Design: user-oriented – Ideal Government What do we want from Internet-age government? Wouldn't it be better if... Sun, 12 Aug 2012 09:49:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 GDS design principles and design-driven public services Wed, 04 Apr 2012 08:43:51 +0000 Like a contented snore from a prolonged snooze, here’s a quick and now rare post to acknowledge the new GDS design principles:

1 Start with needs*
2 Do less
3 Design with data
4 Do the hard work to make it simple
5 Iterate. Then iterate again.
6 Build for inclusion
7 Understand context
8 Build digital services, not websites
9 Be consistent, not uniform
10 Make things open: it makes things better

It’s a great start. For digital services it strikes me as close to ideal; better than we could have thought to ask for. What we would still ask is that the notion of “starting with needs” and “doing less” be extended to policy and public services more universally.

On this basis it makes sense and feels achievable to go 100% digital for that hwich can be digitised. But it’s not just a digital thing. This is the culture we need across the board.

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What’s the ideal way to get smart data about energy use? Mon, 16 Jan 2012 15:05:37 +0000 It’s a big and timely question as government and businesses across Europe get ready to spend up to $100bn on smart metering projects. In the UK that means the intended rollout of 53m gas and electricity smart meters to 26m households at a projected cost of £11.7bn. That’s on the same scale as the NHS Connecting for Health programme or the benighted late and unlamented National ID Scheme.

Which? offers up a good intro to what the smart metering plan means for UK consumers, along with a ‘No selling, just installing’ campaign.

But there are more issues. This is a huge sum of money to commit at any time and especially now with the country broke. Will we get good value? Is the £11.7bn figure the pre-inflation, pre-ballooning costs and pre Cook’s-constant estimate (the MoD rule of thumb is to take the first estimate and multiply by pi to get the eventual real figure).

Given this move is about changing behaviour we have to ask are the incentives right across government, regulated utilities and consumers?

Then there’s the data. Which? broaches the matter. As I understand it, the smart meters generate a highly detailed picture of your energy usage. The plan is to create a new company to which all the data gets uploaded. Users can then access the data through the portal of their own supplier.

Will the system be sufficiently secure, given what is at stake? And whose data is it anyway? To proponents of individual control over individual data this looks hopelessly messy, expensive and risky.

Ross Anderson and others warned early and often that NPfIT, the ID scheme and other vanity megadatabases were headed for disaster. So we’d do well to heed what he and Shailendra Fuloria also of Cambridge Uni now write in their very helpful 2011 paper Smart meter security: a survey.

It covers smart metering issues including security, personal privacy, threats to the infrastructure and fraud. As well as being gifted with a vast brain and clear understanding of technology, Ross has achieved a whole series of deeper insights earlier than others by focussing on security economics and analysing the inevitable results of perverse incentives. In this case, the authors conclude:

…it is a fascinating case study in security economics:
systems are much harder to protect when incentives conflict, and
smart metering exposes perverse incentives galore.

Of course we’ll all have smart meters or smart energy monitoring devices. But is the government’s great smart-meter project destined to be part of the non-ideal databankendammerung?

It feels wrong in many ways. It feels every inch like the last big project trying to sneak through before a new principle takes hold: the principle that individuals should as far as possible control their personal data. That changes everything. This project looks like one for the chop.

Thx to Alex, Vin, Luke and FIPR colleagues

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It’s not about identity. Or privacy. It’s about saving money Tue, 21 Sep 2010 21:17:09 +0000 Does it matter that the Coalition hasn’t published a post-ID-Scheme identity policy yet? I dont think so. It’s no more helpful to obsess about identity than to obsess about privacy. These things are important, but the overriding Coalition priority is to save money.

Happily, the urge to save money will usher in the right identity policy and in turn protect our privacy.

The area to focus on is data logistics. When Alan Mitchell and I browsed through hundreds of complaints about public services recently we observed that very few are about privacy and none at all about problems with identity. But the vast majority point to poor information logistics. The key person – official, professional, or the unhappy individual – just didn’t have the right information at the right time.

This causes irritation, frustration, offence, and vast expense. It’s extremely annoying for individuals not to be able to get hold of information they need, to have the wrong information, or to have to give the same information over and over again. It’s unjust, time-consuming and possibly worse to get the wrong treatment or service because the service cant get the information or has the wrong information.

It’s unnecessarily expensive for public services to attempt to maintain hundreds of different records about the same person (but neither feasible nor desirable to amalgamate them into panoptical mega-records). If you provide services on the back of incomplete and inaccurate data there’s every chance the service will be poor and unnecessarily expensive.

