It’s probably fair to say that citizens generally want government to be reliable and authoritative. We all have expectations, and would like those met, rather than be surprised by a sudden change of direction. If government can provide ongoing explanations throughout service development, especially explanations that make sense, we can manage our users’ expectations and deliver a service that meets their needs. As such, at GDS we want our communications to be open, agile and user focussed. Transparent communication builds trust with users.
As a digital engagement lead - working first on the Transformation Programme and now on GOV.UK Verify - my role involves providing this information to the right audience, at the right time, in the right way. The Performance Platform is really helpful in this as on it you’ll find a lot of data about GOV.UK services. It’s a tool that allows us to communicate the progress of public service development with greater transparency, as the service dashboards provide a clear record of the life of a service.
What’s it useful for?
The Performance Platform makes public the data we have about how services are working. It can be a fantastic starting point for reports, presentations, and blog content. I often pluck out individual pieces of data and use it to tell stories about services to people inside government and beyond.
The relevant departments have already cleared the information for public use, so it’s particularly helpful when a last minute briefing request comes through. It’s also a reliable source of information for journalists. Reporters can get overview of the digital transformation work that’s underway from a reliable source, at any time.
Related to the Performance Platform is the Content Explorer, which gives a high level overview of the last 7 days across GOV.UK. The explorer offers you a snapshot of trending content and top announcements, which can help to shape agile engagement plans.
For example, at the time of writing driving licence changes and hiring a vehicle are amongst the most read announcements from across government. If that’s what users what to know about, perhaps it’s time to commission a guest blog post from our colleagues over in DVLA Digital?
Building a story around data and statistics
Sometimes there will be a situation where the statistics are not enough by themselves. You still need to figure out what story best goes with those facts. The individual service platforms (like this one) answer one main question ‘How is this service doing?’. If you’re able to use the answer as a hook and then place the relevant statistic in context alongside ‘the what’ and ‘the why’, you’ve got yourself a story.
What you’re looking at above could be reported as “user satisfaction is at 90.6%”. That’s pretty good. But place this data in a wider story of transformation and you get “New Register to Vote online service achieves 90% user satisfaction score consistently since launch”. Even better!
Don’t get carried away, though. The team responsible for the Performance Platform have worked hard to present the information in a clear and simple way that ensures it isn’t overwhelming. If you’re planning to tell a story with some of the great data that's available, don’t let the facts get lost. If you think there could be risk of misinterpretation, contact the Digital Engagement Team at GDS and they can check the statistics (and their origin) with the Performance Team.
What about the risks?
Sometimes we publish statistics that can lead to a bad news story. We have to, that’s just another aspect of being transparent. That’s why the stories we tell around data - about building and releasing services quickly and iteratively based on user feedback - are so important. There's nothing sensational about seeing the latest user satisfaction figures or completion rates for a service, what is sensational is that the following week they’ll have changed as that service is developed.
Data shows the lessons we’re learning
At GDS we rarely hold out for a ‘big bang’ launch date. Instead we encourage teams to blog and tweet their way along the path to delivery. This means we close the gap between the work of a huge organisation - the government - and those most interested in digital public services, our service users. Having access to a resource like the Performance Platform just a couple of clicks away allows our communicators to review that agile journey and demonstrate, with data, what’s been learnt along the way.