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Local Government Digital Service Standard Summit, 19 September 2016

simon gray 2016-09-19, 13:20:35
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Earlier in 2016 the Local Government Digital Steering Group, of which I'm a member, held a workshop day at the Government Digital Service to discuss whether there was any mileage in creating a local government version of the GDS Digital Service Standard. Not surprisingly, there was overwhelming agreement that it was indeed a good idea, so the steering group set to work in collaboration with local government digital practitioners up and down the country to create one - the Local Government Digital Service Standard. Today there's a summit at City Hall in London to share the work that's been done so far, gaining insight from people working in central and local government in their experiences of using the standard - and an important point being emphasised that it's not about creating a whole load of bureaucracy, and neither is it about replicating the same thing across hundreds of councils - it's just about creating good digital services.

Here are my notes from the morning main speaker sessions.

Natalie Taylor, Head of Digital Transformation, GLA - City Hall and the Digital Service Standard - Building the new london.gov.uk

  • changed the focus to be based on user needs and user research.
  • Introduced an agile development methodology, with clear roles. Daily stand-ups, sprint planning, retrospectives, show and tells, and moved to fortnightly sprints with continuous development and testing.
  • Reduced the content by 75% to make it better written and relevant to the users, by proper talented content editors.
  • Got successful buy-in from senior management, as well as gaining their trust to move from old-style PRINCE2 RAG status updates to the show-and-tell methodology
  • Success at London wasn't necessarily achieved by the top leading on digital, rather it was achieved because the top trusted and supported her in delivery
  • Invested significantly in training the relevant staff in the relevant skills for ongoing maintenance
  • Moved the site to an open source platform (Drupal)
  • Further work is to rationalise the 50 different microsites to make it more coherent, to improve the tools and hardware which is in use around the authority, and to introduce digital working practices around the organisation.

Why does Local Government need a Digital Service Standard?

  • It's a helpful framework
  • It's a proven methodology
  • It puts users first
  • It introduces consistency
  • It encourages collaboration and sharing
  • It'll be helpful for suppliers
  • It's not a tickboxing exercise - a true understanding of the principles is key to success

Olivia Neal, Deputy Director for Standards Assurance, GDS

  • GDS Service Standard has been mandatory in central government since April 2014
  • It's always been at the heart of the GDS mission
  • It's how they demonstrate to teams a common understanding of 'what good looks like' - to create services which are so good people prefer to use them over traditional service delivery, always thinking about the needs of the service users over the needs of the service deliverers
  • The GDS methodology is about more than just the services themselves - it's about developing staff so that when they're shared around other departments to improve their delivery
  • They're about empowering individuals and teams who've been traditionally blocked in trying to deliver good digital services
  • But they still too often hear the phrase 'what do we need to do for GDS' rather than 'what do we need to deliver a quality digital service'…
  • Sharing and reuse is a cornerstone of the GDS philosophy
  • When a new service fails a DSS assessment the assessment team feeds back with a detailed report containing recommendations on how it can subsequently pass
  • In the early days the most common area in which services failed the DSS assessment was in making their code open, so they did a lot of work in developing guidance in how to share code whilst still keeping it secure
  • Another early struggle was in providing assisted digital support for people unable to directly use the digital service themselves
  • The most commonly failed point nowadays is 'build a service that is simple and intuitive'!
  • They still have difficult conversations with teams who are under pressure to make a service which is not yet ready live because the responsible minister is planning on making a speech launching it the next day
  • The most important message is that in order to deliver great digital services, you need experts - to design, build, and assess
  • And you need to be willing to adapt and iterate - both in the method of delivering the service, and also in the method of assessing it
  • It's a good start to improve the public facing aspect of a service, but proper transformation also requires the back-end of the service to be improved so that the staff delivering it also becomes a system which is so good the staff want to use it
  • One of the biggest challenges to local authorities is the limited number of third party suppliers for specific applications; too many of those third party applications are very poor indeed, with too many of the suppliers being completely unresponsive to demands for improvement. We need to be much better at demanding these suppliers improve the quality of what they're offering

Matthew Cain, Head of Digital, Buckinghamshire County Council - How we adopted the LGDSS and how it's improving the experience for residents

