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Strategy and delivery, one year on

We’ve published a couple of big updates, both to the Digital Strategy and to the transformation programme. Between them, they’ll give you a picture of just how much we’ve achieved in the last twelve months.

Opening up services to more users

When we first published the digital strategy last year, we’d just launched GOV.UK and were finding out how valuable a user-centred, agile organisation at the heart of government could be. Many of the actions were designed to embed that way of working throughout the civil service.

We’re now adding two further actions to the strategy that will open that work up even further.

The first is about getting more people online. We welcomed the Digital Inclusion team into GDS this summer, and their strategy - to be published early in the new year - will show some of the work we’re doing across the public, private and voluntary sector to get more people online, alongside a set of digital inclusion principles.

The second new action is about opening up what we build. That means APIs and syndication tools for people to access our information and services in more ways. We’ll never be able to imagine all the uses people might have for government information in different contexts and different environments, but we can provide services that make it easier for other people to build those things.

Meanwhile, there are updates on all the work of the last few months, things regular readers of this blog will be familiar with. Lots more work on infrastructure and capability, major breakthroughs for the Identity Assurance team and the technology team, plus the Digital Services Store and the move of more websites over to GOV.UK.

Making progress on every exemplar

The transformation team have continued work with colleagues all over the country to complete discovery on every single exemplar. Congratulations to everyone involved in that because it really is a tremendous achievement.

This has given every team an understanding of what their users' needs are, and the direction required to make alphas and betas a reality. In one case, it’s revealed that the service isn’t ready for transformation right now. We’ve identified a replacement though, and will share more updates on how that’s going in the new year.

We’ve also been helping our colleagues build and develop those alphas and betas. As mentioned by DWP last week, we completed work on a digital strategic solution of the Universal Credit service on October 3rd. That included a proof of concept - tested with real users - and an outline of the operating model and any dependent technology required. With that delivered, we’re supporting DWP while they develop the digital skills needed to build and operate the full service.

What’s next?

2014 will see more public betas, more live services, and huge leaps forward for teams here and across government. Identity, measurement and analytics, capability within the civil service, levelling the playing field for technology and digital suppliers of all shapes and sizes, not to mention support for those who need help getting online and using the services we’re building.

At the Code for America summit, I said that all this work isn’t about changing government websites, it’s about changing government. All of this work will make it simpler, clearer and faster for people to do the things they need to do with government. We’ve got a lot to do, but I think we can be proud of what we’ve achieved over the last twelve months.


Follow Mike on Twitter: @MTBracken

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  1. Comment by simonfj posted on

    Thanks Mike,

    And Congrats to all the teams. Together they are the only exemplar I can find of "open government" in the English speaking world. It's been so encouraging to watch the teams found a new "open education" institution. Sure beats hearing about academics get together in little groups, in isolated little rooms, and swapping their papers, and then reading their report.

    There's only one piece of advice I might offer (and I'm sure you get lots). It's getting critical now that the open for digital skills has a home.

    Could you encourage an alliance of network managers, from local governments and the biggest (and maybe Janet) to get their discussions above the radar. We have real challenge - with developing the network infrastructure which can support open government - without seeing these discussions. This applies not only to the UK but also other democratic countries who see the Open Government Partnership as lighting the horizon(s). It's a bit hard to move onwards when we've all got a 360 degree perspective.

    In our lifetimes we've seen the 'mainframe/dumb terminal' network model transition into the 'client/server' model, and the typing pools empty. We're in much the same situation today as clients and servers try and figure out their skillset, and institutions build bridges over their moats (without having their gateways overwhelmed or undermined).

    "Clouds" are a way for network designers to talk philosophically. If we are to see our dreams of openness fulfilled, then a 'collaborator/cloud' network model isn't that hard a model to sell. At least one part of the equation has become fashionable. Trouble is, the skygazers can't agree on whether their cloudy zoos are full of zebras or elephants.

