It takes a community of practice to transform government services. Last year, the Government of Canada introduced its Digital Standards. These are a set of principles to help teams deliver better quality digital services for Canadians. Since their release, CDS has been exploring how departments can assess themselves against the Standards.
What are Digital Standards?
Our colleagues at TBS developed the Government of Canada’s Digital Standards to guide the shift towards making services more helpful, reliable and secure. In introducing the Digital Standards, the Government of Canada joined leading digital governments, such as Ontario, Australia and the United Kingdom, where consistent sets of standards are at the centre of effective service delivery.
In the UK for example, they back their Service Standard with a peer-to-peer assessment process, run by our colleagues at the Government Digital Service (GDS). Each service is regularly assessed to determine whether it’s good enough to move from one development phase to the next, get funding, and access to a government URL. The assessments are published and help to make sure that services focus on the needs of the public and are being continuously improved.
Holding ourselves to delivery standards
CDS has had its own delivery assessments pre-dating the government-wide standards. These are designed to ensure that we’re constantly working to improve how we research, design and build services. At points during each delivery phase, our delivery leads meet with each team to discuss the progress they’re making towards meeting our standards.
Products that meet the standards can transition from one phase to the next - from Discovery to closed Alpha, from Alpha to public Beta, and from Beta to officially Live. Those that don’t meet the standards will get feedback and support from CDS to make improvements before they’re assessed again. In some cases, we learn that the product isn’t meeting user needs and we can make an informed decision to stop development and move our efforts to other priorities.
When the Government of Canada’s Digital Standards landed, we got excited. We saw an opportunity to do two things. One was to align the CDS standards - which are quite specific to our model of partnership projects - to the higher-level government-wide standards. The second thing was to see what would happen if we ran lightweight assessments of products belonging to CDS and other departments against the Standards.
The results have been positive. To date, we’ve run about a dozen internal assessments and 3 assessments for other departments - including TBS Cybersecurity, ATIP, and NRCan. The format of a multidisciplinary panel of peers assessing delivery by a multidisciplinary team in an objective and supportive manner, following the framework of the Standards, has helped to improve quality and remove blockers. It has also helped to establish networks of development, design, research and policy practice beyond the boundaries of individual departments.
By asking each team to demonstrate how they meet each of the Standards, it has been possible to make the case for faster release of helpful products and features in ways that offer higher-quality user experiences. We’ve also been able to spot areas in which products and services don’t meet the standards, and provide corresponding advice on how to make improvements or consider alternative approaches.
We believe having the Digital Standards is a big step towards creating better quality services that are developed ethically, iteratively, and lead to outcomes centred around meeting the needs of the people we serve. Assessing government services against the Standards using a lightweight process on a regular cadence helps ensure that we’re working on the right things, in the right ways, at the right times.
Based on our experience, we would encourage other Government of Canada departments to assess how well their services meet the Standards. We’d like to help other departments get started by offering to run more independent, blameless assessments with them.
In doing so, we would very soon build up a broader standard assessment community of practice capable of running independent, lightweight and blameless assessments that will lift the quality of service delivery for everyone.