Monday, 13 April 2015

@gdsteam and the revolution in cosmetics

Here's a selection of GDS posts and a film 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

We've already taken a look at Martha Lane Fox's 30 March 2015 offering. Two looks, in fact, here and here, both concluding that MLF's argument is illogical.

But there's something else.

While explaining to us that men don't generally understand the internet, MLF says:
We have to start with our leaders – they should be symbols of this ambition. And right now they’re letting us down because they don’t understand the internet.

Let’s begin with government because, contrary to what you might believe, I’ve seen that real change is possible there.

The Government Digital Service, created in the Cabinet Office in 2010, is a recognised world-leader in creating digital public services.

In just the last three years this team and the people they work with in departments have helped save over a billion pounds. they’ve done it by building digital services that make life easier for everyone. They have redesigned important but ordinary things like the way you apply for a Lasting Power of Attorney or claim Carer’s Allowance.

They are saving money and making interactions with government dramatically better.
What she doesn't tell us is that she created the award-winning Government Digital Service (GDS). It is confected according to her own recipe, as set out in a letter dated 14 October 2010 to the Minister for the Cabinet Office*, Rt Hon Francis Maude MP.

And what a bold letter that was. As you will see, MLF's performance at the Dimbleby Lecture was relatively subdued:
Teeth and force:
Make Directgov [= GDS] the government front end for all departments' transactional online services to citizens and businesses, with the teeth to mandate cross government solutions, set standards and force departments to improve citizens' experience of key transactions.
Absolute control:
Change the model of government online publishing, by putting a new central team in Cabinet Office in absolute control of the overall user experience across all digital channels ...
Absolute authority:
Appoint a new CEO for Digital in the Cabinet Office with absolute authority over the user experience across all government online services (websites and APls) and the power to direct all government online spending.
Responsibility for policy:
Directgov [= GDS] should own the citizen experience of digital public services and be tasked with driving a 'service culture' across government which could, for example,challenge any policy and practice that undermines good service design.
Ignore the law:
It seems to me that the time is now to use the Internet to shift the lead in the design of services from the policy and legal teams to the end users.
Take no prisoners:
Directgov [= 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.
Lock away the cheque book:
This person [the CEO for Digital] should have the controls and powers to gain absolute authority over the user experience across all government online services ... and the power to direct all government online spend
It's hard to believe that senior politicians and senior officials in a mature democracy would pay any attention to these fervid demands.

And of course they didn't.

Just look at the team that was appointed.

GDS has no expertise in policy-making and no control over it. Their skills seem to extend no further than the front end, static information pages and a few forms people fill in on screen. As four professors said, when reviewing GDS's digital strategy:
... there are many discussions on the need for better architectural insight to resolve challenges in understanding core service properties, there are frameworks for investigating the unpredictability of ultra-large-scale systems behaviour, and there are studies highlighting the challenges that arise at the sociotechnical boundary of where systems thinking meets system usability. The [Government Digital Strategy] shows no evidence that it is aware or has taken account of the impact of such thinking ...
Too hard, no doubt. Too serious. Too radical. Not fashionable enough. Easier to stick to the front end – cosmetics.

Her letter to Mr Maude had the incendiary sub-title "revolution, not evolution". Not "candy floss". No wonder MLF is a bit subdued 4½ years later. And no wonder she didn't remind her audience whose recipe it was.

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* It should be made clear that in the UK the so-called "Cabinet Office" is a department of state that gets all the miscellaneous jobs. It is not to be confused with the Cabinet.

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