Digital Landscape Review – learning from the international landscape
15 September 2021
In our previous blog post on the landscape review, we’ve talked about the importance of having a clear understanding of what makes a digital service and how we’re going to base this understanding from talking to service owners.
In this latest post we wanted to go a little broader and highlight how we’re not alone in our work at the Centre for Digital Public Services. Many other similarly shaped organisations across the globe (known as “Digital Government Units”) have tackled comparable issues and we’re keen to learn from them.
What is a “Digital Government Unit”?
Since the early 2010s Digital Government Units (DGUs), largely following the path set by the first DGU – the UK’s Government Digital Service, have become a fixture of the government institutional landscape.
DGUs have appeared in:
- the United States (two: the United States Digital Service and 18f as well as at state level)
- Australia (Australian Digital Transformation Agency)
- Canada (Canadian Digital Service) and subnational DGUs
- and elsewhere
DGUs have undoubtedly been diverse in shape, remit and focus: some operate at a national level, others subnational; some cover many government functions; others few. Broadly speaking, however, successful DGUs have been shown to share certain characteristics such as:
- operating within centre of government functions, rather than in a specific department or agency
- favouring agile, user-centred design practices and ways of working
- seeking to bridge silos and gaps, using “platform-based” approaches
- valuing data-driven decision-making
- focusing on delivery and “getting things done”
What have DGUs achieved?
A whole spectrum of initiatives, products, services and standards have emerged from DGUs. Looking across the world, there is much we can learn from. To cite just a few exemplars:
- Argentina’s digital government unit created a new, single portal domain for citizen facing services, closing down over 1000 government websites and created a citizen account, Mi Argentina, with millions of downloads
- Estonia’s digital infrastructure – comprising of a suite of platforms, services, data registers and digital identity accounts – ensured that 99 per cent of government services were available, online, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020
- South Korea’s application programme interface (API)-led platform approach has led to the creation of much used e-petition systems, rapid polling of citizen views on policy issues, and a single domain for all government online services
- Canada’s Digital Service is on its way to achieving its 2025 goal of digitising all public-facing government services using a unified login system
Slightly closer to home, much attention often focuses on the achievements of the UK Government Digital Service (GDS).
GDS, since its inception in 2011, amongst other things:
- created a single government publishing platform, GOV.UK which consolidated thousands of government websites into one, user-friendly version
- built and supported common platforms, services, components and tools – saving time and energy for the people involved in building services
- saved billions of pounds through centralised procurement in the form of the Digital Marketplace
- distributed over 2 billion messages to citizens, adopted over 4,000 public services through GOV.UK Notify
The experiences of GDS are not necessarily replicable everywhere and that’s why as part of the landscape review we’re keen to learn from a wide range of DGUs.
And we’re not just interested in learning from national level units. Much excellent digital innovation has also happened at the regional, state, city and local government level, such as in San Francisco where hundreds of local government websites are being consolidated into one, user-friendly domain.
What does this mean for the landscape review?
We’re confident there are many great lessons we can learn – both successes and failures – from DGUs.
As a starting hypothesis, we’ve identified a longlist of “things that DGUs have successfully implemented” and are using this to guide our thinking as to whether they could help inform priorities for the CDPS going forward.
The long list includes:
- redesigning services, by transforming previously analogue or largely analogue (e.g., in-person, phone-based or post/paper-based) services and making them digitally accessible
- increasing uptake of existing digital services, either by improving them to meet user needs better or mandating their use
- developing shared platforms and components (such as cloud hosting services or notification services) that can be created once and reused across Wales
- identifying best practice and sharing this between organisations
- upskilling teams in digital transformation and service design
- developing common standards for services
- offering data insights to those building and making decisions about services
- creating opportunities for accessing one’s own data and knowing how it is being used
However, we’re not just taking these as a given – we are also proactively looking to test whether these achievements from elsewhere are applicable here, and whether anything is missing.
In order to do this, we’re having lots of conversations with individuals and organisations from across the world that have played a big part in DGU developments.
If you feel like you have something to share with us from your experiences, we’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below or tweet us @cdps_cymru