  • In the early days before adopting the standard there was a lack of co-ordination with many service areas creating their own platforms, and there was a lot of opinion with very little evidence
  • They changed to adopt a clear guiding principle - 'we'll do it the GDS way until we decide not to'
  • They started by lining up the correct people in the right order - digital leaders across the organisation, the contract managers of the existing websites.
  • They looked at the 18 points of the GDS DSS and established which of those points wouldn't work for them
  • Followed the prove path of Discovery, Alpha, Beta, and Live, showing their work at each stage to the relevant people to get buy-in to proceed to the next phase
  • They adopted a 'soft on means, tough on ends' attitude; they committed to fast turnarounds for assessments, and assessed proportionately according to the impact of the service
  • Feedback was using an approach of 'this would be even better if…' attitude
  • But there still remains a key skills gap for assessing the high profile services
  • Having a spending control governance model helps prevent service areas going rogue to do their own thing
  • They've also published their DSS on their own website so that they are making it clear to the public what their aspiration is, and so the public can hold them account for services which fall short
  • They've also got cabinet member buy-in so that councillors know to come to them before agreeing to new digital service
  • They monitor their new services after go-live on a publicly available customer performance dashboard
  • The ongoing experience is that meeting their standards is getting harder - but this is a good thing, because it increasingly matters more that they get it right
  • We all need to be much more honest with our suppliers of rubbish third party applications - we need to make it clear to them in advance of contract renewal time that if they don't improve their offers we won't be continuing to use their products. We also need to have a plan B for these third party applications - for many of them, we're behelden to the supplier because nobody else is providing a credible alternative

Kit Collingwood-Richardson, DWP - The Joy of Standards and what she's learned from using the GDS DSS

  • The standard saves money - it helps reduce the cost of service delivery and the speed of service delivery
    • Get your customers online quickly and keep them there
    • Prioritise the things users need
    • Iterate swiftly based on feedback
    • Running services, not just building them - it doesn't end when the new service has gone live
  • Building to the standard will make the services better
    • Key focus on design quality - make sure it's simple enough people can use it first time unaided
    • Do this based on continuous research
    • It's only successful if it's far easier to use than the alternative channels
    • It's based on repeatable and shareable patterns - be consistent across services
    • Whenever she had a problem she was able to consult with peers to find how they'd already solved it, rather than reinventing the wheel
  • Consistency is a user need
    • Look at other successful online services - Amazon, Google, eBay, etc - if another successful online service is doing a certain thing a certain way, consider following that way yourself
    • Consistency builds predictability
    • Predictability builds trust
    • Trust keeps people online
  • It will help you move from outsourced IT to the digital age
    • "'Digital' is applying the culture, practices, processes, and technologies of the internet era to respond to peoples' raised expectations" - Tom Loosemore
    • Equipping an organisation for the internet era is hard
    • The ability to evolve and iterate needs to be part of the organisation's DNA
  • It's a lightning rod for culture change
    • The standard strongly encourages an organisation to be open - not just open sourcing the code, but being open about describing what you're doing along the way and why
    • It also attracts better quality people to work for the organisation
    • Colocated multi-disciplinary teams
    • Flatter hierarchies
    • More diverse workforce
    • More open and collaborative organisation

Paul Ward, Head of ICT Strategy, Systems, and Development, Coventry City Council - Implementing the standard at Coventry City Council so far

  • Because they're building some new office space to reduce the number of desks to seven desks per 10 staff members, it's just as important for them to implement sensible digital services which work for staff as it is ones which work for citizens
    • This includes moving to abolishing phones in favour of computer-based voice communication, two-in-one laptops to detach the screen from the keyboard for one to one situations, online / cloud-based working, etc
  • Opened a city centre Customer Service Centre which is modern and pleasant to visit and is relevant to all citizens, for assisted digital services
  • If as a sector we can harmonise our business processes using the LGDSS we can use that as part of putting pressure to the rubbish third-party suppliers to improve their offers
  • Use the best technology for the job rather than trying to shoehorn something designed for one thing into using it for something completely different

#localgovdigital #localgov #lgdss


In group Public / Third Sector Digital

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