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Status tracking - making it easy to keep users informed

Blog posted by: , 5 October 2015 — Government as a Platform

High speed scanner

Last month, we started discovery around status tracking and notifications. We’ve discovered a bunch of interesting (and surprising) things and are now moving into a 4-6 week alpha delivery of a government notifications platform. Our aim: making it easy to keep users informed.

The most important thing that we’ve learned is that there is huge user demand across services for notifications from government  - whether that’s a receipt, a reminder, a request for something, or an update.

Significantly, we have also decided not to continue looking into status tracking tools or platforms - at least not for now.

One hypothesis we had when we started discovery was that well timed, proactive notifications from services would remove the majority of needs for status tracking tools. Just about everything that we’ve heard and seen to date supports this.

Meet the user need without the user doing anything

This seems like an obvious thing to work towards, but in my experience it doesn't get addressed enough. It really should be the first thing we ask ourselves in service delivery.

Status tracking tools are often just ‘channel shift’ for anxiety. They solve the symptom and not the problem. They do make it more convenient for people to reduce their anxiety, but they still require them to get anxious enough to request an update in the first place. They often exist to meet the business need to reduce phone calls and contacts.

It would be much better if the service just tells the user what it clearly already knows, rather than making them call up or visit a website. Sort of ‘send, don’t publish’ (ironically).

Making it easy to keep users informed

So our focus as we turn to alpha, is around making it easy to keep users informed via notifications - namely timely updates by text message, email and, er, post.

Yep, letters. Turns out, that some people still want, or need, ‘something in writing’ and that government services still have some legislated requirements to notify people by post. So that’s a thing.

Building for the reality, not the optimal

In an ideal world, notifications would be fully automated, triggered when something is received and scanned in the post room, or when a caseworker approves something and clicks ‘save’. And, for many services, this is what will happen. But in other situations, the workflows, or back-office systems don't support this.

So we’ll also be prototyping an interface that will let back-office staff send notifications directly, without any integration to existing systems. This might be an individual text message from a caseworker or perhaps a batch of receipts uploaded in a spreadsheet that post-room staff created.

At this stage, we don’t think this platform should do much more than these things. It’s important to us that platforms do simple things really, really well.

The opportunity

So we’ve learned enough about the problems to know where to start and what not to do, which really is the point of discovery. We’ve spoken to many, many people, we’ve visited many different teams, post-rooms and train stations around the country. It’s time to get building so we can get real feedback from real people.

And what might we end up with?  Well, for a flavour of who we’re working with and what we’re exploring together (nothing committed at this stage), here’s a taster of what could be possible in the future:

  • MOT reminders emailed to all vehicle owners
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance complaints acknowledged immediately via text message
  • Student Finance documentary evidence receipts acknowledged by email or text
  • Lasting Power of Attorney updates automatically dispatched by post
  • Universal Credit (Digital) updates texted to claimants
  • Voter registration application receipts sent to people via text message
  • Driver’s Medical assessment updates emailed to drivers
  • Land Registry updates via email and text message for property conveyancers

And thank you to everyone across government for your time, hospitality, ideas, and data so far … it's much appreciated.

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