Policy paper

Government Transformation Strategy

Published 9 February 2017


This publication has 3 parts:

  • the Government Transformation Strategy (this document)
  • detail, covering background, vision, scope and objectives, government beyond 2020 and the role of the Government Digital Service (GDS)
  • appendices, including case studies, services and data registers that have been and will be delivered

This document sets out the strategy in full. It explains what transformation in government means in 2016 and beyond, and how this work will be done.

Ministerial foreword

Ben Gummer

To govern is to serve. Our purpose is to maintain the security, safety and prosperity of the nation and to deliver what we have promised the people who elect us.

Yet it is too often the case that citizens feel that they live at the convenience of the state: that the government acts not as servant but as master. The result is a perception that the country works for the people who govern, not those whom the government is tasked to serve. Whether it is a lack of belief in the capacity of government to deliver the pledges it makes at election time, or the frustrations thrown in the way of people every day - from filling in a form to trying to talk to someone on the phone - government seems less and less capable of doing what people want.

The result of that disenchantment is plain to see. Here in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the democratic world, people are expressing their wish for a more responsive state at the ballot box. It is a call that demands a reply; indeed, if we wish modern democracy to flourish, it is imperative we respond.

This is no easy task. Government is more complex and wide-reaching than ever before. There is no company on earth - even the largest of multinationals - which comes close to having to co-ordinate the array of essential services and functions for millions of people that a modern government provides. Equally our duty is to serve everyone regardless of ability, age, gender, opinion or the places in which they choose to live. For these reasons and because bureaucracies are by their natures monopoly providers, government has been slow to use the transformative potential of digital technology to change the way it does business. It is at a double disadvantage, therefore: big and slow. In a world where people rightly expect the government to deliver public services effectively and at speed, that makes the challenge more daunting still.

The imperative is to change, therefore - and to do so at pace and at scale. This is the meaning of transformation. It is in essence a change of working, of culture and of disposition - changes that are made possible by digital technology. That technology is not change itself; it enables the change that is so transformative.

How we can make that change happen is the subject of this strategy document. It describes the progress we have already made, from simplifying the smallest transactions between the citizen and the state to some of the largest reform programmes across the globe. This is only the beginning however: this strategy charts the direction of the total transformation of government - in how we work, how we organise ourselves and how we serve our citizens. It is the most ambitious programme of change of any government anywhere in the world, by a government that has already done more to transform itself than any other.

I commend the brilliant, driven civil servants of this country and the way in which they rise consistently to the challenge of delivering ever better government service. They prove every day that an inspiring, value-based public service ethos is alive and well in modern Britain. Yet achieving our ambitions for transformative public service will take a conscious and daily act of will on the part of public servants in every part of this nation’s government. Unlike a business, we will not be forced to change by competition but must do so only because it is the right thing to do. This is change purely in the interests of public service; change that will make us fit servants of the people who ask us to govern. If we succeed, which we must, we will have done much to restore our democracy to the position the people deserve.

The Rt Hon Ben Gummer MP

Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General


By harnessing digital to build and deliver services, the government can transform the relationship between citizen and state. Much has been done since the 2012 Government Digital Strategy, which demonstrated the potential of public service transformation by rebuilding some of the most high volume services to make them ‘digital by default’. New digital professions are now established across the public sector. Departments have become better at sharing platforms and components, code, patterns and best practice. This is a strong foundation upon which to build.

The UK Government is one of the most digitally advanced in the world. We have come top of the 2016 United Nations E-Government and E-Participation surveys. We have developed the award-winning and internationally renowned GOV.UK - and have opened its code, which has been reused by governments around the world. The Government Digital Service (GDS) has led the digital transformation of government and is a model that is being copied internationally.

Many departments have started to transform how they deliver services. This has improved citizens’ experience of a significant number of services, but in many cases it has not changed the way government organisations operate to deliver them. It has meant that organisations without public-facing services have not benefitted from the same degree of focus on digital transformation.

