The Future of Government Digital Services

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) recently launched its 18F Team; a digital services delivery team dedicated to the implementation of innovative digital and web services within the Federal Government. Named for the GSA location at 18th and F Streets, the team is composed of 16 industry professionals working to facilitate productive interactions between the Federal Government and the citizens it serves.

About 18F

Recently, the U.S. General Services Administration announced the development of the new government program known as 18F. According to GSA administrator Dan Tangherlini, this initiative was created in order to improve digital innovation within the United States Government. The 18F program incorporates both a GSA digital services delivery team and the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program.

The stated goals of 18F include:

•Building and integrating digital services

•Providing useful tools that can be used by all government agencies

•Creating all tools and services with the user’s needs in mind

•Modeling operations after leading technology startups

18F was launched in response to a need for better digital services within the United States Government. Following the release of Healthcare.gov and the challenges that came with it, the General Services Administration began looking for a way to improve innovation and build digital services that were both useful and user-friendly.

A recent talk given by digital services delivery team member, Hillary Hartley, expanded on user-center design as being at the forefront of the team’s developments. Rather than expecting the user to adapt his or her behaviors to the way the tool functions, user-centered design creates a tool that supports the intended user’s behaviors without any need for adaptation.

18F’s digital services delivery team develops all of its solutions with the user-centered design model in mind. The needs of the users, not the Government, are the most important consideration. Before implementing any new idea, the team conducts research to ensure that the intended audience requires the solution in question. After the service has been launched, 18F continues to improve the quality of the service by evaluating user feedback and analytics.

Lessons from 18F

Although it hasn’t been in operation long, 18F has already enjoyed considerable success. The team has been able to deliver digital solutions to important problems in as little as one month, such as the NotAlone.gov website designed to provide information about sexual assault on college campuses.

According to team members, Greg Godbout and Noah Kunin, the components that contribute to the effectiveness of 18F include:

Bringing the right people together – When developing any solution, the team searches for innovators who have solved similar problems in the past and learns from their experiences.

Focusing on users- 18F solutions always focus on the people who will ultimately use them, as opposed to the agency requesting the solution.

Creating a viable product early- To get a service off the ground as quickly as possible, 18F creates a “bare bones” solution that people can use immediately with the intent to build onto it over time.

Listening to feedback- 18F engages real users from the beginning and uses their feedback to make improvements to the service in question.

Preparing the solution for reuse- When 18F creates a useful solution, it formalizes the process so that it can be used to solve other problems in the future.

The long-term success of 18F remains to be seen, but early successes are encouraging. This innovative approach to agile digital service delivery is a model for other agencies to consider replicating.

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