GDS – Service Manual in local government?

To my mind the Service Manual that the Government Digital Service (GDS) has produced is probably the best thing they have done. With the right remit, enough time and autonomy, you can get a good digital team to deliver a high quality user focused website1, but it takes a lot more determination to get people to then write down the processes that determined how that is achieved.

The resulting Service Manual is a clear concise and comprehensive guide on how to deliver quality digital services in government. The main question for many will be – can and how is this applied to local government?

There is nothing wrong with the services manual, and in theory the adaptation of everything in it into local government should not only be possible but advisable. There are just a few elephants the local government room that need to addressed by many before this can happen.

  • Trusting digital experts
  • Politics out of services
  • Get Evidence into decision making
  • Breaking traditional costing models
  • Breaking traditional ICT thinking.
    See just a few small things :) and I know you can probably add a few (comments below) , I’m not going to go into great depth on each of these just now, because we could be here all year just with these four, but i couple of things that stand out for me:

Trusting and Empowering Digital Experts

I have spoken with quite a few councils around digital service delivery and I am almost always left with the impression that their “web” team isn’t the most important part of the organisation. There are really lots of talented people in local government who are basically being locked in a room and asked to manage how press releases look or promote the latest council project – if digital service delivery isn’t recognised as being important or even existing, you going nowhere.

When delivering we fought for years to get the remit to deliver the site, and without the remit we got nowhere fast, sure everyone agreed in principle, but nothing ever got progresed. Within 4 months of getting the go ahead we had re-engineered and rebuilt the site – The previous 4 months consisted of meetings, and progress boards; there was no progress only meetings.


Yes local government is full of politics both with a big and little P, and while Politicians should dictate the direction of the council, they shouldn’t (in my opinion) be dictating every detail of how it is achieved – Letting the people who know how to focus on the users and the processes to build the service is the only way this can work, after all that’s what all these people are paid for.


the second element of getting politics out is getting evidence in, again many council’s talk about measurements KPIs and SLAs but miss the fundamentals of gathering evidence of what people actually want or need before they start. this is where the small p in politics usually clouds judgement, it’s no small task but you have to change the culture to look for evidence in everything you do.

Costing Models
Most councils commission work in single blocks, “deliver a new licensing system £X million”, Rigid, no room for error, very little room for admitting it’s not right, project fail

Traditional ICT
To many councils are still investing in tins and wires over users and services, you can’t deliver user focused if you’re directed by hardware and even worse… vendors 2.

Service Manual in local Gov

So can the service manual be used in local Gov ? Almost certainly, it’s not a million miles away from how was delivered only written down, and explained in much clearer terms.

Local Government first needs to take some steps in actually acknowledging the central role digital has to play in service delivery, put the right people in place to deliver it and then give them the actual remit and power to go and do it.

It can then look at the service manual and say “yes but we operate slightly differently from that here..”


  1. Yes it’s understatement for dramatic effect
  2. Not all vendors are bad… just lots of them