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OECD Good Practice Principles for Public Service Design and Delivery in the Digital Age

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updated at 18 May 2022
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Good Practice Principles for Public Service Design and Delivery in the Digital Age

1. Understand the needs, expectations and experiences of those affected by, or reliant on, each service

The starting point for successfully transforming the quality, inclusion and responsiveness of public services is to understand the needs, expectations and experiences of those who will be its users. This people-centred approach to designing and delivering services means continually seeking out and engaging a diverse group of users to understand and prioritise their needs over the convenience of government. Therefore, governments should approach the design and delivery of services by:

  • Seeking out the needs of users: continually use quantitative and qualitative user research that gives insight into the needs of those who will use a service, the ways it will fit into their lives, and the problem that is being solved.

  • Prioritising user, not government, needs: build services that reflect the needs and context of users and not the convenience of public sector organisations.

  • Mapping the whole problem: every interaction between a user and government is connected to a life or business event. Explore how user journeys, data flows and organisations contribute to meeting the whole problem

  • Identifying the diversity of users: recognise that users may have multiple roles: as individuals, in family units, as employees, as businesses and as part of their broader communities; and differing characteristics: demographic, cultural, geographic, psychographic, and behavioural.

  • Championing inclusion: provide accessible, responsive, quality, ethical and equitable services by addressing barriers for people to access services whether those are cultural, linguistic, ability, financial or technological.

  • Hiding the complexity of government: demonstrate cross-administrative and cross-sectoral collaboration in pursuit of creating seamless services that ensure users do not need to be knowledgeable about the internal structures of the public sector.

2. Interact with citizens, users and all stakeholders in the initial and ongoing design and delivery of services

While it is important to understand the needs of citizens, it is vital that service design and delivery teams are mindful of the expectations and experience of all stakeholders on an ongoing basis throughout the lifecycle of service design and delivery. This means looking for ways to be user-driven and user-centred by involving users in co-creating, co-designing, testing and improving the service but also in taking steps to ensure services clearly set out expectations, use plain language, invite feedback and effectively support those that might face difficulties. Therefore, governments should approach the design and delivery of services by:

  • Co-creating and co-designing: be user-driven as well as user-centred by empowering citizens and communities with more active roles in the design and delivery of public services from inception as well as in implementation and evaluation.

  • Involving users: continually look for opportunities to involve users in testing, iterating and improving the service, and use the feedback to inform user segmentation, and a more targeted and customised service experience.

  • Communicating clearly: use language that can be understood by all. Avoid jargon, acronyms or legal terms.

  • Setting the expectation of users: tell a user what processes are involved and with which government agencies, how long it will take for decisions to be made and to complete the service, any costs involved, and information they will need to supply before they start and for the service.

  • Keeping users informed: use messaging services (digital and non-digital) to proactively update users about the availability of new services and their key features; and the status of their application, rather than requiring follow up by the user.

  • Inviting feedback: encourage users to provide feedback on a service at any point, and not just at its end to capture the experience of those who could only get part way through.

  • Providing support: put a plan in place to enable users to access support through their most convenient channel and prioritising interactions with a human, whether that is by telephone, via additional web content, over email, in chat with a support agent, or through face to face, personalised assistance.

3. Find ways to be open and transparent about the design and delivery of services

Encouraging and empowering teams to be open in the approach they take to designing and delivering public services is an important principle. Openness and transparency can be expressed through publishing data, decisions and information but also in seeking to collaborate and choosing methods and tools that can easily be adopted and embraced by all those involved in providing public services. Therefore, governments should approach the design and delivery of services by:

  • Working in the open: publish research including on user personas and target audiences, decision-making including financial data on costs and expected return on investment, and the details about both citizen-facing and back-office processes in a publicly accessible online location.

  • Favouring open standards: identify and specify the use of open standards, practices, frameworks, reusable components and data to mitigate risks of vendor lock-in or proprietary technologies.

  • Being open about service standards and performance: define the quality standards and performance indicators for a service and publish performance data through a public dashboard in a timely manner with the underlying data available in a machine-readable format

  • Emphasising open source: make all non-sensitive data, information, code and software available for sharing and reuse under an open licence.

  • Collaborating: seek out opportunities to collaborate at all levels of government, between all disciplines and with all sectors to optimise processes, share knowledge and reach consensus on common goals.

  • Showing caution in using algorithms: be clear about when the use of algorithms to automate decision making or service delivery complements and adds value to the user journey, and ensure that their use is transparent and adheres to published ethical guidelines.

4. Ensure the use of digital tools and data reinforces and strengthens public trust

Trust in government is easier to lose than it is to build and so it is important that the process of developing public services helps defend, reinforce, and even restore, public trust. Ensuring the trustworthiness of public services involves questions of digital security, data management, digital identity, reliability, responsiveness and fairness. Therefore, governments should approach the design and delivery of services by:

  • Treating security and privacy as a priority: encourage a team culture where security and privacy are foundational to the lifecycle of a service.

