https://gds.blog.gov.uk/2018/01/08/how-cross-government-communities-can-support-cross-government-services/

How cross-government communities can support cross-government services

To a user, a service is simple. It’s something that helps them to do something – like learn to drive or start a business. But for government, creating and delivering these services can be much more complex.

This is because there are often lots of people across lots of different parts of government involved in delivering these services. They might be working hard on their part of the service but they might not have a picture of the full service or know how to work with others involved in it.

Diagram illustrating how service communities work

To help tackle this issue, GDS is working with organisations across government to pilot a new way of working. We are forming networks of people with different skills and from different departments, who will work together to improve end-to-end services that cross departmental boundaries. We’re calling these networks ‘Service Communities’.

We already have communities of practice across government, that bring together people working in design or user research, for example. The new Service Communities will bring together people from across these professional boundaries. People in the communities will be united by the service they work on.

We’ve started to test this concept with the ‘Starting a Business’ community, which brings together people working to help users start a business. They’re people in different roles and from different organisations – such as HMRC, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Here’s why we’re doing this work and what we’ve done so far.

The strength of communities

Last year we carried out research into how government services get made. This research showed us that there wasn’t a single, coherent way that government services are made. Instead, there is variation from department to department. And there are silos between different areas and professions – for example, between policy and delivery.

It’s clear that we need to address this issue, particularly as the Government Transformation Strategy sets out a commitment to ‘build services that run seamlessly across government’.

GDS is currently running a number of projects that support the development of end-to-end services. For example, we’re updating the Service Standard to take into account whole services. We’re starting to show full service journeys on GOV.UK. And we’re working to help departments publish data about end-to-end services.

Our Service Communities work will build on and support all of this by bringing together everyone involved in delivering a particular service to act as one team.

The people in these communities will share things that will help them build coherent end-to-end services. These could be things like user research, data and back-end technology. They could update each other on live projects and support each other around common issues and blockers.

diagram illustrating how service communities work

What have we done so far?

We’re trialling this approach with the ‘Starting a Business’ community. We chose this area because the user journey for starting a business is relatively straightforward and is not owned by any particular department. It also meant we could build on work that HMRC had been doing on business startups, as well as a cross-departmental network that had been assembled by the Transformation Peer Group.

The community features people in a range of different roles, including policy, strategy, design and administration. It has representatives from HMRC, DWP, BEIS, the Department for Education, Companies House, the Department for International Trade, the Pensions Regulator and the British Business Bank. As the community matures, we intend to involve other organisations, including those outside government. We’re already talking to the Food Standards Agency and the Health and Safety Executive.

We’ve held a number of workshops with this group. We’ve mapped out the service journey for starting a business and we’ve looked at the community’s capabilities and any gaps.

The group has also been looking at how to make sure the communities are sustainable. For example, looking at how regularly they meet, how they’re structured and who owns them.

What have we learned so far?

Just as there are challenges in building government services, there are challenges in building government Service Communities.

In terms of building the community, one of the challenges we’ve faced is finding a common communication channel that can be used by all departments, as many channels are currently used by some departments but blocked by others.

We’ve also found that because the service community is quite large, it can be difficult for everyone to meet regularly. To address this, we’re beginning to create smaller groups within the community, focused around areas of the service, such as user research. They could meet more regularly and feed back to the larger community.

In terms of how the community operates, we’ve found that it can be difficult to align work across different departments. For example, for some departments clearing a new policy change could take months while another might be weeks.

And because delivery is always happening, we can never have a blank slate, take stock of everything and design the 'perfect solution'. We have to accept that things are always being delivered as we go along.

Despite these challenges, we’ve found that there’s a real appetite for cross-government collaboration and that the community has worked well together on projects such as mapping out the end-to-end user journey for the service.

What’s next?

The ‘Starting a Business’ community meets regularly. We’re continuing to iterate the end-to-end service map so that this can be the starting point for any work on the service this year. We’re also starting to look at data sharing in the service and how user researchers across the service can work together.

We’re also continuing to develop the Service Communities concept. We know that there are similar communities and networks already in existence across government and we’d like to link up with them so that we can all work together.

If you’d like to be involved in this work, or if you’re currently working on a service network or community, please get in touch. You can contact us on the #servicecommunities cross-government Slack channel or by sending us an email.