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Digital Service Standard v2.0 guides and tools

Criterion 1 – Have a clear intent

A clear, high-level definition of the user problem you are solving balances their needs with government priorities and requirements.

Your responsibilities

To successfully meet this criterion, you need to:

  • develop a business case for change
  • survey the policy and service landscape
  • understand your service’s life cycle 
  • adopt an agile methodology

When to apply

Apply Criterion 1 during the Discovery phase to gain a deep understanding of your problem, the service’s business case and the policy and strategic landscape. 

As government is always evolving, revisit this criterion across the Service Design and Delivery Process to ensure your service remains fit for purpose.

How to apply

Questions for consideration 

  • what problem exists?
  • what is happening in the policy and service landscape?
  • what government priorities and initiatives align to the problem space?
  • what might success look like?

Develop a business case for change

Be outcomes focused: Consider what problems your service needs to solve and why they are important. Share your early-stage assumptions, gather diverse perspectives from stakeholders and take advantage of pre-existing data and resources. Clearly state the risks of action and inaction, who might be impacted, potential barriers to success and your knowledge gaps.

Frame the problem: Form a simple, clear problem statement from the evidence that’s already available. Use it as the basis of further research and validation, and to identify the users you need to engage with.

Don’t jump to solutions: Don’t anticipate a technical or design solution before validating the problems you’ve identified. Evaluate the rest of the Standard’s criteria to understand what else could drive the problem. Consider whether a new solution is required or if an existing platform or service might achieve the best outcome.

Align stakeholders to a vision: Engage key stakeholders to establish a shared vision for success. Ensure clear expectations are set for the project and everyone knows why change is necessary.

Survey the policy and service landscape

See the bigger picture: Assess how the problems you identified play out in the broader policy and government service ecosystems. Use resources (such as the Australian Government Architecture and Delivering Great Policy Toolkit) to understand the landscape and the intentions of different policies.

Align to government priorities: Have a clear understanding of how your service will contribute to government priorities including the achievement of the Data and Digital Government Strategy 2030 vision.

Understand your service's life cycle

Invest for the future: Consider whole-of-life investment costs, including maintenance and upgrades, to ensure proper investment across short-, medium- and long-term horizons. Familiarise with the Investment Oversight Framework and its thresholds. Get in touch with the Digital Transformation Agency for questions about the ICT Investment Approval Process and work with the relevant area of the Department of Finance to understand ongoing costs.

Adopt an agile methodology

Use a multi-disciplinary team: Consider tools and techniques based on agile values and principles. Engage a multidisciplinary team to understand the whole problem and create an effective solution. Monitor time and effort expended to understand and refine whole-of-life investment costs from the outset. 

Guidance and resources

 

Criterion 2 – Know your user

Deeply understanding the contexts and reasons that users choose or avoid your service will reveal how to make it more valuable to them.

Your responsibilities

To successfully meet this criterion, you need to:

  • understand your users
  • conduct user research
  • test and validate your designs

When to apply 

Apply Criterion 2 during the Discovery phase to validate initial assumptions made in Criterion 1 (‘Have a clear intent’). Test and validate your service with users as your knowledge of the problem grows.

User needs aren’t static. Revisit this criterion across the Service Design and Delivery Process to provide a reliable, accessible services to users, when they need it.

How to apply

Questions for consideration

  • who will use this service?
  • what are their wants and needs?
  • what are their pain points and frustrations?
  • what is their current experience with this or other services?
  • what devices and technology do they use?

Understand your users

Listen carefully for implicit and explicit needs: During user research, discuss their daily lives and observe their real-world actions to contextualise their needs. Use a discussion guide to capture all facets of their experience. While some needs or pain points will be stated explicitly, pay attention to small or superfluous details to recognise the implicit ones. Use at least two methods of user research (such as open-ended interviews and observing users completing relevant tasks) to ensure what they say matches what they do.

