Spending Review commits £32m to Accounts

Government Digital Service’s Accounts project will allow people to sign into government services online and get a personalised experience tailored to their needs

The Government Digital Service (GDS) will receive £32m to further develop its Accounts service, which aims to become a way for citizens to sign into government services and receive a personalised experience.

The funding was announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak in the 2020 Spending Review on 25 November, and will be used to “design a consistent way of signing into government services online”.

GDS recently began trialling the service, which will require new architecture, technical design and operational delivery, and further security, “very different to that of a publishing platform”, according to Tim Blair, GDS head of technology.

A blog post by lead designer Anna Goss and content product lead Roz Strachan described the project as “a big part of the strategy for the future”.

“We want users to experience a government that is more proactive and tailored to their needs, and we think Accounts could help us do that,” said the blog post.

The current trial involves adding an account to the government’s Brexit transition checker. By using a personalised results page and knowledge of the user’s context and characteristics, it allows people to save their results and sign up to receiving notifications on changes that affect them.

“We chose to add an account to the Brexit transition checker because it addresses what we call a ‘whole problem’ on,” said the blog post. “A whole problem normally affects users over a long period of time. It’s not a fixed, standalone transaction with government. It’s made up of a series of complex transactions and pieces of guidance from lots of different parts of government.”

The premise behind Accounts came from user research which found that users had “certain expectations” from a account which wasn’t always met.

The aim is to introduce accounts as a “discreet tool” to help users, which then makes them more likely to sign up and use their account.

“Earning users’ trust is really important if accounts are going to work,” the blog post added. “That’s why we’ve tried to be transparent at every point in the journey.”

Read more about GDS

  • Whitehall is recruiting for a Government Digital Service CEO who will report to the government chief digital officer, offering £168,000 a year for the role.
  • The GDS is assembling a business case as information about the impact of disjointed government offerings is gathered.
  • GDS role is offering up to £85,000 a year and includes being responsible for developing the programme as government aims to make it a platform for content, rather than just a publishing system. 

It added that the consent model for collecting and processing data is designed in way that asks users to engage with the consent they are giving, making them better equipped to make decisions about consent and be more aware of the consequences of sharing their data.

GDS will also email users who want to give feedback about their account.

According to the GDS team, the trial has been successful so far, with “plenty of users” signing up and logging into their accounts several times.

“We’re seeing really high levels of opt-in for cookies and lots of users saying they’re willing to provide feedback,” the blog post said. “We’re hopeful that this means when we’re transparent about what we’re using data for, users are more likely to opt in to things like cookies, because they understand what it is they’re opting in to.

“Now we have a small number of users, we can try out some more ideas we’ve been working on, like personalising the publishing platform.”

Going forward, the team aims to explore how an account will work when attached to a core service, and for users to be able to sign out of a service, rather than out of the account itself, as well as how to share data securely and transparently between services.

GDS also wants to give users control of their own data.

It recently began a search for a head of technology and architecture to help lead the change from a static publishing model to a dynamic one. The aim is for to become a “platform for content, accounts and data sharing across government”.

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