On the release of the US Digital Services Playbook, I wanted to reflect on my thoughts from testing the UK Government Service Manual. Both guides aim to change the way digital services are made and delivered to their users.
As a part of a small team at GDS we have been testing the Service Manual with its users. I have observed about 7 sessions with about 24 users across different disciplines and departments (and this is by no means the end of the journey). We have made usability findings on how things could be better, but the question around what people need and how to deliver that is what interests me the most.
Rhetoric like principles or theory to approach is a great place to start, but to make a digital service what people want to know is 'how' to do it. The Service Manual has been a brilliant call to arms, getting talented people through the door and inspiring others. However it now contains a lot of long 'thought pieces'. These might help to get people motivated, but when people are in the thick of ’delivering services’ this is not what they need. No one has time to skim a 1000 word essay; as one of my friends put it “it feels disconnected from reality”. People need easy-to-access content that is actionable, up-to-date and written for their needs. They need to know clearly what those actions mean, what is ‘mandatory, what is ‘optional’ and what is up for discussion.
No question, a 'manual', 'playbook' or any 'guide' is a great way of sharing good practice and much easier to upkeep than trying to talk to everyone in person. The challenge is to make a format that is a living thing, capable of keeping up with its users and adapting of time. It needs to provide up-to-date advice across a (potentially) very large organisation, for all the disciplines that need it (developers, designers, researchers, service managers and more.) This is no easy feat.
The real icing on the cake is making sure the content and feedback loops are influenced by the people doing the work and in the way they work – iteratively. Any guide document that does not risks being out of date from its outset.
A considerable challenge for any organisation to consider - government or otherwise - and there is still much more work to be done! With this in mind I am keen to see how the ‘Digital Services Playbook’ develops.