Begin with pain points: Identify and address the most common pain points your service should address. Prioritise them by most impactful (which isn’t necessarily the number of users affected). Adopt continuous improvement to address pain points which emerge after launch or upgrades.

Observe usage patterns: Use various data sources to identify how frequently different users might use your service. Stress test your solution for pain-points along task journeys and assess load-bearing capacity during peak periods.

Map experiences: Use visual aids to ensure the breadth of user interactions are captured and your team works from a shared understanding. Build, test and refine journey maps and job stories to understand users’ end-to-end journeys and behind the scenes processes, reduce unintentional duplication and communicate findings.

Conduct user research

Test your assumptions: Validate assumptions made in Criterion 1 (‘Have a clear intent’). Conducting qualitative user research directly with people who may be impacted by your service, will provide you with either confirmation that you’re on the right track, or that you are solving the wrong problem and need to adapt your approach.

Gather different perspectives: Undertake ethical and inclusive user research to capture a breadth of needs and capabilities. Zoom out and consider how your digital service interacts with your agency’s wider methods of service delivery. It is helpful to zoom in and out of your problem space to observe the different perspectives and impacts of the service you are designing, and to explore how the problem may manifest at macro and micro levels.

Test and validate your designs

Embed co-design: Where appropriate, use co-design to involve users and stakeholders, and demonstrate transparent, equitable decision making. Avoid tokenism by meeting people’s physical, cultural and psychological safety needs in your consultations. Maintain ongoing user engagement to keep your service fit for purpose and address changing needs over the course of people’s lives.

Engage designers: Ensure your team has the expertise to elicit and interpret useful information from users’ personal experiences. Use service designers and user experience (UX) designers to conduct user research, map experiences and design your service to meet and surpass the needs of all users.

Guidance and resources  

 

Criterion 3 – Leave no one behind

A deliberate effort to challenge assumptions and design for marginalised users will ensure your service is inclusive, accessible and useful for all.

Your responsibilities

To successfully meet this criterion, you need to:

  • understand the diversity of your users
  • comply with legislation and standards, including the:
    • Disability Discrimination Act (1992)
    • Latest version Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 
    • Australian Government Style Manual
  • implement a feedback mechanism

When to apply

Apply Criterion 3 during the Discovery and Alpha phases and build upon your understanding of users developed in Criterion 2 (‘Know your user’). This criterion will extend your outcomes to cater for the needs and unique challenges facing different user groups.

Adhere to this criterion in all phases of the Service Design and Delivery Process to keep up with changing user needs.

How to apply

Questions for consideration

  • who are the users that will use your service?
    • which types, if any, are disproportionately affected?
    • how can you track impact on different types of users?
    • what cultural, language, access or socioeconomic barriers do you need to plan for?
    • how will you make the service inclusive and accessible for all?
  • how are the voices of marginalised and vulnerable users being heard?
  • how will the service be available for people who can’t use digital?
  • can existing inequalities be prevented in a digital world?

Understand the diversity of your users 

Conduct segmented user research: Go broad and deep on the learnings from Criterion 2 (‘Know your user’) by conducting targeted and ethical user research. Assess edge-cases to ensure your service captures and responds to unique circumstances and needs.

Use data-driven insights: Collect and analyse information about your different users to understand the different barriers they might experience when using your service. Eliminate these barriers through design and validate your solutions’ effectiveness with real-world users.

Include non-digital users: Test how easily users can access your service to understand the impact of the digital divide. Ensure those users have a voice in decisions affecting them. Design omni-channel pathways that cater to non-digital access and experiences that some users rely on to access government services.

Form partnerships: Where some types of users are under-represented in research or may require different or tailored approaches to reach and engage with, collaborate with other agencies, community groups or the private and not-for-profit sector to reach them.

Comply with legislation and standards

Use existing standards as your baseline: Comply with legislation and standards to ensure your service uses best practice and meets the expectations for government services. Consider any specific legislation or policies relevant to your service as well as the Disability Discrimination Act (1992), the latest version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and should consider the government’s Style Manual.