The next stage of digitally-enabled transformation has 3 broad components, which together form the scope of this strategy:

  • transforming whole citizen-facing services - to continue to improve the experience for citizens, businesses and users within the public sector
  • full department transformation - affecting complete organisations to deliver policy objectives in a flexible way, improve citizen service across channels and improve efficiency
  • internal government transformation, which might not directly change policy outcomes or citizen-facing services but which is vital if government is to collaborate better and deliver digitally-enabled change more effectively

Increasingly, government departments will need to collaborate across traditional organisational boundaries. The vote to leave the European Union has heightened the need to be responsive and to be able to adapt to a changing environment. To build services that run seamlessly across government we must take the next steps in transformation. We will strengthen our digital capability. Where it meets user needs and satisfies the appropriate safeguards, we will make data easier to share across government and ensure it is managed securely.

Our commitment to digital transformation means that we must do this in a way that takes into account the risks of the digital age. As the National Cyber Security Strategy notes, cyber attacks are growing more frequent, sophisticated and damaging when they succeed. We must therefore ensure that we move forward in a way that is secure, deters criminal behaviour and which maintains our commitment to individuals’ privacy.

Read the background for a more in-depth review of government’s progress since the 2012 Government Digital Strategy.

Vision and objectives


We will transform the relationship between citizens and the state - putting more power in the hands of citizens and being more responsive to their needs.

The tools, techniques, technology and approaches of the internet age give us greater opportunities than ever before to help government:

  • better understand what citizens need
  • assemble services more quickly and at lower cost
  • continuously improve services, based on data and evidence

We will transform government services and make government itself a digital organisation so that:

  • citizens, businesses and other users have a better, more coherent experience when interacting with government services - one that meets the raised expectations set by the many other (non-government) services and tools they use every day
  • elected governments can make a more immediate impact, delivering on policy goals by providing services and information more quickly, with the intended outcomes for their users - and the ability to change delivery quickly if the policy changes
  • the cost and time to build, change and run government is reduced, saving public money and allowing government to respond faster to socio-economic and political change
  • we improve trust between citizens and state, giving citizens confidence that their personal data is secure and being used in ways they expect, while making government activity more transparent and making publicly-owned, non-personal data available for reuse where appropriate
  • we build secure systems by default, ensuring that we create protection against cyber crime through every stage of our digital transformation


In order to transform the relationship between the citizen and the state, in the period to 2020 the government will:

  • continue to deliver world-class digital services and transform the way government operates, from front end to back office, in a modern and efficient way
  • develop the right skills and culture among our people and leaders, and bring together policy and delivery to enable services to be delivered in a learning and iterative environment, focused on outcomes for citizens
  • build better workplace tools and processes to make it easier for public servants to work effectively, including sourcing, governance, workplace IT, businesses cases, human resources processes, common technology across the public sector and better digital tools for civil servants
  • make better use of data - not just for transparency, but to enable transformation across government and the private sector
  • create, operate, iterate and embed good use of shared platforms and reusable business capabilities to speed up transformation - including shared patterns, components and establishing open standards

This strategy is structured around these 5 objectives. For each objective, we set out what we will achieve by 2020.

We will work on the basis that:

  • following the Design Principles, the Digital Service Standard and Technology Code of Practice, we will continue to start with user needs
  • users need a consistent experience of government services, unaffected by government decisions to structure itself differently to deliver the priorities of the day
  • public servants, intermediaries and businesses are users too, and that to succeed, we must understand their needs
  • everything will be designed and maintained with the right level of security - in particular for sensitive or personal data
  • departments retain responsibility for risk around delivery regardless of the sourcing arrangements
  • we design for security, building the appropriate cyber and privacy safeguards into our digital transformation

Read the vision and scope for more about the thinking behind these objectives.

Business transformation

While we have made huge progress in recent years, there are still many existing services that need improving. We can still do far more to build ‘online services so good people prefer to use them’ - the ambition of the 2012 Government Digital Strategy.

