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?

Some people are convinced by these points. The Electoral Reform Society, for example, and the Speaker of the House of Commons. Even the Electoral Commission on a bad day. They shouldn't be.

People dance outside a polling station in Pyongyang
Instead, they should take their inspiration from North Korea where yesterday "there was dancing in the streets of Pyongyang, according to North Korea’s state-controlled media, as voters turned out in droves to cast their ballots in elections for assemblies at provincial, city and county level". How often do we see that in Wimbledon?

Apparently "the official turnout in Sunday’s election was 99.97 per cent, the KCNA news agency said. The perfect 100 was spoilt only by 'those on foreign tour or working in oceans', with elderly or ill voters able to use mobile ballot boxes".

The first tentative step has been taken in the UK towards electronic voting. We can now submit an application to register to vote using the Government Digital Service's individual electoral registration system, which totters along for the moment with no identity assurance and no reassurance that our application has been successful.

North Korea asks the questions. The UK has no answer. Secure electronic voting in the UK is still a long way off, whatever Martha-now-Lady Lane Fox says. Even if we get there, what promise is there that we will be able to vote underwater?

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?

Fujitsu is one of the giants of the UK public sector IT outsourcing oligopoly and Mr Cox is Executive Director for Public Sector, Fujitsu UK & Ireland.

Fujitsu sponsored the recent Policy Exchange seminar about digital government which we mentioned the other day, The Future of Digital Government: What's worked? What's not? What's next?.

Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE CDO CDO, executive director of the Government Digital Service (GDS) and senior responsible owner of the pan-government identity assurance programme now known as "GOV.UK Verify (RIP)", gave the main talk and then four people responded briefly, including Mr Cox, before the concluding question and answer session.

Mr Bracken's response to Mr Cox at the Policy Exchange seminar 29 June 2015

Sure. Well firstly the build versus buy debate is just a false dichotomy. Of course we buy an awful lot of stuff; it’s how we buy, and we move from very large aggregated procurement over many years to standards-based commissioning which can be changed quickly, where we can drive value. So from memory the digital marketplace is over half a billion pounds, these are not inconsequential amounts of money that we have been using, so yes, we have, in that context, a small but highly talented number of people who are adept at building and integration. So the idea of this build versus buy is simplistic. I mean I like conversations like this, I like them openly, but the reason I’m slightly irritated by that is just it’s the putting GDS in a box. There are many days I’d love to put some of my colleagues in a box, but … and it’s time to deliver – well, there’s a lesson in the GDS experience in the last parliament for all of us in government. So we’re looking about 400 people or so, with maybe 150 at peak spread across the country. Today GDS is delivering … if you voted we delivered that, if you’re delivering most of our motoring services, an awful lot of tax systems and indeed the data architecture for the newer services, delivered that. Critical national infrastructure, if you’re writing a ticket or a complaint or a feedback to government, pretty much centrally we’re delivering that, as well as running obviously all the programmes like gov.uk and so on. Also if you’re using the internet in a place in local government you’re probably using PSM [PSN, the Public Services Network]. The point today is that GDS is the critical national infrastructure that is delivering digital government. To pretend that it is somehow some disruptive force which is challenging and not delivering is … you could only do that frankly through ignorance. Nobody would pretend we’re doing that because the real challenge is if 400-500 people can do all that [all what?], what on earth have the other 8,000 been doing in the digital and technology profession, and actually what they've been doing is man-marking really poor contracts that are not fit for purpose. So I’ll take all the money you've got Matt [a reference to Matt Warman MP, who spoke immediately before Mr Cox], we’ll double the size of that, but the real lesson isn’t that you can characterise GDS by being some disruptive force; it’s a delivery force. I have written twenty times more rules than we have broken. We write rules on standards, on commissioning, on procurement, the data service, these rules are copied round the world. We’re not rule breakers; we’re rule makers. We’re civil servants. And yet to characterise there’s some disruptive force on the side, yes we've done a fair degree of disruption, but what we've been disrupting is a previous arrangement which has been delivering shocking value for money and shocking services in some cases. So let’s be really clear about that, I don’t mind criticism but let’s be really clear about what it is we’re criticising. God knows there’s enough to criticise us on, but criticising purely as being disruptive, that’s not good enough!
You can watch the proceedings on YouTube and there's a transcript available. "You should get out more", said DMossEsq's friend L_____. Unlike L_____, some of you will recognise a tense battle being fought.

GDS expressly set out to disrupt the current settlement whereby Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Capgemini, Accenture, Capita, Tata and their peers oligopolise UK government IT. That's what Mr Cox is reminding us about in the blog post quoted from above, A welcome disruption?.

In his talk, Mr Cox complimented GDS on their disruptive powers. He also accused GDS of a lack of follow-through/delivery, he suggested that GDS must now make its mind up whether it's a supplier to government or a consultant, he questioned GDS's grasp of security and he wondered whether GDS could scale up. Five minutes with Mr Cox or 500 blog posts on DMossEsq? Take your pick.

