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Open innovation in action with FSA

In April / May 2018 we completed a technology project working with the Food Standards Agency.

Among many other things, The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is responsible for approval of applications and issuance of certificates to allow the slaughter of animals in approved locations (slaughterhouses) in the UK.

They issue temporary certificates - TCOC (Temporary Certificate of Competence) which last for a period of 3 months. Anyone can apply, but an application must be approved by an Official Veterinarian (OV) on the approved list. They also issue full Certificate of Competence (COC) which are valid indefinitely.

This process is managed and administered by a small team based in York.

This detailed process map outlines the key steps involved:

The FSA are looking at potential technology solutions that could help them to automate this process (or parts of the process).

They asked ODI Leeds to help.

Our approach

We delivered the project in three stages.

1. Discovery

We held an initial discovery meeting at ODI Leeds.

With ODI Leeds team and the FSA team present, the objective was to understand further information about the TCOC and COC process as well as identifying some of the main opportunities for improvement.

2. Design

We held a more detailed full-day session with the FSA team in York to step through each major stage of their process. Multiple FSA business areas were represented on the day including; IT, security, finance / payments, official veterinarians agency, and the core business team. This was to ensure we obtained input from all key stakeholders and all the main issues with the current process were identified.

We used the outputs and themes of this to design and scope the next and final stage of the project. The FSA were keen to see prototype solutions that they may be able to take forward in future.

We agreed that the final stage of the project would be a full day innovation event / hack day. We invited a small number of developers and technologists to the event. The purpose was to have a small yet diverse group of technologists who would tackle the FSAs problems in different ways, and hopefully create new approaches that the FSA could use to change their certificate processes.

3. Innovation Event / Hack Day

A full day event was held at ODI Leeds on Tuesday 15th May. The event brought together the FSA team responsible for overseeing the process, with a group of 4 fully briefed technologists who worked on developing prototype solutions to the problems identified.

The output of the Innovation Day are prototypes that could be potential solutions that the FSA team could take forward. (see Outputs section below for full description)

You can view the full agenda for the day here:

Our four technologists worked together to develop a prototype web form for the TCOC process. They determined that the key requirements for this project is to move away from paper forms and the necessity to manually re-enter details and replace it with a series of web forms.

These better web forms for certificate applicants could be designed using modern web technologies and GDS design elements, and then this could be implemented into the existing workflow by writing new store procedures for the database.

Very simple solution outline

The following diagram shows the main elements of a new process for registering new slaughtermen.

Prototype solution

Using GDS design elements, we created an example of how the current paper form for a TCOC could be replaced with an online form. Powered by open data the responsive solution guides an applicant through the process.

This has two main advantages,

  1. Validation (including completion of mandatory fields) occurs throughout the process - so there's much less to check before final submission to FSA.
  2. Data is always available to the FSA - so there's no need for manual data re-entry into the existing MSSQL database (which powers the K2 forms front-end).

Extra findings through building the solution

Whilst developing the prototype the team identified a number of other relevant findings, including the availability of key datasets as open data:

  • We can look up vets from the RCVS vet lookup service.
  • List of slaughterhouses. Approved food establishments from which we can filter by the "slaughterhouse" column for "yes".
  • List of species and operations. This is contained in the TCOC application form table (last modified 08/11/2016 by D. Webdale).
  • The version of the TCOC form on GOV.UK is not the same as the on and seems to be out of date (last modified 29/10/2015 by R. Webdale).
  • OVs (Official Veterinarians) that are registered with the FSA are in the FSA's database, but this list is not open.
  • All OVs are registered with the RCVS (Royal College of Veterinary Science).
  • There are some datasets here which might usefully be registers within GDS. We're not sure, and the GDS member present has told us that the status of the registers project is unclear. We would need to understand this better before proceeding.
  • Building using the GDS design elements is good -- but has quite a high barrier to entry compared to similar frameworks such as Bootstrap. (Bootstrap offers compiled CSS and JS as a first option).

Next Steps

There are two options for taking this forward:

Option 1: Simple system

The FSA has already moved from spreadsheets and Access databases to a proper relational database (we think MSSQL server) to store certificates of competency. A user interface has been designed on top of this database using K2-forms for internal use. This seems stable and functional.

The existing database and K2 forms front-end by the FSA seems to work well. It might be sensible not to change it. Rather, we would just add our front-end to it.

Option 2: Robust solution at scale

We designed a scalable system that would additionally replace some of the existing system within the FSA.