Tools and techniques for managing demand

There are a number of guidance, techniques and approaches that you can apply to manage demand.

There are a number of guidance, techniques and approaches that you can apply to manage demand. These include:

  • Applying behavioural insight, and "nudge" techniques. (A 'nudge' technique is a way of gently influencing the behaviour of a group of people, through non-forced methods)
  • Improving access and self-service options
  • Re-designing and co-designing service with customers
  • Developing the resilience of individuals and communities, and co-producing outcomes
  • Changing people's behaviour over the long-term
  • Using future risks to target resources towards prevention

All approaches to demand management start by seeking a greater understanding of the drivers of demand - and typically comprise the following components:

The more complex the issues, the longer the timescales needed to implement change. Many demand management initiatives can be completed quickly, while some need medium or long-term commitment.

1) Changes which can be implemented quickly and easily

  • By re-drafting the letters sent to tenants with rent arrears, Wealden District Council reduced the average time between its first letter and contact from 46 to 21 days. Rather than the council needing to send a second letter, in most cases the tenant now calls the council before this is necessary. This has reduced the number of tenants in arrears and increased income for the council, as well as reduced enforcement and compliance costs. 
  • Colchester Borough Council conducted Randomised Control Trials to test the effectiveness of text messaging for influencing behaviour. When text messages were sent to 277 people owing council tax, the average amount paid per head was almost £10 more than the control group, at £50.73. Two-thirds of the group receiving a text message made a payment, 11 per cent more than in the control group. This equates to £2,070 more in payments from the minor intervention of sending texts costing £13.85 (a return of 150 times the cost of the texts). The approach was adopted by the service in April 2015, and in the first six months generated £60,643 in additional payments. 
  • By trialling three new messages with its Blue Badge customers, Essex County Council identified the most effective communication style for encouraging customers to apply via the council's website rather than by post. The council  employed its new, simplified communication style to its website, increasing web take-up from 31 to 56 per cent. The redesigned message following this randomised controlled trial is estimated to have contributed to savings of £51,000 for 2015-16.

2) Initiatives requiring customer insight and senior sponsorship which can be implemented in the medium term

  • Understanding what drives demand for its Home-to-School transport required Calderdale Council to examine people's expectations and choices, the councils systems and processes and the individual behaviour of staff and residents. This understanding informed the re-design of the service which focused on a collaborative, preventative approach which saved money while improving outcomes for residents. 
  • Incorporating behavioural insights into its approach helped the London Borough of Ealing develop an enabling and facilitative relationship with families seeking housing. The project promoted self-help to those who were able to do so, with 15 per cent fewer going on to become homeless compared to those who were not part of the pilot group. 
  •  As part of a wider piece of work by Hampshire County Council and Isle of Wight Council

Rushmoor Borough Council supported 338 residents to reach the four-week smoking cessation mark (an indicator of giving up for good). This was a 33 per cent increase on figures for the same period in the previous year – with next to no additional resources. This was achieved by identifying and targeting those socio-demographic groups which are most likely to quit smoking, and then designing an engagement strategy around the behaviours of these groups

3) Complex transformations requiring in-depth engagement, long-term commitment or major behaviour change

  • By engaging an estimated 3,500 service users who do not yet meet thresholds for statutory support for specialist service - such as for mental health or social care - or where the statutory involvement cannot meet all their needs, Oldham Council's new Early Help service aims to ensure users receive support to prevent them from needing specialist services. The new approach integrates services from a range of areas, and focuses on helping people to help themselves by giving them the skills to problem solve and enabling them to manage their own lives. 
  • Community Engagement and co-ordination of Street Services is a key part of Plymouth City Council's new Co-Operative Street Service, which aims to "create pioneering living streets and open spaces in which citizens, businesses and third sector partners play a part by shaping and delivering services for their community." The approach involves the amalgamation of a range of functions and new management structures which align staff more closely to ward areas to ensure resources are focused on the things that matter most to Plymouth's citizens. 
  • By working collaboratively with Greater Manchester Probation Service, New Charter Housing Trust in Tameside has supported high-risk offenders into stable accommodation to break the self-perpetuating cycles which underpin their offending. For every £1 invested in the approach, benefits worth £6.13 have been realised by local public services. 

