Tuesday, 16 April 2013

GDS: not governance as we know it

Still no progress on identity assurance, but the Government Digital Service (GDS) have now published From the centre and here to help.

GDS have produced the Government Service Design Manual and the question is, how can they enforce these standards across Whitehall and local government?

That governance question is tackled by ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, executive director of GDS and senior responsible officer owner for the pan-government Identity Assurance programme (IDAP). He abjures the old-style "dead hand of bureaucratic overkill". (Who doesn't?) He recommends instead a more collaborative form of governance, "help from the centre".

How does that work? What will GDS do if a department of state ignores the new Government Service Design Manual?

The matter is raised in a comment on his blog post (submitted too late to be published today). We look forward to the answer:
dmossesq #

Please Note: Your comment is awaiting moderation.

When Martha Lane Fox wrote the Constitution for GDS and said that “[GDS] SWAT teams … should be given a remit to support and challenge departments and agencies … We must give these SWAT teams the necessary support to challenge any policy and legal barriers which stop services being designed around user needs” never had support sounded so minatory. The department’s policy displeases GDS? Support it out of the way! What GDS want is illegal? Challenge the law until it complies with the users’ needs and, if there’s any doubt what those needs are, let GDS decide.

It was hard to believe at the time – 14 October 2012 – that this constitution would be adopted but, wrong, it now has the support of Sir Jeremy Heywood, Sir Bob Kerslake and Minister of State, Francis Maude.

According to the post above: “… ‘Governance’ is a top-down term. Monthly meetings, forests of paper, dozens of steering boards and the natural exclusivity, which comes with managers of large budgets making decisions for all – these are all indicators of a hierarchical approach”. That sounds a bit old-fashioned, perhaps.

These days: “The centre of government’s digital estate needs to free up departments and agencies to deliver; it needs to provide support, link up a sometimes divided community and help bottom-up, user-focused services to develop. Setting standards and managing them have their place, but this manual is designed to free up government from the dead hand of bureaucratic overkill. This browser-based service will accelerate decision making and remove the need for many boards and unwieldy processes. As our digital services become primarily digital, the tools and governance we use should reflect that”. Governance now is more about freeing up and support and linking up and helping.

But hang on a minute. What does a modern, supportive GDS do if a department departs from the published standards? If they just ignore this derogation, that’s not governance at all. If, on the other [hand], GDS remonstrates with the department and finally imposes its will, how is that different from the old-fashioned “dead hand of bureaucratic overkill”?

It may help to take an example. GDS wants digital-by-default. DWP have elected for the opposite when it comes to Universal Credit. They’re planning for face-to-face meetings, telephone calls and letters in the post.

There’s a little test of the new governance model. Are GDS going to support DWP until UC becomes digital-by-default? Or are they going to stand by and watch while DWP ignore them?


29 April 2013

A response to the comment above has now (29.4.13 09:52) been published on the GDS blog. See what you make of it.

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