Policy paper

Government approach to assisted digital

Published 4 December 2013

Executive summary

Watch a British Sign Language version of this summary

The Government Digital Strategy set out how government will become digital by default. By digital by default, we mean creating digital services that are so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will choose to do so whilst those who can’t are not excluded.

Twenty five major services will become digital by default by March 2015 - more details on these can be found in departmental digital strategies - and all services with over 100,000 transactions each year will be redesigned (Action 5 of the Government Digital Strategy).

Everyone who can use digital services independently will be encouraged to do so (Action 8 of the Government Digital Strategy), and the 18% of people who are offline will use assisted digital support (Action 9 of the Government Digital Strategy).

People who need this support will be able to access a service face to face, by phone or in another appropriate non-digital way, with someone either inputting their data into the digital system on their behalf, or helping them put their data into the digital service themselves.

There are over 650 transactional services available for people and businesses. Government spends an estimated £4 billion each year on providing non-digital transactions, generally allowing users to access alternative channels (eg face to face, telephone or post) at will. We will reduce these costs, potentially down to £1.3 billion each year,1 by encouraging everyone who is online to use the digital service independently, and developing targeted assisted digital provision for the people who really need it.2 This reduction is part of the potential efficiencies from the move to digital by default set out in the Digital Efficiency Report.

To realise these savings, we must close existing alternative channels as the demand for non-digital services decreases. Where an alternative channel remains, it must be recalibrated to provide assisted digital support. There will be a strong presumption towards procuring external resource to provide assisted digital support, from the private sector, the voluntary sector, and other parts of the public sector. In exceptional circumstances, departments may seek an exemption from this requirement; eg where a business case for external provision does not demonstrate good value for money. Transitioning from in-house to external provision will be phased in as the marketplace of assisted digital providers is established.

This document does not specifically cover ways to increase the digital capability of UK citizens - commonly known as digital inclusion activities. Our work on this is covered by action 15 of the Government Digital Strategy. In designing assisted digital services, we will look at whether these can incorporate an element of learning so that people are encouraged to self-serve in future.

We will:

  • work with the private sector, voluntary sector and other parts of the public sector to provide assisted digital support
  • try new ways of working to provide assisted digital support efficiently and effectively
  • introduce a service standard, so assisted digital support is of consistently high quality
  • consider introducing a quality mark for approved/accredited providers so users can be confident in the support they will receive
  • work with organisations representing and working with assisted digital users through a stakeholder reference group to help us design support that meets the needs of users
  • set up a programme board and make collective decisions, to make sure that government departments work together and take a consistent approach

Introduction

This document explains how we will support people who are not online to access one or more of the 650+ central government transactional services.

Moving to digital by default means that, over time, government will provide digital services so straightforward and convenient that all those who can use them will choose to do so, whilst those who can’t are not excluded. All services with over 100,000 transactions a year will be redesigned to become digital services (Action 5 of the Government Digital Strategy).

As government becomes digital by default, we recognise that some people are offline and others, whilst online, have limited digital capability. We recognise that not everyone will be able to use digital communications, information and services independently, and that the needs of people who are offline should be considered throughout a digital by default approach.

This document fulfils Action 9 of the Government Digital Strategy which made a commitment to a government approach to assisted digital for central government transactions. It supports the reforms to policy making and service delivery outlined in the Civil Service Reform Plan and Open Public Services white paper. Departmental digital strategies also reflect the commitment to take a cross-government approach to assisted digital.

This document commits government to a number of actions through which we will develop and take a consistent approach to assisted digital. Assisted digital provision will vary for different users and for different services, so the document is not intended to provide a single answer to how this help is provided. Its purpose is to provide a shared approach to ensure that assisted digital provision is co-ordinated and appropriate for users and efficient for government. We will further refine this approach through transforming the 23 exemplar assisted digital services.

This approach has been developed with departments and with input from organisations representing and working with people who can’t use digital services (including Age UK, Post Office, Online Centres Foundation, Citizens Advice, Go ON UK, Society of Chief Librarians, Digital Unite, Communications Consumer Panel, Carers UK, UCanDoIT, Shelter, Shaw Trust and Lasa and, within government, Arts Council England and BDUK).

The document concentrates on support for users of services in the UK. We recognise that some users outside the UK will need support, eg British nationals overseas. We will continue to work with relevant departments on this.

About assisted digital

The need

Ian Trenholm (Defra), Helen Milner (Online Centres Foundation), Rebecca Kemp (GDS) and John Ploughman (DSA) talk about why we need assisted digital. Read more

Assisted digital is the help government will give to ensure that we do not exclude any users of government services (whether citizens or businesses) who are not online. The Digital Landscape Research shows that 18% of UK adults are offline (defined as rarely or never being online). 82% of people are online (defined as regularly or occasionally using the internet) but some have lower digital skills and may need help, at least initially, to use digital services.

