Department for Transport - The Blue Badge Digital Service
Digital Transformation Project of the Year
Entry Description
What was the driving force behind the project – what business or technology challenge needed to be addressed?

The Blue Badge Scheme provides 3 million severely disabled people across the UK with a parking permit which allows them to park closer to their destination.
The Department for Transport is responsible for the central policy and legislation governing the scheme with the devolved administrations responsible for their own guidance. The legal obligation to issue badges to eligible disabled people sits with local authorities.

The new service needed to be as simple as possible to use, both for those applying for a Blue Badge and for local authorities with thousands of applications to manage. People expect digital services to be quick and easy, so the primary goal was to make the new Blue Badge service just that whilst establishing a collaborative working community between the local authorities.
Our vision was to make it as simple as possible for anyone who needs a Blue Badge to get one. Our mission was to replace the existing service with one that’s clear, consistent and easy to change and create UK-wide record of badges. We set out to ensure that everyone who needs a Blue Badge can still get one, save applicants time and reduce frustration and stress, minimise fraud and badge misuse whilst saving local authorities money.

The existing service was outdated and not fit for purpose. It was seen as too expensive the average badge cost to local authority was £22 and the estimated cost to the taxpayer was £26.4m. The service did not meet user needs, and was DfT’s most complained about online service. Users saw the process as unnecessarily long and frustrating with complex and unclear language and it did not meet accessibility standards. On average, it took an applicant 17 days from applying to receiving a brand new Blue Badge – or 28 days if a medical assessment is required. Due to being locally delivered and administered, there was a data sharing challenge, leaving the service open to fraud and misuse. The service did not meet best practice procurement with a lack of transparency and inconsistent costs to local authorities.

How did the solution address the challenges and were there any particularly innovative aspects that made it stand out?

The old service provided case management functionality to local authorities - our research showed that this functionality was largely not being used and local authorities were integrating the service with their own case management and CRM systems. We decide not to replace a lot of this functionality and instead create APIs to support integration and empower local authorities in the future. To help build empathy with our users, from the Blue Badge team and stakeholders, we’ve started visualising our GovUK feedback. Using the Google Sheets API, we pick 5 responses from 8,000+ and display them, refreshing every 30 seconds on the team TV.

We believe broadcasting our fortnightly ‘show and tell’ live on YouTube and introducing a community of practice using a ‘Slack’ workspace proved to be quite innovative, as it allowed local authorities to provide feedback to us and get instant responses from the design and development team. This enables us to address any concerns they may have, have general peer to peer discussions around the Blue Badge scheme and its administration.

The service is highly accessible as we carried out lots of user testing with people with accessibility needs. We brought 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.

What major challenges were faced during the project and how were they overcome?

We were working against a fixed deadline as the contract with the previous supplier was due to expire at the end of 2018, so we had just seventeen months to implement the new service, so there was a lot of time pressure.

With 206 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, 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.

We wanted to involve the local authorities as much as possible throughout the process and take them on the journey with us. Communication with stakeholders was maintained by utilising a range of communication tools.

Trying to do working software demonstrations to 206 local authorities nationwide was not feasible, therefore we agreed to stream live show and tells on YouTube. In total, we broadcast 26 videos and we had 113 subscribed members. As a result, 6,100+ hours of video were watched with a total of 11,000 views. This allowed many more authorities to attend and for those who couldn’t, they could watch the videos on YouTube at a later date.

Sending 600+ emails from personal mail accounts proved difficult and we were unable to track open rates. We set up MailChimp as a method of communication and we had 844 mailing subscribers across local authorities. Overall, we sent out 60+ campaigns.

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.

What tangible benefits has the organisation seen as a result of the project’s implementation?

We met the needs of the four nations with one solution by providing a service which meets the needs of both citizens and local authorities. The new application process allows applicants to complete the entire process online without the time-consuming task of sending their supporting documents in the post, allowing people to upload documents instead, including proof of identity, and photographs. The new online Blue Badge application process is expected to reduce the time it takes to apply for a Blue Badge to 13 minutes.
The fully integrated, end-to-end process allows people with disabilities to access Blue Badges quickly, giving them the freedom and confidence to travel with ease.

• For the first year of the live service we are projecting a £4.75 million saving to local government

• Application submission rate:
o Was 33%
o Now 70%

• Averaging 7000 users per day - both citizens and LAs

• 295,674 applications submitted - that’s an average of 74 applications every hour

• 92,000 badges created every month

*(all stats as of 12/07/2019)

Valtech are responsible for hosting, support and continuous improvement of the service. We are currently Investigating integrations with DVLA and DWP. Hidden disabilities criteria for England is to be added in Q3 2019.

The local authority and citizen satisfaction rating is 4.4 out of 5. This is an incredibly positive turn around considering the existing service was DfT’s most complained about online service.

Video case study available here: