‘Don’t break things’ and ‘progress is better than stasis’ – GDS sheds light on how the new Government Service Standard is shaping up

Whitehall’s central digital agency lifts lid on feedback gathered so far in its work to revamp the Digital Service Standard 

The Government Digital Service has lifted the lid on the seven key goals that will shape the new version of its Digital Service Standard.

The existing standard, which was first implemented in 2014, is a set of criteria that new government digital services must meet before being launched to the public. There are currently 18 items on the checklist, down from a total of 26 when the standard first launched.

GDS is in the process of revamping the standard to try and ensure it addresses a world of “end-to-end services” and complete user journeys, rather than just individual transactions.

Over the last few months, the organisation has run a number of workshops across the UK to seek design input from civil servants in digital, policy, and operational roles, and has also garnered feedback from a dedicated Google group.

The insights gained from these exercises have allowed GDS to identify seven key themes that will be at the forefront of its thinking in designing the new standard. 

1. Support end-to-end services without impeding delivery

The goal here is to ensure that service designers think about users’ goals and the entire process that it takes to achieve them – including online information and transactions, as well as all non-digital elements involved in delivering the service. But, while doing this, GDS also wants to ensure that focusing on an end-to-end service “doesn’t stop services being built quickly and incrementally”.

It added: “Progress – even if it’s not perfect – is better than stasis.”

2. Solve whole problems for users

The new standard will seek to better align service design with the overall goals users are trying to reach. Examples given include learning to drive, or starting a new business. 
To ensure services are designed in this way, disparate organisations will need to be more open and collaborative, but still be “able to identify who owns the whole problem and the whole service that cuts across team and organisational boundaries”.

3. Promote working across organisational boundaries

Here, GDS will try to codify ways of encouraging organisations to work together, and overcome a perception that doing so “increases risk”.

4. Revisit the discovery, alpha, beta, and live phases

The workshops conducted by GDS found that some people felt there is a need to provide greater clarity to the definitions of the differing designated stages of a service-design project. 

“In particular, there’s sometimes a tendency to arrive at discovery or alpha with a solution already partly defined, rather than using the discovery and alpha phases to learn about the problem and experiment with different solutions,” GDS said.

5. Broader approach to accessibility and inclusion

All means of accessing and delivering and service – encompassing both digital and offline channels – should be considered when ensuring that a service is accessible for all users, GDS said.

It added: “There’s a need for more patterns showing how to use offline channels effectively, and how to make service-specific decisions about channel priority.”

6. Don’t break things

Although the redesigned standard will attempt to foster a more wide-ranging approach to service design, it will also seek to ensure it does not make it more arduous for digital professionals to get the necessary senior buy-in to launch new services. 

“Digital teams use the current standard to make the case to stakeholders for investing in user-centred services,” said GDS. “Some people wondered whether expanding the standard would make that more difficult.”

7. Wider context: culture and governance

GDS acknowledges that professionals from Whitehall’s operations, digital, and policy professions may enter a service-design project with very different expectations and requirements.

“A new standard could raise the visibility of those challenges and help the professions work together to build the best service for users,” it said. 

GDS has pledged to “share more on our current thinking soon”, after which it will look to gather more feedback from its colleagues across the civil service. After this, it will pilot use of the new standard – which is to be rebranded as the Government Service Standard – with a handful of services. 

It added: “As part of that work, we’ll work out the best way to phase the introduction of the standard, so that service teams have plenty of opportunity to prepare before it’s implemented.”


Sam Trendall

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