The movement to modernize government technology has been focused on the delivery of government services using modern technology and best practices. But that is only half the solution; now we must also learn to drive policy and operations around delivery and users, and complete the feedback circuit. Only then can we effectively achieve the goals government policies intend.
The Ad Hoc Government Digital Services Playbook compiles what we’ve learned from four years of delivering digital services for government clients. Our playbook builds on and extends the Digital Services Playbook by the United States Digital Service. The USDS playbook is a valuable set of principles, questions, and checklists for government to consider when building digital services. If followed, the plays make it more likely a digital services project will succeed.
Digital technology, coupled with design approaches, can help third sector organisations expand the reach of existing services, sense and respond to new needs as they emerge, and achieve more for less.
Transforming an organisation is fundamentally about working with people to help them do new things and work in new ways. There’s a whole industry built on workplace training with courses, curricula and training providers to fit almost any skills gap. But when it comes to digital transformation, this way of thinking falls short in several ways.
Although digital technologies are a powerful way to change a service, what really matters is the method with which change is done: user research, UX design, agile working, co-design, and solving problems in experimental ways. We now want to apply those methods to a wider set of problems, not all involving digital tech.
Due to time constraints, many Local Government Service leads are inevitably ‘heads down’ and perhaps overwhelmed by the variety of technology on offer. It can be hard to team up with neighbouring boroughs because that adds complexity and may slow things down through collaborative decision making. They need more ‘heads up’ time to reflect and review what is going on elsewhere, and try to be open minded and consider wider options – we as SMEs on the other hand need to present our products in terms of their benefits, in plain English, not as a technology offer.
There is a huge opportunity for local authorities to share common digital service patterns for highly defined, commoditised services that are repeated across multiple organisations. For services like reporting missed bins, FOI requests and complaints for example, how fundamentally different should the user journeys for these services be between individual authorities? Or, put another way, at a time of such pressure on public finances, can we continue to justify the level of local variation in the design and delivery of these services that we continue to see across the country?
The low code debate seems to have really kicked off.
The low code platforms we’ve tried place a big emphasis on making the lives of developers simpler (or redundant). Unfortunately, we notice this is at the expense of user experience. Low code makes it harder to take a user-centred, design-led approach.
When creating, you have to follow the platforms’ chosen UI components and design out of a prescribed box. Once completed, you can then tweak to meet your users needs. As the platform uses its own functionality, you are also restricted by what’s been created so far. It’s a world of functionality first and user needs later, which never ever ends well.
After careful consideration, we went for what I think was a good, pragmatic compromise. Our chosen open standards platform (this is a must), providing a “low code” development environment, has a fixed enterprise licence fee that means we can not only build unlimited apps for ourselves, but can build apps for any public sector body operating in our geography at no additional cost. Development time is much faster than it would otherwise be, and the skills required are significant, but lower than other development environments.
Worth reading both in full to help you decide if low code fits into your strategy.
At Adur & Worthing, our use of low code is core to our service design programme and the main tool used by our central digital team in change projects. We don’t go this way every time — we’re not purists — but time and again, we prove to ourselves it’s the better way.
Successful digital transformation in the public sector requires a significant shift in mind set from all employees to generate the best possible return for citizens. Councils also need to work together to generate ideas and platforms, which can then be shared across local government.