How to implement the Local Government Digital Service Standard

The local government digital service standard will mean something different in each local authority. Is it a minimum acceptable requirement, or an aspiration for the most prominent digital services? In the same fashion, how to adopt it and the complexities involved, will differ between councils.

Buckinghamshire County Council have adopted the digital service standard. Here’s how they did it:

1 - Find the problem

The Service Standard is meaningful if it’s the solution to a problem. Senior leaders at Buckinghamshire County Council were concerned about the proliferation of their web estate, and whether it was efficient and effective. Without a standard, it quickly became a debate about exceptions and personal preferences. The council needed governance for their web estate which meant more than simply ensuring websites contained council branding.

2 - Make the pitch

The pitch was simple: the Service Standard provided an objective measure to ensure the council’s websites were so good, people would prefer to use them. If agreed, it would enable the council’s Member-led Customer, Information and Digital board to provide the right support and governance to ensure the council’s digital presence contributed to their strategic aim.

3 - Find the advocates

Getting people to agree to governance in a local authority setting isn’t one of life’s harder challenges. Aligning colleagues around a lengthy, challenging statement containing technical jargon? Altogether harder.

Buckinghamshire County Council’s digital team worked with their ‘digital champions’ – leaders across the organisation, responsible for co-ordinating the service. The Cabinet Office Digital Service Standard was their starting point. They worked through each point in turn, to understand it, discuss it, and ask whether it should apply to us. The exercise threw up some useful questions: particularly about at what point you should engage suppliers. It ensured that the Standard wasn’t being imposed by the digital team, but the work of many contributors.

4 - Keep it simple

It’s easy to make things complex. Who would enforce the Standard? Who would it apply to (and who would it not)? What would happen if it wasn’t met?

Buckinghamshire County Council kept it simple. They thought it would be most fair the Standard only applied to work that hadn’t already begun. They didn’t know how the assessments would be made. They didn’t start with a threshold. They were clear there was lots they didn’t know. They said we’d learn on the job. And that was enough.

So what’s next? Buckinghamshire County Council’s digital exemplars underwent an assessment in discovery, and then in alpha. A new website that was months in the making underwent an assessment, and got better as a result. So they made some stuff better. And now they’re running an awareness campaign, so that colleagues know not just that there’s a standard, but what help is available to help them meet it.

There’s much more to do. But six months, and three assessments on, Buckinghamshire County Council have made a clear statement of intent, and learnt about how to do it better again, next time.