Supporting policy change and service reform through Twitter data

By @josephlrice‎
Wednesday, 19 August 2020

The UK’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) supports families and children in the UK through its Child Maintenance Service which helps parents who are separating to calculate financial support and in some cases even collect those payments. In 2019 the service enabled £1 billion to be paid to over 1 million children, playing a critical role in alleviating child poverty in the UK.

The DWP depends on annual surveys and 1:1 user interviews to measure client satisfaction and garner feedback on their service. While the interviews in particular yield valuable insights, they do have some limitations. “Interviews are great for informing future initiatives but not particularly helpful for an iterative approach where we have to move fast and get a pulse on the situation,” said Fay Cooper, Lead Product Manager at DWP's Children and Families division. “I needed a way to unlock the voice of the customer at scale and shift the conversation with internal stakeholders from, “I think and I feel” to “I know because the data shows us.”

Specifically, Cooper and her team were looking for evidence to support their hypothesis that many applicants were finding the DWP’s telephone-based application process stressful and inconvenient. With the help of Wordnerds, a UK based software company with pioneering text analysis technology, DWP examined data from the conversation on Twitter to identify the key themes associated with the child support discussion as well as associated emotions and sentiment. The resulting insights confirmed their suspicion about the telephone application process. Clients were expressing frustration with lack of access outside of DWP’s business hours and in some cases, this access limitation even appeared to be exacerbating domestic violence situations. Interestingly, they were also able to capture a better understanding of the male perspective from what has typically been a female-focused process.  

Thanks to these insights, DWP was able to secure investment for a new digital application service that addressed many of their customers’ concerns around ease of access. Within the first three months of the launch, the service moved from 100% telephony to 80% digital, freeing clients from a 45-minute phone application process to just 15 minutes online. And as a result, completion rates are now averaging 95%. This has also allowed DWP to free up resources to focus on other areas of need.

And then COVID

In late March amid a global pandemic, the UK government issued a stay at home order beginning what would be three months of lockdown for the country. Agencies and departments across the UK Government were forced to adapt to the new measures while continuing to deliver vital services. For the DWP this drove a critical need to understand how the lockdown was impacting its customers and the crucial payments they rely on to support their children.

The DWP again looked to the conversation on Twitter for a real-time pulse of the situation. Unsurprisingly, they found concerns around missed payments due to parents losing jobs, the reassessing of income and general anxiety about increases in child poverty and suffering.

The DWP used this information to quickly prioritize service changes, including developing recovery plans to chase missed payments as well as new proactive notifications and faster payment methods. It also inspired the idea of partnering with charities and other volunteer organisations to support single parents in need.

Where to next?

Reflecting on the results, Cooper commented, “The real-time nature of Twitter was a game-changer for us. We update our services every two weeks and in order to understand the impact of these new features it’s crucial to get real-time feedback, especially in challenging times such as the lockdown period.”

Looking forward, Cooper says they will continue listening to the conversation on Twitter. “I am really passionate about designing services which make a difference. In child maintenance, it’s powerful to see the difference our products make to children and their parents. Our new insight platform, blending traditional user research with Twitter data, will be an important driver towards our objective of delivering a better user experience while supporting policy change.”

Interested in learning more about the power of social listening? Get inspired at

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