5th January 2017

Boosting Digital Assessment

Andy Sonden looks at how improving assessment can only be a good thing

GDS recently posted a blog about how they were revising how digital service assurance was carried out (Building better assessments for digital services). The news comes just a short sprint after the unveiling of the Digital Service Standard and is the result of a Discovery process that started way back in June. Is it a good thing and what does it mean for digital services assessment?

Greater ongoing interaction
The key recommendation for change is that there should be much greater interaction between assessors and delivery teams throughout the development of a new service. This makes a lot of sense and the GDS team will have found that many service owners are still uncertain about how to meet the service standard.

Recognising specific contexts
It’s in everyone’s interests for new digital services to pass their assessments. Getting to the end of the process before finding issues is costly and time-consuming. Whilst Civica has become something of an expert in ensuring that solutions meet the criteria, it has become clear that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t ideal. Some digital services have been failed, not because they were fundamentally bad, just because their specific context meant that they fell outside the neatly-defined scoring brackets.

As a supplier, we certainly recognise the shortcomings that GDS is trying to resolve. For example, one service we built failed its Alpha assessment because assessors didn’t recognise the contextual difference between a public user base and one made up of industry professionals. Any proposed solution which gives support to service and product owners still uncertain about how best to engage with end-users or define relevant and meaningful KPIs is a good thing.

A risk of bureaucracy?
Some of the language used in the GDS blog does raise some questions. Talk of assessors having “access to the whole team” and helping “the team to identify… any areas they need to focus on” suggests the introduction of the kind of bureaucracy that GDS and the Agile approach desperately fought to free teams from.

This may not be the intention but, at its worst, this can lead to a situation where assessors effectively supersede the Product Owner. Rather than setting standards to meet, supporting good practice and ensuring key metrics are hit, it risks dictating how services should be designed and built. Ultimately, this could lead to a situation where digital services are designed to meet ‘the rules’ rather than the needs of users in their specific context.

The focus for digital services assessment
GDS should continue to empower teams across government to do great work. Service assessors and technical specialists need to remain committed to supporting and not dictating service design. Assessments themselves should be focused on ensuring that services are right for users rather than simply checking the right boxes. With these principles in place, the quality of services will continue to increase and the costs of delivering them will fall. As a taxpayer, as well as a supplier, that can only be a good thing.


Andy Sonden, Consultant, Central Government

Andy joined Civica in 2012 and is now a Senior Pre Sales Consultant in Civica Digital. He and his team support the end-to-end sales process, working with subject experts to design new solutions for new and existing clients before bringing ideas to life. A passionate advocate of digital government, Andy was instrumental in introducing agile to the business unit and has worked with numerous government bodies, transforming the way they process and manage information. 

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