After the Welsh Government announced a £4.9m plan to develop a set of standards for digital public service users, Quadrant Smart sits down with Tim Daley, programme lead of the Centre for Digital Public Services Wales. We chat about the need for multidisciplinary teams to meet new standards, importance of digital inclusivity, and empowering users!
Tim started by telling Quadrant Smart: “We’re based in Wales and we wanted to do something. We thought Wales deserved better than it’s currently got in its digital services.” Tim is developing these new standards for public sector workers across a wide range of public services. This includes housing associations, social care authorities and educational settings.
As is the case with the devolved nations in the UK, many of the individual public service departments are also devolved. This fragmentation can cause some complexities, as Tim discussed: “A lot of Government Digital Service (GDS) projects that were good have not really picked up and taken off in Wales, for a variety of reasons.”
This is why the in development digital service standards have a large focus on multidisciplinary teams: to ensure digital inclusivity is achieved. “One of the key things for us not to build the standards as a separate thing,” he said.
“There’s a real risk that you build digital services as something that’s going on ‘over there’. If you think about education services or social care, then break those digital services down to children and adults, for example.”
He went on to tell Quadrant Smart of the importance of an ‘empowered service owner’ with authority to make ultimate decisions about the service: “What we need is someone who is going to decide how this service works for all of its users. And they will have different channels in which they can satisfy that need.”
Fluidity between services is the key to success
The idea behind the new set of digital service standards is that the users can ultimately interchange the way they are accessing public services. An example of this is within adult social care. The goal is for somebody to be able to access the service online, request a meeting face to face, and write into the service without any complications.
You need to provide a service that everyone can use. The separation definitely between things like policy teams and delivery teams is really large.
Tim reiterated: “You need to provide a service that everyone can use. The separation definitely between things like policy teams and delivery teams is really large. You can see it much more clearly in somewhere like the Welsh public sector, especially considering the closeness between the Welsh Government which is largely policy-related, and then the delivery arm is things like local authorities.”
Essentially, Tim set out the vision of the public service user. “I should get no lesser a service if I choose to go online or to write, or if I choose to go face-to-face,” he said.
By bridging the gaps between different public services, there is the strong hope that this will transcend down to the digital service user. This synergy is expected to make the service user feel more empowered on how they interact with the service.
Tim said: “If you don’t get that single empowered user, then you can get two-tiered services, and you can get things getting out of kilter with each other, or policy and what politicians may want.” This is why it is important that the funding provided by the Welsh government is spent on the synergy of different digital public services.
Despite the main focus being digital inclusivity, Tim identified that with all policies there is a need for balance. “It’s user need, not user want. Factors like efficiency and costs to serve come into it, of course.
“That becomes the role of an empowered service owner is that need to balance all of that, and not just say their job is to run a specific digital service, or their job is to run a day care centre.”
Legislation improves chances of success
The positivity surrounding the planned improvements in digital public services is the fact that the wellbeing outcomes are legislated in Wales. This will undoubtedly cause public services to sit up and listen to the planned changes within digital services.
Tim expressed: “We don’t want people to do it just because it’s a legal requirement; we want people to do it because it’s the right thing to do. But a legal requirement means you can enter it into the conversation, and then start on the right foot with the people building those services.”
Success for us looks like where we get to a point where we’re building communities of interest
They want wellbeing outcomes from digital services in social care, education, even environmental services – but they want the public sector to have that wellbeing mindset without needing legislation.
“If people are not 100% bought in, or don’t understand if we put the word that it’s legislative, then people pay attention, pick it up, and run with it,” he added.
Implementing these strategies is always the starting point for positive changes. Measuring the success of these plans can be difficult, however, Tim explained: “Success for us looks like where we get to a point where we’re building communities of interest around the different standards so that people can come together and support each other on building those services.”