Gettin’ digi wit’ it: how agile practices helped to change the Government

The government is big. As in spending-£760bn-per-year big. It comprises of 24 departments, 360 agencies and 400,000 civil servants. Understandably it’s hard to have a straight forward conversation or get anything done without wading through emails, documents, meetings and red tape.

The government is also important. It enables us to exist in a civilised society; however it’s clearly far from perfect. It has suffered severely from cultural and political inertia and things had to change. This is where Jamie Arnold and the Government Digital Service stepped up. In 2010 the government opened the doors to techies! Their mission was to fix the whole digital service not just the site.

They’re currently working on the Universal Credit project and a key success so far is the launch of, a single point of access to all areas of the government. It launched on time and under budget, winning Design of the Year Award 2013 and a D&AD Black Pencil, all because they designed it with a nine year old in mind. It had to be accessible for everyone irrelevant of background, education and upbringing.

The majority of the people who need services such as Careers Allowance and Prison Visitation are vulnerable and need simplicity. To apply for Careers Allowance you used to have to fill out a paper form with FOUR HUNDRED questions. This was to avoid fraud mainly but was distressing for people who needed the government’s help not hindrance. The form is now online, only 70 questions long and written in clear language without jargon.

Agility is key. Using a small, multi-disciplinary team and an agile manifesto, Digital Services ripped up the old, fusty rule book and created a shiny, modern one. The focus had to be on the users’ needs not the ministers’ needs, which after decades of the same process was hard to swallow but they just couldn’t argue with that logic.

Behold the era of common sense. Long may it rule.


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