Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The underwater vote

You don't need to think about it. In fact, it helps not to think about it. But local election turn-outs in the UK are low. People are disengaged from politics. More people vote for Britain's Got Talent than in European elections. It's easier to vote for Britain's Got Talent, we can do it in total security with our phones. Which is how we do everything else. So why do we have to go all the way to the local church hall and pencil a cross on a piece of paper to vote in general elections?

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Paradise Disrupted

“Every industry and business constantly needs to adapt its internal processes and governance to accommodate digital disruption. We are no different in government.”

- Mike Bracken, GDS Blog 14 March 2013

In blogs, interviews and articles during Mike Bracken’s time at the helm of GDS, the theme of disruption has been at the heart of the GDS approach to government ...

As Mike Bracken said in Civil Service World in February this year “be innovative, experimental, and disruptive” ...
Why did Steven Cox include those quotations in his 6 July 2015 blog post, A welcome disruption? And who is he?

Monday, 29 June 2015

The Future of Digital Government: What's worked? What's not? What's next?

Here's an invitation that was issued by the think tank Policy Exchange earlier this month, on or before 8 June 2015:

The Future of Digital Government: What's worked? What's not? What's next?

29 June 2015 16:00
The Future of Digital Government: What's worked? What's not? What's next?

Synopsis

The UK has a reputation for being a world leader in Digital Government: using technology and data to deliver more and better with less. Key developments during the last parliament included the founding of the Government Digital Service (GDS); the creation of GOV.UK and the exemplar transactions (such as registering to vote and viewing a driving licence) and the Digital-by-Default standard.

With a new government in place, this major public event provides an important opportunity to explore the priorities for digital government for the next five years with a panel of experts:

Key questions for debate will include:
  • How should the GDS model evolve over the coming parliament?
  • What actually is Government as a Platform and what progress are we likely to see on it?
  • What’s the role of the private sector in helping deliver digital government?
  • Should digital public services follow the same trends as those in eCommerce?
  • How do we spread the benefits of digital government to local authorities and other parts of the public sector?
Featuring a keynote speech from Mike Bracken, this event will look back at progress over the last parliament and ask: what has worked well, what lessons can be learned, and – most importantly – what should happen next?
Speakers
Mike Bracken: Executive Director of Digital in the Cabinet Office, and head of the Government Digital Service
Matt Warman: MP for Boston and Skegness; former Technology Editor at the Telegraph
Chi Onwurah: MP for Newcastle Central and Shadow Cabinet Office Minister
Laura Citron: Managing Director, WPP Government & Public Sector Practice, author of "me.gov: the future of digital government"
Steven Cox: Executive Director Public Sector, Fujitsu UK&I
Eddie Copeland: (Chair) Head of Technology Policy, Policy Exchange

RSVP

If you would like to attend please RSVP events@policyexchange.org.uk

Venue

The Ideas Space, Policy Exchange, 10 Storey's Gate, Westminster, SW1P 3AY

Anyone who can get there at 4 p.m. this afternoon may have a few questions about what's worked and what hasn't and about what's next.

Rt Hon Matthew Hancock MP is Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General and as such the Government Digital Service (GDS) write speeches for him, like the keynote speech he delivered to the National Digital Conference 2015 on 25 June 2015:
This is our chance to build a new state, crafted around the needs of the user. Using the best and most innovative technology to cut costs and improve services.

Not the all-encompassing state of the 20th century, but a state you can hold in the palm of your hand.

And as if to show that the onward march never ceases, the symbol of transformation is no longer the iPhone in your hand, but here, miniaturised in the iWatch on your wrist.

These are exciting times. Technology marches on. And we who see the transformative power of technology, we who would pave the path people travel: we have work to do.
Question 1 – why are GDS putting the words of a simpleton into the minister's mouth?

Friday, 26 June 2015

Spread the verb

Good services are verbs, bad services are nouns

[What's that supposed to mean? Services aren't verbs or nouns (grammatical objects). They're services. Try finding a National Verb Service dentist.]

