Part 2: Proposing A Maturity Model for Digital Services (2018)

From the 2018 State of Digital Transformation Report

David Eaves
Project on Digital Era Government


This piece was co-written by David Eaves, a lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and Ben McGuire, a Harvard Kennedy School student. You can download the maturity model as a PDF here.

From June 12–13, 2018, digital HKS and Public Digital convened public sector digital services teams from around the world at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Teams and experts from nine nations shared stories of success, talked about lessons learned, and discussed the challenges they face in transforming government.

Across the next few weeks, digital HKS will be sharing the most important takeaways from the convening through our blog — and we will also publish the collected learnings as a physical text later this year. We started with an introduction post explaining the full framework; in this post, we propose a preliminary maturity model for public-sector digital services. Please also consider filling out our survey about this maturity model and how it maps to your organization.

photo courtesy of Miguel Vieira

Toward A Maturity Model for Digital Services Groups

With a growing number of public-sector digital services units and the national and state/provincial level having largely moved past the launch phase, one of the biggest questions that we hear is how to contextualize progress made and milestones yet to achieve. Trying to make progress in a completely new space is hard when units can’t define where they are relative to the progress that has been made elsewhere. Without that context, setting smart long-term goals is extremely tough — and planning how to get there is even tougher.

To date, we haven’t seen a lot of models out there to map the maturity of different digital services organizations in the public sector — but we’ve heard from units at all stages of progress that having a shared set of definitions for maturity would be very helpful. In this document, we aggregate trends and observations from units to start a new conversation on these issues. We want to especially thank Kathy Pham, Mike Bracken, Richard Pope, and Till Wirth for their perspective, thoughts, and substantial contributions to this framework.

We don’t believe there will be just one model that will work everywhere and at all times — and we fully recognize that the real value units provide isn’t checking boxes on a model, but rather delivering value to citizens. We love feedback from practitioners and observers of this space about things that resonate (or do not resonate) with you — and if your team is creating value in ways that aren’t reflected here, we would love to hear about your experience. Send me an email — or click here to add comments to a community version of this framework. You can also download a PDF version here.

We’ve attempted to codify a lot of what we’ve been hearing from various units into a framework around five high-level themes:

  • Political environment
  • Institutional capacity
  • Delivery capability
  • Skills and hiring
  • User centered design
  • Cross-government platforms

Within these themes, we then break out what we’ve heard are the most important components of success. This doesn’t mean the number of projects completed, or the coolest application created — in fact, we heard several times to avoid those kinds of measures of maturity. Instead, what we’ve tried to lay out is a model that captures the organizational development of digital services. Here, moving from Low to Medium to High can be additive — putting something new in place — or subtractive — getting rid of a feature as we progress.

A Proposed Maturity Framework for Public-Sector Digital Services

We don’t want to pretend like this is a final or a perfect consolidation of the many lessons we learned at the convening in June; in fact, we’re pushing this out publicly now because we’re seeking your feedback on it. It’s our hope that as we can refine and test this framework out in the field, we can get to a more formal presentation soon, and that tool can become a useful quantitative benchmark service for digital services groups around the world.

To that end, we have a survey tool in which you can assess the digital service group you work in against this model. We’d very much appreciate it if you filled it out. We are happy to share the data with interested parties. If you work at a digital service group, please consider having several people fill it out, you can then use the data to have a conversation about why people’s results vary. We’ve found that digital service teams have those conversation to be particularly helpful.



David Eaves
Project on Digital Era Government

Associate Prof at the Institute for Innovation & Public Purpose, UCL. Work on digital era public infrastructure, transformation & public servants competencies.