Home Office digital team to create common language for services

The Home Office service design team is building a common language help different teams in the department communicate more simply and clearly.

The Home Office digital team wants to make sense of the terminology people use when designing services – Photo credit: Pexels

Writing on Home Office Digital’s blog, head of service design Kate Tarling said that the aim was to help people work together when they might have different ways of describing their work or the department’s services.

“When we try to get to a common understanding of a service and its constituent parts – or what they could be in future – the words we use matter,” she said.

“It takes time to understand what everyone means” when they refer to a particular element of their work, for instance a ‘service’, a ‘product’ or ‘user need’, she said.

The service design team is looking at how people understand services, and using this to create a list of terms to help ease communication by creating a common language.

“The value is not so much in what the actual words are, but the fact that we made this together as a multi-disciplinary group, and that we all agree to try it out,” said Tarling.

“This will enable us to have better discussions, spot commonalities, think about design patterns and organise large portfolios of work more easily. It also provides a language to communicate how things could work differently in future.”

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Tarling set out some of the words that people commonly use, but need to be more consistent with, including services, sub services, activities, technology and data.

She defined a ‘service’ as something that helps users to do something and said they were best identified as verbs – ‘visit the UK’ – rather than nouns – ‘biometric residence permit’.

Meanwhile, sub-services are those things that are one step in a bigger process, such as applying for a visa, which could be part of a visit to the UK.

Activities are things people do in relation to using a service, including finding out how something works, applying for something and “waiting and worrying about what might happen”, Tarling said.

However, she added that the team had also used the term ‘activities’ to describe the things that need to happen to make a service work, such as checking someone’s eligibility or notifying them of a decision.

“Activities should describe what happens, but not how it happens, by whom or with what,” she said. “So, we’d use ‘notifying someone’ rather than ‘sending a letter’ and ‘making a decision’ rather than ‘casework’.”

According to the Home Office’s new taxonomy, technology should be used to mean the digital systems, products, tools, hardware and applications that the government builds, maintains and buys.

It also includes ‘data’, which Tarling said the team was defining as “the actual information that’s either generated by or used to carry out activities and services”.

She added that the aim should be to describe what the data is using descriptive words, such as National Insurance number, and avoid acronyms.


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