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Customer journey mapping as a tool for data discovery

I’ve been working recently with the Government Innovation Team at Nesta on a pilot they are running with the Essex public sector. As part of this, we’ve been using a modified customer journey mapping technique to identify data sources about businesses held by the public sector. This is a technique which is being used a lot in public sector transformation having been adapted from commercial service design practice. There seem to be a lot of pictures in my Twitter timeline of customer journey mapping workshops where teams are mapping and prototyping new citizen journeys through different services. However, this is not yet in the canon of techniques to use when you’re starting a data focused project. It struck me as a useful approach to uncovering data sources which would otherwise not be obvious to different parts of the public sector, and I thought it would be useful to set out how we approached this in case this could be useful for others.

I’ve had a long interest in the use of service design techniques, such as customer journey mapping, in the public sector. I’ve blogged about how I think public sector data projects are benefiting from the incorporation of tools and approaches like these. My interest goes back as far as my early career in academic qualitative research and subsequently as a qualitative market researcher. However, I was first exposed to the power of customer journey mapping in the public sector about 10 years ago when I worked in the Social Exclusion Task Force. Back then I was responsible for developing a national strategy to support those with the most complex mental health problems to stay in employment. I came across a project in Sunderland where they had used service design to develop back-to-work services and had involved the agency Live / Work. I specifically remember the customer journey maps that had been developed by Live / Work showing the transition of people from various services and how these transitions. The technique made obvious the experience of someone trying to find work, as well as the inadequacies of provision of the current system, in a way which the usual public sector approach of meetings, policy papers and commissioning failed to bring to life.

When I was asked by Nesta to help set up the discovery stage for this current project, it seemed to me that a journey mapping approach would help bring some insight to the the challenge we were having in understanding what data is collected across a number of public sector organisations.

How we’ve used journey mapping to discover data

In this specific project, we’ve used the technique to help colleagues in Essex think about which parts of the public sector collect data about businesses. Rather than thinking about the journey as one taken by an individual customer or citizen, we started thinking about it as a journey taken by a business from starting up to closing down or expansion. 

Most of the work to complete an initial map was done in a workshop which we undertook in May. We first identified those stages that businesses go through - “setting up”, “finding a premises”, “employing workers”. And then we substituted some of the conventional headings of the swimlanes for those which focused on identifying the digital and data layers of both public and other organisations. 

Business Journey Map

The middle lane was designed to capture the business experience. Next we identified any obvious touchpoints (letters, visits etc). Then directly below this, we identified the public sector teams which would be engaged with the business at each stage and below that the digital and data layers that these teams used / produced. Above the business experience we replicated these digital and data rows for those other organisations or actors who might also have engagement with businesses at different stages e.g. accountants, solicitors, estate agents, suppliers etc. At the end of the workshop the initial map looked like this:

Business Journey Map at end of workshop

On reflection this technique helped us think about datasets which hadn't occurred to us previously and which might strengthen the analytical approach we're taking. We are now adding further information to this business journey map on the basis of desk research and further user interviews. The next step is to use it to identify opportunities to prototype data products and possibilities for new local information sharing protocols. This approach could also help support organisations interested in incorporating open data in the design and delivery of their services by highlighting actors outside of the public sector who might have data and who may also make this available openly. As with journey maps in general, it’s also a useful tool to help teams to develop a joint understanding of the current service provision.

For me, using this tool in this way demonstrated how useful service design approaches can be in helping shape data projects in the public sector. These tools are not just useful in projects which would be recognisable as service or digital transformation projects, but also have applicability in what would up until now be seen as analytical projects.