When we experience certain kinds of hardship in life, it’s natural to turn to our councils for help. This is particularly true in the world of social care. Unfortunately, people often end up in a web of phone calls and assessments, unclear about the support options available.

This can also create extra, unnecessary demand on already strained council services.

We’ve written before about complexity in adult social care and how providing the right content is key. With Buckinghamshire County Council, we’ve been working to untangle the different kinds of support on offer to adults in need and developed a new tool to help residents find support.

“Find support near you”

Residents are surrounded by community and voluntary organisations that are ready and willing to help, but it can be hard to find them. Councils often provide directories, or lists of available services to residents, for example when families of young people with special educational needs require information on the “local offer”, or when helping adults find activities and support in their local area. These directories include internal council-provided services, but the bulk is often provided by the voluntary and community sector: charities, support groups, youth centres and so on.

Despite being vital in connecting people to support and reducing demand on council services keeping accurate lists of information about local services is hard. Services change frequently, which means they’re often incomplete or out of date. It’s not unusual to see teams facing this challenge with very old technology, that’s not fit for the 21st-century.

We’ve built a tool with Buckinghamshire County Council that aims to simplify this search for services and help keep the information up to date.

The “find support near me” tool

Using this new tool, residents can:

  • answer simple questions about their needs
  • specify a location where they’re interested in looking

The tool will then provide options for support groups, activities and organisations active in their local area that are filterable by venue accessibility, age group and more. Each service is actionable, with a website or contact details so users can go directly to the source if they only need a particular kind of support.

Prototyping and usability testing for the Find support near me tool

When doing user research, we found that many people research these services on behalf of someone they care for. With this in mind, we added the ability to save services to view again later or send them to a friend via SMS or email. Users can also submit feedback to amend service details or suggest entirely new ones, to help us improve data completeness.

Prototyping and usability testing for the Find support near me tool

Thinking in the open

With Buckinghamshire, we’ve started reimagining how these directories could work, starting with a fresh open data foundation. Applying open data principles here means the data is stored independently from the front-ends that use it. Meaning that in the future, we can drive other user experiences from the same data set, without needing to duplicate work.

What directories of services could look like

Once we’re happy with the breadth and depth of data, the API can also be opened up to third parties, inviting app developers to use the data and build more, creative solutions. This is similar to what Transport for London does with its data that led to innovations like Citymapper.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same logic that underlies GOV.UK Registers: durable, maintained open datasets that can be repurposed to solve many user-facing problems.

This tool is really just a small demonstration of what could be possible. The real power of this approach comes not from what this single tool can do, but from the possibilities inherent in liberating data from a single tool and making it open for all.

We’ll share a link to the tool soon — please tell us what you think!

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