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Raising the standard - encouraging holistic design of public services

Ben Carpenter


Ben Carpenter, a service standard assessor at GDS, talks about how the new digital service standard is good news for people who need help to complete online services.

The old service standard put support in just one of the 26 points, and service teams told us this encouraged a disconnected approach to designing digital services for users who can’t complete them on their own.

So, we’ve updated the digital service standard, integrating the requirements around assisted digital support throughout multiple points. This is a really good thing, helping civil servants using digital technology to transform public services to remember that digital services do not exist solely on-screen. Helping them remember that for more than 10 million adults the support is the service.

These users are often the most vulnerable members of society, who need government services the most and have the most to gain from their improvement. They also have the most to gain from building their digital skills and confidence, to make more of the wider online world that so many of us take for granted.

What this change means for service teams

Service teams working to meet the service standard needn’t worry that the integration of assisted digital comes with a raft of new demands. In fact, we’ve streamlined things a bit, having spoken to service managers and assessors. The fundamental requirement remains - ensure appropriate support is in place for users who need it. I have picked out the key points at which assisted digital support is now integrated.

  • Points 1 & 2: Understanding user needs. Ongoing user research and user testing must now explicitly aim to understand the support needs that users may have. Service teams must talk about the stories of assisted digital users, about their specific needs, and how service design aims to meet those needs. Service teams must address all users’ needs and pain points, and “show and refer to artefacts of user research for the onscreen service and assisted digital support”. Around user research into assisted digital support needs, service teams must speak specifically to users of their particular service. They must also be sure to talk to users with the lowest level of digital skills, and to recruit research participants using offline methods.
  • Point 3: A sustainable and multidisciplinary team - Service teams must talk about the sustainability of assisted digital support from all providers.
  • Point 5: An iterable service with sufficient capacity - Service teams must talk about considerations in this area relating specifically to the service’s assisted digital support.
  • Point 10: Ability to test the service in an environment identical to that of the live version - This point has been reworded to ensure a holistic view of service provision. Service teams must describe service testing environments not only for on-screen elements but also for assisted digital support.
  • Point 12: Designing a service that is simple and intuitive enough that users succeed first time - This now covers services being completed either with or without support.
  • Point 14: Encouraging users to use the digital service - This point now states services should include transactions completed with support when measuring their digital take up.
  • Points 15 & 16: Performance measurement and analysis - Service teams must talk about the analytics tools and performance analysis roadmap of any assisted digital support, as well as on-screen elements.

The new standard is a great step towards helping service teams to put users who need assisted digital support at the heart of their service design.

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