Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Observations of a Digital by Default Service Assessment

In September I wrote about attending a Digital by Default Service Assessment and last week I did just that. Before I start I should say that this piece isn't an assessment of the assessment, it's just a collection of ideas related to how it might work for Local Government, based on four hours of observation.

So firstly, I have to say it's difficult being an observer. Like everyone else in the room I have a passion for public sector digital and not being able to comment at any point is extremely frustrating. That's the deal with being an observer though and in fact if I had been allowed to comment I would have influenced the very process I was there to see. Gonzo digital assessments this ain't.

As you'd expect the assessment follows the Digital by Default Standard, and it's split into themes  relating to the 18 points which are roughly:
  • User needs/testing
  • Questions about the team supporting the service
  • Digital inclusion and contingency planning
  • Technical architecture and code
  • UX and content design
There's a lead expert for each of these sections of the assessment round the table and there were also five people from the service delivery team (which numbered over 20 people as a whole). In many cases the expert from GDS and the appropriate person from the team matched up, but this wasn't exclusive and sometimes two or three people answered the question.

As an aside, though the services reviewed were used by millions, they were probably less complex than some of those offered online by councils which are often delivered by a handful of people. If this was an average example of Central Government digital then they're definitely the "haves" to Local Government's "have nots". Perhaps it wasn't indicative though, and there's civil servants across the country shaking their fist at their screen after reading this paragraph.

But back to the assessment and my first question. Would councils have these skills in house? Perhaps for technical architecture, but I'm guessing not for everything else in that list, in many cases. So the introduction of even a basic assessment would probably highlight the need for skilling up digital teams in councils.

The second question would then be, who carries out the assessment. There almost always some sort of process in the creation or procuring if digital services within councils, why not build it in to this. Sure it's not a proper service assessment but it's a start and if it helps councils offer better digital services, then it's got to be of benefit.

The hardest part is getting acceptance that this sort of assessment is needed. Start simple, get councils to adopt it, build the case and iterate the assessment until it becomes an equal to that used to measure Central Government.

By the way, if you do work for a council that does have all the skills in the assessment team you should be shouting about this as a model to aspire to, but perhaps you're just too busy getting stuff done.

So I mentioned that the service I saw assessed had millions of users which brings me to my third question. Would each Local Government service be assessed similarly? To be honest I don't have an answer for this. It doesn't seem sensible to short change the user by only applying some of the points to a service, but would it be appropriate for a service that only gets a thousand users a year remembering that this is Local Government so cost will always play a part, and rightly so.

So what's next, well hopefully a workshop for Local Government to start putting this together, a coalition of those willing to answer the questions I can't and to start applying it to what their organisation delivers. If you're interested in getting involved, please get in touch.

Oh, and in my previous post I asked "where is the user's voice in the process?". It didn't come across to me in the 18 points on the screen, but rest assured, I've seen it first hand, GDS stand up for the user all the way through the assessment.
This blog is written by Phil Rumens, Vice-Chair of LocalGov Digital, lead for LGMakers and who manages the digital services team at a local authority in England.

The opinions expressed in this weblog are my own personal views and in no way represent any organisation I may have worked for, currently work for, might be thinking of working for, might not be thinking of working for or have never worked for. In fact having said that they, might not even be my views any more as I might have changed my mind so I wouldn't take any of it too seriously.