Performance Platform (Performance Platform)

Published on: 01/04/2014

The UK government’s Performance Platform, which is currently in alpha stage, measures and helps to improve public services by gathering and processing information about the use of the services and related public transactions, including levels of digital take-up and users’ satisfaction.

By providing information on the number of users, the satisfaction levels and the costs, it allows public organisations, service managers in particular, to identify those transactions whose re-organisation will impact mostly users and the efficiency and effectiveness of public services.

The platform now provides 13 different detailed dashboards that show these key metrics specific public services. These are:

  • Carer’s Allowance
  • Deposit foreign marriage or civil partnership certificates
  • G-Cloud
  • Lasting Power of Attorney
  • Licensing
  • Pay to get documents legalised by post
  • Pay to legalise documents using the premium service
  • Payment for certificates to get married abroad
  • Payment to register a birth abroad in the UK
  • Payment to register a death abroad
  • SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification)
  • Tax disc
  • Vehicle licensing

The aim is to transform the data itself into a meaningful measure or indicator of performance. To this end, the dashboards were prototyped with different modules with the aim to make “a decision or an action [..] depending on what is shown”. The purpose of the Performance Platform is therefore to address the “need to make decisions and improve products by using data that tells [providers of digital services] which things to examine first and how”.

By combining the data from different sources, the information that is generated is intended to encourage greater understanding and:

  • “make it possible for government to make decisions based on data
  • do the hard work to make data collection, retrieval, and presentation simple for users
  • be open to any government service supplying their data and customising their outputs
  • be open to the public
  • be independent of proprietary monitoring software, e.g. Google Analytics
  • automate routine analysis and visualisation, and use insights to provoke further detailed analysis”

Policy Context

The Performance Platform is linked to the Government Digital Strategy that “sets out how the government will become digital by default”, linked to the commitment made under the Civil Service Reform plan.  As part of the strategy the government committed to “redesign transactional services to meet a new Digital by Default Service Standard” such that “all departments will undertake end-to-end service redesign of all transactional services with over 100,000 transactions each year”. Each of the new or redesigned transactional services going live after April 2014 should meet this standard.

The majority of transactions are handled by seven departments: HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), Department for Transport (DFT), Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Ministry of Justice (MOJ), Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and the Home Office. Each of these departments have committed to implementing three significant service transformations, of which the redesign was started in 2013 and will be implemented by March 2015.

Further to this, the Government Digital Strategy identified the need to “measure performance and costs between different services and channels” and to address weaknesses in “consistency, timeliness, accuracy and scope of management information”. In particular, the “lack of a consistent, high-quality user experience is a critical issue holding back performance and adoption of [..] digital services”. This explains the need for a project such as the Performance Platform.

Description of target users and groups

The Performance Platform is being designed to help government in general and in particular the service managers (those senior management officials responsible for transactional services) to answer the question: “How are we doing?”. The Performance Platform is therefore intended for “service managers that need to be able to make data-driven decisions based on both digital and non‑digital sources”. It is thereby intended to provide a toolkit based on supply-side data to offer alerts, visualisations and structured data to “improve services, meet the services standard [and] gain insight by comparing data across multiple services and sources”.

Description of the way to implement the initiative

The Performance Platform is implemented by the UK Government Digital Service (GDS) at central government level. Since its conception, the proof of concept was developed in house by the GDS. This year, the GDS is rolling out the service as a platform. Very soon individual service managers from any government department or public body can connect and use the platform themselves rather than the GDS doing it for them. That is how the platform scales across government. It remains to be seen to what extent the use of the platform will reach all the major transactional services the government is responsible by enabling the decentralized ability to connect.

The GDS notes that this requires a very disciplined approach, by ensuring that there is no need to be an internal GDS expert to work with it. It is crucial to provide good documentation, accessible Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that are intelligible, provide feedback to data providers as well as clear communications for non-technical people (good use or misuse, etc.). The aim is for people to understand what it is for, how to put data in, and get data out of it without needing face-to-face conversation, in essence a self-service platform.

In its current alpha stage the platform already provides ready tools, such as dashboards for visualisation of the data. Other forms of providing insightful information will also be provided, for example by simply publishing data such that it can be uses in software packages to analyse the data in a customized way.

A team of around a dozen to two dozen people are currently building the platform, including user researchers, designers, developers, managers. Although in the future, components may be licensed if it makes sense, no outsourcing approach is foreseen. The platform is seen as a critical part of the national information infrastructure.

Technology solution

The platform is being developed based on components that are open source, such as development libraries, visualisation libraries (e.g. D3 visualisation JavaScript library). Interoperability was carefully looked at throughout the development of the project, and some modules provided on the platform will be very common and can be used by many different departments or wider public sector bodies.

