A long and winding road(map)

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about the future. Not amorphously; I’ve been thinking about the future of my current work.

What do I work on anyway?

My current role is in the digital identity programme at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. Our programme is creating a framework of governance and standards, underpinned by legislation, that will enable the use of trusted digital identity and attribute products and services across the UK and internationally.

If our programme succeeds, in the future you’ll be able to use digital services – like apps on your phone, or plain old websites – to prove who you are, in addition to and instead of needing a patchwork of proxy documentation like council tax bills, birth certificates, bank statements and passports.

Our legislation is going through Parliament now. And in a short while it will be an Act of Parliament. My job is to make sure that when the Act is “commenced”1 there is a something to manage it all. That thing will be a “governing body” (read: a team of civil servants) called the “Office for Digital Identities and Attributes”.

Anyway, that’s all background you need to know to understand why I’m thinking about the future.

Moving from start-up, to scale-up, to serious stuff

For the past few years our programme has been growing. It was originally only a handful of people. When the legislation is in place, we’ll be a bit (but not a lot) bigger2.

As we’ve gotten bigger, so has the market. 4 years ago there weren’t really any at-scale businesses in the UK doing digital identity checks to a standard we might now consider “good-enough”. But today there are 50 or so services you can use to do this. You might even have used one if you’ve recently rented a flat, started a job, or done a DBS check.

And all that growth, plus our (hopefully) soon to be Act, means we’re delivering more and more complex stuff.

Part of my role since I’ve joined the team has been to help provide the infrastructure we need to go from what could be loosely considered as “start-up mode” to “scale-up mode”. Soon, we need to switch to being an proper, ongoing concern.

And that requires planning.

The long and winding road(map)

Obviously we do loads of planning. It feels like I’m endlessly talking about planning. And especially tracking progress against the planning. Civil servants love a milestone tracker and RAG rating. But I don’t mean that kind of planning.

I mean big picture stuff. Strategic planning. Planning that challenges us to look up a bit, instead of focusing just on the (many) imminent deadlines we have in our eye-line.

We’re delivering so many interconnected pieces of work, and we will continue to do that in the future. How are we going to keep all these moving parts moving in sync?

We’ve got ways to manage that now, but can we do it differently? And better? And more openly? That’s the question I’ve been thinking about this week.

The answer is, I think, obvious: we need a roadmap.

I’ve seen towering gods of roadmapping practice their work in my time in government. I was always in awe of the GOV.UK roadmap, and the work Neil Willams and team did to bring it to life. It always struck me how GDS roadmaps weren’t just a statement of intent. They were a rallying cry and a mission to galvanise around. And the thing GDS still does brilliantly well is communicate its work through roadmaps like this one for GOV.UK.

And the more I’ve talked to my teams this week – both my policy teams and my product teams – the more I’ve convinced myself we should try something similar.

The interesting challenge, for me, will be how to apply these product-oriented techniques to work that isn’t digital delivery as well as the digital delivery work.

I don’t know what it will look like yet. I don’t know if it will work. But I think it would be a brilliant experiment in open policy making if nothing else.

Any tips?

A lot of other stuff has happened this week, but I said I’d do “One week. One note. One thing.” in my week notes to get me started. The future, and roadmapping, is the one big thing I’ve been thinking about this week.

If any of this has sounded even remotely familiar to you, and you’re thinking “I’ve done this! I can show you how it’s done!” then let me know. I’m in the market for inspiration. Send me your roadmaps!

  1. “Commencement” is a technical term. When an Act is “commenced” it means that the requirements set out in the legislation have legal effect. At that point any “duties” have to be fulfilled, and any “powers” can be used. ↩︎

  2. As we recently described it to a group of stakeholders opinion-havers: “we’ll have enough people to fill a small country pub”. ↩︎