Assisted digital provision will vary from service to service and will be developed based on the needs of users, not based on the way government is organised. Users will need less assistance with simpler services and more with complex services. Some services will have more people who require assistance than others. For example, government-to-business services may need less support than government-to-consumer services that serve a user group with lower levels of digital skills.

Many customers for government transactions are in rural areas,3 where almost a quarter of households have access to no or slow broadband.4 For those households, the government’s roll-out of superfast broadband over the next few years will be the crucial enabler for going digital. It is recognised that assisted digital support will be particularly important for those currently without broadband infrastructure.

Moving from multiple channels to digital by default

Digital by default involves encouraging everyone who can use digital services independently to do so, as we committed to in Action 8 of the Government Digital Strategy. As we move to digital by default service delivery, the only non-digital ways to access services will be the assisted digital support for the people who really need it. They will be able to access a service face to face, by phone, or in another appropriate non-digital way, with someone either inputting the data on their behalf, or helping them put their data into the digital service themselves.5 We will close existing alternative channels as the demand for non-digital services decreases.

Achieving efficiencies

The Digital Efficiency Report estimates that moving services from offline to digital channels will save between £1.7 billion and £1.8 billion each year. Currently government spends an estimated £4 billion each year on providing non-digital transactions which, in future, will be thought of as assisted digital transactions. Targeting assisted digital provision at the people who really need it, and encouraging everyone who can independently use a digital service to ‘self-serve’, could potentially reduce the cost of providing non-digital contact to £1.3 billion each year.6 These reductions are part of the potential efficiencies from the move to digital by default set out in the Digital Efficiency Report.7 They are early estimates of the volume and cost of future assisted digital provision and will be revised as services become digital by default.

To achieve these savings, we must close existing alternative channels as the demand for non-digital services decreases. Where an alternative channel remains, it must be recalibrated to provide assisted digital support. There will be a strong presumption towards procuring external resource to provide assisted digital support, from the private sector, the voluntary sector, and other parts of the public sector. In exceptional circumstances, departments may seek an exemption from this requirement; eg where a business case for external provision does not demonstrate good value for money. Any cases put forward would be agreed at a cross-government level. Transitioning from in-house to external provision will be phased in as the marketplace of assisted digital providers is established.

There is potential for further efficiency savings in assisted digital through the application of new technologies, innovative arrangements with external providers and intermediaries, and departments working jointly to procure assisted digital support. We will explore these opportunities as we pursue the actions contained in this document.

What good looks like

Representatives from departments, organisations representing those needing assisted digital support, and front line staff talk about the opportunities for innovation in delivering assisted digital support. Read more

Good assisted digital support provides another way into a digital service for people who need it and is designed to meet their needs. The user may deal with the service face-to-face, on the telephone, or in another way, but their information will be fed into the digital service by the person or technology they are interacting with. Sometimes, assisted digital users will interact with the service digitally in a way that is accessible and appropriate, eg by using the service with an intermediary who helps them use a digital interface, whether in person or remotely.

We need to make assisted digital provision consistent for users. Most users access a number of central government services, and many use both citizen and business facing services. The support we provide across these services must meet their needs and they must know how and where to access it.

Good assisted digital provision will use and build on existing methods for delivering assistance to people accessing services in their local area, including the support provided in libraries for people to use the internet.

This document does not specifically cover ways to increase the digital capability of UK citizens, but good assisted digital provision might also encourage and equip people to use the digital service independently in future. In designing assisted digital services, we will look at whether these can incorporate an element of learning, trialling a number of approaches, and wider discussions are ongoing between Digital Leaders across government around the issue of digital inclusion.

Government can make further contributions to assisted digital users through corporate social responsibility activity. For example, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) recently held Silver Surfers events at their offices and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have a digital champion in every Jobcentre Plus. Providers of assisted digital support can also direct people who are offline to places where they can get support to get online.

The approach

The role of departments

Departments will commission and fund assisted digital support and the Government Digital Service will play a coordinating role.

As redesigned digital services are introduced and more users access services digitally, existing non-digital channels will be closed and new types of support will be procured as required.

The 23 exemplar services cover a range of assisted digital requirements for citizens and businesses. From these 23 services, we will develop models of assisted digital provision that can be reused by other services.

Local procurement and delivery may be the best way to make sure that assisted digital meets users needs, which may be different in different places. This will include working with the devolved administrations.