Based on what we have learned, there’s a cross-government consensus on how the scope of service transformation must expand. It must:

  • bring policy development and service design closer together
  • cover the internal workings of departments as well as the services they offer to users
  • broaden the definition of users, for example to reflect that some users will interact with government through third-party services that use government APIs (application programming interfaces)
  • recognise that government delivers services through a variety of channels (including online, telephone and face to face)
  • cover departments that do not have many online services that citizens directly interact with
  • ensure government can provide content and services, and run projects across organisational boundaries
  • be flexible in ways of working

What we will do by 2020

The government has the following areas of priority for this Parliament:

  • design and deliver joined-up, end-to-end services
  • deliver the major transformation programmes
  • establish a whole-government approach to transformation, laying the ground for broader transformation across the public sector

To do this:

  • departments and agencies will keep working to improve the user experience of government services radically by building digital services that meet the Digital Service Standard
  • departments will complete their transformation programmes on the Government Major Projects Portfolio (GMPP), and others which were committed to in their 2015 Spending Review settlements, delivering multi-channel services which are accessible to all
  • departments will find ways to experiment with transformation approaches and learn about what works and what does not
  • we will establish a cross-government mechanism to build a common language, tools and techniques, and share knowledge and experience about how to approach major transformations from across government, drawing on learning from the private sector
  • we will build a framework for the best way to deliver transformation across government
  • GDS will update the guidance supporting the Technology Code of Practice and other applicable standards to support a strategic approach to replacing old technology

Read more about our business transformation commitments, including a list of important digital services that we will be monitoring specifically.

Grow the right people, skills and culture

Since 2012, many more digital, data and technology specialists have been recruited across government, improving government’s technical capability significantly. The challenge now is to attract, recruit and retain specialists in a very competitive marketplace. In particular, we want to evolve our culture by:

  • embedding digital skills throughout government
  • making sure digital experts understand government
  • making sure that civil servants of other professions understand digital
  • strengthening our leaders’ skills in agile project and programme management
  • establishing better ways to develop policy and deliver services in tandem - using an agile approach to iterate rapidly

What we will do by 2020

Our ambition is to have one of the most digitally skilled populations of civil servants in the world, delivering the Civil Service vision to be ‘A Brilliant Civil Service’.

We will do this by:

  • establishing the principles around which we can best organise digital, data and technology in departments
  • growing the digital, data and technology (DDaT) profession in government, including developing consistent career paths and reward structures
  • building the best possible learning and development opportunities for DDaT professionals through the Digital Academy
  • building government’s data science capability through the Data Science Campus and Data Science Accelerator training programme
  • making government a leader in attracting a diverse workforce for digital, data and technology roles
  • working with Civil Service HR and departments to make sure digital tools and techniques are embedded in other professions
  • supporting non-digital specialists in understanding the potential of new or different ways of working
  • working with Civil Service Learning to make sure that current and future leaders have the right training and experience to manage digital projects effectively, work in an agile way and manage digital-age organisations
  • making policy based on user research, to enable iteration over time with increased collaboration between the policy and service design communities

Read more about our people, skills and culture commitments.

Build better tools, processes and governance for civil servants

A digital government does not just deliver excellent public services for its users. It creates the right environment for world-class public services by having the right digital tools, workplace technology, governance and processes. Today there is wide diversity across government organisations in:

  • the daily technology used by civil servants
  • how programmes of work are managed and governed
  • whether internal processes and controls support agile policy making
  • sourcing (both commercial and procurement)
  • assurance (including quality control, service assurance and value for money)

What we will do by 2020

We will create empowering workplaces by:

  • making sure government buildings have common, interoperable technology and that the design and use of space helps to create a culture of open, digitally-enabled policy making and service delivery
  • giving public servants the right location-independent tools to do their jobs
  • investigating the case for better digital services for civil servants by exploring opportunities across government for common digital tools for standard government functions

We will make sure all parts of government can govern, fund and effectively operate agile services, including where services span departmental boundaries.

Building on the Digital Marketplace’s approach, we will embed user-centred, design-led, data-driven and open approaches in procurement and contracting across government by 2020.

Read more about our tools, processes and governance commitments.

Make better use of data

Data is a critical resource for enabling more efficient, effective government and public services that respond to citizens’ needs. Data acts as the foundation upon which everything else rests.

