Header image: computer with colour pencils.

Progress on the Digital Service Standard

Update, July 14: The alpha of the Digital Service Standard is live and ready for your feedback and comments. Please do check it out and let us know what you think. Keep reading below for a look at how we got to the alpha.

As we’ve mentioned before, the Digital Service Standard, and the processes that support it, will help to ensure that all digital services provide consistent, high-quality experiences that are designed with the needs of real users in mind.

Over the past few months, we’ve been doing a lot of work to create a standard: conducting jurisdictional research, applying practical frameworks, and testing our prototypes with public servants across the province to make sure the standard will be applicable, relevant, and helpful.

The standard is about the “good path.”

As we’ve been gathering feedback and input from people across the public service, one of the questions we continually get is how to simply define the standard and the need for one.

Based on those conversations, we’ve started to define our Digital Service Standard as our attempt to define what ‘good’ looks like so that, regardless of who’s delivering it, a digital service consistently (and at a minimum):

  • Meets user needs
  • Achieves policy outcomes
  • Offers value for money (not necessarily the cheapest possible solution)
  • Incentivizes adoption of open standards, open source and commodity technology
  • Does not present or create risks through technology and procurement choices
  • Complies with laws and applicable standards
  • Is not likely to fail

We’re working to make the “good path” easy.

As we’ve embarked on projects and products with groups and individuals across government, we’ve noticed our collaboration with others generally follows three models:

Models for collaboration.
  • Empower: a “self-serve” model that provides guides, templates, patterns, how-to resources, method cards, etc.
  • Enable: active guidance and systemic interventions that include providing direct advice and support to improve services, conducting digital assessments, and shaping and influencing policy development.
  • Engage: a co-design and co-deliver approach that embeds members of the Ontario Digital Service with ministries and agencies.

The Digital Service Standard is a product that is intended to empower: to support public servants working on digital across government to continue to provide digital services that are simple, fast, and meet user needs.

The standard is not just a way to ensure consistency of experience, but to make the delivery of good services easier for everyone working on them.

Applying our own guidance.

At the core of the Digital Service Standard is the application of the service design approach. We’ve used, and continue to use, that approach in the actual creation and delivery of the standard, as well.

Discovery: Over the past few months, in addition to our jurisdictional scans, we’ve conducted formal user research across the public service and with critical partners.

Alpha: In the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing a first draft of the standard publicly and updating it once a month based on feedback and analytics.

Beta: Later this year, we’ll continue to update the standard and add more guides, templates, and resources based on user input and analytics.

Live: In early 2018, the standard will be published with links to communities of practice. Regular updates will continue to occur based on changing needs and context.

Using the service design approach in the development of the Digital Service Standard.

A little bit more about discovery.

Over the past two months, we’ve done extensive user research (and still continue to do more) through ethnographic interviews, surveys, and process mapping exercises. This research has, and will continue to, help us understand:

  • How the standard will affect the every day work of the person who will be using it
  • If and how any of the principles in the standard are unclear
  • What tools, supports, and incentives will be needed to ensure adherence to the standard

Among the internal Ontario Public Service groups that have been, or will be shortly, interviewed include: Ontario.ca team; Open Government Office; Information, Privacy, and Archives; Accessibility Working Group; I&IT Policy; ministry and cluster web coordinators; I&IT community; policy community; various program areas.

A little bit more about our Alpha.

Later this month, we’ll be publishing the alpha version of our Digital Service Standard on Ontario.ca. The alpha version includes:

  • An upfront explanation of what the standard means and the new concepts we’re introducing.
  • A request for feedback — we’re just getting started!
  • A list of principles, each outlining — what it means, why it matters, what meeting the standard entails, and applicable legislation.

We are making a commitment to update the standard on a regular basis based on user research interviews and web analytics.

A lot of work done, a lot more to come.

We’ve set a good groundwork for creating the “good path” for digital services through the work we’ve already done on the Digital Service Standard, but the work is still just getting started.

The success of the standard lies in its application, so it’s imperative that everyone who will use, or be affected by, the standard has their input reflected throughout the process. We’re looking forward to hearing from you — whether public servant, member of the civic tech community, or anyone else with interest — on how to make Ontario’s Digital Service Standard truly useful, simple, and impactful.

I’ll be be back to announce when we release the Alpha; in the meantime, feel free to get in touch.



Honey Dacanay wants to use data, digital and design to do government differently. She is a policy wonk with coding, design and data analysis skills, and has an incredible grasp of the machinery of government decision-making.