As the GDS story has travelled around the world, it’s not surprising that some of the world has wanted to come and find out more. This week, for example, we’re meeting the Swedish Social Insurance Agency, the Swedish Companies Registration Office, the Irish Local Government Management Agency and the Bulgarian Ministry of State Administration.
As the international liaison lead at the GDS, I organise, plan, coordinate and host all international visits. The value of exchanging insights and experiences runs both ways: we can provide the detail of how we’re putting a vision of “digital by default” into practice, and in return, there’s much for us to learn about the challenges that others have faced, with lots of tips and war stories along the way.
Some visitors are just starting on their journey toward user-focused public services, others are further advanced and keen to share their learning and sense-check their progress.
In total, we’ve hosted more than 30 international visits in the last 6 months with many more in the pipeline. These requests come through embassies, the FCO, through our blog and our twitter accounts: @govuk and @gdsteam. We can’t accept every request, of course - sometimes a call or an email will do - but we work hard to make sure those who do come and visit get to talk to people whose work overlaps with their own.
Strategy and principles
It’s always inspiring to see the reaction of first-time visitors in the earliest stages of digital service development. For some, it seems as though a cloud of disbelief is lifted. Watching teams run stand-ups or retrospectives and seeing post-it covered walls proves that agile service design really can work in government.
For higher-level visits we tend to talk about the Government Digital Strategy, how governance, organisation and financial structures work, and how to apply the design principles and the style guide to provide citizens with the information they need.
We recently hosted representatives from the Chilean and Greek governments. They hadn’t been before and almost the first thing they wanted to do once they were here was to call home and tell their colleagues, “Look, I told you so!”
When we host visitors who are already successfully operating digital public services, or using social media effectively to engage with citizens, the tone and the depth of conversations are much more hands-on. These are more like “peer-to-peer” sessions on the workings of GOV.UK, from technical architecture, coding, technology management, transactions and publishing.
I tend to call on people who are working in GDS in those areas of shared interest to talk to visitors, to build up networks and relationships, so that dialogue can be continued once our visitors have gone.
We recently hosted a delegation from the Croatian Government, including Tomislav Korman and Chris Frean who have just received confirmation to create their equivalent of GOV.UK called govhr. They spoke to me, James Stewart, Ross Ferguson, Frances Berriman and others in the team to learn more about how GDS operates, how we how we work with departments, how we decide and agree on content and how we work through issues. We also talked about how we apply the style guide and the design principles. In return, we got a real sense of the challenges that the Croatian team faces, and the way in which their political and governance world contrasts to ours.
The international angle means a good deal of work for me and the other GDS staff who support the visits, but it gives us an invaluable perspective on what we’re doing, and from the feedback we’ve had, is thoroughly appreciated by our visitors.