15 questions for the future of digital practice in government

24 May 2021

I’ve copied these questions over from this thread.

  1. There are projects where you need to try and ship something early (even if it’s slightly the wrong thing) to understand the domain and get first users. How do we make space for those classes of problem?
  2. Government digital UCD is optimised for the assumption that people commissioning work don’t know what they doing (the classic of the genre being: minister wants an app). How should the stance of delivery teams change when there is more digital competency at the top?
  3. There are needs that government will never meet. How can services be designed in a way that allows others to help meet them, while minimising the risk of disintermediation?
  4. Discovery-itus / celebrating not building something has become almost idealised. That is not healthy in an organisation that genuinely needs to deliver to deadline. How do you create a culture that can prioritise delivery early and learn in parallel rather than in series?
  5. ‘What’s the user need?’, used as a way of discounting anything where value creation is indirect, or where needs met via proxies, is a regular anti-pattern. How do we value needs that are met indirectly?
  6. Effective digital teams create information asymmetries. How should teams show their workings so that experts from outside can understand their work? How can we ensure teams are as likely to fail a service assessment for lack of open-source code as they are for accessibility?
  7. There is a real impact of digital/design on people’s access to their rights to access public services. These often get lost in a task based view of government. Where should rule of law/rights fit in government UCD?
  8. Utilitarian focused UCD in government has been poor at creating data infrastructure and shared tooling. How can those things be prioritised when end-user + policy intent determines prioritisation?
  9. Not everything is a service. How can we make space for understanding when the service paradigm is helpful and when it is not?
  10. The legacy of ‘fix the basics’/’no innovation’ is often that any mention of technology is seen as solutionism. Sometimes it is about the technology. How can we make space for understanding how technology can allow problems to be solved in different ways?
  11. The design system is a brilliant (brilliant!) bit of work, but it creates constraints and possibly contributes to prevalence of linear transactions. How can design system teams be funded to be more speculative and active in the creation of new patterns?
  12. The overall approach today is conservative. It’s optimised for the assumption that legacy and incremental improvements are the norm. Things like GOVUK/Notify/Pay challenge that. Can we create a space for the greenfield and the speculative without inviting in charlatan utopians?
  13. There are so many teams still solving the same problems. Platforms are great, but not everything can/should be a platform. How can other shared open source tooling be funded and supported?
  14. Simple end to end services rarely exist. Rather that aiming to design a single end to end journey, how might we optimised to enable ‘composite services’ and interoperability?
  15. Not having to understand the structure of government too often means obfuscating the structure of government and accountability. Every time it happens it’s a tiny democratic paper cut. How can the design of services help people understand how their government(s) work?