Case Study: Highways England

Strategic guidance led to user-centred design

Highways England is the government organisation responsible for planning, building, operating and maintaining Britain's motorways and major A roads. Highways England also delivers information and assistance to millions of people. It helps the economy thrive by connecting businesses with their customers in the UK and beyond.

As their Customer Experience Intelligence Partner, we are assisting as they deliver the Second Generation Free Flow Charging Scheme for the Dart Charge. We're working towards project goals as part of a wider 30-50 year strategy for the UK's roads to "Connect the Country". 

This ongoing partnership follows the successful delivery of our initial discovery phase and rapid prototyping designed to support the future vision for their service. During this time we've:

  • gained a greater understanding of wider user needs
  • informed service roadmaps
  • prototyped proof of concepts.

We are also looking to the future and the impact of innovation, and introducing helpful success metrics and governance to stay on track. 

But most importantly, we're fostering a real cultural shift towards user centred design and advocacy for the core GDS Principles and Government Service Standards. We ensure all of work is empowering and easily shareable to ensure its impact can reach outside of the project and inform future free flow charging schemes as well as wider Highways England stakeholders. 

Our approach for the project has always been to think bigger than just digital. In Discovery, we found that the service was working, but by understanding user needs we could work towards greater compliance and building the beneficial ethos of the frictionless system. For these problem areas, we went beyond wireframes and digital designs, and looked at the “Lived Experience” and all user touchpoints. We worked to guarantee consistency and summon confidence in every user, whether an interaction occurs on the crossing or before they embark. 

The beginning of our journey

Following our successful Discovery and rapid prototyping projects for the Second generation free flow charging service, we were brought on as their Customer Experience Intelligence Partner. The aim of this partnership is to improve compliance and safety, as well as generate a more effective, consistent experience across all of the Dart Charge's channels.

In addition to proof of concepts, revised service maps and the validated discovery phase, we are working towards consistent design principles, journey maps and a bespoke tone of voice. Our support will help design and deliver a service that will meet local, wider-UK and non-UK users’ needs in an inclusive, easy to use way. 

We knew we needed a vision that transcended traditional UX practice to prioritise safety, enable us to consider the minutia of road-user behaviour, and deep dive into how humans read and engage while concentrating on driving. Our focus on this led us to actually drive the crossing to get first hand experience of all the real life factors. We knew that this is paramount to the understanding the service and could influence online behaviour, such as account creation, and interacting with the contact centre.

Highways England embedded Nomensa at every step and advocate not only for GDS principles, but also user centred design (UCD). This shift in working practices, will help drive future technology decisions based upon user and business needs not simply capability. We have also navigated policy, and built relationships conscientiously and openly. This empowers us and Highways England to really understand their users, stakeholders, suppliers and advocate for best practice.

Steering change through transparency

Given the importance of frictionless road user charging to the Department for Transport and Highways England, we need to ensure that we provide full visibility to the wider team, allowing for solutions to be agreed early on. Our team work collaboratively, leading weekly status calls, face-to-face meetings and workshops to provide vital check in points.

Effective communications, as well as easy-to-understand and shareable deliverables, are particularly important given the geographic dispersion of the client team, multiple government and third-party stakeholders as well as the implications of the Coronovirus pandemic. 

We work in a ‘non-precious’ way, working together to push boundaries and build confidence, all while demonstrating evidence-based solutions in a neutral, transparent style. By letting the user needs drive decision-making, we are able to support Highways England by providing viability and a shared understanding of why decisions have been made.

By prototyping within the GOV.UK design system and testing regularly, we experimented, failing fast and cheaply. Further value has been achieved by sharing results with all potential stakeholders and third parties, providing artefacts, reports and consultation in a transparent way to support effective engagement throughout the process. 

All our findings and recommendations from various packages of work have been well received by the Highways England project team. Knowledge sharing is and has been paramount throughout our engagement. Ensuring insights are shared and recommendations evolve over time, securing not just stakeholder buy-in, but a real feeling of camaraderie and ownership of the work.

Going the distance

Our ambitious partnership has and continues to involve assisting in everything from informing their choice in the next generation of suppliers, to providing expertise and guidance on UCD best practice and training. Through this relationship, we are able to give Highways England bespoke and flexible support across their organisation while delivering an end-to-end multi-channel service for the Dart Charge.

By earning confidence and trust along the way, we supported in other aspects of the organisation that went beyond our initial brief. We were involved in outlining business case assurance and approvals from cross-government stakeholders. This enabled Highways England to confidently move forward in its large technology strategy and keep the end user always in mind. Meanwhile, many of our UX measures feed directly into the service's defined success metrics and help shape development decisions. 

Our on-going partnership is testament to the efforts of the team, and the transparent and pragmatic approach championed by all involved. Whether it's helping them to understand gaps in their knowledge, identifying areas for improvement, or empowering them to communicate best practice to the suppliers, we will continue to be strategic in the delivery of our support.

Our collaborative approach and appetite for upskilling facilitates real buy-in both internally and with potential suppliers. For instance, we created GDS training videos that explain the roles and responsibilities of a truly agile "one team". We are also providing ongoing consultancy for supporting engagements with Highways Englands’ stakeholders, including organisations that represent members / users with particular needs such as commercial and vulnerable users. We all want to ensure we understand expectations and opportunities for the Dart Charge and all free flow charging schemes to be as inclusive as possible in the future.

While we’re only just beginning to see the fruits of our labour, our service design recommendations have been incorporated across all their channels. What has been the most enjoyable part of this journey is witnessing them thread user-centred principles and design thinking into the fabric of their decision making. It’s exciting to see an organisation as essential as Highways England embrace UX in its approach to the second generation free-flow charging service.

“Working with Nomensa, we have established a true partnership underpinned by collaborative working to inform the development and procurement of second generation free-flow charging services (Dart Charge), from the perspective of our customers. Their pragmatic user centred guidance has helped instil a culture not only of best practice, but one that is in line with the Government Digital Service (GDS) Standard.”

Claire Marchetti, Project Manager, Highways England

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