We first talked about updating the service standard around a year ago. Since then, we’ve talked to hundreds of people in central and local government.
It’s still a work in progress, but we think we’re getting close to a final draft which supports the government’s ambition to deliver joined up, end to end services that meet user needs. So we thought it would be useful to provide some details about the direction it’s going in.
The objective of the survey was to understand current activity across government in what might be termed new or emerging technologies that are related to digital or information technologies. Loosely defined, these are new technologies that do not currently have a critical mass, but which may have the potential to disrupt industries or generate significant savings.
We need to prepare for a world where people might not access GOV.UK through their computer or smartphone, but could be using Alexa, Google Assistant or some technology that hasn’t even been created yet. We need to make GOV.UK understandable by humans and machines.
Transformation is a world away from simply polishing the way things are currently done (the “lipstick on pigs” approach – the tired web- and form-based service design ethos of the past few decades, stuck Groundhog Day-like inside the broken silos and reference frames of existing organisational services). Improving our public services relies on the ability to step back and rethink and redesign current public policy by focusing relentlessly and selflessly on improved outcomes, with a profoundly beneficial and positive impact on people and their experience of delivering or receiving public services.
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.
Yesterday [Rob Miller] joined a large group of people whose idea of the best way to spend a beautiful sunny Saturday was to gather together in London’s City Hall and discuss ideas for ways that London can get the most out of the opportunities that ‘smart city’ developments offer.
Can government remember? Is it condemned to repeat mistakes? Or does it remember too much and so see too many reasons why anything new is bound to fail?
While there are some great pockets of work taking place to deliver better public services, the UK government’s overall attempts at technology-enabled, or “e-government” or “digital”, reform appear to be struggling to achieve and sustain the benefits promised at the pace and scale originally foreseen. And not for the first time – this has been a repeating cycle of optimism and disillusionment since the mid-1990s. So why is this?
I took a week off doing this last week – the shame! – so apologies for that*. A good crop this time round though. Enjoy!
- Tom Steinberg asks Why even bother with a user centred, digital government? and it’s a very interesting question. We spend a lot of time wondering what such a thing might look like, but without understanding why you’re doing it life can get very tricky. Tom’s answer is based around achieving compassion, fairness, the value of government itself, respect and transparency. Matt Jukes has posted his response to the question as well, in typically thoughtful style, adding empowerment to the list.
- An update on Government as a Platform (GaaP) progress at GDS gives a chance to discuss some of this stuff, including the opening up of the Notify service to local government, and the additonal capability for Notify to allow for inbound text messaging and the sending out of postal letters. Now, I wrote about GaaP a little while ago, and having just reread it, I’m not entirely happy about it (bit too tech-focused). The general issue I have with this area of work is that it seems to have leapt straight into the tech capabilities part, without thinking through the platform operating model bit first. The more specific issue with the way this is being done is in the re-writing of what are pretty common, commodity components. These things already exist! Why does local government need another way to send people emails, text messages or (FFS!) letters? Surely it would have been quicker, easier and cheaper to curate a suite of existing, well supported, easily configurable and interoperable components that could be used lego block style to build out services? Maybe there’s something here I’m just not getting.
- ‘Digital Transformation’ Is a Misnomer – is a great articulation about the problems of language and how they impede progress. I’ve a post in the process of percolation on this topic at the moment, however it’s worth saying that people’s understanding of terms is based as much on their own experience as it is commonly accepted definitions. In other words (ha!) no single expression is ever going to work as a shorthand that everybody gets first time. This whole thing is made harder by the efforts of vendor marketing departments who like to badge whatever they do with whatever the fashionable term is at the time. My approach is to choose the right language for your organisation and stick with it, and rather than focus on specific definitions, work on using them as symbols to represent the thing you’re trying to get across. Otherwise you are doomed to never get past the first slide of the deck you’re writing for that important meeting.
- If I could tell you 3 things – notes from a brief career in the public service – really nice reflective piece from Leisa Reichelt. All three of her things come from being user focused in one’s work, which is telling. It’s very easy to talk the talk on user needs but actually doing it is hard and requires constant vigiliance.
- GDS Isn’t Working – Part 5 (No Vision, No Ambition) – an excoriating post from Alan Mather, continuing his series analysing government transformation efforts of the last few years. It’s not perfect – I can’t help but get the feeling that Alan needs to let the Gateway go… – but it’s a great challenge to not just the current central government strategy but also for anybody working on this stuff in their own organisations.
* although nobody complained…