For more examples by service area, visit our case study knowledge bank 

"Nudge" and Behavioural Insights

Several of the examples introduced here call on the application of behavioural insights, first popularised by Professor Richard Thaler's 2008 book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

Officers seeking to apply these principles to manage demand are recommended to read two publications that offer methodological approaches to employing behavioural insight to improve public services outcomes, namely:

Behaviour Change

Creating behaviour change among a population is key to managing demand for public services. To effect sustainable behaviour change for long-term conditions such as alcohol misuse or obesity, councils must identify key behaviours and the factors that need to change to support and maintain change in those behaviours. Professor Susan Michie of University College London reviewed the many behaviour change frameworks and synthesised them into the "Behaviour Change Wheel".  Introduced below, this maps the over-arching sources of behaviour to appropriate interventions. An additional outer layer of the Wheel (not depicted below) links these intervention functions to policies.

Public service organisations can use the Wheel to unpack a long-term behaviour change challenge, and to understand what steps to consider and who else they may need to work with. For further information see research paper, and presentation.

Getting started/ Approaches to take:

  • Start with residents and communities, using insight tools like Customer Journey Mapping and drawing on the insights of front-line staff, partners, and councillors to understand their experience of services and what they want from them, and the part they can play in achieving this
  • Make all interactions and processes simple and easy from the users' perspective to reduce the effort required to respond to or take-up a service. This includes ensuring communication and messaging are clear, while making sure the actions people take are clearly signposted and straightforward to implement
  • Take a preventative approach and be proactive in seeking opportunities to avoid demand arising in the first place by addressing the root-causes
  • Harness the insight and energy of individuals and communities to overcome their own problems by fostering networks for mutual support, collective action and resilience
  • Make it personal and social. Describing what most people do in a particular situation – the social norm – encourages others to do the same.
  • Develop your organisation's capacity to understand and manage demand over time by identifying and sharing the learning from each project. Promote your early wins to stakeholders and incorporate the know-how and skills into business as usual.

Top tips

Learn from others – someone else has probably done something similar to what you want to do, so look at some case studies to see how you could adapt the lessons to your situation. Start small to prove the case and generate some quick wins. Several of the councils profiled here began by re-drafting their reminder letters, and testing the effects before applying behavioural techniques more widely.

Understand current customer behaviours – by sharing and exchanging insights across services and organisations.

Engage customers and communities:  Engage residents in conversation about resources, roles and responsibilities. The projects described in this resource illustrate how constructively and positively the public responds to this approach.

Look at the resources you can call on: Look at the  physical, intellectual, social resources – inside and outside the organisation. For example, frontline staff are a source of insight into customer behaviours, while partnering community groups can open up new opportunities including their buy-in.

Recognise that managing demand requires an open mind: You must have a readiness to challenge established practices in the light of insight and evidence.

These techniques and approaches can raise as well as reduce demand. Encouraging citizens to access services in a timely way can leave both parties better off in the long-run

You can achieve a lot with limited resources:  Many of the approaches and techniques outlined in this resource are not difficult or expensive to implement.

Nicola Rigby, Consultation and Engagement Manager, Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council

Nicola Rigby talks about the importance of engaging with residents to transform services and embed culture change.

Nick Sayers, Head of Operations and Green Space at Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council

Nick Sayers talks about how Tameside has taken a whole system approach to radically redesign services.

Eddie Copeland, Former Head of Technology Policy at Policy Exchange

Eddie Copeland talks about the role digital tools and strategies can play in managing demand.

Tim Pearse, Head of Local Government Behavioural Insights Team

Tim Pearse explains how different behaviour insight techniques can help to influence the behaviour and actions of individuals in order to reduce costs or generate income.

Anna Randle, Head of Public Services at Collaborate

Anna Randle introduces the different types of demand, its drivers and how councils can manage their demand.