The digital revolution has enabled a new approach to innovation, built around customer journey mapping, rapid prototyping, and beta testing. But these methods aren’t the exclusive preserve of Silicon Valley start-ups. One of the shining stars is the UK’s Government Digital Service (GDS), described by the Wall Street Journal as “the gold-standard in the global world of digital government”, and winner of the 2013 Design of the Year award for its website www.gov.uk.
In 2010, the UK embarked on transformational change in response to a damning report from dotcom entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox. She said the UK’s digital services had fallen behind the times. Mike Bracken, the former head of digital at the Guardian newspaper, was hired by UK cabinet secretary Francis Maude to run its new Government Digital Service unit. His challenge? To liberate an often conservative civil service ¬– serving half a million employees – and to innovate.
“I told Francis Maude I needed three things – a separate building, a team with the right specialist skills and control over the internet domain, www.gov.uk,” Bracken said at the time. But rather than take a traditional change approach and engaging people’s hearts and minds, Bracken’s approach was that strategy is delivery. Initially, his team worked on simple projects, such as tax discs for drivers, and began gaining traction. The unit put users’ needs ahead of the government’s and took an agile approach, iterating fast and identifying key services that could go online quickly. At the same time, Bracken built a network of digital leaders across various government departments to ensure he had political buy-in when it came to budget crunch time. In 2016, the GDS budget was £112 million per year, twice what it had been the previous year. This is a lesson in taking action.