. It’s reaching more people, on more occasions, on more devices, more speedily. Brands need to prepare for that future. Specifically, they need to ready themselves for an internet that no longer lives on a desk and that is no longer run by institutions. Prepare for people and places.”

A lengthy read at 175 pages but far from dense with lots of colour graphs and charts. Yes, technology is changing things but not necessarily in the ways that were forecast or are being touted currently. Thanks for this Dare – it’s not often that everything is brought together for a panoptical view and it makes a difference!


Counting the cost

July 14, 2012

A recent debate on the Socitm Linkedin group went back to the validity of channel shift calculation most recently raised in “Can channel shift be forecast?“. However, this has been an ongoing question for a long time as posts such as Channel accounting in 2009 will emphasise.

I continue to argue that end-to-end costs have to be assimilated, within reason, into such costings, and the major savings need to be revenue ones. A recent post on The Register revealed that 20% of the Information Commissioner’s Office budget went on IT. I wonder how many local authorities spend near that? This may be a reason why some LA’s are less able to respond in detail to some of the requests they get? Geoff Connell of the London Borough of Newham, an old acquaintance announced on the Linkedin forum that “Newham Council has saved £12M per annum so far through a major channel shift programme. Less than 40% of our customer services transactions are now carried out face to face. Over 30% go through our online self-serve portal and we have over 20,000 registered (and active) users. We have over 98% online purchases for parking permits, 30%+ for bulky items, green waste, etc, etc.”, which I wouldn’t argue with, knowing Geoff, but they have property to rationalise that will make a capital saving. There may be some revenue savings and these need to be the main component for any ‘calculator’ using the transaction cost figures that Socitm and others bandy about.

The debate will continue forever no doubt, but some of the presentations from the recent Socitm/Headstar #BPCW12 conference in Birmingham were revealed to be available at  http://bit.ly/channelshift.


Data dividend

March 11, 2012

A somewhat initial hasty read of the new Demos report ‘Data Dividend‘ brought to mind a presentation made at Ethicomp 2011 by Professor Eden Medina. Her presentation was on ‘the Geopolotics of Ethical Computing’, her most recent work being around Project Cybersyn involving Stafford Beer and the Chilean government between 1971 and 1973 in furthering the economic goals of President Allende – this whole concept of sociotechnical engineering, in my opinion, being somewhat close to the underlying heart of the Demos paper. In the Demos case the engineering being taken out of the hands of the public sector with them being ‘risk averse’.

One of the praiseworthy projects called upon in the Demos document is the London Data Store, which I believe is essentially what has been similarly done but generally badly by the rash of Local Information Systems that were generated under the previous government, all rather different and all probably generating data in rather different formats. However, the report appears to think it happened only in London.

Coming in at 110 pages with a substantial and varied list of references, the content has probably been put about in different forms and places quite a bit over the last dozen years, so a comparison to the Allende government of forty years ago may be a useful remider that history doesn’t repeat itself but we repeat history and, more often than not, the mistakes of history.


Austere academia

January 6, 2012

I somehow missed this publication being released in 2011 but fell over it when looking for something else! ‘Innovating out of Austerity in Local Government: A SWOT analysis’ is by Patrick Dunleavy, Paul Rainford & Jane Tinkler of the London School of Economics Public Policy Group and despite its inherent self-referencing, even of unpublished sources (Hasn’t anybody outside of the LSE written anything appropriate? – I’m sure they have), it is worth generating a discussion around.

The report starts off with the obvious but not often practiced wisdom that “Introducing changes in delivery-level public services critically depends on consulting with services users and achieving a deep understanding of citizens’ needs and expectations: a strategy of more intensive ‘customer engagement’that has already borne fruit in many different localities and NHS provider areas.” The document then goes on to confirm that innovation involves circumventing central government permissions and gaining buy-in from the professions. It is what it states, a SWOT analysis of what has been going on, although personally I feel that a number of these are assumptions by outsiders based upon limited experience rather than actual facts e.g. one local government weakness is identified as ‘weaker ICTs record in general’, whilst, as has been confirmed to me by several senior central government persons is the situation with central government, rather than local government! The paper does accept (p.6) that UK central government is “probably the most intrusive national government across Western Europe”.

Much is made of the Kent Gateway project which is a good example but had the blessing not only of a dynamic Chief Executive but similar political leadership. They were also lucky in gaining the involvement of the regional NHS, which isn’t the case in all areas. On page 7 there is some acclamation that “Despite the valiant efforts of SOCITM (sic)* and many thousands of staff working in council IT departments, the provision of online local government services remains at best patchy”. However, this fails to acknowledge that local government ICT departments provide e-services for many, many service units, whilst in central government this is likely to be a few related to that Department’s rather focused services e.g. driver licensing, taxation, etc. This criticism is unfairly grounded, presumably due to a lack of understanding. Similarly the statement on page 8 that “where most UK local authorities are currently lagging badly behind the next wave of important ICTs”, is unspecific in only picking on ebooks in libraries, which is hardly a ‘killer application’ when many library users are probably more concerned with real books and the use of free Internet access, rather than those who can buy such items as Kindles, Kobos and iPads.

I will agree, as stated on page 9, that “within local authorities themselves, complaints processes are often un-systematized, with little data being collected, no data publicly published and councils having little information available that would show whether they were doing a good job in terms of not generating complaints or in responding effectively to complaints received”, which is why I had developed the model I have for improving service delivery and suggested some applications to assist, which is all available on this blog. I also suggested to various people at the Government Data Service launch that this was the best way of handling feedback.

Unfortunately I don’t agree with the authors that citizens are put off complaining to councillors (page 9) about operational issues, since it is frequently one sure way of getting some sort of result, and would be interested in the authors’ evidence for this.

On page 19 the authors do accept that the ongoing disturbance to the NHS is impacting on innovation, which will probably become clearer as central government attempts to further transfer care responsibilities to local government.  The contradictions and imbalances within the NHS have already been identified in the struggle to get the Public Sector Network (PSN) off the ground. Attempts to make big savings, along with innovations, will require much improved cooperation across the public sector.

Whilst the conclusions of the paper would appear to be the authors’ expectations there needs to be a realization that in local government all things are not equal. Amongst the range of local authorities resistance to change, which is the major obstacle, comes from a variety of sources that are not consistent across councils. Sometimes its the Chief Executive, sometimes the Director of Finance (holder of the purse strings) or even the IT Director – it could be any one of the various services that blocks change, but this is normally different in every case. It is therefore difficult to make bold statements about how, where or when innovation will or should occur since it requires a combination of auspicious circumstance. In the best examples this is probably a bold Chief Executive, with political support.

As CIO’s/IT Managers are under increasing pressure to make savings, along with service managers it is difficult for all parties to find time to innovate with reduced staffing. If it were a single application (as per the aforementioned central government instance) this insight might be possible but when it requires multiple services to test, be trained and culture change on to a new way of working there will be foxholes of resistance all along the route. These will need multiple strong minds from the top to the bottom to successfully trace a path of successful innovation.

In fact, I wonder how the LSE’s IT service copes with innovation? If, like a number of university IT services that I’m aware of, they are treated with some disdain by their academic colleagues, academia will be just as austere in its approach to innovation as government!

* The conventional branding for the Society of Information Technology Management is ‘Socitm’