Meeting Care Act requirements with digital innovation
Why did eight councils, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG)'s Local Digital campaign and an SME come together to create Application Programme Interfaces (APIs) for all councils to use?
The Deferred Payments Agreement (DPA) Calculator relieves the pressure from both councils and residents by letting individuals work out eligibility for the DPA scheme themselves at a convenient time, from their own device. It supports residents and their families at a difficult time when they are worrying about affording long-term care.
The Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that underpin the tool are available now for any council to use under open licence free of charge, either via their website or by using the IEG4 software solution which is already up and running at York, Fulham (via People First) and Lewisham Councils. More on that later.
I’m impressed that Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has done this. It's revolutionary in its approach, though not technically taxing.
But it’s also just sensible, because it negates councils from re-doing digital services again and again and references correct rules and parameters automatically.
Just to recap, the calculator software is made up of three APIs, to give councils more flexibility in how they integrate the tool with their care information service. There's an API to provide central Government rules and parameters for DPA eligibility; one that takes eligibility input, performs eligibility calculation and returns guaranteed correct results; and a feedback API to capture anonymous usage evidence for open reporting.
Councils who use it don’t have to waste time reinventing the wheel and ensuring they get the calculator right, while giving scope control to Government, leaving local branding decisions to councils.
We hugely support the approach and in my opinion, local authorities must start taking more advantage of APIs – the start of Local Government as a Platform, the local government iteration of the much-talked-about Government as a Platform.
Councils have core common functions and services. By developing a digital self service tool once – vitally, in partnership with local and central government - it offers the same basis to everybody. The DPA Calculator was developed based upon this principle. It is not a rigid solution. It affords organisations the flexibility to configure the tool according to national and local parameters, because these will change.
The APIs allow councils to localise the settings so it is relevant to their area including the ability to adjust interest rates (although it can’t be higher than the national set value); weekly care cost value; the default weekly duration of care; and local authority care home fees.
The tool requires councils to create a locally-branded web page to integrate with the APIs. Some councils will have the expertise and resources to do this and to implement the APIs themselves, but some won’t. Even those councils with the expertise might struggle for resources.
If a council does lack resources to add the front end to the DPA Calculator themselves,
and to make sure that no council is excluded from the opportunity, at good value, IEG4 has launched an easily-customizable, off-the-shelf version, allowing councils to have their own branded, localised solution with your own wording and make the IEG4 product 'your own'.
Our version is based on IEG4’s widely-used eGovHub framework that gives a local authority the ability to change the text on a page (for example, help text). Think of it as web content management for electronic forms, giving local authorities full control to localise and the ability to signpost to alternative local services.
This gives the council the flexibility to change any of the wording on the input and output web pages. It allows the resident to use sliders to model different scenarios of funding they will put into their care costs and then dynamically presents the results as pie charts. The IEG4 product can be up and running within a week.
Another of the APIs of the DPA Calculator gives council users the ability to report on service usage in a standard way, thanks to its ability to pull in information automatically.
Data is anonymous – no personal details are required to gauge eligibility for the scheme - providing insight and evidence of how many citizens feel the need to check their eligibility for the DPA scheme and vitally, whether they will need to sell their property to pay for care. At the moment, many people call or visit their council.
For Government, this has the potential to serve as a powerful. anonymous data-gathering tool to provide a national picture of engagement with DPA which could be used as evidence in policymaking.
Co-production by default
The entire product is based on around a year’s worth of co-discovery, co-design and co-development. It has had input from eight councils from across the country (who will get free use of the calculator for two years), and central government, as well as our expertise.
Co-production is the only strategy I would take forward. Too often we develop software without knowing what the end user really wants. This way, we’re identifying the citizens’ problems and working backwards, ultimately to improve their lives through software.
We’re an SME, and for an SME it’s quite a leap. It takes a lot of effort to co-produce a product and lots of time working with councils. So the upfront costs are high, but you can guarantee you create a product that solves a problem – and you gain a reference site.
I think we’d have to make a case not to do co-production: let’s call it ‘co-production by default’.