verbs poster
To a user, a service is simple [Unless it's complicated]. It’s something that helps them to do something - like learn to drive, buy a house, or become a childminder. It’s an activity that needs to be done. A verb that comes naturally from a given situation that cuts across transactions, call centre menus and around advisors towards its goal. [Has any user in the research lab or anywhere else actually said that? Evidence, please.]
But this isn’t how government sees a service. [Phew.]
For government, services [nouns] are discrete transactions that need to be completed in a particular way. Because of this, they need to be easily identifiable so that the people who are operating them can become familiar with them and assist a user to complete the task. So we’ve given these transactions names, nouns, ["name" and "noun" are not synonymous, "red" is the name of a colour in that it denotes that colour but it's not a noun, it's an adjective, and "apply" denotes an action but it's a verb, not a noun, let's not confuse grammar with metaphysics ...] that help to keep track of them. Things like 'Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR)' or 'Statutory Off Road Vehicle Notification (SORN)'.
859A1796 (1)img_9426_10279745015_o
'SORNing' a vehicle in order to stop paying tax on it [That's important. We have no trouble in English switching between nouns and verbs and adjectives to achieve the same purpose. That tells us that the grammatical part of speech is independent of the action. Is a gerund a good service?]
The trouble with names like these are [is] that you need to be introduced to them before you can use them, meaning that part of ‘doing a thing’ means learning what government calls the thing you’re trying to do [that's not true, is it, you can paraphrase, you can ask in a foreign language, you can do a Google search, ... is this post itself an example of an applicant seeking a service they can't quite name?].
Imagine walking into [a] crowded room and trying to find a doctor, and only once you’ve learned her name can you ask her to help you. That’s how using a lot of government services works [no, it isn't, the analogy fails].
This confusion drives millions of users to call government call centres for help, or worse [GDS needs to overcome its horror of people], attempt to use a ‘service’ in the wrong way or in the wrong order leading to failure for the user, and vast amounts of unnecessary work for government.
In the past, we used advertising to ‘educate users’ in our nouns, [no, in our services]. Forcing the kind of brand familiarity that came naturally to well used objects like Sellotape, Hoovers or Biros [neither Sellotape nor Hoovers nor Biros is naturally occurring, the analogy fails].
The Directgov advertising scheme that taught the UK to ‘go directgov’ in order to tax a car. [That's marvellous. And what an eye-opener. Almost as if the UK had digital services before GDS existed. "directgov" (naturally occurring?) remains a noun, though – does that make it a bad service?]
But in reality most government services are used only once or infrequently at best [that may be true in reality but in the UK HMRC undertakes 1.24 billion transactions p.a.], so brand familiarity really isn’t very useful [that doesn't follow, you may only rarely use AK47s but it's still useful to know that they're dangerous].
That means people who’ve done it before need to fill in the gap and provide our service for us. For those with the means, that’s a lawyer, accountant, or professional ‘government translator’, for everyone else it’s probably a friend or a family member - whose advice may or may not be right [there's that GDS horror of people again and there's that assisted digital project that keeps on starting].
Quite simply, our services are designed for expert operation, which worked perfectly well when services were provided by trained expert humans, but means that these services don’t work unassisted on the internet [where do all these people go to get training to become expert at using pornography services verbs?].
These noun services [?] aren't helpful. We need to turn them into verb services [?].

Turning nouns into verbs

The first step to fixing this [the problem hasn't been defined yet, it's too early to offer a solution] is [to] find out what your users are actually trying to do when they’re using your service [good idea, who knew?].
Choosing the right verb is difficult [except when it's simple], and will mean that you need to do user research to find out what your users are trying to achieve and how your service fits in with that [good idea, see above].
After several rounds of user testing, the Home Office changed the name of ‘Immigration Health Surcharge’ to ‘check if you need to pay towards your health care in the UK’ ["health", "care" and "UK" are all nouns, not verbs, and what about the possessive adjective "your"? That's not a verb either.] - a service [verb] that allows visitors to the UK to pay for the cost of healthcare [light is dawning – the suggestion is that sometimes a how-to approach to documentation can be helpful, but this is hardly a new suggestion].

Not all verbs are equal [true, but then nobody said they are]

What Verb/s [verbs?] work for users will depend on what your user wants to achieve, but [and] also on how much they know about what government might be able to do for them [and myriad other factors].Copy of Services and service standards - 05-05-2015 (1) [What the government needs the user to do is to apply for a Wildlife Licence, just as much a mixture of nouns and verbs and prepositions and articles as "convert a barn"]

Where your service [verb] starts
Often a user’s perception of what government might be able to do for them is so low that they will skip straight to the noun that they think applies to them [How often? If it's the right noun, that's not a problem].
Our job is to intercept that process. [GDS wants to ban skipping as well as nouns?]
Equally [?] there are things that a user will not presume [then the user will usually be correct] to exist as a single service [verb].
Our job is to understand how that overall task breaks down into smaller tasks a user identifies as something they need help with [hard job].
To add to this, there will be many different users, with many different tasks that will run through a service [verb] that serves many different needs [people are difficult, computers are a lot easier, ...] - like a licence - so a service [verb] might have many different starting points as a user becomes more experienced or their needs become more specific [... they just won't stand still].

Verbs will change the way your service [verb] works [isn't there a bit more to changing services than that?]

In a world of easily shared government as a platform [so not in the UK], services [verbs] will be cheaper and easier to make. When that happens there will be more services [verbs], more closely targeted at user needs.
Service [verb] failure, and the calls and casework associated with it, will remain one of the biggest costs in government [how big?] - and for users - unless we change the way that we work to reflect the needs and language of users.
This isn’t going to be easy. It will mean massive changes to the way that our services [verbs] work as the verb/s [verbs?] we choose to describe them gradually affect what it is they do, but without it we will continue to provide services [verbs] made for a world that no longer exists [dentists are no longer needed?].
We've uploaded the poster shown in the picture above as a PDF. Feel free to download it and spread the word.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

RIP IDA – who knows what they're talking about?

