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GDS plans new dimension for GOV.UK


Mark Say Managing Editor

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The GOV.UK team is planning to increase the website’s capabilities with the development of more proactive services.

The plan was outlined at last week’s Sprint 19 event by Jen Allum, head of GOV.UK in the Government Digital Service (GDS), who described the move as a “step change” in the nature of the site and how it is used by central government.

She added that the use of digital identities and consent mechanisms would be crucial to the way the website delivers the new services, which would be available to those who choose to receive them.

Next challenge

“In a nutshell, it works brilliantly at the moment if the user already knows what they need to do, such as renewing a passport,” Allum said.

“But the next big challenge is to better help users with the things they don’t realise they need to do, or to help them get to the next stage of their journey. That’s starting a business, buying a house, having a child; these are not discreet singular transactions, they are processes.

“What this points to is a need to provide consent based public services across a spectrum where some users actively want their data used in order to get proactive service and some do not. Our ambition is to serve users based on the way they want to interact with government.

“To be explicit, users who want to access GOV.UK and read information will always be able to do so as they do now. People who want to provide information just at the point of need will still be able to complete individual transactions. And people who want their data joined up will be able to receive more proactive and relevant services from government; push services for example.

“To reiterate, this will all be on a consent based model. Our job is to support the spectrum of changing user expectation.”

Allum pointed to the recently developed Brexit checker service as providing a start for the new approach. It guides people through a series of questions on any steps they may need to take to prepare for the UK’s exit from the EU.

She said it has restated the role of GOV.UK as the “canonical” source of information on government services and has provided the ground for GDS to learn from the experience of setting it up.

Joined up analytics

Building the new services will involve joining up performance analytics to give the team a single view of anonymised data and activity on the site, which should help it to design products that people want to use.

It will also involve adherence to government identity standards, and a shift to a channel agnostic approach in which users will not have to always visit the website to find relevant information. Allum said this reflects a trend in which content designers, publisher and product teams in government are now designing not just for a website view but with a focus on mobile devices, search engine results and increasingly for responding to voice searches.

She added that there are currently blockers that GDS will have to overcome to implement the approach.

“Despite a lot of effort and great work, government in 2019 is still wrestling with legacy, with the separation between policy intent and delivery, and that’s against a backdrop of rapidly changing user expectation about how operating online should be,” she said.

“At scale we struggle to share the data between departments, even for the same user journey. What can be excellent policy intent can dissolve at first contact with users.

“And as head of GOV.UK I have been unable to see consistent performance analytics across the site. So it’s pretty hard to tell if we’re doing a good job.”

One of the priorities she identified is to develop metrics for a common understanding of performance across services. Along with this is the need to ensure that data produced by different areas of government is sharable, validated and based on privacy centres standards; and to design services to solve what people have deal with in life – such as a birth, death or change of job – rather than how they have been delivered.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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