What the U.K. Government Digital Service learned about permissions

What the U.K. Government Digital Service learned about permissions

Providing better citizen service online is a priority for governments at all levels. Doing so, however, requires a solid system that can authenticate users and facilitate a wide variety of transactions.

Part of the problem is agencies' silos, which too often require citizens to create new logins for each government service.  At the federal level, Connect.Gov is working to address that challenge – connecting people to U.S. government services and online applications using digital credentials they already have to apply for a wide range of government “permissions” and authorizations. 

But there's also the more basic matter of making sure an individual government permissions system makes sense.  In the United Kingdom, the Government Digital Service is wrestling with just these issues, and has published some findings from its governmentwide discovery process on exactly how to make these transactions easier.

The GDS report identified two key findings:

  • While each permission itself supports a specific ‘unique’ activity (or set of activities), the fundamental process of applying for permission for the user and granting and issuing for each agency is very similar.
  • Common frustrations and problems seem to exist for users and agencies along the permissions journey.

GDS researchers also outlined six areas in need of improvement:

  • Helping users to find what permission they need for an activity (like childcare) before they do it.
  • Letting users who don’t need permission or can’t have permission (because they aren’t eligible) know before application.
  • Removing manual steps for users and government – like requesting a criminal record check – and replacing them with automated checks conducted with a user’s consent.
  • Making the process of change to a permission by government faster and more transparent for users.
  • Making it easier and more secure for users to prove they have permission.
  • Making it more consistent to apply for a permission or easier for government to set up a service.

The next step, the authors wrote, is taking those basic principles and asking, "[w]hat would this look like in reality?"  The full GDS essay can be seen here.

About the Author

Derek Major is a former reporter for GCN.

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