Ellie Ashman

Director of Product & Services

How the Government Service Standard can benefit your digital transformation - part 2

Related post categories Digital products Public sector
5 mins read

In the first post on this topic, we covered using research-led and iterative methods to start small and increase the value you’re able to deliver. 

In this post, we’ll look at two more aspects of the Government Service Standard, exploring how placing research insights into wider context can help identify further opportunities for growth or innovation, and unlock even more significant improvements for your users. 

Solve a whole problem for users

Budgeting and planning cycles, strategic plans, and organisational silos can make it easier than we’d all like it to be to get focused on just one part of your organisation’s whole offering.
But your users don’t know about your internal structure, and they shouldn’t have to in order to get the most benefit or value from being your customer, user, or supporter.

Working with colleagues across your organisation, or even your wider sector, to understand the problems your users are trying to navigate or the things they are trying to achieve can help you spot new or creative ways to give your users the best possible experience.

Service design approaches like blueprinting or experience maps can help you see the wider landscape that a smaller project or service sits within. You might spot areas of particular friction or anxiety for your users, or areas that aren’t currently well-served by tools or guidance. You might see that the wider journey happens in a strange order, or crosses more departmental or digital boundaries than it needs to.

As an example - thinking about an increase in the number of users seeking mental health support during the coronavirus pandemic - a blueprint could help you think about how a user identifies what they need, how they find out what’s available and choose a service that feels right for them.

Mapping out where they interact with your organisation through that process can help you spot when users need to navigate across multiple webpages and a digital service to get a full view of what’s available, or where there’s a path that only informs a user they aren’t eligible for the service you currently offer when they are partway through. What can you do to simplify that, or make it smoother to pass between those different structures and locations? 

Perhaps your service has waiting times, or eligibility criteria - could you flag these up earlier in a user’s full journey so that they don’t waste time working through a service that won’t meet their needs or isn’t intended for their situation? What impact would that have on things like your service levels, turnaround times, or customer service call volumes? 

It takes a bit of practice, but stepping away from the policies and systems your organisation operates to get to the heart of what your users are thinking about, what they’re feeling, and what they need to achieve, can help you see new opportunities and spot the highest impact changes you can make to your service. This can help set your transformation project up for success, and reduce the risk of unintended consequences or unmanageable dependencies once you get started. 

Start working towards this by: 

  • Thinking about where your users arrive at your service from - are they directed by your website, or referred by your staff, or are they coming in from a web search or an external site? Analytics can help with this - get in touch if you need help to make your analytics work harder for you. 
  • Breaking down all the steps through one of your current journeys or services - what does a user want to achieve? What systems or processes do they need to interact with to get that done? What actions do your staff take behind the scenes at each step?
  • When you’ve broken down all the steps, see if you can note any areas where a user needs to do something offline, or where staff are processing things offline (that could be sending a spreadsheet, or calling someone for help)
  • Share your broken down view widely in your organisation, and work collaboratively to talk about the bottlenecks and pain points you’ve identified, to find ways forward that might change or adapt established business processes for better outcomes. 

Make the service simple to use

At first glance, this one might seem slightly obvious. But in my experience, this is often where the hardest aspects of change can be found. Behind many ambitious digital transformation projects sits a crumbling old spreadsheet or a creaking system, protected by a labyrinth of business rules and processes that keep throughput to the maximum level that legacy arrangements can manage.

Often, nobody wants to touch this arrangement because it is notoriously brittle, poorly documented, and last maintained by someone who left the organisation several years ago. But here’s the thing - those layers of process, governance, and ageing technology do not get better with time. As they calcify, they drive complexity and frustration that will permeate even the newest, shiniest service you build on top. 

A big chunk of digital transformation rests on being bold and tackling these intractable and inherited problems because they stand between your users and a simple service. 

As part of your Discovery work, find the areas your users are struggling with, ask your customer-facing teams which things they get the most calls about, and which they find the hardest to resolve. Explore the processes and policies behind those things, and ask ‘why?’ as much as you can bear. 

Some things really will be hard requirements, but you’ll also find some things which have just always been that way. Draw on your research insights (that you gathered from understanding your users and their needs) to show your colleagues the impact this thing is having, and the improvements you could unlock if it went away. Changing processes and behaviours is difficult, so finding ways to show the impact and opportunities can help others see the value that justifies the friction of change. 

This is not the most glamorous part of transformation, but it can be the most rewarding, and often has the highest impact. So roll those sleeves up and follow those creaky spreadsheets! 

Start working towards this by: 

  • Trying out a service blueprint for some of the key scenarios for users of your service. Include things a user sees, things staff do, and systems that are being used, and then see if you can layer in key decision points or policies. If you’ve already broken your service down into steps, you’re halfway there! 
  • Involving others in your organisation can be a really powerful way to see your service from every angle. Speak to the customer services or public-facing teams in your organisation - find out about the queries they handle most often, and the areas they find most painful or difficult to resolve
  • Hold a spreadsheet amnesty! Ask teams in your organisation to share the spreadsheets or other ‘shadow systems’ they use to work around gaps or blockers in existing systems, processes, and policies. Speak to them about how they use their tools, what problems those tools are solving for them, or what activities they enable. That will help you spot areas your current ‘official’ systems and services might be falling short and areas where teams, departments, or individuals are having to duplicate effort or information to get things done. 

The Government Digital Service and their work on the Design System and Service Manual has transformed the way government delivers service for a decade. 

At its heart, this work has established the value of placing users at the centre of every project and the impact of doing the hard work to make things simple. These principles apply far beyond the limits of government and public service and can be adapted to any scenario where an organisation delivers a service to its users. We can help you understand how to apply these in your context, and help you get started with becoming a user-centred organisation, working in an agile way, or unpicking your thorniest legacy issues. Let us know if you'd like a quick virtual coffee to chat further?