GDS calls for greater collaboration between policy and digital staff

Written by Rebecca Hill on 6 January 2017 in News

All civil servants involved in creating government services should be thinking about the whole process, not just their part of it, according to digital experts in Whitehall.

GDS has a role to play in helping civil servants work together to build services - Photo credit: Pixabay

During work to understand how people in different departments create digital services, Robert le Quesne, a user researcher at the Government Digital Service, found that the process was broken into two distinct cycles: policy and delivery.

Although the activities in these cycles can vary, he said that the “important thing is that there can be little or no relationship between one cycle and another”, with departments often having very distinct policy, analytical, legal and digital professions.

However, le Quesne, who cited a number of research participants from various departments, said that there was “a clear recognition” across government that the barriers between these cycles need to be broken down.

This will mean making sure that everyone at every stage of service design thinks about how their part of works fits into the broader context of the entire end-to-end service and increasing trust between policy and delivery teams.

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There is also a need for digital staff to have a better understanding of the policy aims behind the service design, and vice versa, with le Quesne quoting one department’s chief digital officer as saying: “It’s not enough for a service designer just to talk service design, the service designer has to be able to start to talk policy and policy has to be able to start to talk service design.”

This was something that the Institute for Government highlighted as a major area of improvement for the civil service in its report on digital government that was published in October last year.

“This means embracing a new kind of policymaking,” the IfG report said, with multidisciplinary teams of policy managers, user researchers, developers and designers working together to develop policies, and moves to expand digital leadership beyond digital and technology teams.

In his blogpost, le Quesne said that there was “an increasing momentum to make this happen”.

He added that GDS has a role to play in helping departments improve their understanding of good service design beyond publishing and updating the Service Manual, which was recently relaunched to cut out duplicated content, standardise the language used throughout and make navigation easier.

These new efforts will include work to facilitate cross-government service networks to connect people who are working on the same user need in different departments, le Quesne said.

He added that the GDS team was working with departments to develop other ideas to help collaboration and service design.

The Home Office’s head of service design Kate Tarling recently revealed that her department is creating a common language to help people in different teams communicate more simply and clearly.

“The value is not so much in what the actual words are, but the fact that we made this together as a multi-disciplinary group, and that we all agree to try it out,” Tarling said at the time.

“This will enable us to have better discussions, spot commonalities, think about design patterns and organise large portfolios of work more easily. It also provides a language to communicate how things could work differently in future.”

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