The effect was to provoke the response from Mr Bracken quoted alongside.

There is a wealth of material to mine in that response. "Today GDS is delivering … if you voted we delivered that ..." will remind some of you of Mr Bracken's claim after the 7 May 2015 UK general election: "It was great to see GOV.UK handle the change of government so smoothly".

But let's leave that mining for another day and concentrate here on Mr Cox's reservations about GDS's ability to scale up.

Let's take as our benchmark HMRC's Aspire contract with Capgemini which provides the IT needed to raise around £650 billion a year from taxpayers. Aspire cost HMRC £7.9 billion between 2004 and 2014 of which £2.8 billion was spent with Fujitsu, Capgemini's main sub-contractor.

Mr Bracken said "what we've been disrupting is a previous arrangement which has been delivering shocking value for money and shocking services in some cases" after talking about "really poor contracts that are not fit for purpose".

Fine. As far as it goes. But what would GDS follow through with and deliver instead? Suppose that HMRC do not renew Aspire with Capgemini and Fujitsu. What then?

Digital transformation? GDS gave themselves 400 days to transform 25 exemplar public services. After 760 days of the transformation programme just eight of these services had been transformed and GDS's Transformation Programme Director announced that: "Now the programme’s ended ... We’re only just beginning". Not confidence-inspiring for HMRC.

One of GDS's transformation targets was DEFRA's rural payments application. The GDS exemplar collapsed in March 2015 and farmers have had to go back to using paper application forms for their payments. What was the problem? One explanation offered was: "the complex guidelines for the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) runs to 84 pages". What are HMRC supposed to make of that? The UK tax code is around 15,000 pages.

Do GDS grasp the scale of the problem? When they started at HMRC one of their first complaints was about submitting VAT returns: "Plain English is mandatory for all of GOV.UK. This means we don’t use formal or long words when easy or short ones will do ... For example, we normally talk about sending something ... rather than ‘submitting’ it ...".

Will HMRC be reassured by learning that GDS "communicate in an open forum, with daily stand-ups for 15 minutes every morning in front of our wall ... This is the continuously iterative process known as agile delivery"? That was back in 2013, only 43 years after the world was warned about the dangers of relying exclusively on the continuously iterative process known as agile delivery. Perhaps the lesson has been learnt now? Perhaps not:



Design in an #Agile Environment Periscope with Ben Terrett

There's more to transforming HMRC's services than just adopting agile methodology. According to GDS's head of service design:


It's questionable whether GDS have been transforming public services or transforming the way they're accessed. The menu in a restaurant may be attractive but, if you're hungry, it's the food you need.

And then there's the question how GDS staff should comport themselves, a matter addressed by their boss at the recent Digital Leaders 100 awards ceremony:

1. Say no to get to yes
2. Hierarchical management techniques are largely bunkum
3. Use words to weaponise change agents
4. [lost to history]
5. [lost to history]
6. Try to get fired daily [next to impossible for a civil servant?]

The same man told the Policy Exchange seminar that: "We’re not rule breakers; we’re rule makers. We’re civil servants".

It's up to the hierarchical management of HMRC to answer Mr Cox's question and to decide whether GDS can scale up from re-writing the 10 year-old on-line car tax renewal application to implementing yesterday's UK Budget changes to our 15,000-page tax code.

In HMRC's eyes, GDS's cause may or may not have been advanced by two of their staff who still haven't been fired staying up all night to render the Red Book into HTML:


Despite all the weaponised change agents, Capgemini and Fujitsu's position may still not be appreciably disrupted.

----------

Updated 12.7.15

Can you help?


Can anyone help?


Updated 26.7.15

It's odd how much Steven Cox's biting reference to disruption, please see above, seems to have stung.

Mr Bracken's latest post on the GDS blog, Hire the head and the body will follow, continues to scratch at it and ends with:
As you can see, digital thinking is no longer a disruptive thing. It’s becoming part of the fabric of government. Through the services and platforms we build and, as vitally, through people.
It remains unknown what GDS have to offer gigantic IT applications such as HMRC's and the NHS's. How would GDS replace the work of Capgemini and Mr Cox's Fujitsu? "Government as a Platform" is four words and no answer.

Publishing the words in bold doesn't alter the fact that digital thinking has been a growing part of the fabric of UK public administration for 50 years. There's nothing new there and nothing new in the claim that public administration requires people – no-one in their right mind would ever suggest that it didn't.

Hire the head and the body will follow sounds like a viable precept but we know that it's false. GDS had to call in human resources management consultants to try to sort out the morale problems of its own body.

"Hierarchical management techniques are largely bunkum", says the non-disruptive Mr Bracken above, and "traditional policy-making is largely broken", but what does he have to replace this alleged bunkum? Nothing. He has to tweet for ideas: "Help me pls. Ideas for governance model for digital&tech at very top of my organisation".

