Notify

The government's generic and open source notification service,
for the government

by | November 1, 2021

Reading time: 11 minutes

Resume

Citizens expect proactive, tailor-made services from the government. An interesting topic is proactive communication from the government to citizens. One way could be by informing citizens by SMS in situations where this can help. Notify has been developed for this purpose in the United Kingdom. Notify is a platform that allows organizations to send large numbers of SMS messages quickly and easily. There it is successfully used by more than a thousand governments.

Could that also work in the Netherlands?

In other words: Can a generic and open source notification service for the entire government be a solution to inform citizens from government organizations in a proactive, easy, uniform and efficient way about events in the service? And what does it entail to develop and launch a generic facility for the government? Those are the main questions of this experiment.

Validate assumptions

To validate our assumptions on desirability, feasibility, and viability, we undertook multiple experiments. For example, we investigated the desirability of SMS messages from the government with 135 AOW pensioners and we launched a small-scale SMS service in which more than 2000 citizens were informed by SMS about the payment of the AOW and Child Benefit.

The results are promising:

  • It is possible to replicate Notify as an open source application;
  • A significant proportion of respondents require text messages from the government (75%);
  • A significant number of SVB customers choose to sign up for SMS messages from the SVB (more than 2,000 within 4 weeks);
  • Text messages add value to citizens (above 4.7 / 5 on NPS and CSS);
  • Governments show interest in Notify as a government service.

We also have a lot to learn. That brings us to the next steps. At the time of writing, we are focusing on the following issues:

  • How do we develop a government-wide and generic application?
  • How do we make what we develop open source available?
  • How do we connect a government-wide and generic application to different source systems?
  • How do we bring an application into production for governments?
  • How do we set up Notify NL in terms of governance?
  • How do we deliver a generic government service to (other) government organizations?
  • How and to whom do we properly transfer Notify NL?

As you can read, the project is still in progress. Do you want to stay informed? Then let us know.

Work with us on Notify

7 + 3 =

Experiment further in depth

Citizens expect proactive, tailor-made services from the government. An interesting topic is proactive communication from the government to citizens.

Companies – as well as some governments – have been sending SMS messages to people for some time to inform them about events in the service provision. Take, for example, Mail order companies, which send a text message when your package is about to be delivered. Or many dentists, hairdressers, car garages who use such SMS messages to confirm appointments or remind customers. Or finally the garage owner who sends a text message as soon as you can pick up your car. So simple, but also very effective and efficient. It also removes uncertainty among citizens, so that they do not have to contact the organization themselves.

Dutch government organizations only apply this form of service to a limited extent. And yet there are cases where manned service channels handle many phone calls, emails and other (Whatsapp) messages every day that are the result of (too) limited proactive communication from the government to citizens.

SMS messages as a means of communication to citizens

We assume that SMS messages can in various cases help to inform citizens about events in the service provision in a proactive, accessible, uniform and efficient manner. We are looking with particular interest at the United Kingdom: In 2015, they developed the central government service 'Notify'. This allows governments to send Notifications (letters, e-mails and SMS messages) on a large scale from one centrally managed platform. The UK has shown with Notify that it is possible to develop and launch a generic government service with a right to exist 'bottom up' (from individual government organisations). Notify has since been accommodated in the central service “Gov.UK”.

A generic and open source notification service for the Dutch government?

Can a generic and open source notification service for the entire government be a solution to inform citizens from government organizations in a proactive, easy, uniform and efficient way about events in the service? And what does it entail to develop and launch a generic facility for the government? Those are the main questions of this experiment.

What is Notify?

Notify NL is a platform that allows organizations to send large numbers of SMS messages quickly and easily. You can see Notify as a robot (API) that is waiting for commands. For example, a command might be “send message “Dear , your payment has arrived.” to this list of phone numbers.” The robot prepares all messages and forwards them to an SMS gateway. The gateway is a service purchased from eg CM, which then sends the SMS messages.

Notify voorbeeld van gov.uk
Notify example from gov.uk

Notify acts as a kind of gateway: it waits for instructions about the timing, the content of the message and the recipient. Because Notify NL works with pre-programmed templates, this can all be made variable. Notify works best with direct (application programming interface (hereinafter: API)) links to the sender's systems, but can also be used with imported Excel lists.

The most important functions of Notify NL at a glance:

  • Send predefined SMS messages (templates) quickly and securely to a large number of recipients;
  • The templates can be personalized per recipient, whereby eg personal salutation, specific contexts, data and other variables are possible;
  • Own systems can be linked to the application, which makes automatic transmission possible. A list of messages can also be sent manually via your browser.
  • Using the standard SMS gateway of the Dutch government.

Technically, Notify NL is therefore quite simple. The complexity lies in the scalability. To ensure that Notify NL can be used by multiple governments, security, privacy, efficiency, manageability and usability must be in order.

The technical infrastructure of Notify NL

The image below presents a basic overview of Notify's architecture. The blue shaded parts are included in the initial release of the product. The gray areas are options that require further exploration.

Architectuur uitleg plaatje Notify

What problems could Notify NL solve?

