Government Digital Service: the right delivery, the wrong targets
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Over the last four years, the current government has spent significant time, money and effort building a centre of excellence for this digital transformation, GDS (Government Digital Service).
GDS has done great work in building a team of world-class experts, creating a wave of enthusiasm and cultural change across government, building a Service Standard (and associated Service Design Manual); components that can be used by other organisations, demonstrating that government can deliver fantastic digital services, and instilling a focus on people’s needs rather than on Whitehall’s needs.
GDS is a fantastic delivery machine. Unfortunately, when selecting the services that it wished this machine to deliver, the Government took a very Whitehall-centric view.
Twenty-five services, ranging from voter registration to patent renewals and prison visit bookings, were selected as “exemplars” for redesigning and rebuilding. The selection was based on the volume of existing central government transactions and hence the potential cost savings for central government by transferring those transactions to digital.
This is a methodology called “channel shift” and its focus on these transactions – while understandable – meant neglecting other, key questions. What is actually most important, creates the most value, or best meets people’s needs?
In short, the fantastic delivery machine was not focused on the best possible targets. In particular, the current approach to digital services has failed to consider significant contextual issues such as the cost of housing, the difficulties of getting back into work, or the cost of living. It has barely touched upon local government or the NHS. And it has neglected those without basic online skills or those who lack the ability to use and benefit from online transactions .
“There needs to be a balanced approach between assisted digital (which will typically rely on support from a family member) and those that need ongoing face-to-face support. These services need to be protected in perpetuity” – Large Company
 There is a subtle but important distinction between these two items. Some people will never be able to use online services on their own: https://www.gov.uk/service-manual/assisted-digital
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