Ten rules to help design a digital, democratic government

The peerless Richard Pope has published 10 rules for anyone redesigning a democratic government to make the most of this digital era.

Richard’s 10 Rules for designing a digital, democratic government are:

  1. Split data from services. Hold it in organisations with appropriate accountability (central government, local government, professional bodies) and make the quality of the data independently verifiable.
  2. Services can be provided by any layer of government, and by commercial or third sector orgs. It’s OK when they overlap, complement and duplicate.
  3. It is possible to interact with multiple layers of government at once while respecting their organisational and democratic sovereignty.
  4. Build small services that can be loosely joined together however citizens like. Do not try and model the whole world in a single user experience, you will either fail or build a digital Vogon.
  5. Put users in control of their data. Millions of engaged curators are the best protection government has against fraud, and that citizens have against misuse.
  6. A user not having to understand government does not mean obfuscating the workings of the system.
  7. The system should actively educate people about how their democracy works and where power and accountability lie. Put transparency at the point of use.
  8. Be as vigilant against creating concentrations of power as you are in creating efficiency or bad user experiences.
  9. Understand that collecting data to personalise or means-testing a service comes at a cost to a users time and privacy.
  10. Sometimes the user need is ‘because democracy’.

They condense so much wisdom about good service design, accountability, democracy, security and platform thinking.

They were developed while Richard and others were designing a prototype of a natively digital government. I was lucky enough to demo this at Code for America in September (video below):

My sole quibble is with Rule 3:

3. It is possible to interact with multiple layers of government at once while respecting their organisational and democratic sovereignty.

I’d argue there’s often no such thing as “organisational sovereignty”; there is only “democratic sovereignty”.

For UK central government, civil service institutions such as government departments are not independent legal entities. Their existence is entirely in the gift of the democratically appointed Secretary of State, who is free to determine the shape/size/makeup of the institution(s) needed to execute her/his mandate.

Funnily enough, this is not something the UK civil service talks a lot about – not least to the Ministers it serves…

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