Offer content in alternate formats: Offer content in different mediums (such as text, images and audio) and segment long documents or tutorials into chunks. Provide human-validated multilingual support for critical information. Evaluate your service with users who depend on assistive technology, integrate their feedback and resolve pain-points through design.

Consider different platforms: Prior to launch, comprehensively test your service across devices and platforms your users will access it through. Anticipate how content will appear on different devices in your designs and assess whether platform-specific interfaces either support or fail to meet accessibility standards. 

Design for affordability and connectivity: Design and develop your service to use as little bandwidth and data as possible. Where it suits the service, make it cache for offline access or offer downloadable, print-friendly versions of critical content.

Use accessible language: Use plain language in both your content and user interface to ensure your service is usable by all. Replace niche terminology or jargon with widely understood terms. Always adhere to the government’s Style Manual and plain language guidance.

Implement a feedback mechanism

Incorporate feedback: Offer users the ability to provide feedback, report issues and suggest service improvements. Promptly act on feedback and provide a timely, transparent response describing how it’s being actioned.

Raise awareness of your service: Plan an ongoing awareness campaign and deploy it across a variety of channels to reach your users. Consider training your frontline staff so they can inform, suggest or demonstrate the service to people.

Guidance and resources

 

Criterion 4 – Connect services

Designing and building a connected, interoperable service grants users a simple, seamless experience and enables government to function as one.

Your responsibilities

To successfully meet this criterion, you need to:

  • design for interoperability
  • join up services

When to apply

Apply Criterion 4 throughout Beta to ensure smooth integration with other government services and systems. 

Adhere to this criterion across the Service Design and Delivery Process whenever new functionality, integrations or upgrades are introduced.

How to apply 

Questions for consideration

  • how will this service integrate with existing systems and data?
  • what standardised protocols will be used to exchange data?
  • how will we test for smooth interoperability with other platforms?
  • how will the service accommodate future growth and change?
  • what information does government already hold that the service could reuse?
  • which mechanisms will allow users to opt in or out of data sharing?

Design for Interoperability

Share data: Always begin by reviewing your obligations against privacy policies and the Privacy Act (1988). If external data can be used, make your service interoperable and leverage governments’ open datasets. Support safe, ethical data sharing practices by using the government’s DATA Scheme

Request information once: Assess the data your agency already collects and whether it can be reused to deliver your service. Where it can be reused, eliminate unnecessary data entry requests and fulfil a ‘tell us once’ approach.

Publish open APIs: Thoroughly document your service’s APIs. Where appropriate, open them for other services and third-parties to build upon existing government offerings. Align with the API Design Standard to support cross-jurisdictional data sharing, maintain a consistent, reusable vocabulary and support wider API literacy.

Plan for scale and flexibility: Ensure your service can cater for growth and changing preferences without impacting performance, functionality or stability. Embed adaptability into your design patterns from the outset to allow malleability as future changes may require.

Utilise a Digital ID: Where appropriate, endeavour to integrate the Australia Government Digital ID System, accredited by the Trusted Digital Identity Framework (TDIF), to allow users to access your service with a single set of credentials.

Align with joined-up services

Orient to life events: Design your services around users’ life circumstances, such as birth registrations or changes to their name, rather than forcing users to adapt to how government is organised. Clearly describe expected or potential next steps to contribute to a seamless experience and explore interlinking with other federal, state and territory services to reduce data-entry burden on users.

Guidance and resources  

 

Criterion 5 – Build trust in design

Ensuring your service is useful, easy, inclusive, transparent and stable will build users’ trust and confidence in government.

Your responsibilities

To successfully meet this criterion, you need to:

  • adopt transparent data handling
  • implement security measures
  • maintain a reliable service
  • be accountable for the service

When to apply 

Apply Criterion 5 throughout Beta to protect users’ digital rights and ensure robust security measures are in place.

