We were recently invited to discuss the benefits and challenges of using data and digital twins at a roundtable event hosted by the Chartered Institute of Highways & Transportation (CIHT) and Ringway. The roundtable focused on the data rich delivery of highway maintenance specifically, but the experiences and advice we shared during the event are applicable on a broader scale, so we have detailed them in this blog post.
If our many years of experience providing citizen-centred digital solutions to the public sector have taught us anything it’s that being able to collect and share up-to-date data ultimately helps you to deliver a better service – and by association, nurture a more engaged population.
As Alessandro Fornaroli and Daniel Gatica-Perez write in the introduction to their research article published in the July 2023 edition of the Digital Government: Research and Practice report: “Data availability is paramount to the functioning of a city, and therefore platforms allowing to collect data generated by people represent a key element in the transition towards more citizen-centric cities.”
Whether it’s being able to display accurate asset information on a map or communicating that a certain road is due to be resurfaced on a certain date, we have always strived to help local authorities enrich their digital services with data through integration.
Among its many benefits, when used effectively, we’ve seen how data can help to reduce failure demand, increase accuracy and eliminate duplication or avoidable contact.
For example, where Buckinghamshire Council has been using integrated asset layers within its FixMyStreet Pro service, duplicate reports have dropped by 99.5%. The Council also uses asset layers to triage reports to parish and town councils based on the latest information available relating to speed limits, which has created anticipated savings of over £50,000 just for grass and hedge cutting reports alone.
Or take the way FixMyStreet Pro is used in London as another example, where the borough council users of the solution benefit from automatic diversion of reports not only between each other, but also between other public bodies operating in the capital, such as Transport for London (TfL) and the Peabody Housing Association.
In Bexley and Greenwich, for example, reports are triaged between the two borough councils, TfL and Peabody in the Thamesmead area, which straddles the border between the two boroughs. To help users visualise where certain issues are the responsibility of TfL or Peabody, we display polygons and what we call ‘red routes’ on the in-report maps.
Any issue within a certain category reported on a ‘red route’ is automatically sent directly to TfL, while the polygons represent areas in which issues are the responsibility of Peabody. Equally, if a resident tries to report a problem to Peabody or TfL which is actually the responsibility of Bexley or Greenwich, the report will be diverted.
The same can be done for triaging problems to National Highways elsewhere in the UK.
Other examples include the use of QR codes to make it quicker to report problems with assets like street lights or bins, special map pins to represent issues you’re already aware of or live updates pulled from in-cab systems to inform of why a bin collection is delayed.
As digital transformation accelerates at a faster and more competitive pace, and the sector and its suppliers begin to explore increasingly innovative uses of data, including the use of AI, there are challenges and unintended consequences that need to be considered.
Take this as an example: if residents can see at the click of a button a digital twin of each of your assets which tells them exactly how many streetlights are broken or gullies are blocked, you need to communicate what you’re doing about that – and if you’re not doing anything, why?
Resident-facing, front-end solutions which enable closed feedback loops are vital here, otherwise you risk creating more pressure on customer services or on other service areas not equipped to cope with an unintended increase in contact.
Similarly, if your use of data is intended to enable you to create more cohesion across council service areas, provisions need to be put in place to ensure everyone can provide the same level of service to avoid inconsistency and failure demand.
For example, when we implemented an asset layer for Buckinghamshire Council’s FixMyStreet Pro to enable the automatic triaging of reports to parish and town councils, we also delivered some functionality for those parishes to be able to update the status of reports even though they do not have case management systems of their own.
Crucially, consideration needs to be given to how the use of data could affect the accessibility of a service. This includes permanent or temporary physical and situational impairments which may cause people to be unable to, for example, use QR codes, operate digital maps or start reports from photos. Alternative steps need to be built into user journeys to ensure no one is locked out or left behind.
The landscape of public sector digital services is ever-changing, and we’re proud to be a part of it, working in partnership with a growing number of forward-thinking local authorities and other public bodies like Ringway, who sparked the idea for this blog post through their roundtable.
If you’d like to talk more about data rich citizen solutions to help you provide better services, please get in touch.
Image: Eric Weber on Unsplash