No need to say it, it goes without saying, it should be obvious to all but,
just in case it isn't obvious to all,
IDA is dead.

IDA, now known as "GOV.UK Verify (RIP)",
is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme.
And it's dead.

22 June 2015, and Janet Hughes says:
GOV.UK Verify (RIP) offers people a convenient, secure way to prove their identity when accessing digital government services. It does not have any other connection with or ability to monitor people or their data.
Funny thing to say.

Why did she say that?

And why did she go on to say:
GOV.UK Verify (RIP) protects users' privacy. It has been designed to meet the principles developed by our privacy and consumer advisory group [PCAG]. GOV.UK Verify (RIP) does not allow for mass surveillance.
The answer is, she had to.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

RIP IDA – "we've make a mistake"

No need to say it, it goes without saying, it should be obvious to all but,
just in case it isn't obvious to all,
IDA is dead.

IDA, now known as "GOV.UK Verify (RIP)",
is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme.
And it's dead.



Monday, 15 June 2015

Eat your heart out, Tech City UK

Tech City UK, meet your nemesis – Angers, la Cité des objets connectés.

Connecté avec quoi?

Inauguration de la Cité de l'objet connecté:
De gauche à droite pour dévoiler la plaque inaugurale: Christophe Béchu, Christophe Clergeau, François Hollande et Thierry Sachot. (Photo: Thierry Bonnet/Ville d'Angers)
Connecté avec le string, paraît-il.

RIP IDA – “It’s not our IT system; it’s the Cabinet Office’s”

No need to say it, it goes without saying, it should be obvious to all but,
just in case it isn't obvious to all,
IDA is dead.

IDA, now known as "GOV.UK Verify (RIP)",
is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme.
And it's dead.

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) offer their parishioners several digital public services, among others Tax credit renewals and Transferable tax allowance. People are having problems using these digital services because they can't get past GOV.UK Verify (RIP).

Public services are services which the public are entitled to. GOV.UK Verify (RIP) is denying the public their rights.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

RIP IDA – security through the looking-glass

No need to say it, it goes without saying, it should be obvious to all but,
just in case it isn't obvious to all,
IDA is dead.

IDA, now known as "GOV.UK Verify (RIP)",
is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme.
And it's dead.

It's been a torrid week for computer security. Worldwide:
  • Over there in the US "the Obama administration is scrambling to assess the impact of a massive data breach involving the agency that handles security clearances and US government employee records ...", the Guardian newspaper told us, "Government officials familiar with the situation told the Associated Press the hack occurred at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Interior Department, and could potentially affect four million people at every federal agency".
  • "Although reports are conflicting about how the OPM discovered the breach, it took investigators four months to uncover it", Wired magazine tells us, "which means the EINSTEIN system failed" – EINSTEIN is the US government's anti-hacking/hack detection system. Or not.
  • Dossiers on US spies, military snatched in 'SECOND govt data leak', says ElReg and everyone else, "China said to have stolen detailed info on employees in sensitive federal positions".
  • Meantime in Germany, "two weeks on from the revelations of a serious cyber attack on the German Bundestag, insiders have told The Register that the tech department is 'clueless' about what is going on ... On Friday it emerged that data had almost certainly been stolen ... As yet techies inside the Bundestag don’t know who is behind the attack – or even when it started ... The Trojan malware which penetrated the entire Bundestag network, including MPs' computers, could have been sitting on computers for months or even years".
But then it always is. A torrid week. For computer security. Every week.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

RIP IDA – Whitehall and eternity

No need to say it, it goes without saying, it should be obvious to all but,
just in case it isn't obvious to all,
IDA is dead.

IDA, now known as "GOV.UK Verify (RIP)",
is the Cabinet Office Identity Assurance programme.
And it's dead.

Here's a selection of Government Digital Service (GDS) posts and a film published in the week leading up to purdah:

24-03-2015
Janet Hughes
25-03-2015
Chris Mitchell
25-03-2015
Janet Hughes
25-03-2015
Janet Hughes
26-03-2015
Janet Hughes and Stephen Dunn
26-03-2015
Mike Bracken
27-03-2015
David Rennie
27-03-2015
Mike Bracken
27-03-2015
Mike Beavan
28-03-2015
Mike Bracken
28-03-2015
Mike Bracken
29-03-2015
Mike Bracken
29-03-2015
Liam Maxwell
30-03-2015
Martha Lane Fox

Let's take a look at David Rennie's 27 March 2015 offering, Working with the private sector to verify identity. It won't take long.