Rethinking the GDS standard and assessments

Written by Thomas Kohut, Senior Partner, TPXimpact

Since its creation, the Government Digital Service (GDS) Standard has been a key framework for providers and the government. It has been a valuable guide for partners working with the public sector to ensure the development of consistent and user-centred digital tools that meet everyone’s needs.

But while the standard and its fourteen points remain an important tool in driving service development and accountability, some challenges need to be addressed and overcome to ensure it continues to meet the ever-evolving digital landscape. 


Evolving requirements and landscapes

The methodology behind the standard was developed some time ago, and whilst it has been updated in part, it continues to primarily focus on the experiences of external users, not internal staff. As digital transformation continues across the public sector, we’re seeing more systems being developed where all or parts of the service are to be used by employees within departments (or between departments). As this is a relatively new development, service assessments are being carried out on these solutions by people who don’t always have experience and understanding of the impact and nuance that exists when delivering systems internally, or on the constraints set by internal ways of working. 

This means services created for internal users are assessed in the wrong way. Sometimes meeting user needs is not the most important thing, despite being the primary focus of an assessment. Not enough time is given to how well this new internal service aligns with policy or gathers data effectively. Digital teams then need to focus on matching their work to the standard spuriously, rather than meeting the core principles of the standard and all users’ needs, costing valuable time and resources.

At the same time, when the standard is applied too strictly during assessments, it can prevent teams from being able to continuously deliver and adapt to changing circumstances and needs. This can result in services not meeting user needs and platforms being developed that already need updating before they’ve even had a chance to be embedded. 

If we want to continue to produce high-quality digital services, the way the standard is upheld and services are assessed may need to change.


Letting go of bureaucracy and embracing flexibility

To address the challenges around internal user-centred services, there needs to be a rethink about how platforms and products are assessed and deemed to be appropriately meeting the standard. The assessment process in its current form is too much of a tick-box exercise, meaning pragmatism is being lost and services aren’t being designed with the right kinds of user, organisational and policy needs front and centre.

Updating the standard to meet the needs of different users, creating more room for flexibility and training assessors to understand these requirements, would allow digital partners and departments to create services quicker, more efficiently and cost-effectively.

When it comes to the strict application of the standard, there needs to be an acceptance and appreciation of embracing more flexible ways of working, rather than the traditional discovery/alpha/beta approach. 

Digital projects never follow a rigid timeline where there is a linear progression from beginning to end. Instead, they need to be taking a more agile approach, where continuous development and changes can be made throughout the project. This will allow updates to be made to a product at different stages without the fear of needing to get everything reassessed, while it will also allow projects to move quickly and for the prioritisation of the riskiest aspects of delivery and testing it in safe “pilot” environments.

The Digital Service Standard and the principles that sit behind it are key to ensuring public services are built to be accessible, user-centred and solving the intended need. However, technology and service requirements have changed since their initial development and we have moved beyond an era where a one-size-fits-all Standard is appropriate. The standard needs to adapt with the times, and by updating it and the assessment process to reflect broader user needs and agile ways of working, we can ensure we have regulations and services that meet the needs of everyone, from civil servants to the public.

Read More GovTech

Comments are closed.