I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Local GDS workshop held, last Friday, at the Government Digital Services (GDS) headquarters in London. The workshop gave a great insight into the Standards developed and being used by the GDS team and led to many discussions about whether they could be applied to Local Government.
The information collected is being collated and I expect it will be published shortly so I’m not going to go over it again here but I will give some of my own impressions of the day.
The Digital Service Standard is a set of 18 criteria by which new services are assessed. Each new service must pass the standards before it is allowed to be part of the .gov.uk domain. In many ways this gatekeeper approach is the key to the Standards success. The assessments are performed by a panel with various skills covering Technical, Information Architecture and Usability. The Standards are designed to ensure that the design of services matches user requirements in a supportable and extendable manner. They also, of course, ensure that services support the digital by default ethos behind GDS.
The Standards certainly represent a best practice approach to developing digital services. They have also been refined over time recently dropping from 26 to 18 points.
The general feeling around the room was that with a little tweaking the standards would apply equally well to Local Government. The people I spoke to also seemed to feel that adopting the Standards would prove beneficial not only to Councils but ultimately to customers. Assessment of services against the standards could be achieved either by a panel assessment or self-certification. It’s easy to see that this could result in awards being applied to services to show that they have passed the standards.
Perhaps the biggest blockers to a Local standard are cost and budget. In central government services have large volumes of users and even small changes can be justified relatively easily. For Local services the benefits of changes have to be assessed against the cost of implementation and of sticking with the status quo. However, many of the Standards will ultimately result in cost savings, for example by encouraging online interactions rather than going through contact centres and by ensuring services are adaptable and supportable. This is an area where Councils will need to work together and share details of how effective their services implementations have been and what savings they have achieved. The wider question, of course, is whether actual services themselves can be shared across councils.
Following the workshop we were treated to a tour around the GDS offices. I’m always amazed when I go around these places by how important post-it notes have become to the development process. It doesn’t seem very long ago that we were all told they were evil and to be avoided at all costs. Nowadays they’re seem to be everywhere! Still, it was interesting to see how they work. The GDS team are doing great things and we’re all lucky that they’re sharing their journey with us.