Although we expect assisted digital provision to vary, services do tend to naturally cluster into particular types, and we will agree common models of assisted digital delivery to ensure consistency for the user and efficiency for government. For example, the assisted digital provision may be clustered depending on the type of service (eg booking an appointment or making a payment) or the audience (eg older people). When these models have been developed and agreed, departments will follow them except where there is an exceptional need not to (which will be agreed through the Assisted Digital Programme Board - see programme and governance below).

Departments will:

  • ensure that digital by default services include appropriate assisted digital support, and that this will be in place when the services become digital by default
  • select and manage the delivery of assisted digital provision for all services through the most appropriate routes
  • agree and follow common models of assisted digital support

Government Digital Service will:

  • work with departments on the 23 exemplar services that are being redesigned to scope the assisted digital provision and ensure consistency across services
  • support the development of assisted digital models that can be transferred from the first 23 services to subsequent redesigned services

Programme and governance

The Government Digital Service will set up an assisted digital programme team and operate the governance structures to ensure coordination and collaboration across government.

The programme will be governed collaboratively by a cross-departmental board, reporting to departmental digital leaders. The board will oversee implementation of the workstreams contained in this strategy and maintain oversight of the agreed shared models of assisted digital and collaborative procurement, including approving exemption requests from departments to provide assisted digital outside the common models or shared procurement routes.

The board will consist of representatives from the 7 main transactional departments plus others on a rotating basis. The board will also engage with a stakeholder reference group made up of organisations who work with and represent people who are offline or who have lower digital capability. GDS will also work with Go ON UK to define and promote effective assisted digital support and share best practice across sectors. Go ON UK will also explore with GDS and partners whether an assisted digital standard or kitemark would be of benefit to the general public and relevant service providers.

Government Digital Service will:

  • establish and provide the secretariat for the programme board and the stakeholder reference group

The programme board will:

  • make collective decisions on the government’s approach to assisted digital, including on exemption requests from collaborative procurement and agreed shared models of assisted digital
  • operate from January 2013

Procuring assisted digital support

As the default, assisted digital support will be provided through the private sector, wider public sector providers such as libraries or local government, and the voluntary and community sector. We will only consider in-house provision by the civil service in exceptional circumstances; eg where a business case for external provision does not demonstrate good value for money. Any cases put forward would be agreed at a cross-government level.

Rather than traditional procurement methods, some services may use intermediaries to deliver assisted digital or partner with providers to build the provision of assisted digital into their existing services. Equally, other private sector or voluntary and community sector organisations may wish to provide similar services, either free of charge or at cost to the user.

Departments will:

  • provide assisted digital support through external providers as the default
  • work together to collaboratively procure services from commercial, wider public sector and volunteer providers

Government Digital Service will:

  • work with departments to collaboratively engage the market

Trialling new ways of working

We will trial new ways to deliver services to people who cannot use digital services independently and how we can best work with the market (see Procuring assisted digital support above). Civil servants, the wider public sector, external providers and people and organisations working with citizens who are offline or who have lower digital capability can all contribute to the central government approach to assisted digital support.

Departments will:

  • develop and trial new ways of delivering assisted digital support to users of the 23 exemplar services, including engaging with potential commercial, public sector and voluntary sector providers

Government Digital Service will:

  • run an open policy making exercise in early 2013 to gather innovative ideas for assisted digital provision

Developing a service standard

We will develop and agree an assisted digital service standard, as part of the Digital by Default Service Standard committed to in the Government Digital Strategy.

The service standard will ensure that each service that goes through a digital transformation and goes live on GOV.UK will have good quality assisted digital support that is designed to meet the needs of users.

The standard will contain a set of principles for what good assisted digital looks like. It will include guidance on how to monitor assisted digital provision, to ensure that assisted digital is only provided to the people who really need it and others are encouraged to use digital services independently. No new or redesigned service will go live unless they meet this standard.

Departments will:

  • work with the Government Digital Service to develop the standard and principles of good assisted digital provision, and ensure that, from April 2014, all new or redesigned transactional services will meet the Digital by Default Service Standard

Government Digital Service will:

  • manage the development of the service standard and provide support, guidance and tools that help service teams meet the standard throughout the development and life of the service
  • publish the standard by April 2013

Considering the case for a quality mark

Users frequently access more than one central government service. Therefore, those who use assisted digital support will need a way to identify where they will find approved assisted digital provision.

When sensitive information is being handled, users will need assurance that their information will be handled securely, especially if new providers who they are not familiar with are delivering the assistance. Our working assumption is that a quality mark of approved assisted digital provision will be required. This quality standard may be operated by an organisation independent of government.

