Back in May, we blogged about the work we were just starting on assisted digital. Today, in the Government Digital Strategy, we commit to taking a cross-government approach to assisted digital, to continuing our work with departments and expert organisations to agree this approach, and to publish it by December.
You can read the details in the strategy and you can see the research we’ve done with people who are online and offline too.
I’ve had lots of conversations about Digital by Default in government and outside. Quite rightly, one of the first things people raise in response to the idea of Digital by Default is that not everyone is online, and that lots of people who are online may not have the skills to do complex things. Here I wanted to say a few things to complement the strategy by putting our ideas about assisted digital in context.
In the case study below, Marketa Mach from Go ON UK talks about what it means to support users while we build digital services.
Some people are offline, but that shouldn’t stop us going Digital by Default.
The definition of Digital by Default in the strategy acknowledges that not everyone is online. In fact, the people who are offline are a big part of Digital by Default.
By Digital by Default, we mean digital services that are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will choose to do so, whilst those who can’t are not excluded.
We think there’s a big opportunity for government to deliver its services digitally to people who are already doing things online - I don’t need to tell you about that again here. But I do want to reiterate that Digital by Default is just that - a default. It’s not ‘digital only’ or ‘100% digital’ for all users and services.
We already do assisted digital
The term ‘assisted digital’ can make people think that it’s another channel, or a new technology. But government already does lots of what, in future, we will think of as assisted digital. We deliver services face to face, for example, in a Jobcentre Plus office or through an intermediary organisation where services are delivered on behalf of government. We deliver services by phone and by post.
Going Digital by Default challenges us to think again about these channels. If digital services are so straightforward and convenient that the people who can use them choose to do so, and if most people in the UK are online (as our research shows they are), we have to ask ourselves what non-digital users need to use our services. Face to face, phone, post and other offline channels become the ways to access services for people who are offline and people who are online but who have lower digital capability.
But there’s an opportunity to do it better
Having said that, assisted digital is not just about leaving non-digital channels open. We need to think harder than that for a number of reasons.
First, there is an opportunity to use new technologies to offer other ways to use services or help people who can do some of a digital transaction independently, but not all of it.
Second, there are questions about how we deliver it. Front-line staff will continue to be central to delivering assisted digital. But some departments might also want to bring in other resource or technology, and there is an opportunity to collaborate across services.
Third, there are considerations about consistency of provision across services. Last but not least, other channels can be much more expensive than digital so we need to ensure we are using them as effectively and efficiently as possible.
We will learn by doing
The most important thing I’ve learned about assisted digital so far it that it’s not a challenge we can solve in the abstract. User needs vary across the 650+ central government transactions (although we do think it will be possible to group the services by their assisted digital needs). The needs depend on the particular users of the service - no one service has the exact same user make-up or numbers of online and offline users. And the needs depend on the service itself - how complex or simple the service is affects the levels of support required.
Remember, in many ways we already do assisted digital, and it’s about reconsidering what’s already there as much as creating something new. So we are developing the approach alongside departments developing their digital strategies. We need to think about how we do assisted digital at the same time as we think about how we do Digital by Default, and we will be publishing a shared approach in December.
That publication will only be the start of the journey, and we will continue to work together over the coming months and years as services are transformed to ensure that no one is left behind by our Digital by Default approach.