Bridging the gap between Government and the Public by Digitalization
Digital projects must begin by exploring and pinpointing the needs of the people who will use the service, and the ways in which the service will fit into their lives. Whether the users are members of the public or government employees, policy makers must include real people in their design process from the very beginning. The needs of people not constraints of government structures should drive technical and design decisions. We need to continually test the products we build with real people to keep us honest about what is important and build digital services with an understanding of the range of ways a person might interact with our service; including the actions they take online, through a mobile application, on the phone, or in person. Every encounter should move the user closer towards the desired outcome, whether that encounter is online or offline.
Make it simple and intuitive
Using a government service shouldn’t be stressful, confusing, or daunting — it’s the duty of the Open Data team to build services that are simple and intuitive enough that users succeed the first time, unaided. There is need in using an incremental, fast-paced style of software development to reduce the risk of failure by getting working software into users’ hands quickly, and by providing frequent opportunities for the delivery team members to adjust requirements and development plans based on watching people use prototypes and real software. A critical capability is being able to automatically test and deploy the service so that new features can be added often and easily put into production.
To improve our chances of success when contracting out development work, the team needs to work with experienced budgeting and contracting officers. In cases where Open Data team uses third parties to help build a service, a well-defined contract can facilitate good development practices like conducting a research and prototyping phase, refining product requirements as the service is built, evaluating open source alternatives, ensuring frequent delivery milestones, and allowing the flexibility to purchase cloud computing resources. There must be a single product owner who has the authority and responsibility across teams to assign tasks and work elements; make business, product, and technical decisions; and is accountable for the success or failure of the overall service. This product owner is ultimately responsible for how well the service is meeting the needs of its users, which is how a service should be evaluated. The product owner is responsible for ensuring the features are built and managing the feature and bug backlogs.
There should be some technically oriented people working in government who have experience creating modern digital services. This includes bringing in seasoned product managers, engineers, and designers. When outside help is needed, the team can pair with tech contractors who are good at both building and delivering effective digital services. The technology decisions we make need to enable development teams to work efficiently and enable services to scale easily and cost-effectively. The makeup and experience requirements of the team will vary depending on the scope of the project.
Automated testing and deployments
Today, developers write automated scripts that can verify thousands of scenarios in minutes and then deploy updated code into production environments multiple times per day. They use automated performance tests which simulate surges in traffic to identify performance bottlenecks. While manual tests and quality assurance is still necessary, automated tests provide consistent and reliable protection against unintentional regressions, and make it possible for developers to confidently release frequent updates to the service. It is critical that our digital services protect sensitive information and keep systems secure. This is typically a process of continuous review and improvement which should be built into the development and maintenance of the service. At the start of designing a new service or feature, the team should engage the appropriate privacy, security, and legal officer(s) to discuss the type of information collected how it should be secured, and how it may be used and shared. The sustained engagement of a privacy specialist helps ensure that personal data is properly managed. In addition, a key process to building a secure service is comprehensively testing and certifying the components in each layer of the technology stack for security vulnerabilities, and then to re-use these same pre-certified components for multiple services.
At all stages of a digital project, there should be measure on how well the service is working for the users. This includes measuring how well a system performs and how people are interacting with the system in real time. The teams should carefully watch these metrics to proactively spot issues and identify which improvements should be prioritized. In addition to monitoring tools, a feedback mechanism should be in place for people to report issues directly.
When we collaborate in the open and publish our data publicly we can improve Government together. 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.