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Launching the Digital, Data and Technology Functional Standard

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Digital, Data and Technology

A collection of post-it notes with writing on them

The functional model was introduced in 2015. This model organises government into 14 different functions to help to join up experts, align processes across departmental boundaries, and reduce duplication of work. 

What is a functional standard?

The functions represent priority areas of common, cross-departmental activity which require central leadership. These include areas such as human resources, debt, analysis, project management, legal, and for us, digital.

To support the functional model, every function has written a standard that describes, at a high level, what they do and why.

These are standards to guide people working in government. The government is trialling them during 2020. They exist to create a coherent and mutually understood way of doing business within organisations and across organisational boundaries. They also provide a stable basis for assurance, risk management, and continuous improvement.

By setting and assuring functional standards, a function defines what organisations need to do, and why. Functional standards are not about setting new expectations, but about bringing together and clarifying what you should already be doing. 

Functional standards should help you to:

  • do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way – find the right balance between effort and risk 
  • save time and money by asking the right questions and to avoid duplication  
  • empower professionals to share learning and improve ways of working

What is in the Digital, Data and Technology Functional Standard?

The standard sets out how government should use digital, data and technology. This will make sure that government provides the public with quality digital services and that departments have the correct tools and infrastructure to deliver their objectives.

The standard includes the fundamental tenets of digital, data and technology including aligning with government policy and meeting clearly identified user needs. It also covers governance, how to deliver digital services and technology, how to manage live services and technology, and information on DDaT professions and non-specialist staff.

Strengthening the existing digital data and technology standards

The Digital, Data and Technology Functional Standard codifies what government should be doing and simply ties together all of the current standards and policies we already have. Sometimes that means stating the obvious things that organisations do not usually write down.

GDS already has a number of standards that it's spent a lot of time developing. For example, government uses the Service Standard to assess digital services and the Technology Code of Practice in the spend control process. GDS and CSG designed the functional standard to fit in with these well-established standards.

Functional standards do a different job from technical standards like the Technology Code of Practice and Service Standard. If functional standards set out what functions should do and why, technical standards describe how to do it. This functional Standard provides grounding and context for the existing digital, data and technology standards.

The aim is that, taken altogether, the full suite of standards will provide a clear explanation of all the common functions of government. They do not go into detail like technical standards, which makes them useful introductions to new staff, particularly senior leaders who are new to government.

Understand what you need to do next

You should use the Digital Functional Standard to find and implement any gaps or changes in your current processes. Some areas are compulsory, but you should consider how to meet the recommended areas as well.

There will soon be a centralised page for all the functional standards and related guidance. 

Sharing, implementing and iterating the functional standard

GDS has shared the Digital, Data and Technology Functional Standard with the DDAT Functional Leaders Group and the Technology and Digital Leaders Network. These groups will make sure the standard is shared across government. GDS also plan to help raise awareness of the standard by including it in GDS Academy courses and senior civil servant inductions where possible.

The Digital Functional Standard is being published for internal government trial. GDS is looking at how to assess organisations against the standard in the future. But the aim is not about compliance, but about promoting best practice and consistent behaviours across government.

GDS will continue to iterate the Digital, Data and Technology functional standard. This will include adding extra content about data to drive adoption of data standards and standardisation of data practices across government.

GDS would like to invite you to provide feedback on the digital functional standard for the next iteration. It’s important to get the views of as many people in the digital function and standards community as possible, so you can send us your feedback to

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  1. Comment by Tom Loosemore posted on

    This is a dispiriting document. I'll just pick three objections out of a potentially long list, sadly.

    Firstly, it serves no purpose other than to tick a box created by an internal logic (functions). It represents Conway's Law writ large, to the detriment of citizens. This is the leadership of the civil service talking to itself.

    Secondly, it defines the outcome of digital services to be "enabl[ing] government organisations to fulfil a business need".

    The civil service is not a business, so can't have 'business needs', although I am well aware that this is code for 'departmental wishes'.

    This is the civil service putting its own needs above those of the citizens it serves, and the leadership of GDS abdicating its responsibility to represent the interests of citizens above all else. Language matters.

    Thirdly, it is verbose, unclear and open to such broad interpretation that it would be almost impossible to fail, not least by civil servants all too well-schooled in the arts of interpretational sophistry. It is neither functional, nor specific.

    Please reconsider this whole approach. The civil service does not need 'functional specifications'. It needs bold, empathetic, visible leadership.

    • Replies to Tom Loosemore>

      Comment by Rhiannon Lawson, Head of Technology Policy posted on

      Thanks for your comments Tom. The functional model of government provides central leadership of cross-departmental corporate functions. We will feed your comments back for future iterations.

  2. Comment by Ellie posted on

    Could you explain a bit more about how the steps were designed - particularly section 5. It seems odd that policy design would come before user needs have been identified, and that solution selection would come before any design, test or building work to establish if the selected solution will actually solve the identified problems.

    A cycle of research, design and test is usually used to help with mitigating the risk of spending lots of time or money on something that doesn't work in the ways it needs to, or that doesn't solve the initially identified problems or needs (there doesn't seem to be any mention of testing until after implementation). It would be good to understand more about how this process was arrived at, and how it is expected to ensure the best possible outcomes in practice.

    • Replies to Ellie>

      Comment by Rhiannon Lawson, Head of Technology Policy posted on

      Thanks for your message Ellie. The functions agreed a document structure, style and subject that would be consistent for all the functional standards. We are aware of feedback and will consider this for future iterations