As cyber threats become more prevalent and sophisticated, adhere to this criterion across the Service Design and Delivery Process

How to apply 

Questions for consideration

  • how are users informed about the collection, use and storage of data?
  • how will you obtain informed consent from your users?
  • which encryption and authentication mechanisms will provide the most robust security?
  • how does the service comply with data protection legislation and policies?
  • what processes are in place to prevent misinformation?
  • how is the service built to be resilient against cyber threats?
  • what assurances are in place to promote ethical use of data?

Adopt transparent data handling

Consider privacy, consent, and control: Safeguard user data by adhering to the Australian Privacy Principles and the Privacy Act (1988). Always obtain explicit, informed consent before collecting a user’s data and provide a means to update or delete it. Allow users to report inaccurate data and respond with how it has been rectified. Notify users of their own responsibilities to protect their data, such as not to share their password with others.

Eliminate ambiguity in your user interface: Provide validating feedback and progress tracking as users interact with your service. Design to eliminate the need for error messages in the first place; make them understandable and actionable where they remain. Tell users what information they need before they start a task and, where appropriate, allow them to pause and resume at their own pace.

Implement security measures

Secure by design: Use the Information Security Manualthe Essential Eight and other resources from the Australian Cyber Security Centre to thoroughly assess your service’s threats, posture and protections. Plan for which requirements and system hardening will support your service throughout design, build, operation and decommissioning.

Maintain a reliable service

Available and consistent: Make your service available, stable and consistent for users in different places and time-zones, at different times, on different days. Schedule maintenance for a predictable period of downtime and give notice to users well ahead of time.

Be accountable for the service

Embrace contestability: Offer clear avenues for users to submit complaints, including security data and cyber concerns, contest decisions or report issues. 

Wherever possible, make avenues anonymous by default and identifying by choice to grow the likelihood of useful feedback. Provide users with timely and transparent responses, tailored to their feedback, to demonstrate it has been addressed or will inform future action.

Undertake periodic audits: Audit your service, data-handling practices, security incidents and compliance with whole-of-government policies. Use an independent review to test assumptions and identify issues that may be taken for granted. Use these results to improve and keep your service fit for purpose (Criterion 10 ‘Keep it relevant’). 

Guidance and resources

 

Criterion 6 – Don’t reinvent the wheel

Drawing on other agencies’ experiences and adopting common platforms, patterns and standards will deliver value for government and familiarity to users.

Your responsibilities

To successfully meet this criterion, you need to:

  • ‘build once, use many times’
  • design for a common, seamless experience
  • reuse data where you can

When to apply

Apply Criterion 6 during the Discovery and Alpha phases to capture potential solutions, new and existing, that your service could use to solve problems.

Foster a culture of sharing experiences with other agencies, build on the learnings you take from them and align to common platforms, patterns and standards throughout the  Service Design and Delivery Process.

How to apply

Questions for consideration

  • what could you align with on the Australian Government Architecture?
  • what platforms, patterns and standards could your service re-use? 
  • what are the alternatives to building from scratch?
  • which agencies run similar services you could build upon?
  • how can new or bespoke components be made for future reuse? 
  • what data do we already collect and can it be repurposed?

‘Build once, use many times’

Apply reuse in decision making: Use the Australian Government Architecture to understand the tools, capabilities, policies and standards for building government services. Identify and document how they are applied in your decision making. 

Apply learnings from predecessors: Reach out to teams and agencies for their experiences and lessons creating similar services and how to apply them to yours. 

Design for a common, seamless experience

Adopt open standards where appropriate: Consider how reuse and open standards can support other services across government. Where appropriate, design and build with them to bring your service to more platforms, improve data sharing capability, prevent vendor lock-in and create familiarity for users.

Reuse data where you can

Review your existing data: Review what data you already collect and how it can be reused in your service. Where appropriate, consider if you can employ safe, ethical data sharing arrangements under the Data Availability and Transparency Act Scheme. Actions to leverage ethical, data-driven decision making can be found in Criteria 5 (‘Build Trust in Design’) and 8 (‘Do No Harm’).