And it’s hard to plan and prioritise if you’re not in touch with your customers and people try as far as possible to withhold data from you. If we built churches using the last census there would be a few Jedi cathedrals lying empty.

If we can fix this (and we think it can be done) then people can get better, more responsive service, restored individual responsibility with a path to empowered self-service. HM Treasury also gets a triple dose of cost savings.

It means restoring control over personal data to the individual and building trust on the side of the individual.

User-controlled digital identifiers within an identity assurance framework are prerequisite, and that is just what Cabinet Office is now quietly proposing. Better privacy is a by-product (and a legal requirement, let’s not forget). But the compelling reason to pursue better data logistics with user-driven services is saving money.

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Seeking best practice to inform ‘next’ practice Thu, 24 Jun 2010 09:59:12 +0000 Following on from Will’s post below, I’m pleased to say that in places (albeit all rather far from the Westminster media hub) people ARE using the burning platform of the current economic situation as a reason to re-think how they go about doing what they do. There are places where a requirement for a shift in both mindset and culture is being made more explicit, leading to a re-think about the nature of leadership, and how you measure success.

One example of this is a project commissioned by Nesta. The Innovation Unit is leading a programme of work pursuing Radical Efficiency (innovation that produces better outcomes at less cost) in 6 localities in England, all focused on early years services. One element of this – very similar to the approach we take in thepublicoffice – is to showcase exemplars of innovative practice, which can inspire people with the art of the possible.

I’m on the urgent lookout for new exemplars of innovation in the way outcomes have been delivered – especially (but not exclusively) in complex social policy areas. CAN YOU HELP? I’m particularly interested in any examples of work you can point me to which illustrate the themes below:

  • Uncover, build and really work with existing community capacity, networks and resources to deliver services
  • Overcome barriers to engagement with existing services (e.g. improving information and awareness, re-branding, tackling fear of judgement and stigma around accessing support)
  • Meet people where they are at – physically relocate services to places where people already are or go regularly and where they feel comfortable
  • Work with new ‘units’ of users – moving from children or traditional family units to really extended units of support (e.g. grandparents, close friends etc)
  • Rethink the role of the professional; create a much more mixed economy of support in the delivery of services, e.g. peer:peer, professional and non professional, formal and informal
  • Create a system with a diverse mix of service providers, formal and informal, private, voluntary and public sector

Suggestions needed ASAP. Prizes definitely on offer for suggestions that we use 🙂

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Why #idealgits will pay special attention to design Sun, 10 Jan 2010 17:00:28 +0000 No public service has ever been formally designed, from intention to execution. Every single one of them should have been.

That was the nub of an Aha-Erlebnis conversation with the late and much-lamented Charles Cox (who at that time was MD of EDS, responsible for delivering more on-line Whitehall services than everyone else put together).

Our government IT problems go deeper than procurement, staff, management, suppliers, contracts, lack of checks and balances. The new services were never designed, in any formal sense, to solve the problems they’re intended to solve for the people they’re intended to help.

This is folly, when we’re constructing more or less from scratch a vast new edifice of virtual public services. It’s doubly regrettable when we have astonishingly innovative and effective designers in the UK, and a world lead in service design.

That’s why we will include a section on design in the CTPR Ideal Goverment IT Strategy project.

Thinking of future public services using the language and techniques of design is more fun and more powerful. The Design Council‘s RED team showed it. IdealGov found it out for itself with ThePublicOffice. It’s clear from Total Place. Matt Poelmans keeps proving it in Holland with BuergerLink. thinkpublic exemplify it. Donagh and I proved it again with the fun we had doing the independent European conference Malmo09.

But design thinking immediately takes us beyond mere “IT strategy”, comments Professor Alison Prendiville in charge of the UK’s first Masters of Design graduate course (at London College of Communication):

…this is less a question about IT and more to do with the service design and the role Government IT plays in delivering that service. ‘Mypublicservices’ is great as it demonstrates the difference that individuals can make through their own personal efforts.

I also think that Government IT should be about empowering citizens, if this leads to incentives and improved feelings about community, less quantifiable metrics, then this can only be good.

My only fear is that ultimately Central Government is very much driven by measurements that rely on quantitative feedback and mechanisms that are very different from the user experience goals that define a good service.

She goes on to ask how one goes about converting them.

We have to welcome the more ambitious challenge.

Free government data (from Power of Info) plus new ways of self-organising make a powerful mixture. We will start to question everything government does. And we’ll believe (as Ivo Gormley showed in Us Now) its possible for us collectively to do almost anything ourselves.