Departments and Government Digital Service will:

  • work together to assess the need for a quality mark and develop one if required
  • develop final proposals by the end of 2013

Annex: examples of assisted digital provision

The examples below demonstrate the move from the current state of multi-channel service delivery to digital by default with assisted digital support. The examples show this for different customer needs and different types of service. Please note these are notional examples designed for illustration only.

1. Service A

This service is a licence request for citizens. Many users are younger and from higher socio-economic groups, and the overall user group has a level of digital capability that broadly matches the whole population.8 The service has a medium level of complexity and does not require a payment.

The service is expected to reach 80% digital uptake once it becomes digital by default. Assisted digital users will be able to access the service via intermediaries. Some of these intermediaries will be funded by government but others choose to provide it voluntarily as part of their broader service offerings.

current state (example service A) Digital Non-digital Total
Uptake 28% 72% 100%

Figure 1: current state (example service A)

digital by default (example service A) Digital Non-digital Total
Uptake 80% 20% 100%

Figure 2: digital by default (example service A)

2. Service B

This service allows citizens to request benefits. Users are unemployed and tend to be from lower socio-economic groups. The overall user group has a level of digital capability that is lower than the whole population. The service has a high level of complexity.

The service is expected to reach 50% digital uptake once it becomes digital by default. There will be 2 routes for assisted digital users to access the service, face to face and with a remote contact centre agent. Both routes will help the assisted digital user through the digital transaction as the first option, rather than complete it on their behalf.

Currently, 84% of users are using the non-digital channel but only 50% will need assisted digital provision when we move to digital by default. Consequently, 34% of users are currently using the non-digital channel, but could be using digital.

current state (example service B) Digital Non-digital Total
Uptake 16% 84% 100%

Figure 3: current state (example service B)

digital by default (example service B) Digital Non-digital Total
Uptake 50% 50% 100%  

Figure 4: digital by default (example service B)

3. Service C

This service is for large, medium and small businesses to report information to government. The overall user group has a level of digital capability that broadly matches the whole population of businesses.

The service is expected to reach 85% digital uptake once it becomes digital by default. Assisted digital support will be provided by an outsourced contact centre which supports multiple business services.

Currently, 23% of users are using the non-digital channel but only 15% will need assisted digital provision when we move to digital by default. Consequently, 8% of users are currently using the non-digital channel, but could be using digital.

current state (example service C) Digital Non-digital Total
Uptake 77% 23% 100%

Figure 5: current state (example service C)

digital by default (example service C) Digital Non-digital Total
Uptake 85% 15% 100%

Figure 6: digital by default (example service C)

Footnotes

  1. This figure is an early estimate of the cost of future assisted digital provision and will be revised as services become digital by default. Note that the potential saving from reducing non-digital contact is not equal to the total potential saving suggested in the Digital Efficiency Report. This is due to the increased use of digital channels.

  2. When services have become digital by default, we expect levels of digital usage to increase, with assisted digital requirements correspondingly reducing. On average, a typical service with mainstream users is expected to reach 80% digital take-up, based on previous case studies of digital transformation, leaving 20% requiring assisted digital provision. A typical service with less digitally capable users is expected to have a 50% digital take-up, and this is a very conservative estimate. At least 85% of businesses would be expected to be online and able to use these services without support, again based on previous case studies of digital transformation. If services are not simple and straightforward enough, then more users will need assisted digital support and, as this support is more expensive than digital self-service, there is a need to ensure services can be used by everyone who is online.

  3. Settlements with populations of 10,000 and under.

  4. Defra Statistical Digest of Rural England 2012.

  5. Assisted digital does not include the elements of otherwise digital services that, for legal or security reasons, currently need to be done offline and may still need to be done offline in future by all users, regardless of their digital capability (e.g. providing wet signatures, providing original documents and collecting biometric data).

  6. When services have become digital by default, we expect levels of digital usage to increase, with assisted digital requirements correspondingly reducing. On average, a typical service with mainstream users is expected to reach 80% digital take up, based on previous case studies of digital transformation, leaving 20% requiring assisted digital provision. A typical service with less-digitally capable users is expected to have a 50% digital take-up, and this is a very conservative estimate. At least 85% of businesses would be expected to be online and able to use these services without support, again based on previous case studies of digital transformation. If services are not simple and straightforward enough, then more users will need assisted digital support and, as this support is more expensive than digital self-service, there is a need to ensure services can be used by everyone who is online.

  7. Note that the potential saving from reducing non-digital contact is not equal to the total potential saving suggested in the Digital Efficiency Report. This is due to the increased use of digital channels.

  8. These assumptions are made based on the Digital Landscape Research.