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Beyond user needs

This week we published our first Digital Service User Assessment. Whilst this is far from a Digital Service Standard it's a step in the right direction. This is something we're working towards, though I'm wary of us introducing too much bureaucracy or letting "the government inspectors" have the final say.

Digital service redesign and improvement should always be driven by the needs and the assessment of the user and perhaps something greater, which is the subject of this piece.

So to the digital service we've just made live. We've build this based on needs, but what are those needs? To a digital team it might look like this:

As a resident, I want to report dog fouling to the council, so the council can clean it up.

but this isn't the primary user need. No one gets up in the morning looking forward to contacting their local council to report dog fouling.

To see this one needs to take a step outside the digital realm, outside the language of users and think about what residents want, what society wants because as a local government officer I'm paid to serve all residents and their elected representatives, not just those who might use a website.

Whilst a reactive function of the service is to remove dog fouling it goes wider than that and there is a proactive need to prevent dog fouling.

So with this in mind, the resident need is:

As a resident, I want dog owners to clear up their dog fouling, so I can live in a nice place.

and when you start to see it this way, that's when new opportunities arise.

Tom Loosemore asked on Twitter:
and he's spot on, when in effect he asks "justify the creation of this service".

As a council we can do various things to meet the resident needs of living in a nice place when it comes to dog fouling, they include:

  • Installing and maintaining dog bins
  • Installing signage asking people to clear up after their dogs
  • Clearing up dog fouling
  • Investigating dog fouling and prosecuting owners who fail to clean up after their dog

however there was no digital service to help us meet the need of the resident, a simple reporting tool doesn't gather the information we need. Now there is, though at the least it only asks four questions (more if the user wants to tell us more), so it's pretty simple in itself.

We can be proactive and use analysis of the data to put signs and bins in the right place. Not only will this save us money, it'll create a nicer place. We can better investigate reports of dog fouling, clear it up and perhaps prosecute if we need to because we have better information that asks residents specifically about these things.

It's not until you see the resident need and how a digital service could be used to re-design wider service delivery that you'll realise the true benefits of digital service delivery.

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