Professor Nutt’s new crowdsourced alternative to the ACMD is this week’s straw in the wind. From participatory medicine via lifelong learning to gritting our own rural roads, we face the prospect of questioning and then potentially redesigning and rebuilding pretty well everything.

That’s why we want a strong section on design at the heart of the CTPR Ideal Government IT Strategy #idealgits.

It’s to ensure we put our efforts and investment along lines which are formally designed to achieve success, from intention, through specification, choice, development, feedback and improvement. We need what thinkpublic call “self-improving public services”.

Of course we hope that involving design expertise in #idealgits will allow us to present the output in a more attractive, comprehensible way of more universal appeal. But it’s about substance, not just style. The main reason is simply it’ll be so much better than any strategy which does not include design thinking. We’ve got to raise the bar.

Afterword: Unlike many other disciplines I’ve come across the designers I know will have no difficulty fitting in with the new “courteous and mutually respectful dialogue” #CMRD. I gather there are designers who are spiky, difficult people but the ones I have met have been a delight to hang out with, full of fun, empathy and creativity. So welcome aboard! Please add your thoughts about design in future public services here.

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Time to say what we want from government IT Fri, 18 Dec 2009 10:54:19 +0000 It’s time to say what we want from government IT.

Let’s do this together. Let’s say “wouldn’t it be better if” about how tech affects transparency, costs and the quality of public services and how they affect our lives.

@ntouk and I have long since been fed up with what one senior Whitehall official yesterday called “this £trillion attempt to drag us into 1983”. Many of us have had a go at the draft government IT strategy on the Opposition’s makeITbetter site. Officials across Whitehall are now furiously revising it, so let’s hope the final published version is better.

Meanwhile we can speak freely. We can look to the realities of the wider world, and we don’t have to pretend that everything to date has been fine. Now it’s time to find our voice and say what we want.

The Centre for Technology Policy Research and IdealGov are launching a six-week competition, which everyone wins. Everyone who contributes is invited to a party. And everyone can, like, bring stuff (as we did to mypublicservices).

Practicalities. Please add any comments of suggestions about the process to this post. The final crowd-sourced “White paper of Wibbi” will be created on an open wiki here. Please feel free to register and edit, or to add comments at the end.

Party: IdealGov and CTPR are chipping in £1000 to the launch party to which everyone who has contributed is invited. There will be prizes including signed photos of our very own tech mandarin Sir Bonar Neville-Kingdom.

Political engagement:An Opposition front bench team has already agreed to listen attentively to our results. We have also extended invitations to Labour and LibDem leaderships and to officials to attend the party or have the results presented. [UPDATE: Big news: still on day one and we’ve now also heard back that this will get presented to a LibDem front bench team and to the people drafting the Labour manifesto. This is subject to the project attracting enough substantial input of quality. So this is now definitely an opportunity to put good ideas in front of all three main UK parties. We’re also up for inviting SNP, Plaid & Greens to launch party. Everyone needs a good government IT policy.]]

This initiative is formally adopting the principles of #CMRD, the “courteous and mutually respectful dialogue” called for last week by Michael Wills and first practised at an Intellect/Identity and Passport Service event this week.

Above all, we need to state in plain lay terms the role of contempory technology in future public services should be. Specifically, our work will need to cover off the main headings:

– governance of public-sector IT
– technical architecture which supports the real-world intention
– procurement of technology and tech-based services
– design that works for front line staff and users
– basis for participative public services
– public data
– personal data
– trust, dignity & legality under human rights & DP law
– political engagement, openness and trust in the political process
– and above all saving vast, vast amounts of money.

This is not a time to splash out. The country’s broke. So first we need to spend less on IT, existing contracts notwithstanding. But then it’s two orders of magnitude more important that our IT plans support far more efficient public services.

Suggesting we deploy hundreds of PA consultants (or Deloitte or whoever) to mooch around filling out timesheets and expense claims for absurd day rates is not going to get you invited to the party. But any suggestion that draws the best expertise available into the gift economy (and by no means are all consultants nitwits) is most welcome.

This project is not a platform for venting anger at wrong headedness or past mediocrity (whoops! did I just do it? Old habits…) Take that frustration but use it to say what you want in the spirit of the #CMRD. Please bring your beliefs, principles, and passion, but the IdealGov and CTPR moderators will give short shrift to anything actionable or which reeks of partisan preconceptions. Scepticism is justified, but cynicism not.

We may need a “babies and bathwater” section to set out for controversial systems such as CfH or the ID Scheme what must go but what also should be retained. We should give praise where due, eg for Power of Information work. And our suggestions must be practical enough to keep the lights on, ie to keep essential services running uninterrupted while new and better plans emerge.

