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Putting “life” into the digital service design lifecycle

This year, I celebrated my tenth year anniversary in the Ontario Public Service, and marked this occasion by returning to work in the same area of specialty where my public service career began: working on digital government.

Since I joined the team a decade ago, the team’s size has grown and its mandate has evolved significantly, but one thing hasn’t changed: the people working on digital government across the Ontario Public Service continue to have an intense and unrelenting focus on delivering simpler, faster and better digital services for Ontarians.

I have a new role in the Digital Government team: to think about the digital service design lifecycle, as well as the accompanying assessments at each stage.

Part of this new role involves reflecting upon what it means to develop digital services that put users first. Another part involves looking at other governments and organizations for their lessons and examples, and to also understand how digital services are currently developed and assessed within Ontario.

A final part of my role is to work closely with my colleague, Dana, as he drafts a new service design standard, and leads work on a service design playbook. I’m reminded of this passage from his previous blog post as I do my work every day:

“Standards alone are not a panacea for digital government. It will require time, culture change, skill development, and supported staff, but standards are a good place to start.”

Based on everything I’ve been learning in my new role on the team, and especially inspired by Matt Edgar’s recent blog post about what it means when one’s digital service goes live, I’ve come up with a particular way to think about the service design lifecycle in Ontario. I’ve designed it as a modified helix, was below:

Service lifecycle drawn as a helix, by Matt Edgar.

The main feature of this “helix” approach is the emphasis on user needs permeating each stage of the digital service life cycle — from concept, to production, and beyond.

Ontario’s proposed approach to the digital service lifecycle

I chose a modified helix because Matt’s post inspired me to remind others that the digital service lifecycle is, as its name suggests, about designing a service that’s… alive: a service that’s interacting with users and evolving all the time.

No matter at what stage a digital service finds itself, my hope is that the image of the helix will help keep us honest as we assess various digital services: How faithfully are we meeting user needs? Are user needs driving how we conceptualize, develop and improve services? How do we ensure that simpler, faster and better services for the public remain in the heart of what we do?

We’re still exploring what that kind of assessment process could look like, but we do know that we want the process to be alive, to evolve, and to reflect user need at each step of the way.

What do you think of this approach? If this helix is a good way of thinking about our service design lifecycle, how do we put it into practice in the public service? I’d love to hear from you as we work through these questions.

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.

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Digital, the Ontario government, and all things in between. Learn more at http://ontario.ca/digital

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Honey Dacanay

Honey Dacanay

Professionally awkward. Trying to make gov work better. Policy, data & talent @ESDC_GC. Digital gov @McMasterU. Alum @DigiAcademyCan. @ONDigital co-founder