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https://gds.blog.gov.uk/2020/09/22/introducing-gov-uk-accounts/

Introducing GOV.UK Accounts

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: GOV.UK

GOV.UK Accounts.

I last posted back in June about our plans for GOV.UK. We want to help people navigate GOV.UK as quickly and easily as possible, and ensure we can proactively support their needs, without them needing to understand the structures of government or explicitly know what service they are looking for.

Today, I can share more information about what this work looks like in practice.

Changing users’ needs and expectations

GOV.UK is built on the principle that you shouldn’t need to know how the government works to use government services. We do the hard work to make things simple for users. That means we make interactions with the government easy, effective and accessible, for example by using language that’s familiar to our users instead of complicated legal terms.

The progress we’ve made means that GOV.UK now generally works well if you know what you need to do and if it is a discrete task or transaction.

Now we need to do the next major iteration in how we provide public services online. We’ll do that by attending to complex interactions that happen over time and across several services - like understanding the end of the Brexit Transition period, or starting and sustaining a business.

Why now?

The way people interact online has changed a lot over the 8 years since GOV.UK launched. Services like shopping, banking or entertainment are increasingly personalised. These services typically combine some data about the user with data about their ‘thing’. As a result, they can provide an experience that is tailored and relevant.

So users now expect services that can be all of the following:

  • personalised and proactive
  • low friction
  • available on multiple devices

At GOV.UK we want to keep up with users expectations and make the most of changes in technology to provide the best possible public services. This matters because it is efficient for government, and efficient for the user - getting the right things to the right people at the right time.

We’d like to simplify journeys to: 

  • proactively offer information and services to users based on their needs and what they’ve told us about themselves 
  • reduce friction for users so that they don’t have to give different parts of government the same information multiple times 
  • link together services to make user journeys simpler

And we need to do all this while making sure users understand how their data is being used, so they can consent (or not) to those arrangements.

A GOV.UK account

To provide this kind of interaction and experience, we need an account infrastructure for GOV.UK. This idea isn’t new. There are already lots of government accounts for specific services - we’ve recorded over a 100 places that a user could login already, and that trend will only continue.

We want to unify this experience - not to create an ‘uber CRM’ for the government - but to give users continuity, so that they don’t need to start from scratch each time they need to do something with the government.

A centralised GOV.UK account will be new to people, and there are valid concerns about data use and privacy. We’re working to get a better understanding of how users feel about the government providing a service in this way. With early prototypes we have found that most people assume that data about them is already held centrally in government and that accounts are - or should be - linked.

You might ask whether people really interact with GOV.UK enough to warrant this kind of investment. We’re validating our figures further on this, but we believe that current interaction with GOV.UK is equivalent to everyone in the UK visiting at least 22 times per year - nearly twice per month. A number that is only going to grow as digital interactions with government increase.

This is about using data to make services more efficient, delivering policy to users quicker, radically improving support over time, and being able to communicate directly to users. It is about keeping pace with how people expect to receive service.

Prototype

This vision is ambitious and, like everything we build on GOV.UK, we want to develop it iteratively so that we can learn about what works for users as we scale up. Before we start linking to lots of transactions, we want to learn about how users choose to interact with an account, and what works and what doesn’t.

We’re planning a series of experiments now. These will give us the opportunity to test different functionality and understand how users interact with the government. They will also give us the chance to test some questions we’ve been considering. Questions like:

  • how can we be as transparent as possible about how we’re using people’s data and allow them to change their consent preferences?
  • how might GOV.UK accounts handle the relationship between people’s personal and professional interactions with the government?
  • how can we provide users with personalised information without limiting their access to other information that might be of use to them?

GOV.UK is the trusted source for government information and services, and we take maintaining our users' trust very seriously. We recognise that a big part of maintaining that trust comes down to the way we approach data privacy and security. Consequently, we are taking a privacy and security by design approach. This enables us to identify potential privacy and security problems early on and to build the GOV.UK account in a way that protects our users' data and privacy. This includes using robust security technologies, giving users control of their data and being transparent about how a GOV.UK account uses data.

It’s also important to make sure we do not exclude users who don’t want to (or can’t), for whatever reason, use an account. Information on GOV.UK will never be locked behind a login.

I am hugely excited for this next phase in the GOV.UK journey, and the benefits that accounts will bring for users. Of course, we have a Comprehensive Spending Review ahead, and this work has many dependencies if it is to be successful. I look forward to writing again with further updates and insights as we progress this exciting project.