Mr Bracken is not just the UK's Chief Digital Officer (CDO) but also our Chief Data Officer (CDO), in pursuit of which his latest post is strewn with numbers, "120 senior digital and technology professionals ... 90 senior interims who have worked on digital transformation ... 172 service managers ... 125 Digital and Technology fast streamers".

No doubt these numbers are meant to speak for themselves. But what are they saying? "Try to get fired daily"?

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?

Next day, 26 June 2015, Public Servant of the Year ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken CBE CDO CDO, executive director of GDS and senior responsible owner of the pan-government identity assurance programme GOV.UK Verify (RIP), was at the Digital Leaders 100 awards ceremony making a speech:




Question 2 – is Mr Bracken trying to get fired? If he says no, does he mean yes? Either way, which change agent is he weaponising?

GDS disapprove of people making "deceptive or misleading" statements. Quite right, too. In that case, why have they got Mr Hancock saying:
In the last Parliament we focused on making some of the most important transactions between government and the citizen digital by default ... Twenty of them are now live and more are on the way.
The claim that "twenty of them are now live" is deceptive and misleading.

Question 3 – when will GDS apply their strictures on truth-telling to themselves?

These politicians earn their money. GDS have got Mr Hancock saying with a straight face:
On digital government we, and a handful of other countries, are the source code. There isn’t a playbook for this, so over the last 5 years we’ve had to innovate and experiment, seeing what works and what doesn’t.
What is the basis for that claim? Apparently it's iteration. GDS iterate:
Iteration is the opposite of the big bang model of policymaking.

We’ve all seen it. The big announcement, the big contract for ‘big IT’, the endless delays, the grand launch… the thing falling over when you press the ‘on’ button.

Iteration is all about small: small teams of developers taking small steps: getting a small prototype out quickly and cheaply, watching to see how people actually use it, then incrementally improving the design. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.
Mr Bracken himself took an especially active rôle in the development of the new rural payments system required to implement the European Union's common agricultural policy. Despite which, and agile iteration notwithstanding, the thing fell over when they pressed the 'on' button, farmers have had to go back to a manual system and we risk yet again being fined for failure by the EU.

GDS denounce one-size-fits-all services through Mr Hancock but that is precisely what they offer – digital by default. And they claim to put the users' needs first and yet, when the rural payments computerised system had to be scrapped, who did they blame? The users.

Agile software engineering is sometimes appropriate and sometimes not. It doesn't guarantee success. And it doesn't necessarily put the user first. We have known that since at least 1970.

Question 4 – when will GDS stop pretending that agile is a silver bullet?

GDS's achievement so far amounts to re-writing systems that other people have already written, renewing our road tax/vehicle excise duty on-line being the most striking example. They are obviously aware of that and they caused Mr Hancock to say that:
... it’s not just about making websites more user-friendly. As we adopt this approach more widely we will transition from a target culture, where ministers try and manage services from on high, to a data culture, where services adjust in response to user-feedback.
It sounds good. The advertising copy is slick:
... now, for the first time, we are in a position to build digital foundations: made of data not paper, holding up platforms not silos. Common registers, common payments platforms, and common licence systems, all based on common data standards.
Public administration will be transformed, they say, by introducing Government as a Platform (GaaP). And what does this transformation consist in? Centralisation, consolidation and standardisation on common ... everything.

Question 5 – is "digital foundations made of data" anything more than five words?

GDS make everything sound like a game of words. Say "agile" often enough and repeat "Government as a Platform", and transformation will follow. It doesn't work that way.

For years, GDS have promised to deliver a transformational national identity management platform, currently known as "GOV.UK Verify (RIP)" and they have promised that it will be secure and that it will preserve personal privacy. A week ago that promise was challenged by four academics. GDS's response? A flat denial, unsupported with evidence and followed by silence – just for once they seem to be fresh out of words. And data.

Question 6 – what are the chances of the agile GDS having GOV.UK Verify (RIP) up and running nationwide as promised by April March 2016?

----------

Why isn't DMossEsq himself attending this afternoon's meeting to ask these questions? Answer because, despite responding to the invitation on 8 June 2015 at 17:04, it's a great shame but two weeks later, 22 June 2015 at 15:29, Policy Exchange emailed back:

Good afternoon,

I am sorry to inform you that your request for a place at Policy Exchange’s event “The Future of Digital Government” on 29th June 2015 has been unsuccessful.

We have been heavily oversubscribed for this event and have tried to allocate places as fairly as possible. I have placed your name on the waiting list and I will endeavour to inform you as soon as possible if a place becomes available.

A transcript of the event should become available via the Policy Exchange website shortly after the event.

Please accept my sincerest apologies on behalf of Policy Exchange and we do hope to see you at future events!

With very best wishes,
The Events Team

Events and Communications Team

Logo-lo res.jpg 

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.

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)'.
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'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.