Technology choice: Open source software

Main results, benefits and impacts

The availability of insightful information is essential for the improvement of performance of services, both operationally (reducing costs, increasing efficiency) and for users (effectiveness and meeting user needs). The Performance Platform supports this in three ways:

  • Automated data gathering and data frequency: collecting and presenting information in an automated way is possible through the Performance Platform. Through direct connections with existing systems and software in place for the delivery of public services, information can be automatically fed into the Performance Platform, which in some cases provides real time information. In general providing insightful information based on Key Performance Indicators and drawing directly from software sources provides much more frequent updates of the information. Not everything is automated as it is also possible to upload information that is less regularly updated (e.g. periodically);
  • Accessible information: traditionally performance management data is quite inaccessible, it often requires being on the right email lists or having specific permission to get the data. This makes it hard to gain more insight and creates silos of information. In particular, the senior management (service managers) are often last to know about problems that may occur in the delivery of a service (e.g. bottle necks in the process, staged of a service where users get stuck or drop out, etc.). Making information on such indicators accessible is therefore crucial and should be done by making a simple browser based access point that work on different channels (e.g. pcs, laptops, tablets, etc.) and is readily available on demand. In general, according to the GDS, the best way to surface information is to make it public. The Performance Platform allows to make the key data easily accessible;
  • Actionability: the Performance Platform does not just provide data as such, it focusses on the information that the service manager in particular can act on upon, use as a basis to ask further questions or directly improve a service. Dashboards for example have a module that shows stage by stage where people tend to get lost or fall out in a transaction with government. Thanks to this a service manager can tell if a particular stage is problematic, thereby providing a way of intervening to improve the service delivery.

The information therefore focusses on the public service, but also has more generic applications. It’s used for content in general on Gov.UK, e.g. which pages perform poorly, or to indicate whether particular web-pages are generating a lot of emails from the public. In addition, for policies with clear headline policy goals these goals can be tracked. Previously getting such information on the achievements would require an analyst to investigate (e.g. by sending around excel templates to be filled in by key people with access to the data, analyzing the data, writing reports and making presentations, etc.). This drains people’s time and resources, whereas the Performance Platform provides service managers with a customisable platform where key indicators can be tracked.

Based on the experience already gained, the Performance Platform will contribute to well informed decision making for public service delivery and enhancing both the efficiency (based on insightful data on costs per transaction and digital take-up) and well as effectiveness of services (based on data in relation to user satisfaction and completion rates, etc.).

Although the platform is still in alpha stage there are already some tangible results. One of the services that is connected to the platform is the ‘lasting power of attorney’ that allows citizens to make a living will and to articulate what they want to happen to their possession if they lose mental capacity. The service itself only recently came online, at the same time the service manager also wanted to link it to the performance platform. This generated a few different impacts:

  1. It allows the service manager to track the online service vis-a-vis the traditional postal service. There are two different parts of the organization that are responsible for digital versus postal that work in different buildings and are not necessarily closely linked. By bringing the data together it allows them to keep track of progress and provide insight for all involved in the delivery of the service.
  2. Impacts have been observed that led to changes in the stages of the service. For example by tracking the use of help buttons on specific pages the department gained insight the user journey. In addition, when changes are made to the service, the department has been able to see how these changes impact the user journey and the effectiveness of the service for end-users. Therefore, the impact of improvements to the service can be measured and made visible. This has been done a number of times by the department. The service managers have asked for data and insights that are useful for them so they can improve the use of the digital service versus the paper based service. For example, the number of people successfully completing each stage of the services and reaching to the completion of the service is an important indicator.

The lasting power of attorney team has made intensive use of the platform and it has proven very successful. This experience is expected to be repeated for many of the public services.

Return on investment

Return on investment: Not applicable / Not available

Track record of sharing

As the Performance Platform is based on open source solutions, the potential for sharing and reusing of the platform is quite high. Already, the GDS has received visitors from other Member States who have showed interest in the platform. As such, the code of the platform is open source and the platform could be picked up and used by other countries to use it out of the box or develop it further.

Lessons learnt

  • The sense of ownership on the side of service managers is very important. Within departments responsible for the delivery of public services there may well be resistance to the transparent tracking of performance. This is particularly expected at the level of middle management. People may well be worried about the performance of tomorrow or next week and how it reflects on them if the service performs poorly. The senior officials however, i.e. the service managers, are accountable for their public services and they stand to gain a lot by being to have the information quickly and accurately and are therefore generally in favor of such actionable performance information. It allows them to act rather than to react after the fact. Therefore, transparency is a benefit but also a risk for particularly middle managers, who may have the capacity to slow down the information flow. Overcoming this will help the government get better. The focus on information is crucial, the availability at quantity and frequency is important. This has reinforced the value of the platform.
  • Traditionally, the friction of information in government is very high. The time it takes to get hold of data if you’re not working in a certain department is very high. Based on the experience of the GDS, this is not always quickly overcome, even if the right contact have been established. The Performance Platform is expected to make a considerable contribution to changing this situation and opening up data to be shared and used for improvement of public service delivery.
Scope: National