If government is mostly service design, is most government service design databases and rights?

22 June 2020

With apologies to Matt Edgar for re-purposing the title of his excellent blog post Most of government is mostly service design most of the time. Discuss.. If you’ve not read it, you should.

It often seems that the design of government services comes down to three things:

1) Making it easier to manage, use and join datasets so that administrative burden can be reduced to as close to zero as possible for the public; services can be made more real-time; and enabling the creation of value in the form of new businesses, service offerings or insights.

2) Choosing to make it harder to join or use datasets, so that people’s rights are respected and there is less opportunity for misuse.

3) Mechanisms to correct errors, address misuse and understand how things work so that we, as a society, can hold to account people responsible for the design of a service.

In the UK today, 1 and 2 are essentially determined by the structure of government departments rather than choice. 3 is too often absent from the design of digital public services and hard to prioritise when business cases are based primarily on efficiency. A systemic understanding of all three is just generally missing.

In part, these things are the domain of database theory, and rule of law principles and digital rights. In addition to an understanding of service design, senior civil servants across government need a better understanding of the affordances of databases and the ability to prioritise the design of rights into public services.