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Hacking for the Government

Firstly, if you’re here because you’re looking for a juicy story on that time when I carried out some illegal hacking activity on behalf of the government, then you’re going to be disappointed. I’m using the word “hacking” with its original meaning of a clever application of computer code to fulfil some requirement.

Last week, I attended a two-day hack organised by the DVLA in Swansea focussed on casework, along with four other people from GDS and many others from across central and local government. It was a great opportunity to meet others across the public sector and form friendships and working relationships, but also a crucial time for coming together to brainstorm and create prototypes of proposed new services or improvements to existing processes.

Casework refers to any interaction between a member of the public and a government organisation where a “case” is opened, and may be worked on by one or more “caseworkers”. Examples include proving your medical fitness to drive, claiming a benefit or applying for a trademark. This hack event was focussed on coming up with solutions for casework-related problems faced by different government organisations. From the nine initial problems that were bought to the event by the organisations, six were selected to go forward, and then the attendees congregated around the issue they found the most interesting.

The first half of the first day was dedicated to a curated walkthrough of the brainstorming and idea-creation process, during which each team came up with a problem statement, a persona (a made-up person who embodies a typical service user) and a breakdown of the problems that needed to be solved.

After this process, we all had about a day to come up with one or more solutions, which we then had to present to the other teams - combining a presentation and a demonstration of a prototype or similar “product”.

I joined a DWP-led team focussed on coming up with a solution to the problem of people new to the UK having a one-stop shop of government services that are available to them. The current problem is that services are scattered around many pages and different sites, have differing eligibility requirements, and there is no single place where a person can work out what they need to do first.

The results of our work are in a prototype available on GitHub. We created this over the course of a day to bring to life two ideas that we had:

  1. A short-term plan where a single page could bring together all the services, cross-government, that are of most use to people new to the UK - for example, applying for a school place or registering for a GP. By answering a few questions, the person would see a “menu” of relevant services customised to their situation, as well as links to relevant third-party community sites.

  2. A longer-term plan to have a single “data broker”-type service (called My Vault in the prototype) which other services could plug into. The service would allow the user to choose whether they wanted to share data that government already has about them with the service. This would not mean having any type of mandatory identity card or a single database of information. It would simply create a single service, with the user in charge of their own data.

It’s important to note that all of this work is a prototype created for the casework hack event. None of this is official or part of any government policy - it’s just a set of ideas by a group of civil servants wanting to make simple government services for the public.

If this sounds like a good place to work, take a look at Working for GDS - we’re usually in search of talented people to come and join the team.