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The future of digital identity

Portrait of Lisa Barrett

GOV.UK Verify, government’s digital identity programme, aims to ensure that users can create, use and reuse digital identities across public and private sector services.

As the recently appointed Director of Digital Identity at the Government Digital Service, it’s my role to ensure that this happens, and to shape the role of GOV.UK Verify in the future. It’s a big challenge and one I feel privileged to have joined.

Here’s what I’ve been up to so far and my priorities for the near future.

Data, innovation and investment

Before joining government, I spent most of my career in start-up organisations, including as a Director for the online learning platform Coursera, Chief Operating Officer at venture capital firm Mustard Seed Impact, and Managing Director of education technology company Avado Digital.

And prior to joining GDS, I led the efforts across the Ministry of Justice to make the system and decisions as data-driven as possible, including as Director of Analysis and Interim Chief Scientific Advisor.

These experiences are highly relevant at this point in time for digital identity, as we also need to consider the incentives of, and ensure tech works for, both users and content/identity providers. We need to innovate smartly and with user needs at the heart. And we need to act with urgency on opportunities that will unlock further investment in this market.

The importance of digital identity

I’ve been at GDS for about a month now and there are several things that have struck me that I thought were worth sharing.

Digital identity is a collaborative project

GDS is increasingly focused on more collaborative relationships with government departments, including by being involved in solving problems earlier. For example, if we want to solve the issue of connected data and user journeys, we need to look at identity as well.

We are also focused on partnering with the private sector to innovate and open up new markets. Digital identity and the GovTech Catalyst, which links private sector innovators with public sector challenges, are two prime examples of the impact GDS can make in this area.

We need to get this right for people

Digital identity is a vital issue not only for government transformation – as has often been our focus – but also for users who benefit from a safe, effective and  functioning digital economy underpinned by strong digital identity solutions. People will rely on a robust digital identity system in order to access critical services. They also need to know their data is safe and being used in the right way. And they expect a level of simplicity that they can navigate and understand.  

These are things I care deeply about and why I have signed up for this challenge.

Make things open, it makes things better

So far, what I have found in my first month at GDS is:

  • incredible talent, including world leaders in the digital identity space
  • a lot of good work that has not been well understood nor externally communicated as openly as we would like, which is one thing I plan to improve in the future
  • a number of challenges and opportunities that we are actively tackling in order to build a sustainable, long-term solution

Critically, I have found that culture in GDS and very much in the Verify team is one of honesty and responsibility, which makes it easy to solve problems quickly and get to the root of issues.  This is not something I take for granted.

Our priorities

We have a lot to deliver in a very short timeframe. Currently we have 3 main areas of focus:

  • rapid alignment around our future-state plan
  • engagement with identity providers and others in the market, to ensure we are supporting the growth of this market
  • delivering an excellent service that meets user needs, supports government and has the flexibility needed to grow with future plans

I look forward to being able to share more about our work in the near future.

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  1. Comment by Adrian Murphy posted on

    Excellent post Lisa.

  2. Comment by Colin Wallis posted on

    Thank you for your post Lisa.

    Welcome to the new role and I wish you all the best with it.

    I want to pick up on;
    <a lot of good work that has not been well understood nor externally communicated as openly as we would like, which is one thing I plan to improve in the future>>
    It is great that you recognise the 'open' ness shortcoming. I think those industry consortia with the possible exception of OIX (on whose Board the Cabinet Office sits) and its sibling OIDF, would support your contention. The ecosystem should comprise more than just the identity providers, the requisite UK gov standards and open specifications from those with whom there is an established relationship. It should also comprise other consortia and their open specifications, standards and services that can benefit the UK taxpayer.

    While you understandably haven't elaborated on 'the challenges and opportunities that we are actively tackling in order to build a sustainable, long-term solution' I think that the above mentioned aspect is one of those challenges and opportunities.

    Kind regards

    Colin Wallis
    Executive Director
    the Kantara Initiative

    • Replies to Colin Wallis>

      Comment by Lisa Barrett posted on

      Colin, many thanks to you and others for a warm welcome to the role. There is more that we need to do to communicate our future plans not only to current services and identity providers, but also to the larger market. There is also a lot more we can do to develop solutions collaboratively, which we are doing in collaboration with various industry stakeholders. We rely in part on stakeholders contacting us pro-actively to suggest how we can work together. We welcome this. We look forward to announcing more plans soon and continuing dialogue in the meantime.