That is the question we first asked ourselves. Our assumption was that citizens in the Netherlands were helped in certain service processes by text messages from the government. And that a (SMS) message from the government can remove uncertainties among citizens in a low-threshold manner. An internal brainstorm soon resulted in various processes in which citizens could possibly be helped with such a (SMS) message:

  • To inform customers about the payday of the AOW or Child Benefit;
  • To confirm (or remind them of) an appointment made (by telephone) to customers;
  • When customers have an open action;
  • To inform customers that they can apply for Child Benefit after registering their child with the municipality;
  • To inform customers that the annual statement is available;
  • To inform customers living abroad about open promotions.
Proces inzake aanmelding kind bij gemeente
Process for registering a child with the municipality

We chose to be the first to discover and validate our learning objectives and hypotheses at Notify NL through an experiment regarding the paydays of the AOW and Child Benefit. There was sufficient movement and urgency on this subject, so that we could quickly make progress.

Our learning objectives and hypotheses

We started this research with a number of learning objectives and assumptions. At the highest level, these covered seven topics:

  1. We assume that citizens need notifications from the government (desirability, from a citizen's point of view).
  2. We assume that notifications from the government are of added value for citizens (viability).
  3. We assume that governments need a generic notification service from the government (desirability, from the point of view of a government organization).
  4. We assume that notifications are of added value for government organizations (viability).
  5. We assume that Notify NL can be developed in accordance with the requirements for privacy, security and policy with regard to open source (feasibility).
  6. We assume that Notify NL can be managed by a suitable (government) party – in accordance with privacy, security and open source policy requirements.
  7. We assume that the costs of developing, managing and using Notify NL outweigh the benefits (viability).

An underlying learning objective of Novum Innovation Lab is that we want to discover with an open and learning attitude what the development of a generic government service entails. We then want to apply these lessons within future projects based on the idea of 'acting from one government'.

The experiments

As we describe above, Notify NL is quite a large project with learning objectives and assumptions on various axes. Notify therefore includes several experiments, which together should lead to an informed choice to develop and launch Notify NL. We describe the entire experiment to date below.

Overzicht van experimenten

Research among AOW community members

In a community of AOW pensioners (a sample of +/- 300 people) we conducted a survey into the degree of interest in a notification service from the government. A total of 134 people responded to our questionnaire.

These were the main outcomes (see dashboard below for full results):

  • Most respondents have experience with receiving SMS messages from organizations. They already receive text messages from PostNL, the GGD, the dentist or the hairdresser, among others.
  • 56% of the respondents experienced receiving these SMS messages as pleasant or very pleasant. More than 71% has been helped with these SMS messages.
  • In the context of the SVB (and the government), 75% percent of the respondents indicated that they would like to receive a text message from the at least one situation.
  • Respondents prefer to receive text messages when an action is open, to be reminded of an appointment or to confirm an appointment that has been made.
  • 68% of the respondents indicated that they prefer to receive text messages with a personal salutation.
One of the respondents supplemented his/her response in the forum, which in our view shows that offering this service can be a nice added value for specific target groups:

“Dear SVB, I like SMS reminders. As long as it's not an advertisement, I can. You are serving not only a group of people who may not need reminders, but also many people who have their heads full of problems. I have worked in that field and have seen that memories are never superfluous. So do it.”

The payday experiment

The SVB receives almost daily telephone calls and other forms of contact with citizens about the payment days of the AOW and Child Benefit. Citizens often have questions about whether and when they receive their money from the SVB. Our assumption was that we can help these citizens with an SMS messaging service that sends an SMS (2 days) prior to paydays with the exact payment date. Another assumption (and desirable effect that we wanted to see) was that the number of calls and WhatsApp messages about the payday decreases.

Here are the key results so far (see dashboard below for full results):

  • More than 2100 people have signed up for text messages about paydays.
  • The distribution of AOW and Child Benefit customers is approximately equal.
  • An interesting peak in the number of registrations can be observed around the paydays of the AOW and Child Benefit. More customers will probably visit the SVB website around those days and then choose to sign up for SMS messages around the paydays.
  • Participants rate the messaging service on average with a 4.7 / 5 (based on 20 respondents)
  • Participants rate the usefulness of the information with an average of 4.8 / 5 (based on 20 respondents)
  • Participants would recommend the service to others (score 4.7 / 5 (based on 20 respondents))
The experiment on the paydays of the SVB will continue for the time being. In the meantime, we try to solve other issues that are important to estimate the feasibility, desirability and future-proofing of Notify NL.

Next steps

That brings us to the next steps. At the time of writing, we are focusing on the following issues:

  • How do we develop a government-wide and generic application?
  • How do we make what we develop open source available?
  • How do we connect a government-wide and generic application to different source systems?
  • How do we bring an application into production for governments?
  • How do we set up Notify NL in terms of governance?
  • How do we deliver a generic government service to (other) government organizations?
  • How and to whom do we properly transfer Notify NL?

We do this as follows:

 

Vervolgstappen

Work with us on Notify

12 + 11 =

Share this article