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Should this be our problem?

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'User first' is the mantra used within GDS and across government departments' digital projects.  However sometimes, even if there is an identifiable user need it is not necessarily right that we – the government – are the ones to address it.

Part of my role as digital portfolio manager is to identify the projects that it is appropriate for the department and its arm’s length bodies (ALBs) to pursue.

This post will give you an insight into some of the things I think about so that you’re able to run your own project through a series of hygiene checks. This is something you should do once you have defined your high level proposition but before you embark on your discovery phase.

In essence, you should be able to answer 'yes' to the following questions:

1. Is this a user need that only government can solve?

One of the key cross-government digital principles is that departments and ALBs should only do what only government can do.

You can be most effective if resources are targeted to those areas that will have most impact.

If this is something that is being solved by another organisation you should look to work with them rather than duplicate and dilute their efforts.

If this is something that isn’t being solved, you can encourage the private sector to take on the challenge by making data and APIs available.

2. Is this a genuine user need…or is it being driven by an internal business requirement?

We occasionally receive spend requests that have had user needs retro-fitted to meet the needs of internal stakeholders.

Projects that are designed and developed in this way are unlikely to be successful.  Consumer (or in this case citizen) is king, and if people don’t have a need for something, or if that something doesn’t function in the way that people want it to, they just won’t use it.

Stakeholder requirements are still important and you should capture these as part of the discovery phase. But, it is the user needs that must come first.

3. Is this a genuine user need…or is it just disguising a ‘vanity project’?

Shiny new toys come out of the tech industry on a daily basis but you need to stay strong and not be led by your internal magpie!

Some of these propositions may well be appropriate solutions but they should only be considered when user needs point to them.  Solution must always follow need, not the other way round.

It is useful to ask yourself:  ‘what is the user need that only this technology is able to meet?’

 4. Is the user need relevant to government policy?

Digital projects within health and care must align with:

  •  The Government Digital Strategy which mandates that all new or redesigned digital services should meet the digital by default service standard from April 2014.

 5. Is this need not being addressed elsewhere within health and care (or by other parts of the government?)

Duplicating efforts is not great for anyone.  For government, maintaining and promoting multiple sites is inefficient both in terms of time and money. And for the user, it presents a really confusing (and inefficient) experience.

The 3 main national sites most likely to meet the user needs you've identified are:


Meets citizen needs by providing a one-stop shop for all government information and services.

NHS Choices

Meets citizens' health needs such as locating a nearby GP, checking symptoms, answering common health related questions.

E-learning for health

Meets healthcare professionals' training needs so that they can access sessions at a time that is convenient to them.

You will need to check whether these sites are already addressing the need you’ve identified.  If they’re not you should consider whether it would be more effective for you to enhance their offering with your content rather than commission something from scratch.

These questions form a key part of the digital spend approvals process so considering them in advance will certainly help your journey through the controls.

As always if you have any doubts at all, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone.


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