If you have any feedback or questions, you can leave a comment or email us on govuk-enquiries@digital.cabinet-office.gov.uk.

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18 comments

  1. Comment by Marios Patrinos posted on

    I think this is a fantastic idea in principle and builds on the slow and steady progress that individual digital public services have been making.
    Fundamentally, The Government knows who we are from the day we are born. Interactions with public services are a mainstay of everyday life be it taxing a car, registering a death, getting a passport or drawing your pension.
    Throughout a citizen's life, here will be an ebb and flow to these interactions.
    As part of this work, therefore, it will be vital that the Account service can evolve with the users needs over time. For example, ensuring that as citizens get older or life changing events occur, they may require particular attention or approaches to ensure the Account still works for them.
    Of course, as is evidenced by the great work already shown on this site, I know accessibility and inclusion are forefront in your minds. I would urge however, for it to be as much part of the design as security is.
    Rather than catching up, ALL users need to be brought along on the same journey as being on a different timetable in of itself, sets them apart.

    Reply
  2. Comment by Emma-Jane Stogdon posted on

    Unifying access is certainly a good idea, I myself have had issues in the past after having to re-input the same information over and over, so it's a really good way to avoid human error.

    It also lessens the cross-departmental disparities that can sometimes arise and ensure details are up-to-date and current across them all.

    I'm very much appreciate the transparency of your processes on this.

    Reply
  3. Comment by Thomas Hind posted on

    A really interesting blog post, thank you. I know it's early stages yet but it feels like there's still a lot of unanswered questions. I'm still a bit unsure about whether a personalised service is actually a user need. Surely the need is the user getting the right information or service that they need, and personalisation is one solution to solving that need, rather than a need in itself?

    I would also like to understand more about what you mean on the convenience side of it. I wonder if you could expand upon the "don’t need to start from scratch each time they need to do something with the government" need. Are these accounts going to include authentication and if so is not going to run into the same problems as Verify? If not, how is it going to make interactions with government more convenient? If it's just about linking data that different bits of government hold on individuals together then I'm unclear about how accounts necessarily solve that issue?

    I would also be curious to know where the "current interaction with GOV.UK is equivalent to everyone in the UK visiting at least 22 times per year" statistic comes from? If it's correct, it's quite an incredible statistic and a testament to how useful and ubiquitous GOV.UK has become!

    It's really great to see this thinking and work being done in the open and I hope that there will be lots of opportunities for the public and people across government to contribute to this.

    Reply
    • Replies to Thomas Hind>

      Comment by GDS team posted on

      Thanks for your questions, Thomas! We’re keen to share our thinking early and often - so have provided some initial responses here, but do look out for further posts on this topic.

      To start with your first question about ‘personalisation’: this is a bit of a catch-all phrase to cover improvements to the overall user experience; making it quicker, easier, and more intuitive for them to do the things that they need to do. By helping users receive a more personally relevant (or tailored) interaction with the government, in a controllable way for them, we can improve the overall experience of user interactions with government. This also means that we can reduce failure demand, but helping people do the things they need to do right from the start. We know from user research that people increasingly expect this type of experience based on ‘personalised’ interactions they have with other digital products like banking, grocery shopping, or planning a holiday.

      By and large, GOV.UK works well now if you know what you need to look for, and that ‘thing’ is a discrete task and you search for it - like applying for Universal Credit. But we also know that, often, the interactions people or businesses need to have with government are made up of lots of ‘things’ over time, across multiple services, or are ‘unknown’ to the user (you don’t know what you don’t know!). We can also see that users are providing the same information over and over again across different services, and they have no way of managing that efficiently. We want to address these types of use cases. You are right that there has been significant amounts of learning about things like authentication and verification systems in the government and both, we anticipate, will have a role in this future system. We will continue to share regularly on how this work is developing.

      Regarding 22 interactions with GOV.UK a year, we agree with you on this one! We’ve calculated this number based on a few different statistics. In the year before we shifted to ‘opt-in’ cookie consent (i.e. when we captured full analytics), GOV.UK was accessed by 435 million unique devices (mobile, laptop etc), and each of those devices accessed the site (e.g. for information or services) an average of 3.41 times a year. If we extrapolate this onto the UK population (c.67 million), we can therefore say that average visits for an individual in the UK is c. 22 times per year, as individuals will use multiple devices. There are a couple caveats that apply to this number including unprecedented levels of traffic over the past year, not including visits from outside the UK, and not being able to pick up on information accessed directly from search or through voice assistants.