  • Understanding and addressing security needs: evaluate security risk and privacy obligations as part of the overall design of a service and take a balanced approach to solutions that do not place a burden on users.

  • Being a good data and information steward: equip all public servants with the knowledge of their responsibilities in terms of standards, record keeping, security and legislation concerning the protection of personal data.

  • Choosing to make sustainable technology decisions: consider the environmental and climate implications of technology choices and proactively explore ways to reduce waste and energy consumption.

  • Ensuring the reliability of services: use modern, scalable infrastructure to mitigate the risk of disruption, but prepare for service unavailability in terms of providing users with information and alternative routes on how to proceed.

  • Anticipating the consequences of transformation: be aware that redesigning services and deploying different technologies can lead to fear, uncertainty and doubt among users and take steps to understand these reactions and iterate the service accordingly.

5. Be ambitious in using digital technology and data to transform public services

Digital technologies and data can help rethink the way in which public services are offered. Rather than simply taking analogue approaches and porting them to the Internet, the potential for digital transformation offers the opportunity to radically reshape the experience of accessing public services through greater simplicity and consistency in general while offering proactive personalisation to address the specific and end-to-end needs of users. Therefore, governments should approach the design and delivery of services by:

  • Making services simple to use: services should be intuitive enough that users succeed the first time, without any extra effort, support or training.

  • Solving whole problems: create services that solve a whole problem (or a life or business event) from an initial need through to its resolution, working across organisational boundaries where necessary.

  • Being proactive: eliminate the need for end users to initiate requests to government where they can be automated or predicted. Look for ways to provide services, or update entitlements based on internal information exchange and forecasted need.

  • Personalising services: build services that customise their offering to users based on a knowledge of their circumstances and the trusted exchange of data and attributes within government.

  • Using consistent and trusted designs: develop design patterns and style guides that ensure a common look, feel and brand for public services.

  • Addressing legacy technologies: understand the legacy technologies that services integrate with, or depend on, and, where appropriate, make a plan to phase it out.

  • Recognising the back-office experience: facilitate the work of public servants by designing for their needs in ensuring their user journeys are paperless, supported by digital tools and less cumbersome by removing any barriers they encounter, such as limitations on access to existing data that consequently means having to print out or manually re-enter submissions.

  • Evolving legal and regulatory frameworks: all new legislation and regulations should be designed with being digital in mind. For existing legal and regulatory frameworks, establish a process for making both short- and long-term adjustments that secure user-centred, simple and efficient outcomes.

6. Implement an omni-channel strategy to ensure users will always access a seamlessly consistent, joined-up and high-quality service

The processes, data flows and channels for delivering public services reflect a history of different organisations operating independently over time. Transforming public services needs an omnichannel strategy that puts users in the centre, unlike a multi-channel that puts the service/product at the core, works across telephone, digital and physical channels, and the way in which they work together to simplify the user experience of government. Therefore, governments should approach the design and delivery of services by:

  • Aiming for omni-channel as a principle: design user journeys that work for users across all channels (screens, phone calls, virtual assistance or face to face) seamlessly.

  • Making channels coherent and joined up: consolidate the channels of separate organisations if possible. Ensure that where separate entry points exist that they are integrated and interoperable (in terms of data, information, content, design), and the outcome of the service is the same regardless of the channel(s) used.

  • Valuing the non-digital experience: invest in non-digital channel delivery to ensure full ease and accessibility by all users.

  • Encouraging users to go online: use non-digital channels as opportunities to engage, educate and encourage users to support the transition to the use of digital channels.

7. Create conditions that help teams to design and deliver high quality services

Underpinning the digital transformation of government are the teams and suppliers who carry out the design and the delivery of public services. These teams need to be multi-disciplinary and empowered with the necessary support to carry out high quality and effective service design and delivery whether through their access to external expertise and the tools they need, or operating under clear lines of accountability. Therefore, governments should approach the design and delivery of services by:

  • Learning from previous efforts: understand the history of a service and the operational landscape into which delivery takes place, including any third-party suppliers, systems or other legacy considerations, and hold regular retrospectives on efforts.

  • Sustaining multi-disciplinary and diverse teams: recruit a diverse mix of not only skills and expertise, but also personal backgrounds into teams. Secure the funding to make these teams sustainable for the long-term so they can design, build, operate and iterate their service.

  • Specifying accountability for each service: every service should be the responsibility of a named individual. They will co-ordinate activity between all the necessary parties and be accountable for how well the service meets the needs of its users.

  • Empowering the team: ensure that governance arrangements and mechanisms delegate as much authority as possible so that the team can make decisions throughout the design, build and operation of the service.

