Last month was a really important one for the Digital by Default Service Standard. We launched our beta for one thing. Just as importantly, the Digital Leaders network - the people responsible for driving the digital agenda across government - agreed to the standard and the governance process for assessing services against it.
Not just tick boxes
Mention the word ‘governance’ and you can guarantee that most people will switch off. And with good reason. It usually means tick boxes, bureaucracy and lots of meetings. Too often, these kinds of process are inflexible, incoherent and opaque.
But we mustn’t ignore governance, because there has to be a fair and consistent way of answering the question ‘Has my new or redesigned service achieved the standard, and can it go on GOV.UK?’
As part of the beta Government Service Design Manual we published a couple of weeks ago, we included a draft version of the standard. This was a list of all the things new and redesigned services processing over 100,000 transactions per year must do before launching. It will formally apply from April 2014, but is already being used to help improve services ahead of them going live. The agreed standard will be included in the updated manual we’re launching next week.
We’ll include more detail about how the standard will be awarded in the manual very soon, but for now here are the three things we’ll be keeping in mind as services are assessed.
The same standard applies to every service in scope. People see government as one unified entity, so we need services to be consistent.
To make it workable for a huge variety of different services, we have struck a balance between being making the standard definitive (on exactly what we mean by certain performance measures) and flexible (such as what it means to be ‘agile’).
But if a service is being redesigned, it’s public facing, and it processes over 100,000 transactions, the standard applies.
Secondly, it will be applied with common sense. The standard represents a big change to how government builds and runs services, and that’s not going to happen overnight.
Some services being launched next year will have started their redesign process before the standard existed. Some are working with lots of legacy systems or old contracts. It may not to possible to meet every requirement to the letter on day 1 of a service. But the point of the standard is to get great services on GOV.UK that can be iteratively improved very regularly. If a service proves it can do that, and constantly improve from a good basis after launch, then the standard has done it’s job.
Finally, progress should be made in the open. As part of meeting the standard, every service team in government will have to produce a public, regularly updated record of how they’ve have gone about meeting it throughout the lifetime of the service.
That’s really important, because it helps government share ideas and information and gives the public - the users of those services - the chance to see how we’re building them.
We’ll be publishing more detail about the specific process services will be going through as part of the manual soon, but we still welcome your comments on the beta.