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Wednesday, 19th September 2018

Another week and another Wednesday delivery. Those that replied to my questions last week didn't seem to mind what day this comes out, so I don't feel too bad about things. What is interesting (perhaps) is that fewer people than normal read the newsletter last week. Is that because it was sent later than normal, or for some other reason? Answers on a postcard.

Remember - if you enjoy this newsletter, others might too! Please forward it on to anybody you think might like it, or encourage folk to sign themselves up! Got something I ought to include? Mail me!

Avoiding digitisation for the sake of it

I heard a troubling story once about an effort to drive the digitisation of services in a council. It's an example of why chasing wrong-headed success metrics can be, well, wrong-headed.

At this council, for a customer to register for this particular service, they could either fill in a paper form and get it to the council one way or another, or phone the contact centre. Most did the latter - it was quick and relatively painless, all the set up being done on the phone in about 10 minutes.

Then, as a result of a digitisation programme, which importantly saw as its key performance metric as being the number of services that can be accessed via an online form, this process was put online. It was a case of digital access (as opposed to efficiency or transformation - see here) - converting a traditional process to an online one without doing anything to improve the user experience, or to integrate on the back end.

This resulted in an online form that generated a PDF version, which was emailed to the back office team. Here it sat in an inbox until folk had time to look at them, which in some cases took up to six weeks. 

That's a right. A process that went from taking 10 minutes to six weeks - all thanks to digitisation. I don't know if the phone based process was switched off in the name of channel shift - hopefully not.

Anyway, the lessons I hope are obvious. Racing to get as many forms and processes online without thinking about the user need will result in failure. Likewise, not taking the opportunity to rethink a process isn't a great idea. Wherever possible seek to integrate front end stuff like forms with the back office system in question - in the example above, the form could and should work with the systems to create that direct debit automagically. 

There may well be instances where simple digital access work is appropriate - but this ought to be rigorously tested to ensure something good comes out of it for both the customer and the organisation - otherwise, it's just wasting everyone's time.


Twitter thread of the week

Tom Loosemore tweets his regret about introducing the phrase 'assisted digital':
My main problem with the phrase 'assisted digital' is that it failed to challenge the mindset of one-size-fits-all service design inside gov. (1/4)

Link to read the whole thread.


  • Jukesie on three cultures in organisations: pathological (lots of fear and information hoarding), bureaucratic (rules based, departments protecting their own turf), and generative (everyone focused on doing what needs to be done). Link.
  • David Eaves and Ben McGuire outline the fast-follower strategy for government technology (don't be on the bleeding edge - make best us of what we know works. Link. (I found this via Stefan's Strategic Reading site - link). 
  • Pawda Tjoa from The New Local Government Network write that councils need to step back as communities step up, and shares ways in which local government can work effectively with community initiatives. Link
  • "Government digital initiatives are limping behind other industries – and the public sector is more likely to outsource for help, according to analyst firm Gartner." Link.

Tools and techniques

  • Dan Sutch on 'bringing digital into service delivery'. Link
  • A "systems change framework" from the Tasmanian Government. Link (PDF warning).
  • Not a very digital thing, but an interesting dig into Myers-Briggs (no relation) personality tests. Link.


  • Coding for low code at Barnsley Council, as written up by their IT Manager, Richard Kingston. Must admit I'm left wanting to know a lot more after reading this - it sounds like forms with a bit of workflow, in which case why go to the hassle of writing it yourselves rather than just buying one? Am sure there's justification, but would be good to know what it is. Link.
  • More on low code - Salesforce are developing their offer in this space. Good news if you're already invested in the Salesforce platform. Link
  • An update from GDS on the service standard. The new standard will also replace the local digital service standard. Link.


  • TicTec Local, Manchester, 6 November. Link
  • StackTech is a cross-government event that brings together technologists to discuss common issues and solutions, London, 18 October. Link.


  • Digital Procurement Consultant, Advice Cloud. Link.
  • Front end WordPress developer, Helpful Digital. Link.
If you're on the lookout for a new public service digital job, then you'd do a lot worse than signing up for Matt Jukes' entirely job-focused newsletter.

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading and please feel free to forward this onto friends and colleagues - and maybe even encourage them to sign up!

If you have any feedback, or an idea for something to be included, please just hit reply and send me an email.

Until next time,

~ Dave
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