  • Helping teams develop a service mindset working culture: encourage service teams to support and challenge each other constructively and develop a culture that is open to being adaptive, collaborative and focused on the needs of their users.

  • Equipping the team: ensure teams have access to the tools, training and technologies they need to do their best work. Train existing public servants with the necessary skills for digital government transformation and explore ways to attract new digital talents into the public service.

  • Encouraging collaboration: enhance cooperation between service design and delivery teams, encourage peer-learning and exchange, support services that need improvement, and build political support among public institutions.

  • Embedding external expertise: bring in people from outside government, whether as suppliers or recruits, with the experience of creating modern digital services in a range of disciplines including product management, engineering, user research and design.

8. Encourage public sector teams and their suppliers to follow a consistent methodology for delivering public services

It is as important to influence the way in which service teams, and suppliers to government, work as well as the way in which they think about the needs of their users. As such, it is helpful to consider how technology decisions are made and the adoption of agile methodologies that prioritise iteration in response to user research, feedback and insights drawn from the performance of services. Therefore, governments should approach the design and delivery of services by:

  • Adopting an agile delivery methodology: move away from waterfall models based on up-front requirements gathering to create a working culture of continuous exploration, experimentation, learning and incremental improvement to better meet user needs.

  • Controlling the scope of work: focus on delivering the work that can add the most value to users and be disciplined in managing and prioritising the delivery backlog

  • Measuring performance: identify metrics that give teams the insight to improve the quality, outcomes and satisfaction levels of their service.

  • Iterating in response to data: update the service frequently using quantitative and qualitative data throughout the whole service lifecycle.

  • Building, measuring and learning: ensure teams have the autonomy to prototype, experiment and A/B test their service to explore different ways of responding to the needs of their users

  • Decommissioning services in good time: help to reduce the challenge of legacy technology by defining the conditions under which systems and services will be retired or their contracts exited

  • Making smart technology decisions: agree on a common approach to choosing modern and cost-effective digital architecture and tools that is easily understood and put to use. Test and evaluate the utility and quality of these tools regularly.

  • Collaborating and contracting with third parties: stimulate the private sector and civil society ecosystem by involving suitable partners in the service design and delivery lifecycle in line with agreed legal standards to encourage innovation, competition and maximise value for users.

9. Curate an ecosystem of tools, practices and resources that can enable teams to do high quality work at scale and with pace

Teams working on services should not reinvent the wheel each time they attempt to meet the needs of their users. Investing in the creation and curation of a ‘Government as a Platform’ ecosystem that considers governance mechanisms, common components, practical resources, and skills allows teams to deliver at scale and with pace according to a level of quality and consistency of user experience that builds public trust and helps public sector organisations find greater coherence. Therefore, governments should approach the design and delivery of services by:

  • Implementing clear and transparent governance mechanisms: involve organisation and political leaders in the service design and delivery process for accountability, quality and coherence.

  • Securing funding: use a common business case model to help teams formulate sound value propositions and business plans that are scrutinised through centralised spend controls to reduce duplication and ensure value for money.

  • Simplifying procurement: redesign public procurement processes to be agile, open, fair and effective in line with agreed key performance indicators.

  • Not building everything yourself: consider whether cloud-based software or infrastructure can meet your needs before committing to build or host solutions in-house

  • Investing in common resources: create shared tools, components, platforms databases, guides, manuals and standards to reinforce a user-driven culture, standardisation and complementarity of services across the ecosystem.

  • Assuring quality: establish a process for service teams to present their research, showcase their delivery and share how their work reflects agreed principles.

  • Building for re-use: when a team solves a shared and commonly experienced problem then the resources and solutions they develop should be made re-usable to ensure sustainability and enable collaboration across the public sector.

  • Engaging in communities of practice: connect with other service teams and networks of professions to share experience and resources and better meet user needs at scale and with pace.

10. Treat data as a strategic asset underpinning the transformation of government services

Unlocking the role of data in government touches on ideas of openness, trust and the ecosystem which enables delivery. However, to fully unlock the potential of data for service design and delivery involves combining these ideas and being transparent, ensuring the interoperability of data, transforming the citizen experience and securing the quality, reliability and availability of data. Therefore, government should approach the design and delivery of services by:

  • Understanding the needs for data in a service: evaluate what data the service will be collecting, storing and providing and address the resulting security considerations, legal responsibilities, privacy issues and risks.

  • Promoting interoperability of data: ensure that any data collected by the service is held in a secure way that can be easily integrated and reused by others.

  • Asking users for information once (the “Once Only Principle”): citizens should only need to provide their data and documents once through the use of registers and interoperable data exchange between public sector organisations.

  • Putting users in control of their data: give users the ability to manage their personal data through visibility and control of how their data is used both by an individual service and broadly within the public sector in general.