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Why we talk about services not systems

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As head of the cross-government user research community, a large part of my job is helping government organisations on their journey to doing things in more user-centred and agile ways.

Some organisations have already come a long way. They have strong communities of user researchers, designers and content people. And they are producing great services that are much easier to understand and use, and that cost less to build and run.

Some organisations are nearer the start of their journey. And need more help to develop their communities and their practice.

Listening to the words people use

One way that I understand where an organisation is on their journey, and what help people might need, is to listen to the words they use.

And I’ve learned that one of the most important indicators is whether people talk about ‘systems’ or ‘services’.

Thinking and talking about IT systems

When people think and talk about IT systems they see their role as building and running systems that meet the requirements of a set of internal and external stakeholders - often called 'the business', 'customers', 'industry'.

And this leads to decisions about what to build that are too often driven by stakeholders’ assumptions about problems and solutions, and by a focus on policies, processes and rules.

Thinking and talking about government services

When people think and talk about government services they see their role as building and running a service that helps some set of people get an important thing done - important both for those people and for the government organisation providing the service.

This helps teams to focus on outcomes. To look for opportunities to improve policies and rules. To shape services that address clear problems and work effectively for well understood sets of users.

Helping teams create end-to-end services

The language we use is very important. But what’s most important is building better government services. So government works better for everyone - citizens, businesses and colleagues.

That’s why GDS is working to update the Digital Service Standard and the Service Manual, to help teams create whole, end-to-end services. Services as their users understand them.

Find out more about GDS

If you want to find out more about the work of the Government Digital Service, we’re speaking and running workshops at Civil Service Live around the country in June and July and the Public Sector Show in London on 26 June.

Come along to hear from us and talk to us.

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