Helping federal agencies to comply with the Digital Service Standard (DSS)

One of the challenges facing digital teams working in federal government agencies is meeting the criteria set out in the Digital Transformation Agency’s Digital Service Standard, or DSS. Since May 2016, the DSS has been mandated for all online platforms within its scope, so the level of interest around DSS-compliant services has increased dramatically.

Addressing the entirety of the DSS is beyond the scope of this blog post, however we have worked with a number of agencies on DSS-related projects, and we have some guidance at a broad level on how you can address the 13 top level criteria:

  1. Understand user needs - The established User-Centered Design process aligns closely with the requirements of the DSS. There are a number of digital agencies that can assist you through the UCD process, including Doghouse.
  2. Have a multi-disciplinary team - By partnering with a digital agency, you can leverage their expertise to extend the capacity of your digital delivery team.  
  3. Agile and user-centered process - Using Scrum as your project management methodology will meet a large part of this criteria. Many digital agencies already offer services using Scrum, and they may also be able to offer Scrum training to help you get the most out of the methodology.
  4. Understand tools and systems - Take the opportunity while working with service providers to engage with them and learn more about the systems they use and the overall process. Scrum is powerful in this regard, as it closely binds the agency and the service provider together to form the project delivery team, so you will emerge from the project with a far deeper understanding than with a waterfall delivery methodology.
  5. Make it secure - Tackling this one your own can be complex. Using an established solution like govCMS will take care of a significant portion of your security requirements, and if you are working with an external service provider, find out what sort of security certifications they have.
  6. Consistent and responsive design - Ensure your design agency uses common design patterns and mobile-first, responsive design. Also consider engaging an accessibility specialist early on in the project, either directly or through your design agency.
  7. Use open standards and common platforms - The shift in government away from proprietary systems to open source, open standards platforms is one we welcome wholeheartedly. Utilising Drupal or again, govCMS is a huge step in the right direction.
  8. Make source code open - We are open advocates of the govCMS philosophy of code sharing, and we were the first digital agency to publicly release a govCMS-specific module. You should take advantage of any opportunity to package and distribute useable works generated throughout the lifecycle of your project, and perhaps even follow the example of the Department of Environment and Energy, working in conjunction with Acquia and Doghouse, and promote your work to the wider community.
  9. Make it accessible - Most development agencies will have experience developing WCAG 2.0 AA compliant websites, but as mentioned earlier, you might want to consider involving an accessibility specialist.
  10. Test the service - Enquire with your digital service provider as to the nature of their “DevOps” environment. Working with agencies who have a mature Continuous Integration suite controlling their development, build and deployment process will generally result in a better outcome for your project, in terms of quality and maintainability.
  11. Measure performance - Part of the discovery process is establishing a series of metrics for measuring the performance of the website. The DSS has a series of four mandatory metrics, User Satisfaction, Digital Take-up, Completion Rate and Cost per Transaction. Exactly how you measure these needs to be determined on a case by case basis, but also consider capturing your own metrics for application performance evaluation. Remember, you need to be capturing these metrics from the very start, in order to understand how effective your new site is against the old one.
  12. Don’t forget the non-digital experience - The last two criteria are quite heavily focused on you as the agency, not your service providers. Ensure that the non-digital experience is taken into consideration throughout the discovery process, and don’t be afraid to give your service providers an understanding of the full picture, rather than just the slice that seems relevant to them. They may be able to provide solutions that hadn’t been considered up until that point.
  13. Encourage everyone to use the digital service - Again, this is something that needs to be a focus within your agency itself, however your digital service provider may be able to assist in helping you to make this transition both from an advisory and from a technical perspective.

We believe that the DSS represents a best-practice framework for federal agencies to adopt, and we are advocates of the philosophies of user-centrism, openness and agility that it embodies. If you would like to discuss how Doghouse can help your agency to conform with the DSS for their next digital project, simply contact us