Guidance and resources

 

Criterion 7 – Do no harm

Understanding how your service impacts users’ digital rights and privacy will protect them from adverse and unintended consequences. 

Your responsibilities

To successfully meet this criterion, you need to: 

  • protect users’ digital rights
  • understand privacy impacts
  • understand the limits of data

When to apply

Apply Criterion 7 throughout Discovery, Alpha, Beta and Live to identify and manage existing and emergent risks to users.

Adhere to the criterion through the entire life of your service to minimise and, ideally, eliminate negative impacts on users, even if unintentional. 

How to apply

Questions for consideration: 

  • are there any adverse or unintended consequences foreseeable? 
  • which user rights will be most affected? 
  • what data is drawn upon for decision making? 
  • how will the findings of your Privacy Impact Assessment be addressed? 
  • how is the collection, use and storage of data being made clear to users? 
  • how is users’ informed consent being obtained? 

Protects users’ digital rights

Uphold digital rights: Consider how your service might impact the digital rights of your users. Build with pre-emptive measures in mind (such as net neutrality, access to information without censorship and freedom of online assembly). Identify users facing greater personal risks and ensure they’re provided with the means to access, communicate and contest the service transparently or anonymously. If rights are breached, move quickly to implement changes that prevent future harm. 

Consider flow-on effects: Consider the implications of your service beyond its immediate impacts. Workshop environmental, economic or social impacts and undertake scenario planning to explore unforeseen issues and opportunities.

Understand privacy impacts

Undertake a Privacy Impact Assessment: Undertake a Privacy Impact Assessment to capture issues. Mitigate unwarranted and unauthorised surveillance, data collection and malicious data breaches, and share these actions with users.

Obtain consent: Where required, seek and obtain informed consent from users prior to collecting, storing or disclosing any of their data. Consider opt-out options and build your service to require as little user data as possible. 

Be transparent: Communicate how data your service will be used or may be used in the future at the time of consent. This includes how it may be shared with other people or between services and secondary or less obvious uses. 

Understand the limits of data

Use data ethically: Data should only be collected and used for the stated purpose that the user agrees to. Account for how data models, datasets and algorithms may produce discriminatory results and provide transparent detail to users on how decisions and calculations are made. Before sharing data, apply the DATA Scheme’s Data Sharing Principles to help assess whether it would be safe to do so.  

Use qualitative and quantitative data: Quantitative (numeric, measurable; metrics) data helps us understand what is happening on a service, while it takes qualitative (descriptive, observable; user observation) data will help us understand why. Use both to fully understand the story and match any correlation with a provable causation before making important decisions. 

Guidance and resources

 

Criterion 8 – Innovate with purpose

Innovating with clear intent will give meaning and justification to harnessing new technologies and avoid new for new’s sake. 

Your responsibilities

To successfully meet this criterion, you need to: 

  • follow guidance on critical and emerging technologies
  • maintain interoperability in the face of new technology
  • track adoption of new technology

When to apply

Apply Criterion 8 during Discovery and Alpha to deliver a modern, high-quality services.

Consider this criterion throughout the  Service Design and Delivery Process to keep the service at pace with changing user expectations. 

How to apply

Questions for consideration: 

  • how does a new technology benefit your service? 
  • how will you validate a new technology is interoperable with services? 
  • what can you learn from other agencies’ experiences? 
  • what are the ongoing requirements of supporting a new technology? 

Follow guidance on critical and emerging technologies

Stay current: Technology can advance at a staggering pace. If available, refer to government guidance on risks, opportunities and developments for up-to-date advice on critical or emerging technology that may impact your service.  

Regularly check the Australian Government Architecture: Follow published guidance in the Australian Government Architecture for the adoption of critical and emerging technologies.

Maintain interoperability in the face of new technology

Consider interoperability: Consider whether new technologies will impact your service’s interoperability. Plan for its introduction or implementation in partnership with other affected agencies to prevent further divergence or disconnection. 
 

