Digital Architecture

UKgov.digital – Open sourcing best practices

The core theme of DigitalGovernment.io is ‘Open Sourcing Best Practices’, meaning the documentation of Digital Government transformation case studies from across the world, in a reusable form so that other agencies can repeat that same success.

Governments across the world illustrate different aspects of how this can be achieved. In the UK they have established a number of key foundations via GDS – Government Digital Service, an approach now being emulated by many other countries.

This reflects the ideal that reuse is the best design, a way of achieving the goal of sharing and reusing technology.

Open Source Software

A fundamental method of achieving this is of course open source software. Governments are increasingly seeing the wisdom of open source, such as the USA and UK, and Bulgaria has even gone as far as to encode the requirement into law.

Live examples include GLA-Ops, a system developed to administer more than £4.82bn of government funds to support building 116,000 affordable homes in London by 2022, under the watch of London’s first Chief Digital Officer Theo Blackwell.

The Jadu library will enable the sharing and reusing of work and help councils become hubs for economic and social exchange. Rather than having to build online services themselves, the councils can capitalise on what is already available and use service specialists.

With digital leaders like Hackney open documenting their work such as developing the Business Index, a solution to the problem where the fragmented set of services makes it harder and more expensive for businesses to comply with legislation, it’s clear there is massive potential for this type of innovation to represent a common problem solved once and for it to be shared nationally to the great benefit of all councils and businesses.

Common Services

While they will be huge the savings realized from better IT efficiencies will actually only be a small part of the overall financial benefits. The much larger gains will come from the improved workflow processes they enable that can also be replicated across all agencies.

This effect is powerfully captured through this video explainer: “Solving common problems once”. Ie. Governments are all wrestling with the same problems, reinventing the wheel each time – Why not instead do so once and then replicate the solution?

One example of this common component approach is Gov.UK Notify.

Historically software vendors would package all the functionality it needs into one ‘monolith’ application, such as a citizen notification function, however because many different systems all need to perform this action so the duplication arises even at one agency level. With each local authority then repeating the approach the duplication then expands exponentially.

A Common Platforms approach recognizes that there is only one Notification service needed, which many different applications can then call when needed.

Digital Service Patterns

This positive effect will be compounded and accelerated through the increased adoption of open source, and not just for software, but for the service models that they enable, in the form of “patterns”.

GDS describes describes the start of this evolution here, and they are catalogued as part of the Gov.UK Design System, made accessible as part of an ethos described in this blog: “we need to think about them in the context of service patterns, data and reusable code.”

These service patterns offer repeatable blueprints for best practices, a way of solving common problems once, and then replicating these solutions, very easily possible through the use of Github.

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Editor of the DigitalGovernment.io site.

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