Hi Guys, this is an iteration on why not to follow the GDS into disaster (your DTO says iterate like crazy, so here we go).

It follows a review of an article in The Register from way back in February 2015. That’s about the time our PM was admiring the Government Digital Service and their centralised GOV.UK, and deciding to have a Digital Transformation Office that copied (“unashamedly”) their model. I’ll leave it to you to tell how much more clearly the GDS example could have been scrutinised before we grabbed it, but let’s start with a few words from the article by Andrew Orlowski:20151022a

Despite all its much-vaunted focus on users and usability, the transition is now widely acknowledged to have been a disaster. GDS didn’t seem to know who the users of government services actually are. Specifically, the “jean-wearing Post It Note wranglers” at GDS (as some government IT types see them) didn’t realise that visa applications come not just from tourists, but from universities and business applicants too …..

Were you to drop by coffee shops in Ultimo today you’d maybe find a group of badly dressed “jean wearers” that closely resembles 2010 in London. The culture, language and ideas of the GDS have been unashamedly imported, promoted and up-talked in Australia. That’s right down to using the same words. @DigiKoolAid has commented several times that the GDS is not a model that Australia should follow nor is it the work of your DTO to unashamedly copy their mistakes. The article backs up the assessment:

How NOT to do it

“This would be a good case study on what not to do in the future,” one GDS manager had advised after the Home Office’s awful Transition. But the Cabinet Office ignored the warning signals – and signs of staff burnout – and GDS ploughed on with the transition process.

The current plan by your DTO to recreate the GOV.UK concept as GOV.AU in 9 weeks (@DigiKoolAid suspects that the HTML / CSS / JS is to be copied like the Digital Design Standards were) is likely to fail. Elaine Clark, an unfortunate GDS user, summed it up on 14th December last year when she wrote:

“GOV.UK is a huge step backwards in terms of good content that was easy to read & understand”, “an insult to intelligence, misleading, incomplete and, I think I can say without fear of contradiction from my respected peers, not something that can be recommended as a good source of content to my clients should I wish them to think I was doing a good job.”

The problem was said to begin with the undeniable fact that the agencies and departments who were in contact with citizens using services knew a lot about what was required. The GDS jean team didn’t. Those citizen needs had led to a variety of sites, content and ways to meet requirements. The GDS arrived with a variation of the “one size fits all” philosophy that created a lot of problems. Then there was the brilliant idea that knowledge itself was an obstacle … ‘The less we know, the better job we do’ … This Tweet from (then) GDS ‘Head of User Research’ reveals the likelihood that the lessons of the botched GOV.UK transitions would never be learned. Leisa is back home in Sydney to lead the design team for the DTO.

@leisa tweet
‘The less we know, the better job we do’

Let’s wrap this up with the bit about the money. Mike, Tom and the GDS guys had won early support from their confidence that lots of money would be saved by centralisation and rationalisation. When the savings didn’t magically appear a few words were said. These words by Andrew Orlowski in an article you should read. @DigiKoolAid is writing about Government-as-Self-Service elsewhere.20151022b



The jeans are Levis

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