Be digital ready: Undertake an assessment of your preparedness for new technologies. Consider the resources and training for a new technology that will be required by your agency and team. 

Track adoption of new technology

Track adoption: Prior to implementing a new technology, determine whether it aligns with the clear intent of the service and whether it risks leaving certain types of users behind. If implemented, monitor how users respond to the new technology and respond to any accessibility or useability concerns. 

Guidance and resources  

 

Criterion 9 – Monitor your service

Continuous monitoring and measurement of your service will ensure it operates smoothly, remains secure and caters for users’ evolving needs. 

Your responsibilities

To successfully meet this criterion, you need to: 

  • establish a baseline for your service
  • identify the right performance indicators
  • measure, report and improve according to strategies

When to apply

Apply Criterion 9 during Beta and Live and consider it during Discovery. Collate metrics and monitor your service with a holistic approach and report your results to build government’s view of its services landscape. 

Adhere to Criterion 9 across the Service Design and Delivery Process to promote continuous improvement. 

How to apply

Questions for consideration: 

  • what attributes are currently being measured? 
  • what do existing results say about the service or opportunity? 
  • what is the story that the data tells us? 
  • how have results changed over time? 
  • what service improvements are necessary? 

Establish a baseline for your service

Understand your current state: For existing services, determine the current state by identifying and reviewing existing metrics. For new services, establish a baseline for the problem identified in Criterion 1. Both are a yardstick to measure progress.

Use benchmarks to gauge performance: Compare your service to similar services or existing standards to identify areas of improvement. Seek out best practices of similar and well-performing services to consider if they can be adopted. 

Identify the right performance indicators

Select meaningful metrics: Collect metrics that accurately capture your service’s ability to deliver the outcomes your users expect. These might include adherence to design standards and privacy legislation, site/app performance, security benchmarks or tasks completed by users.

Measure, report and improve according to strategies

Measure against the Data and Digital Government Strategy: Ensure your service meets the Data and Digital Government Strategy. Consider how information you collect and report could improve your service in line with the Strategy’s implementation plan.

Apply benefits management: All digital and ICT-enabled investment proposals must define their purpose, outcomes and methods for measuring, monitoring and optimising them. Find out more in the Benefits Management Policy

Guidance and resources

 

Criterion 10 – Keep it relevant

By responding to users’ feedback and changing needs with impactful improvements, your service will remain fit for purpose.

Your responsibilities 

To successfully meet this criterion, you need to: 

  • improve your service across its life
  • schedule regular assessments
  • communicate service upgrades

When to apply

Apply Criterion 10 during Beta and Live phases to test the effectiveness of your improvements with users. 

Consider this criterion across the Service Design and Delivery Process to ensure your service remains fit for purpose.

How to apply

Questions for consideration: 

  • what is outdated or needs improving?
  • what is and isn’t working?  
  • what feedback has been received? 
  • how will changes be communicated? 
  • how do improvements align with the performance indicators set?  

Improve your service across its life

Make improvements: Increase people’s use of the service by continuously optimising performance, enhancing security, introducing relevant feature, addressing bugs and increasing compatibility. Use metrics you identify in Criterion 9 (‘Monitor your service’) to reveal the biggest opportunities for impact and ground improvements in evidence. Provide adequate training and materials for staff to support change.

Schedule regular assessments

Undertake assessments: Define the goals and scope of your assessment then observe performance and experience over time. Performance metrics might include load times, responsiveness or bottlenecks. Experience metrics might include entry/exit points, dwell time or task abandonment. Ongoing monitoring should be part of your business-as-usual and a detailed review part of your regular service evaluation.

Communicate service upgrades

Communicate the change: Develop a communication plan for how, when and through which channels to share updates and findings with your users. When writing your content, show how your users’ feedback informed the actions you have taken. Highlight key achievements or milestones reached and use real-life stories to demonstrate how users shaped change.

Guidance and resources

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