GDS revamps service standard assessment process

Teams building government digital services will have regular visits from an assessor during development under a new approach to standards assessment being trialled by the Government Digital Service.

The new process will involve continuous meetings rather than relying solely on one final assessment – Photo credit: Flickr, Eric E Castro, CC BY 2.0

The digital service standard – a set of 18 criteria that all services with more than 100,000 transactions must meet to progress to their next stage of development – was established in 2014 as a way of ensuring quality.

However, departments have increasingly seen the process as arduous and stressful, with teams calling for more regular contact with the assessors at GDS rather than seeing the final assessment as a test.

In a blogpost describing its own move away from the GDS approach for internal assessment of services with fewer than 100,000 transactions, the Ministry of Justice’s Emily Hall-Strutt said that the process had become “pretty painful”.

“Service teams were stopping delivery for up to a fortnight to prepare for what felt like an exam,” she wrote.

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The GDS standards assurance team has now taken a similar approach to the MoJ, and is trialling a new process that will offer delivery teams more advice and support from the start.

The new model will see assessors visit teams regularly, with a lead assessor assigned to each team to help them identify risks or areas that need improvement throughout development.

These lead assessors will also bring experts in particular areas, for instance user research, to the visits to offer “less formal recommendations” ahead of a final assurance stage.

Assessors will also be able to attend team meetings and have access to the whole team – at the moment only five members can go to an assessment – to cut down on some lines of questioning.

For instance, GDS said, it would make questions about how teams work in an agile way redundant, because this would have been observed at the team meetings.

There will still be a final assurance step, which will see the lead assessor bringing a colleague to peer review the service team when a service is ready to progress to the next stage.

However, the post added that are still some issues with the proposed process that GDS needs to iron out.

These include how to make the model sustainable – service teams are located across the UK and there may not be enough trained assessors across the country to go round – and how to resolve differences of opinion.

GDS said that it hoped to get ideas on how to address these from the trials it is running with departments over the coming months.

The team also said that it was planning to approach the changes in service assessment “as we would a digital service transformation”, with further identification of user needs and repeated tests and iterations.

Earlier this month, GDS revealed plans to simplify the process for assessing open standards, and the body’s new leader Kevin Cunnington – who took over in August – has indicated that spend controls for digital projects costing more than £100,000 will be relaxed in the future.


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