Adopting the Local Government Digital Service Standards

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

I’ve been following the work of the LocalGov Digital group for a few years and was excited when they took the step of adapting the Government Digital Service (GDS) Digital Service Standards for local government use. The output of this collaborative effort was the Local Government Digital Service Standard. To learn more about how they did it, I can recommend Joshua Mouldey’s excellent post.

What problem are we trying to solve?

As someone who has spent quite a few years making existing services digital, using online forms and web content, I recognise the value of the points listed in the standard. I feel like the work I’ve done in the past has been valuable, but I’ve always known that we could do better.

We sometimes have to make compromises to meet a deadline or satisfy a request from somebody senior in the organisation. Part of the problem is not having the time (or authority) to explain what we believe the better way is, every time we are asked to do something.

So how do we build a common understanding of what good looks like, across our organisation? How do we get to a point where doing user research to understand needs is an expected part of the process, rather than something we have to fight for? What if it was understood that the way the organisation approaches transformation and improvement work is using user-centred design techniques? What if there was a commitment to continually improve the service, once live, based on feedback, changes to user needs, policy or legislation and a plan in place to do so?

The standards seek to address these issues, among others, by setting out what is needed if we want to create user-centred, high quality, robust and secure services.

How do we “adopt” a standard?

There was a feeling among the team that while we as a team understood the wording and sentiment behind each of the points in the standard, not everybody in the organisation would. We set up a small group within the team to discuss the standards and what sort of actions and behaviours are required to be able to meet them. We presented back to the team.

Alex Mihai, our Marketing and Communications specialist, picked out the key messages from that piece of work and produced a communications plan. This included a poster and stair stickers of the key messages, that we plan to display in council buildings.

One the most important thing we can do to help the organisation adopt the standards, is to try to build support from senior management. Without their support, standards will never get traction. This will take ongoing effort, but one of the first things we did was take over part of an Extended Leadership meeting. After a quick presentation from Ben Unsworth of FutureGov, we had a large number of senior managers do a table exercise. We put a big poster of the standards on each table and asked; What does it mean to you and your service? What would we need to do to make it work?

It was an interesting exercise, with many of the people being very positive about the standards. The table I was on talked at length about the first item: Understand user needs. It was great to sit there and listen to service managers enthusiastically discuss how they could get a better understanding of their service users!

Sadly it was only a 20 minute exercise. There is a lot more discussion to be had and that’s something that will need to happen over a long period.

Our new Digital strategy is being finalised before going to Leadership Team for approval. Adoption of the Local Government Digital Service Standard features strongly in the new strategy. Formal acceptance of the strategy, in it’s current form, will mean that the Standard is something that we are committed to as an organisation. Then the work really starts!

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