Department of Health creates ‘lo-fi’ version of service assessment

The digital strategy team at the Department of Health has revealed it is piloting a new, “leaner” approach to assessing its digital services, which focuses on just three core questions.

The Department of Health’s digital team is working on a leaner service assessment – Photo credit: Flickr, Oliver Tack 

The DH questions ask: how the service meets user needs; whether it is safe and secure; and if the service can be quickly improved.This is a big reduction from the 18 points set out in the digital services standard first established by the Government Digital Service to ensure digital services are properly able to meet user needs.

Although they cover the same broad areas as addressed in the 18 points, they are less specific, and also likely to be seen as being less prescriptive and open to wider interpretation.

For instance, the digital service standard includes requirements for a multidisciplinary team, to make all new source code open and to collect performance data, which will not be directly ticked off on the DH list.

However, in a blogpost about the new approach, the digital teams’ Hong Nyugen said that the team “still value the 18 points in the service standard and will continue to reference them for live assessments”.

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The change has come about after an evaluation of the department-led service assessments for health, which it has been carrying out for around a year.

In that time, it ran four assessments, which Nyugen said equated to 20 hours of assessment time for service teams and assessors and 10,000 words in follow-up reports, as well as numerous briefings, sign-off processes and coordination by the five digital specialists at DH.

The new assessment process it developed also aims to encourage more conversation within teams by asking them to frame their work as a show and tell based on the three questions, which is followed by a retrospective on the timeline of their development.

Nyugen said that the team will still set service assessments as a condition in spend control approvals and reports will be attached to that approval.

The trial, which was carried out with the approval of GDS, involved the National Institute for Health and Social Care digital team and a user researcher from the Co-op’s digital team.

Nyugen said that the leaner format allowed them to run two assessments in one day and that both the service team and GDS “loved the retrospective format, which encouraged an honest and open discussion on how the project went”.

Feedback on the pilot indicated that the digital team needed to be more clear about the structure and timing of the assessment and whether it might have worked better with a team the DH specialists were more familiar with.

However, Nyugen said that the DH digital services team “felt that the outcome would still have been the same had we run the full 4-hour assessment”.

The team will publish a report based on the assessment to share the approach with others.

DH is not the only department trialling a new approach to service assessment – the Ministry of Justice has revealed that it was making changes to the process, which it described as “painful”.

And GDS itself has acknowledged there could be improvements, and its own new assessment approach – which the DH digital team is observing – is now in its alpha phase.

The new GDS leader Kevin Cunnington has said that GDS ir wants to improve collaboration with departments, and that if they are agreed to be going in the right direction, GDS is “prepared to be a lot more collaborative about controls”.


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