    Public Service Network(s) designers will agree that their clouds are all full of unherdable cats. But that's only because (to mix metaphors) they still prefer to retain the same gateways, and attitudes, between their asylums' inmates and guards. Identity Assurance (to gain access to, and share, parts of various networks) is always going to be the key to how the services will be designed, and operate.

    We all appreciate all the hard work the teams have done in the last 200 days, in designing "services" that will be "delivered". But over the next 200 hundred could we attempt to agree on the attributes (and storage) allocated to a citizen's, and servant's, account by the public's network managers.

    These guys always collaborate, and are never seen to be conversing. Like all good mechanics they know that, if they try and explain to a customer what is wrong with their car, they'll just waste time. Makes it a bit hard when they now need to transform their customers' individual cars into shared locomotives.

    Seems like the only marketing message missing in all the "opens" (education, research, government, access, etc) is "open networks". Which is a pity because it's the only one they all have in common. Onwards! Agreed. Which way?

    P.s. Could you put a page counter on these blogs. It would be nice to see where the interest is. The "impact" value that the network guys put on these kinds of open discussions is 0. It would be nice to prove them wrong. All the best.

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  2. Comment by @garysballs posted on

    Congratulations. 'Digital By Default' is the Biggest Change in UK Public Services Provision since the Creation of the Civil Servicein 1850 and you've done a great job in leading it.

    However, the true impact of DbD is yet to be felt at both the front line of public service delivery and also in making improvements in the way that government makes policy and communicates with people. To be successful here the GDS needs to alter its approach in two areas and speed up its plans to remove 'legislative barriers' that restrict DbD helping policymakers deploy even more effective online public sector services.

    Open Source. The first area for 'revisitation' is the GDS policy of pushing 'open source' software as part of it's 'open standards' agenda (confusion between the two in government circles is rife). Open source software may have a major role to play in the success of DbD but the message to those who have to implement digital projects in the piublic sector is too skewed towards this type of software as opposed to the propietary software vendors (SAP, Microsoft, Oracle etc) who have traditionally served the UK Government. The irony here is that the UK public sector is crucially dependent on these vendors (try installing Open Office in your department and see how far you get). Asking project managers to have to justify using these vendors as opposed to open source is a wasteful exercise that may not get best value for money for the taxpayer. Lessons should be learned form the fact the US Affordable Healthcare ('Obamacare') website is a recent example of where there was an emphasis on government using Open Source over proprietary software.

    SMEs. Second, as a part of government procurement, SME participation is being pushed very heavily. This is rightly a noble aim but should not clog up senior management time and become a politicised issue for constituency MPs trying to curry favour with small firms in their marginal constituencies (see the video example below).

    Data Sharing. Lastly and most significantly, the issue of data privacy restrictions on decision makers analysing data for policymaking purposes needs to be addressed. At present, it seems that many departments, councils and agencies across government are wary of even using and sharing anonymised aggregated data. Such sharing would transform the ability of the public sector to provide really targeted and useful services. Legislative restrictions on how data can be used and shared between UK government departments, local authorities and agencies, which are in turn often misinterpreted by data security officers on the ground, are one of the biggest issues that the UK faces in getting close to the ‘joined up thinking’ that the GDS in its DbD intiatiive is trying to encourage and support.

    The Digital By Default strategy alludes to this in some way when it says the Government Digital Service will : "Remove unnecessary legislative barriers.
    The Cabinet Office will work with departments to amend legislation that unnecessarily prevents us from developing straightforward, convenient digital services.”

    The GDS needs to outline exactly how they are going to tackle this given a busy legislative timetable for the Coalition. Does Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude, have the political ‘pull’ to be able to table a bill that brings the whole government into line, from a data protection point of view, with what is required to make UK public sector digital services truly fit for purpose, cost effective and highly targeted? Or will we see a sub-optimal, piecemeal legislative effort where such changes are hacked onto bills that only affect individual departments and functions?

    When the GDS can tell us this it will mean that they have truly recognised that Digital By Default is a lot more than data standards, procurement changes, technological innovation and User testing. It’s really about transforming how individuals perceive the return they get on sharing the marks of their digital footprints.

    See more here: