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What exactly is the US Government’s Digital Services Playbook?

Tariq Khokhar's picture
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US Digital Services Playbook on Github

The White House launched a new “US Digital Service” yesterday - a small team of of word-class technology experts tasked with working with other government agencies to improve the design and delivery of digital services. This is a similar idea to the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS) which has succeeded in bringing into government the technology approaches once found only in the more dynamic elements of the private sector.  What are these approaches?

The Digital Services Playbook

The playbook outlines 13 specific strategies that draw on successful best practice from the private sector that, if followed together, “help government build effective digital services.” The plays are:

  1. Understand what people need
  2. Address the whole experience, from start to finish
  3. Make it simple and intuitive
  4. Build the service using agile and iterative practices
  5. Structure budgets and contracts to support delivery
  6. Assign one leader and hold that person accountable
  7. Bring in experienced teams
  8. Choose a modern technology stack
  9. Deploy in a flexible hosting environment
  10. Automate testing and deployments
  11. Manage security and privacy through reusable processes
  12. Use data to drive decisions
  13. Default to open

As with the GDS’ 10 Design Principles, I like the clarity with which these are explained,  and that the entire playbook is published on Github, and open for public comment and collaboration. I’d recommend taking a few minutes to read it and think about how many of the approaches your government or institution uses.

Being Open By Default

Unsurprisingly, my favourite play is #13 - “Default to Open” which states:

By building services more openly and publishing open data, we simplify the public’s access to government services and information, allow the public to easily provide fixes and contributions, and enable reuse by entrepreneurs, nonprofits, other agencies, and the public.

One thing I learned last month is that the future of civic technology probably lies in re-usable software components - I think high-profile guidelines like these will help change the norms in the public sector technology procurement and development landscape. As Alex Howard notes, this small team isn’t going to fix every problem with digital delivery, but it and the other reforms the government has put into place can add up to more than the sum of their parts.

So do you think these plays can work for other countries around the world? What are your favorite examples of governments doing digital service delivery and open data well?

 

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