February 21, 2019
The Blue Badge service helps 3 million people with mobility issues across the UK maintain their independence by allowing them to park where others can’t, often without charge.
Whilst the Department for Transport are responsible for the governing legislation, it is the 207 local authorities who manage the day-to-day administration and enforcement of the scheme and ensure badges are only issued to those who meet the eligibility criteria.
Valtech have been working alongside both the Department for Transport and local authorities as a delivery partner to transform all aspects of the service, from the application channels and assessments process, to how badges are printed and the service is supported.
With 207 badge issuing local authorities spread across the UK, this presented a huge design and engagement challenge for the transformation team which, itself, was partially remote.
We knew that if we wanted to deliver a better service, we not only needed to establish an efficient, collaborative working arrangement with both central government and local authorities, but also improve the interrelationships between the authorities themselves.
One of the first activities we undertook was compiling a contact list of local authorities along with high-level information about their context, needs and existing processes. We quickly noticed that Blue Badge teams had a relatively high-level of turnover and so ensuring contact details were kept up-to-date became an ongoing responsibility. This evolving document became an invaluable resource for the team to enable representative research, track engagement and tailor our communications.
As some authorities wanted to integrate their case management systems and CRMs with the new service it was essential we be built a test API early to allow their teams and suppliers time to integrate. Without an up-to-date view of the authorities who needed this support, we may have missed the opportunity to enable them to integrate in time for the service transition.
Live show and tells
During the first few weeks of the project we held weekly show and tells and invited a handful of authorities to attend in-person. Whilst initially this provided a great forum for feedback and conversation, it quickly became impractical and we knew we weren’t reaching enough authorities.
As a result, we made a decision to host our show and tells every two weeks and broadcast them live through YouTube. This allowed many more authorities to attend and for those who couldn’t, they could watch the videos on YouTube at a later date. The platform also allowed viewers to comment in real-time on the content of the show and tell, without disruption and allowed us to monitor engagement.
Our show and tells were as much focussed on the design and research we conducted each sprint as they were on the technical progress made, with the aim of building empathy between the authorities and the people who rely on the service and support them.
To date, we’ve broadcast 22 videos, accruing over 10,000 views and 113 subscribers to our YouTube channel.
Building a community
Whilst our show and tells and regular emails were helping us broadcast updates about our progress and push message to authorities, we were beginning to generate a lot of questions through YouTube comments, phone calls and our personal inboxes. Responding to these individually was often repetitive and time consuming and the closed nature of our communication meant we weren’t helping form common knowledge, which is much more effective when coordinating wide-scale change.
As we already used Slack heavily within the delivery team we thought that it might also serve the needs of our authorities, providing them with a dedicated workspace for discussion, collaboration, technical support and feedback.
We were delighted to see that within hours of inviting authorities to the workspace, new channels had been created by authorities to discuss case-management providers, nation-specific policy and feedback on the content of our show and tells. Whilst many of these conversations were being held in the open, we were also encouraged by the number of direct messages that were being sent on the workspace as authorities reached out to others, directly. The benefits of these conversations were reinforced by the feedback we received from local authorities when we visited in them in person:
“Wakefield Council found it really useful sharing knowledge and experience through Slack. Slack also provided us with the opportunity to make contact with other Local Authorities to share good working practices. We visited East Cheshire and Barnsley Council and we were able to take away learning points from both which we have implemented at Wakefield to improve the way we deal with customer’s Blue Badge applications.”
— Wakefield Council
Issues were being discussed that had never been surfaced before and authorities began to appreciate the variation in processes and approaches that the transformation team were attempting to accommodate.
Collaboration and research
Whilst establishing effective communication channels and relationships with local authorities was incredibly important, we also wanted to actively involve them in the design of the service itself, much the same way we were with Blue Badge applicants and support providers.
When we started the project we had limited access to any secondary research or data about the existing service and the needs of its users. As a result, we circulated a number of online and offline surveys to provide us with a baseline of knowledge on which to inform our research plan going forward and benchmark our KPIs.
Armed with a raft of assumptions and hypotheses, we began visiting local authorities across the country to deepen our understanding of their needs and constraints through a mixture of shadowing, interviews and contextual inquiry. We continued to visit local authorities after the discovery phase as we began to test our prototypes, support models and eventually, working software.
For some of our more wicked problems we held co-design workshops, bringing together members of the delivery team with local authorities, policy makers, mobility specialists and badge holders to generate solutions that we would then prototype, test and analyse.
Given the desire of some local authorities to integrate the new service with their existing case management systems, opening our codebase throughout the project has been pivotal in enabling technical teams and suppliers to adapt in time.
The team opted to use SwaggerHub to develop and host our external APIs and adopted a contract-first development approach which allowed us to release test versions of the APIs within 6 weeks of development starting.
To further support local authorities’ technical teams and third parties who were interested in integrating with the service we held a live Q&A on our YouTube channel which accrued over 200 viewers.
Throughout the transformation, we approached our commitment to engage with local authorities very much the same as we approach delivering software - transparently, iteratively and with a relentless focus on needs. We didn’t spend weeks coming up with a comprehensive communication plan or outsource to expensive specialists, we absorbed the responsibility within the team, monitored the effectiveness of our interactions and pivoted when we needed to. Nevertheless, the success of our approach was regulated by our understanding of the competing needs and motivations of our different user groups and the ability to communicate a common goal and build common knowledge.
As of 5th February 2019 all 207 local authorities have been transitioned to the new service which is already generating some fantastic feedback and realising the benefits we set out to achieve.
“I think you all have done a brilliant job with this transition, the show and tell presentations, literature, updates and all communications were all informative and great assistance. In addition, anyone I have contacted on the team has been nothing but fully informed, very helpful and willing to assist. This is not something we come across very often, so thank you all again”
– Southampton City Council
As we move into the next phase of the service lifecycle we are continuing to strengthen our partnerships with local authorities and their suppliers and ensuring our communication channels and means of engagement are fit for purpose as authorities begin to receive applications and order badges for the first time using the new service.