Michael Gearon

Government as a Platform

The challenge

Public services take up a significant amount of the UK budget, in 2023-24 it is expected that £421.7 billion is going to be spent on day-to-day running costs of public services, grants and administration. The Government Digital Service (GDS) provides departments a set of platforms to reduce the build and operating costs of running public services, using GOV.UK Pay, Notify and Forms.

The challenge was to explore to “what next” of GDS platforms, such as looking at case management, data processing as well as helping inform strategical decisions, for example, integrating the platforms together into a singular platform. The GDS vision is to deliver the public a smoother, more proactive and personalised experience of interacting with government.

My role

When I joined GDS in 2022 the first project I joined was looking at case management which then led into the strategy work of integration of tools. As a Senior Interaction Designer, I led on designing prototypes using the GOV.UK Design System, working with the service designer to develop blueprints looking at the end-to-end experience of delivering services and shaping the strategy by listening to a range of feedback from stakeholders, senior leaders, user research, analytics and third-hand research.

The approach

Working in a multidisciplinary team I worked with user researchers, content designers, product managers and technical leads to develop a series of prototypes and proof of concepts.

One of those concepts was exploring the use of automation when processing data. In that concept I worked with the technical lead to demonstrate how you can join together multiple data sources, extract data, and priorities data into a case management tool. These concepts helped visualise and see the opportunities in a hands-on way.

Another piece of work was looking at how we presented the GDS offering of multiple platforms, in a unified way. Running design critique sessions, stakeholder review sessions and analysing user research I design and built the GOV.UK Digital Service Platform page.

Digital Service Platform

GDS’s Digital Service Platforms are operating at scale: each week Pay processes around £30m and Notify sends around 13 million emails, 14 million text messages, and 200,000 letters; the Design System is used on thousands of services.

With even small, simple services often costing hundreds of thousands of pounds (or more) a year to run, helping the thousands of non-transformed services fully digitise has economic potential in the hundreds of millions of pounds, even with a pessimistic estimate of the percentage of services that would be impacted.

One of our challenges with this project is the scale of change. We were looking at the end-to-end of how a department considers, engages, goes live, manages and improves services.

To help us visualise this complicated process I worked with the service designer to a user journey map in Figma. In this map we considered the overall service design and the wider picture, down to the interaction design level of the actions, who is involved, pain points backed up with user research and insights we have collected.

For the prototyping I used a range of methods from static designs in Figma both low and high fidelity to interactive, accessible prototypes. These were then tested, iterated on and presented back to stakeholders and people through town hall and other meetings.

What I learned

This project gave me a lot of insight into the operations of delivering and running public services. The breadth of scope was a challenge but through journey mapping, prototyping and working in a collaborative way we were able to find pockets of opportunities to explore in more depth. Another learning was about challenging assumptions, for example one assumption we had was that by providing tools that anyone can use that people with low digital expertise would be empowered to build digital services without specialists. What we found was that even by providing a singular platform, specialists are still needed to be able to deliver good services, but the value is in reducing the barriers it takes to be able to deliver the services.

The outcome

The discovery was overall a success, there were challenges around user research and the scope of the project but the outcome of the discovery generated lots of further opportunities to explore. One deliverable was the GOV.UK Digital Service Platform page, by delivering this web page it meant that GDS could start to see the type of people interested in this offering through a CRM database and analytics. All of the findings from the discovery will inform the short and long term roadmaps of how GDS provides platforms to deliver good digital services in the civil service.