Have you ever used the “GOV.UK” website to find some information or to use an online central government service? If so, you may have seen that some of the pages are marked “Beta”. Here is an example at the time of writing: https://www.gov.uk/apprenticeships-guide.
This does not mean that the information is wrong or the service is not yet ready. Everything that is provided works as it should and the “Beta” marking is simply there to invite comments from users so that the webpage or service can be improved before it is formally considered to be “live”. Once it is live, the “Beta” marking is removed but even then the information or service will still continue to be reviewed and updated throughout its life.
This way of working is part of the Government Digital Strategy that was launched back in 2012 and set out how government intended to redesign its digital services so well that people prefer to use them. The approach includes making usable versions of digital services available as quickly as possible, and obtaining user views early in the process. The criteria for this approach have been documented in a Digital Service Standard and this is used to assess whether a digital service has been created in accordance with the Strategy.
Local Government has been following all of this with interest and an increasing number of councils are starting to adopt similar ways of working. A steering group was formed last year and, with input from over 60 councils, a Local Government Digital Service Standard was created based on the one for central government. It suggests a common approach for local authorities to deliver good quality, user centred, value for money digital services.
The idea of a “standard” might sound theoretical and maybe even bureaucratic, but in reality the points in the Standard are very practical and might be considered to be common sense. As such they provide a useful checklist to help Hackney create online services that people want to use.
ICT has been exploring what the adoption of the Standard might mean for Hackney. As well as sessions to exchange ideas with other councils, we have held three short, focused workshops to look at the implications of some of the points in the Standard.
One of the main conclusions was that more engagement with service areas, users and perhaps residents will be needed during development than might have been the case previously. Service areas might find themselves invited to be part of project teams and to be given an early view of proposed developments and the chance to influence the direction. This will no doubt place greater demands on everyone’s time although the reward that is sought is the faster delivery of digital services that are intuitive to use, meet service area needs and can better respond to change.
Within ICT we recognise that as well as finding ways to achieve this greater engagement, we will need to bring together a wider range of new technologies and services in the future. We also need to be able to assess the effectiveness of the digital services both through user and service area feedback and the use of appropriate monitoring tools.
This will require new skills and methods in running projects, designing solutions, creating user interfaces that are simple and intuitive, measuring service performance and obtaining and acting upon comments about Hackney’s digital services. Good communication will be more important than ever. There is a lot for everyone to learn but also an opportunity to make full use of anything that already works well and to draw on the wider experience in digital services that is being gained across local government.