Contributions from all stakeholders are welcome: officials, industry, front line staff, anyone who speaks from personal experience of public services. Pertinent Art is always welcome, because it can speak to our condition so powerfully.

We last did this in 2004, remember. Now its time to do it again.

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First public engagement in CMRD mode: the role of the individual in public services Wed, 16 Dec 2009 19:35:47 +0000 At the invitation of IPS and Intellect I gave a Ctrl-Shift talk about the role of the individual in future public services. It’s material that will be familiar to the IdealGov posse, but I was apprehensive because this is a close-knit community very focussed on large contracts and not known for welcoming alternate views.

We also tested out the IdealGov wiki for comments in advance: many thanks for these. We’ll see more of the wiki in future.

The IPS/Intellect dialogue was much better than I had feared it might be. Not uncritical, but constructive. The only violence on show was violent agreement.

Perhaps the new “contructive and mutually respectful dialogue (#CMRD on Twitter) has finally started, the week after Michael Wills first called for it. Thanks to IPS for the engagement.

Aaronovitch: you’re talking t*rd mate Tue, 08 Dec 2009 06:08:17 +0000 Murdoch’s tabloid columnist David Aaranovitch has stepped up as first cheerleader in Michael Wills’ long-promised riposte to our highly successful and influential Database State report earlier this year for JRRT. He’s no doubt well paid to use forceful language, and strike provocative poses. But he doesn’t get it.

What the hell has Facebook, the greatest of all public noticeboards for the inner landscape of our dreams, got to do with surveillance? Oh Lord, oh Lord, how much of this stuff the entitled middle classes can turn out without blushing.

David: Facebook holds and shares the details of 350m people in ways almost none of them understand. It’s an extraordinary and largely positive phenomenon. But have you ever looked at how it works and considered its implications? This is not a class thing.

He detects a “fashionable paranoia about data and surveillance” and dismisses the concerns raised in Database State as semi-apocalyptic.

My worry that that the report’s authors, far from being dispassionate in their assessment of 46 government databases, had in fact been chosen as much for their ready-made opinions as their expertise. Looking back I understated the problem. Four of the six authors of the report were almost better described as parti pris campaigners than experts.

But David, we chose ourselves. Our affiliations are clearly stated and blindingly obvious. When you rang me and vented at me for 10-15 minutes you had no idea who I was and hadn’t read my blog. Google exists, you know? Even though your boss seems to wish it didn’t.

It seems to have taken you *nine months* to work out the well-documented good work Terri Dowty does. Now you “reveal” it as some great hidden truth. Is this the valuable journalism Mr Murdoch says we’re all going to want to pay for on-line? Don’t you understand it’s perfectly possible to be a campaigner and yet to be well informed? Why do you think people become campaigners FFS? Through wilful ignorance? Because they read facile columns full of class-obsessed and fashion-conscious invective?

You’ve managed to work out Michael WiIls works for the government. But you’ve eaten up his chocolate-covered waffle without a sceptical glance.

Mr Wills also accepts that government must take blame for the poor level of debate because it has too often been “overly defensive and dismissive of criticism. Government believes it is acting benignly and legally and has not adequately recognised the fears of those who believe this is not the case.”

This is tripe. The poor level of debate on technology in public services isn’t because the government hasn’t been shoutey enough. It’s because the government is too assertive and indulges in groupthink, failing to take other views into account. At a shallow level they have a good intention, but they fail to realise the less desirable consequences of their ill-thought-out implementation.

I wouldn’t say there’s a deep underlying malevolence, but the poor manner in which they engage with others who have a different good intention is tantamount to malevolence. Your own article illustrates this very well.

Central to this is their documented failure to listen effectively to the views of scientists (not that I claim to be one, but two of my co-authors are) and also of service users and front-line practitioners. This is why NHS CfH has failed, as even the government now admits, and why the ID Scheme and ContactPoint will fail.

But [Wills’] overall point is this: proper use of new technology by the State allows a far more effective delivery of services to those that need them and a much better level of information about what is happening in society so that needs can be predicted and met. For the poor at any rate, such benefits are more than speculative.

This is true. But would David or Michael understand what proper use of technology is? Do CCTV cameras everywhere, ANPR, centralised databases, state-issued identifiers and audit trails and the removal of barriers to data sharing constitute proper use of technology by the State, allow effective services, and help all of us? That’s the debate we need to have.

We’ve been having it here since 2004 David. Did you ever join in, or were you too busy striking a contrarian pose to whatever was fashionable that day?

Wouldn’t it be better to have user participation in a design process of co-creation? Of course it would, as we’ve said here since 2004 and as the government has belatedly acknowledged in its Smarter Government white paper published yesterday.

