Service Design Network UK Conference - Louise downe_sdn_article
How to scale service design in government
By Louise Downe
On [date], I gave a talk at SDN 2016. It was a pleasure to speak about my work at the
Government Digital Service (GDS), the role we play within government and the approach
we’re taking when it comes to designing great services that have our users at their heart.
Here’s a summary of what I said.
The Government Digital Service was set up after former Minister for Cabinet Office Francis
Maude asked Martha Lane Fox to look at the future of the government’s online presence.
She responded in October 2010 with four-page letter titled ‘revolution not evolution’. And
revolution is what we’ve been delivering.
Since GDS was established we’ve created and built GOV.UK – one consistent user
experience for citizens.
We’ve developed a series of common products that can be used again and again across
And we’ve contributed to £3.56 billion of savings for the UK taxpayer over three years as the
result of digital and technology transformation.
But our work has just begun. The spending review last autumn announced £1.8 billion of
funding to improve digital services across government.
Government is the biggest public sector service provider and many of its services weren’t
built for the digital age we now live in. And the raised expectations of users.
At GDS it’s our mission to make these services work for users. We think user needs should
shape services. And those services should then shape government.
So how will we scale user-centred design across the UK public sector’s largest service
provider? It’s not easy. And there are no big fixes. But here are 5 ways we’re tackling this.
We’re building verbs, not nouns.
Users don’t care about the structure of government. They don’t care which department or
agency does what.
To a user, a service is something that helps them to do something – like learn to drive, buy a
house, or become a childminder. Notice these are all verbs.
But at the moment, when users interact with government they often come up against things
that might not make sense to them. Things like 'Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and
Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR)' or 'Statutory Off Road Vehicle
Notification (SORN)'. These are all nouns.
Good services are verbs, bad services are nouns. We want to help government make good
We’re reducing complexity
We want to build services that make sense for users. That means looking at the user
journeys – the way people interact with government services.
We want to make these services as easy as possible for the public to use. And for
government to operate.
Most of the time, a more efficient service will be a better service. Reducing the amount of
paperwork, calls, duplication and delays makes things better for both those using and
operating a service.
We’re collaborating in the open
The services of the future will be user-focused and cut across government’s departmental
boundaries. Therefore, we’ll need to have a cross-government perspective on everything we
GDS exists to help tie all that together.
All of GDS’s successes so far have been a direct result of collaboration with departmental
teams, working together to build brand new services, redesign old ones, and reshape
This will continue. Which brings me to my next point:
We’re empowering the network
GDS won’t be doing this work alone. There are now more than 300 designers and 10 heads
of design across government. GDS is training 35 designers every six weeks.
Those designers will help us to create the resources to make better services, by contributing
to things like our Hackpad of design patterns.
They’ll help us to develop the other things we offer. Like the Service Manual, which gives
guidance on how to design great government services. And the Performance Platform,
which gives those in government all the data they need to make decisions around services.
And they will be the ones who design these better services across government. With our
We’ll build teams of people who can make things
Since it was set up, GDS has worked in an agile way, using multidisciplinary teams. We
believe the great services of the future will be built by designers, developers, policy teams
and service managers all working together to a common goal. To make things better for
One example of this is the Carer’s Allowance Digital Service, created by the Carer’s
Allowance Unit with support from GDS.
Carer’s Allowance was the first Department of Work and Pensions transformed digital
services to pass a live Service Standard Assessment. It has reduced the number of ineligible
claims by 41%, bringing an annual saving of £128k.
A staff survey showed that 91% of staff at the Carer’s Allowance Unit in Preston preferred
working with digital claims as opposed to paper submissions.
This kind of real change takes time though, and needs an embedded team making regular
small changes to the service for 2 years to get the completion rate from 34% to 81% (now
the highest in government).
All this from a multi-disciplinary, cross-agency team. Proving that the user experience is