GDS shares insight into what it learned from its identity alpha

Richard Walker, product manager at GDS writes an honest update on the learnings from their identity alpha

Posted 20 October 2021 by Matt Stanley

GDS is building a single sign-on and identity solution, with help and support from colleagues right across government. This is the third mission of the GDS strategy for 2021-2024: “A simple digital identity solution that works for everyone”.

The department recently passed a service assessment for our alpha on identity checking, and thought they’d share some of their learnings.

Prototyping was the fastest route to learning

In pre-discovery GDS reviewed over 100 rounds of research from GOV.UK Verify and spent hours learning from colleagues across the public sector who run identity services, such as the Home Office and NHS Digital.

They also decided to start prototyping in the discovery phase, since they felt that they would learn more – and learn faster – from thinking about their own user journeys and prototyping them than they would repeating research that had already been done by others.

Getting the whole team generating divergent ideas for user journeys in discovery flushed out major design, technical and scope questions to explore in alpha, and they were testing their first prototype and learning from real users in week one of alpha.

Inclusion works on several levels

Inclusion is a hugely important part of our work, because anyone should be able to prove their identity to access government services, and it’s often the most vulnerable people who are at most risk of being excluded. GDS admit that they didn’t get this right with GOV.UK Verify and have an opportunity and obligation to do much better this time.

As soon as they started exploring this space, it became clear it’s a concept with more than one meaning.

First, there’s digital inclusion, which is a concept relevant to any online service. GDS owes a lot to their colleagues at Universal Credit and DWP for helping them to think about different barriers to inclusion, which could relate to digital skills, confidence, time, or someone’s financial situation.

Second, there’s an identity-specific dimension to inclusion, which is about which documents or evidence sources someone can use to prove who they are. Millions of people in the UK don’t have a passport or driving licence and there’s no magic document that lets everyone prove their identity. To include everyone in identity checking GDS will need to accept a broad range of documents and evidence types: there’s no silver bullet. And although the government often talk about ‘digital identity’, it’s clear that they will need to go beyond online channels to include everyone.

These two types of inclusion are distinct but they intersect and interact.

For example, someone with a strong credit record and two types of photo ID but with poor internet access, low digital confidence and a wariness of sharing personal information online could be excluded from proving their identity. And so might a young, highly educated, urban renter who does everything online but who has never needed a driving licence, moves address frequently, isn’t named on any bills, and is short on time.

Understanding of inclusion in this context has benefitted from thinking about these two levels – general barriers to inclusion plus documents and data sources – and the interaction between them.

The government blog goes on to discuss the launch of new identity app, the identity checking journey and the move to live traffic. You can read the full blog here.

We are hoping that we get an update on these developments when we get the Government keynote at our Digital Identity for Government conference on November 25th. You can register to attend this event here to make sure you keep abreast of the latest developments in this space.