Government Digital Service (GDS)
Introducing GOV.UK Accounts
I last posted back in June about our plans for GOV.UK. We want to help people navigate GOV.UK as quickly and easily as possible, and ensure we can proactively support their needs, without them needing to understand the structures of government or explicitly know what service they are looking for.
Today, I can share more information about what this work looks like in practice.
Changing users’ needs and expectations
GOV.UK is built on the principle that you shouldn’t need to know how the government works to use government services. We do the hard work to make things simple for users. That means we make interactions with the government easy, effective and accessible, for example by using language that’s familiar to our users instead of complicated legal terms.
The progress we’ve made means that GOV.UK now generally works well if you know what you need to do and if it is a discrete task or transaction.
Now we need to do the next major iteration in how we provide public services online. We’ll do that by attending to complex interactions that happen over time and across several services - like understanding the end of the Brexit Transition period, or starting and sustaining a business.
The way people interact online has changed a lot over the 8 years since GOV.UK launched. Services like shopping, banking or entertainment are increasingly personalised. These services typically combine some data about the user with data about their ‘thing’. As a result, they can provide an experience that is tailored and relevant.
So users now expect services that can be all of the following:
- personalised and proactive
- low friction
- available on multiple devices
At GOV.UK we want to keep up with users expectations and make the most of changes in technology to provide the best possible public services. This matters because it is efficient for government, and efficient for the user - getting the right things to the right people at the right time.
We’d like to simplify journeys to:
- proactively offer information and services to users based on their needs and what they’ve told us about themselves
- reduce friction for users so that they don’t have to give different parts of government the same information multiple times
- link together services to make user journeys simpler
And we need to do all this while making sure users understand how their data is being used, so they can consent (or not) to those arrangements.
A GOV.UK account
To provide this kind of interaction and experience, we need an account infrastructure for GOV.UK. This idea isn’t new. There are already lots of government accounts for specific services - we’ve recorded over a 100 places that a user could login already, and that trend will only continue.
We want to unify this experience – not to create an ‘uber CRM’ for the government – but to give users continuity, so that they don’t need to start from scratch each time they need to do something with the government.
A centralised GOV.UK account will be new to people, and there are valid concerns about data use and privacy. We’re working to get a better understanding of how users feel about the government providing a service in this way. With early prototypes we have found that most people assume that data about them is already held centrally in government and that accounts are – or should be – linked.
You might ask whether people really interact with GOV.UK enough to warrant this kind of investment. We’re validating our figures further on this, but we believe that current interaction with GOV.UK is equivalent to everyone in the UK visiting at least 22 times per year – nearly twice per month. A number that is only going to grow as digital interactions with government increase.
This is about using data to make services more efficient, delivering policy to users quicker, radically improving support over time, and being able to communicate directly to users. It is about keeping pace with how people expect to receive service.
This vision is ambitious and, like everything we build on GOV.UK, we want to develop it iteratively so that we can learn about what works for users as we scale up. Before we start linking to lots of transactions, we want to learn about how users choose to interact with an account, and what works and what doesn’t.
We’re planning a series of experiments now. These will give us the opportunity to test different functionality and understand how users interact with the government. They will also give us the chance to test some questions we’ve been considering. Questions like:
- how can we be as transparent as possible about how we’re using people’s data and allow them to change their consent preferences?
- how might GOV.UK accounts handle the relationship between people’s personal and professional interactions with the government?
- how can we provide users with personalised information without limiting their access to other information that might be of use to them?
GOV.UK is the trusted source for government information and services, and we take maintaining our users' trust very seriously. We recognise that a big part of maintaining that trust comes down to the way we approach data privacy and security. Consequently, we are taking a privacy and security by design approach. This enables us to identify potential privacy and security problems early on and to build the GOV.UK account in a way that protects our users' data and privacy. This includes using robust security technologies, giving users control of their data and being transparent about how a GOV.UK account uses data.
It’s also important to make sure we do not exclude users who don’t want to (or can’t), for whatever reason, use an account. Information on GOV.UK will never be locked behind a login.
I am hugely excited for this next phase in the GOV.UK journey, and the benefits that accounts will bring for users. Of course, we have a Comprehensive Spending Review ahead, and this work has many dependencies if it is to be successful. I look forward to writing again with further updates and insights as we progress this exciting project.
If you have any feedback or questions, you can leave a comment or email us on email@example.com.
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