Talk: Digital by Default – Civil Service Live 2013

Dafydd Vaughan on 4 July 2013

Yesterday (3rd July 2013) I have a talk about Digital by Default at Civil Service Live (an annual conference for civil servants) in Bristol.

There was quite a bit of interest in the talk (the venue we had was packed), so I thought it would be useful if I replicated the talk online and provide a bit of commentary.


Dafydd Vaughan, Technical Architect at Government Digital Service
I’m Dafydd Vaughan.
I’m a Technical Architect at the Government Digital Service.

Digital services so good that people prefer to use them

Digital services so good that people prefer to use them
I’m going to give you an introduction to Digital by Default, some context, where it came from and what information is available to help.

I’ll then hand over to colleagues from DWP, DVLA and Bristol City Council who will go into more detail about what Digital by Default means to them.

Hopefully we’ll also have time for questions of the end.

Revolution not evolution

Martha Lane Fox published a report titled Revolution not Evolution
Back in November 2010, Martha Lane Fox published this report.

It was titled “Revolution not Evolution”. It called for a step change in the way government interacts with users online.

It’s only 11 pages long, so go read it if you can.

Do four things

Do 4 things

Martha’s report called for us to do 4 things: create GDS, fix publishing, fix transactions and build it all properly

We’ve created GDS. There are just over 200 people in Central London including developers, designers, user research, analysis and content designers. People with specialist skills working to deliver this transformation.

Fixing publishing

There were 2,000 government websites (ish)

GOV.UK homepage

A GOV.UK guide

A GOV.UK answer

GOV.UK Department for Transport homepage

GOV.UK Department for Work and Pensions homepage

GOV.UK Wales Office homepage

35 of 300+ agencies are live on GOV.UK

We’ve been working on fixing Publishing.

There were around 2000 government websites.

In October 2011 we launched GOV.UK. It’s the home for government services and information.

By March this year it had also became the home to 24 central government departments.

And over the next few months it’ll also become the home to 300ish government agencies.

Fixing transactions

Fixing transactions

Screenshot of lasting power of attorney beta

Screenshot of Rural Payments Agency prototype

Screenshot of DVLA view my driving licence alpha

Our main focus now though is fixing transactions.

GDS has people all over the country working with departments to transform transactions.

For example we have people working with the Office for Public Guardian in Birmingham on the Lasting power of attorney service. The team has been transforming a transaction that was mostly paper based into a digital service. We launched a public beta of this on Tuesday.

There is a team working with Defra (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) and the Rural Payments Agency in Reading on transforming the farm payments service using digital mapping.

We also have a team in Swansea at the DVLA (Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency) on digitising the driving licence and vehicle log book

The twenty-five

A map of the twenty five exemplar transactions

We actually have people out working with 8 departments and 14 agencies on 25 government services.

Places like the Land Registry in Plymouth, the Student Loans Company in Glasgow and the Environment Agency here in Bristol.

Building it all properly

Build it all properly

It’s important though that we build it all properly.

How can we do that and what help is there?

The Government Digital Strategy

The Government Digital Strategy

Back in November 2011 we published the Government Digital Strategy.

It describes the move to Digital by Default and what we need to do.

Digital by Default

Digital by default

This is what Digital by Default actually means:

… digital services that are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will choose to do so whilst those who can’t are not excluded

We are building services that people will prefer to use.

We don’t want to exclude anyone, but those who CAN use online services should prefer use them over any other method

Fourteen actions

14 actions

The Digital Strategy has 14 actions that we’ve committed to in the move towards Digital by Default. They include things such as:

  • Appointing digital leaders in every department
  • Building digital capability within government
  • Improving the way we buy things

It all leads up to a commitment to redesign all services with over 100,000 transactions each year to be Digital by Default

The 25 services we are working on at the moment are just the start.

Design principles

Design principles

To help us redesign all those services, we have our design principles.

These are 10 principles that we follow in everything we do. They include things such as:

  • Making things simple, we should do the hard work, not the public
  • Iterating the service based on feedback
  • Starting with user needs. Not my needs, not the needs of my department, the needs of the people who will be using the service

We’re also building digital services not websites. We’re not talking an existing paper form and putting it online, we’re looking at the whole process from end to end.

The standard

Digital by Default Service Standard

Slide 25 - The Standard - points 1 to 3

Slide 26 - The Standard - points 6 to 8

Slide 27 - The Standard - points 14 to 16

Slide 28 - The Standard - points 24 to 26

There is also the Digital by Default Service Standard.

This standard contains 26 criteria that new (or redesigned) services will be assessed against before they go live.

When you are building a service you need to consider and understand the needs of the user.

In order to build and run the service you need a multidisciplinary team of developers, designers, content designers, web ops etc.

You need to take those user needs and build a prototype. Then get feedback by testing it, iterate the prototype based on the feedback, then test it again.

You need to be able to deploy changes regularly if you are going to react to feedback. Lots of government services only have a 6 or 12 month release cycle. That just isn’t good enough. You need the capability to release changes on a regular basis. As an example of this, GOV.UK has made over 1000 software releases in just six months.

You need to be open about what you are doing.

There are 26 points in total that services will be tested against. They apply to all new or redesigned services with over 100,000 transactions per year.

April 2014

The Digital by Default Service Standard applies from April 2014

We’re starting the assessments now, but the Digital by Default Service Standard comes into force from April 2014.

Services must pass the assessment or they can’t go live.

The manual

Screenshot of the Government Service Design Manual homepage

Slide 31 - The Manual (Alpha Phase)

Slide 32 -  - The Manual (Assisted Digital)

Slide 33 - The Manual (Card sorting)

Slide 34 - The Manual (Technology architecture)

Slide 35 - The Manual (List of guides)

Now, that is going to be quite a big change and it’s a lot to take in. Also, GDS can’t do everything – there just aren’t enough of us.

So we’ve put together the Government Service Design Manual. It contains lots of guides and advice on how to design, build and operate Digital by Default services.

It includes guides about how to run alpha and beta phases of a service; how you can build services that don’t exclude people by using assisted digital; information about user research techniques such as card sorting; information on technology architecture, development environments and information security.

There are lots of guides and we’re adding to them all the time. Go take a look. If you think we’re missing something, let us know.

The GDS blog

Slide 36 - GDS Blog

There is also lots of information on the GDS blog and we tweet regularly at @gdsteam.

There have been quite a few links in this talk, so I’ll tweet them from my account later incase you missed any of them.

It’s all about the users


Before I go, I’d like to leave you with one final thought.

Digital by Default is all about making simpler, clear and faster services for our users.

They are what is most important.

Thank you.


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