We must earn and retain the trust of citizens and provide reassurance that personal and sensitive data is treated safely, securely and ethically within appropriate governance frameworks.

Government data is often held and used solely within the organisation that collected it and legacy systems make it hard to share information. There is too much duplication, overlap and contradiction in the datasets government holds. We need to get better at sharing data across organisational boundaries in ways that citizens are comfortable with.

What we will do by 2020

In this parliament, we will focus on the following priorities:

  • making better use of data as an enabler for public services, particularly where those services cross organisational boundaries
  • opening up government data where appropriate and continuing to open up government services internally and externally through the use of APIs
  • removing barriers to effective data use in government by all parts of government through the data sharing provisions of the Digital Economy Bill, once it is passed by Parliament
  • appointing a new Chief Data Officer for government to lead on use of data
  • setting up a new Data Advisory Board to align efforts to make best use of data across government, which will oversee a number of examples of better use of data and areas where we can build momentum
  • making better use of data to improve decision making, by building and expanding data science and analytical capability across government, for analysts and non-analysts alike
  • managing and using data securely and appropriately, ensuring that public sector workers understand the ethics of data sharing - including what is and is not permissible
  • building a national data infrastructure of registers (authoritative lists that are held once across government) and ensuring they are secured appropriately
  • improving data discovery tools for users, both within and beyond government
  • transforming the way that government’s major repositories of data are stored and managed

Read more about our commitments for better use of data.

Create shared platforms, components and reusable business capabilities

Since 2010 we have taken strong first steps in moving towards a more fundamentally digital government. We share code, patterns, platforms and components. We share best practice for approaching technological and service design problems that apply across government. Cross-government platforms and cross-government services are the future.

We will build on the shared components and platforms to assemble business capabilities (the combination of the technology, processes and people required for a business outcome).

GOV.UK is the government’s single domain and the place where online transactions start. We will establish how to make better use of GOV.UK for services that span departmental boundaries (or which are provided by third parties, which could include local government or outsourced services).

What we will do by 2020

To make it quick, cheap and easy to assemble digital services and to provide a consistent experience for users across all government services, we will build more reusable shared components and platforms.

Building on the work we have already done, our priorities for government up to 2020 are:

  • exiting large single supplier and multi-year IT contracts
  • building shared components and platforms, extending the use of the ones that we have and onboarding more services
  • developing and publishing standards and implementation guidelines for components, platforms and capabilities, to make public sector reuse easier
  • removing barriers to component, platform and capability reuse, and exploring reuse beyond central government
  • operating the digital services and components GDS and departments have already built on the GOV.UK single domain to a high standard of reliability, security and performance, and continuing to improve them to better meet their users’ needs
  • making better use of GOV.UK Verify by working towards 25 million users by 2020 and exploring options for delivery of identity services for businesses and intermediaries
  • ‘going wholesale’ by expanding the number of available and supported APIs, inside and outside of government, for example by allowing accountants to submit tax returns automatically with the permission of their clients
  • sharing what we have built internationally and learning from best practice in other countries to continuously hone and improve our services
  • overhauling government’s legacy content and outdated publishing practices by 2020, so government services are clear, well maintained and easier to find on GOV.UK

Read more about our commitments for platforms, components and business capabilities.

The vision beyond 2020

Most of our current major transformation projects are scheduled to be complete by 2021.

However, transformation is a continuous process. While we deliver these major programmes, we need to plan for post 2020. By ensuring we are adaptable and responsive to change, we will be able to keep pace with technology as it evolves. This will ensure that we can maintain our momentum to transform government.

To make government more flexible, we will make a clear plan for digital transformation beyond 2020. We will do the discovery and preparatory work needed to understand what further changes government will need to make in order to be fit for the digital age - changing how we change - including:

  • how government structures may need to change in future
  • how policy is made, for example by creating early prototypes and iterating quickly based on evidence and feedback
  • any other changes that might be needed to enable our vision to be delivered

Read more about our expectations for government beyond 2020.

If we achieve these things, we will have reshaped government. We will be a government that puts the citizen first and meets their needs in a modern, efficient way: one that can adapt and change quickly to meet the needs of the country.