Question 2: Who should do what?

What should Central Government do itself – e.g. in terms of content, applications and standards – and what would be better done by the wider public sector, businesses, charities and users?

23 Responses to Question 2: Who should do what?

  1. Directgov must above all else be authoritative and trusted. It provides a government imprimatur for the transactions that it supports and the information it provides. If it lose that as a result of third party involvement then it becomes essentially useless and moves in that direction are irresponsible. Transactions such as filling in a tax return should be completely free of any third party involvement and advertising. Organisations working on the site and providing direct support to users referred to as part of the site such as embedded online help systems and referenced call centres must essentially be “government”.

    However, assuming they are required (this is the “access channel to wider content” that we mention above), lists of places (mainly websites) where users can go for further advice and services should be included. This is where charities, those that offer charged services and other possible links (other Governments etc.) come in. There should be mechanisms for proposal and establishment of links. But these links should always make clear on the site, to all including those using assistive technology and/or with sensory impairment, that they are links to content or services that are outside the jurisdiction of government.

  2. Paul Clarke says:

    Central government should make policy and set the rules by which services are delivered. It is also very likely to deliver a large number of them (by virtue of trust, security or scale issues). I will not stray here into commentary on how it should make policy – that is more a matter of political style and judgement in my opinion.

    The mechanics of delivery will also be hugely complex, with public and private sector participation both playing significant roles. Again, there is no single, trite answer in a forum such as this to ‘who does what’.

    I will however suggest a few tips: government needs to get better at assessing what can and cannot be achieve in practice using digital services. There is no end of theoretical modelling that will show us how x transaction can be reengineered in y ways to deliver z savings. But apply that theory to the reality of 60m citizens with an almost infinite variety of personal circumstances, motivations and behaviours and previous solid business cases start to crumble. It is extremely unlikely, in my view, that a mechanism can ever be constructed which will allow for single sign-on to a trusted relationship with lots of areas of government at the same time, such that meaningful and useful transactions can be carried out. The drawbacks and pitfalls scale much, much faster than the benefits. I can draw you a theoretical model of how a single identity and PIN could do the job, but I wouldn’t be able to implement it (even accounting for the fact that much of what we understand about rights and privacy would have to fundamentally change to do so). But that is a much deeper debate than suits this comment box.

    Rather than barking up the same old trees, government needs to improve in other disciplines – I’ll offer two for consideration. 1. Smart service design – whereby real-world cases, cutting across many departmental areas of responsibility, are used as a starting point for developing solutions. Strong leadership, to ensure that such smarter services can be pushed through to delivery, even where this means some flex in departmental ownership, or amendment to policy. And 2. Risk assessment – simply replicating offline services online doesn’t work. We know this. Much is changed simply by the act of providing a service in a remote, anonymous, scalable and rapid channel, such as the web. Reliance on old forms of ‘friction’, such as the filling in of complex forms, or the use of a physical signature, don’t have the same meaning in a digital channel. Risks, of fraud or error, need to be wholly reevaluated in light of the digital channel.

    Directgov’s flagship service, still – after more than 5 years – the car tax renewal, works so well because of decisions like this. There is no requirement to go through an elaborate identity-proving process every time you buy a tax disc. What’s the worst that could happen, really? You might buy a disc for someone else? Wow. And the car itself is oblivious to the fact that its details are being shared across MOT, insurance and DVLA databases. It’s a car. It doesn’t care. It’s because almost every other service is about a person that makes them so difficult, and the tax disc magic so hard to repeat. And although, generally, we need to be sure that someone is entitled to the services they claim – and that appropriate data sharing safeguards are observed – I still feel there is more that could be done in assessing service risk in a way appropriate to the channel being used.

    Full disclosure: as per Question 1.