Perhaps this is why, unnoticed by the Rowntree report, bodies such as Barnardo’s and the NSPCC had welcomed the Contactpoint database. They, at least, were not operating on the libertarian assumption that almost everything the State does is malign, or that an exaggerated notion of privacy always outweighs something that, to be old-fashioned, we might call the “public interest”.

We didn’t write about this in the report, but it’s not news to any of the authors or indeed to anyone who has taken an interest in this. The untold story is just how and to what extent funding arrangements for these charities has changed in recent years, the extent to which they are now dependent on state funds, and the political price exacted for that dependence. Are there any quality journalists around who might like to look into that? Be warned: it would require research, and not just opinion.

Aaronovitch gripes on about the census and how important it should be accurate. More than five years ago on IdealGov I wrote about how the Finnish census, which is register-based, is so much better than ours and also so much cheaper it can be done annually. It’s because the data quality is good and levels of trust in government are high. What’s more the Finnish government works constantly to try to earn ever higher levels of trust. David – we want something much better than what you’re asking for.

Oddly, the Rowntree Reform Trust, which is largely run by Liberal Democrat grandees, gives as its objectives the promotion of civil liberties and social justice.

There’s nothing in the least odd about that. What are the objectives of your employer News International? To prop up the UK tax base? Hardly. At least the JRRT pays it’s full share of UK tax. That’s why it can act as a campaigning organisation.

I think the libertarians, the aged hippies and the privileged have taken over the argument and that their cultural preferences have tilted the balance against social justice. Of course, the rich have themselves; the poor have only the Government

So the well-paid and powerful columnist can fire off a broadside of ad-hominem and ad feminam attacks, but miss the fundamental point. The poor and needy have every bit as much right to dignity and privacy about their affairs as the wealthy. But now they have no choice but to submit their data to insecure and often ineffective public services.

Informational self-determination – enshrined as a right for example in the German constitution – isn’t a class thing. It should be for everyone, whatever Michael Wills says, and whatever David Aa says. Pfff.

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SmarterGov 09: shades of IdealGov 04 Mon, 07 Dec 2009 10:46:11 +0000 At first glance the new Smarter Government white paper looks pretty refreshing.

The stuff on freeing up data is good:

‘Public data’ are ‘government-held non-personal data that are collected or generated in the course of public service delivery’.

Our public data principles state that:

* Public data will be published in reusable, machine-readable form
* Public data will be available and easy to find through a single easy to use online access point (
* Public data will be published using open standards and following the recommendations of the World Wide Web Consortium
* Any ‘raw’ dataset will be represented in linked data form
* More public data will be released under an open licence which enables free reuse, including commercial reuse
* Data underlying the Government’s own websites will be published in reusable form for others to use
* Personal, classified, commercially sensitive and third-party data will continue to be protected.

To enable this innovation, government must unlock much more data. These data have to be usable

It calls for user-oriented design and co-creation:

“Service users will be directly involved in the design of online services in order to ensure that they are usable and meet their needs.

Better late than never)

I vaguely recall at Uni reading a poem by some German called Morike about the owl that flies only at the very end of the day, and how wisdom only sets in at the very end. Is that what’s happening here? I’m a sucker for a decently written White Paper (once one extracts the inevitable Sir-Bonarisms) but we’ll have to

i) see how it compares with all the similar promises of the last decade, from Modernising Government on, and

ii) see whether the aspirations are deliverable.

Must dash or I’ll miss the train…

Consumer Focus looks at DirectGov Thu, 03 Dec 2009 14:06:24 +0000 Consumer Focus is calling for a rethink of DirectGov which puts the consumer at the centre:

Directgov appears to have grown into the massive service it is today without a clear consumer-focused strategy. As described, the 2005 Cabinet Office report, Transformational Government: enabled by technology, set out a vision for transforming services through digital means, and addressing the challenges of joining up services, and making them personalised, efficient and effective.

The development of Directgov is closely tied to this strategy, but our conclusion is that more attention has been paid to joining up communication across services, and finding more cost effective ways of delivering services than to reaching a better understanding of consumers and developing provision around the needs of the individual. Consequently, the service is built around internal rationalisation processes, as opposed to clear, evidenced ideas about consumers’ interests and online expectations.

Right on. And how nice to have Consumer Focus join the crowdsourced “let’s make government IT better” wave, with this commentable version of their report.

Rather than have Consumer Focus tactfully pick up the pieces after five years abd £200m-odd, Wibbi (or rather, wouldn’t it Have been better if – Wihbbi) consumers had driven this whole process from before it started, and that DirectGov had been co-created from the beginning?