      We are committed to working in the open. Yes, there are, and will continue to be, many ways for the public and people in the government to contribute.

      Reply
  4. Comment by Alex Wolff (Softwire) posted on

    That looks really interesting - thanks for sharing the thinking.

    Are you building of the work the DfE did on magic links vs passwords for login? We've been considering the move towards the former on our services and would be interested where your thinking is.

    Reply
    • Replies to Alex Wolff (Softwire)>

      Comment by GDS team posted on

      Thanks for your question, Alex. We are working with a number of central government departments already, and we have a meeting specifically with DfE soon. There are obviously a few ways that an account can be secured and accessed, and we will decide exactly how we do this based on what works best for users (including their needs for security).

      Reply
  5. Comment by Diane Aldsworth MOJ posted on

    Really interesting initiative, particularly in the space around personal and professional identity, we operate in the professional identity of organisations. Would be really keen to find out more.

    Reply
  6. Comment by Doug Robinson posted on

    Fantastic to see such a personalised development, and that content will never hide behind a login, but that the user experience will be better if a user does log in. Therein lies the challenge I guess. Excited to see how this develops.

    Reply
  7. Comment by Max Clark posted on

    Great stuff. Having worked in both GDS and DWP, this has always been the thing I’ve felt has been the biggest gap in government services, particularly in the quest to stop departmental boundaries getting in the way of providing good services.

    I really hope this gets the priority and resource in the CSR it deserves.

    That being said, GOV.UK Login (good services are verbs not nouns), needs to be, at some point, mandated as a replacement for verify and government gateway. As someone who uses government services on a weekly basis, the plethora of logins and login options is a nightmare. You can end up with multiple logins for the same service with different permissions. Its awful.

    Reply
  8. Comment by Andy posted on

    How will this tie in to the Digital Identity programme - this feels like it’s being done separate to that. Will it become the single sign on and identity verification promised by this programme? Or will there be 2 ‘accounts’

    Reply
    • Replies to Andy>

      Comment by GDS team posted on

      Hi Andy, both GOV.UK and the digital identity programme sit within the Government Digital Service, so of course we discuss our plans and we are aligned. That said, for the purposes of this initial trial GOV.UK Accounts will not need to verify identities. As this work progresses GOV.UK, working closely with the Digital Identity programme, will explore how to unify access to government services through an account. Ultimately, GOV.UK would effectively act as a ‘consumer’ of digital identities. This work, as we highlight in the post, has a number of dependencies, including the upcoming Spending Review.

      Reply
  9. Comment by Charles McDowall posted on

    I like the idea.
    I only worry that as yet many if not the vast majority of users are not sufficiently frequent flyers to remember their login details and overburden the system with failed password recoveries.

    I am reminded of the 'favourite page' being paying tax owed as it only required the user to enter their card details and no more because the site did the rest.

    Reply
  10. Comment by Steve Bennett posted on

    Thanks for this summary. I enjoyed your presentation on this subject at Digital Government this morning as well and look forward to hearing more about it

    Reply
  11. Comment by Jason Weakley posted on

    Very interested to see how you all do this. And thank you for the transparency and deliberative, iterative approach. I want to learn from you as you go along, so will be keeping an eye on this blog for updates on this topic.

    Reply
  12. Comment by John Smith posted on

    "A centralised GOV.UK account will be new to people" it sounds like a sort of "gateway" to being able to do things on government websites, perhaps? It seems odd to have a post like this that does not mention the history at all, be it Government Gateway: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_Gateway or GOV.UK Verify: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GOV.UK_Verify and how this differs/builds on/replaces, what worked, what failed, what lessons were learned, and so on.

    Reply
    • Replies to John Smith>

      Comment by GDS team posted on

      Thanks for your question, John. This is material for a longer blog post - and we do intend to write more about this as our work progresses. You have rightly pointed out that there are already authentication and verification products in government, both types of which are needed in the long term future of a pan-GOV.UK account. We intend to use the GOV.UK account to add value to a user's experience of GOV.UK beyond just logging into a service or proving their identity.

      Reply
  13. Comment by John P posted on

    I like the plan to unify access & linking together. Having to input the same information several times can lead to errors. If there are changes (eg email address) it can be difficult to remember everywhere that the information is reorded.

    Reply
  14. Comment by Ian Powling posted on

    Thanks Jen for a comprehensive overview of the thinking and approach to this important development.

    Reply

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