The Government Digital Service (GDS) service manual describes Discovery as being finished when we know:
- the scope of the service you want to build
- whether to move into the alpha phase
- the team of people we need to move into alpha
- that senior stakeholders want to begin building the service and understand your plans
- how we'll measure success and what a successful service would like
- any related services that exist to meet the user needs and whether they're run by the government or third parties
- how impairments might affect our users
- how many of our users need assisted digital support and what their needs are
Our recent discovery investigated the entire reach of the taxi licensing service in Northumberland, Gateshead and Sunderland. Following GDS standards, we found out who our users are (licensed taxi drivers, applicants and internal staff), our users' needs, the as-is service, pain points and frustrations with their current experience.
We found our users, taxi driver applicants, recorded a strong will and need for digital processes that save them time, money and stress while applying for a taxi licence. However, as we reached the end of our Discovery and analysed our data, we recognised that this Discovery did not suitably answer the above statements and that we were not yet ready to move into Alpha. Though we have proven the appetite for a digital services, further Discovery is required to support the development of this service suitable to the needs of licencing authorities around the UK.
On average today it takes 2 weeks to process a new operator application or a new vehicle application, and 6 weeks for a taxi driver application. The cost of each applicant to the Council is on average £78.30. These findings support the need for a more efficient application process for taxi licencing that would benefit local authorities, taxi drivers and operators.
We found that taxi licensing services are heavily paper based and rely on multiple points of face to face contact. Most of the service steps are consistent across all three councils, with the exceptions of, child sexual exploitation, processes, policies and order of activities. Authorities use different systems and staff roles, each council is also at a different stage of digital transformation and adoption. The Gov.uk Verify workshop in 2016 indicates that these differences are likely to be national, this is supported by our survey, completed by 98 authorities.
Therefore multiple parts of the taxi licensing journey need standardising to create a uniformed solution. These include stages in the process, language used, requirements from applicants, employee responsibilities, and rules and regulations. This will go a long way to improving services, and our first Discovery identified quick wins that support our user needs.
The taxi licensing process needs more research to determine the scope of the service we want to build which is scalable and suitable to the disparate systems, how we'll measure success, and what a successful service would look like, as well as how impairments might affect our users and whether they need assisted support.
Second Discovery: Our proposal
Therefore, our research team has recommended a follow on discovery to provide a specific direction for an alpha project - resolving the 'new driver' application service process. This particular service stands to benefit significantly from a digital solution, and is an apt spearhead for improving the service as a whole, leading the way for scaling a standardised, national solution. This includes the content and communication, the opportunities for payments standardisation, automation and reduced error rates, better collection of data and data use, as well as verifying the challenges and opportunities we have identified with a broader sample of authorities.
This extended Discovery will allow us to increase our understanding of the new taxi driver application specifically; exposing barriers, frustrations, attitudes and behaviours of those currently in the process. It also will allow us to understand the needs and opportunities of third parties such as Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) course providers and the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), and investigate opportunities to improve. We will refine user needs and build a greater understanding of content needs for successful communication throughout the process, reducing errors and drop offs. Finally, we will identify and prioritise opportunities within the new application process to inform the 'to be' vision and alpha scope, benchmarking and agreeing measures of success.
The scope of our Discovery accounts for the restrictions that impacted our previous work, such as overburn on time and too broad a scope at a specifically local level. Our addition of time for a Solution Architect and extended Business Analysis time will allow us to verify challenges between councils outside our local region and involve a broad variety of senior stakeholders to build momentum and buy in to standardisation. It will also allow us to test the feasibility of a standardised system, and the implications of a 'to be' journey architecture. Focussing on this core journey will also enable us to outline impact for related services that return users to the core journey, such as license renewals, and it will pave the way for improvements to vehicle and operator licenses.
Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government's (MHCLG) Support
By following the ambitions of the GDS standards and MHCLG, to flex and change scope according to the needs of users and our councils, we have developed this business case to identify the funding required to support our national ambitions with this project.
We are at a critical juncture in the secure, ambitious digitisation of services, and taxi licensing is an expensive legacy service that would benefit from improvement across authority boundaries. We believe by extending our scope to work with authorities across the UK, we may establish a robust digital offering for issuing new licenses, alongside the required cultural change and support needed across different authorities to ensure uptake and provide a product that is truly open and scalable.