Bucks Digital visit GDS

Recently, Becki and Sarah of the Digital Team at Bucks CC, were lucky enough to be welcomed for a day to experience Government Digital Service (GDS).

Martha Lane Fox

Martha Lane Fox

We have already been well aware of the great work that GDS have been doing over the years, however we were keen to learn more, and experience the way in which GDS works.

Once inside we were welcomed by John Turnbull, Senior Content Designer at GOV.UK

We have been following the work that GDS have been doing in central government, keeping up to date with the GDS Blog, which has been a source of great inspiration.

We have adopted the GDS approach to the way we work at Bucks CC; working in an agile way, iteratively and keeping user needs at the heart of everything we do

User Needs

It was very clear from everyone we spoke to that the user need is at the heart of everything they do. They still come across the trials and tribulations of what the services feel should be on the site but they take the time to get real feedback from real users about what they want. To GDS it’s not just about figures, how many times a form has been completed since being improved, but actually hearing from users where the changes made really had a positive effect, fixed an issue, gave some clarity and was appreciated.

The use of visuals is key, numbers on a page are great but seeing a user in a video provide direct feedback makes it much more real. Their answers are instant, closer to a real situation than giving time to write a written formulated response where their judgement may change while writing.

Sessions with colleagues are run about not just what the team did, the problems they had and the way they overcame these, but sessions just about the user, how they felt and what issues they had. Another way to really bring home what it is we’re really trying to do.

Improvement vs BAU

We were curious how GDS managed their responsibilities and time with achieving both business as usual (BAU) demands, compared with making continual improvements.

John Turnbull let us know near the start of the day that they aimed to spend 80% of time on BAU, and 20% on improvements to GOV.UK.

As we also know at Bucks, this is not always possible, but we thought it was good to set such a target.  This would help to keep focus.  In such a fast paced environment, teams  work quickly, moving constantly in an agile way.

Lucy, Senior Content Designer at GDS, gave us a great example of what happened when there was a need to focus on a specific area.  A team would get together within GDS to work solely on the improvement of an area.  Their aim for a period of time would be to Digitally Transform an area.  The GDS Blog, Mapping the border as users see it explains this particular example in more detail.


The team at GDS have regular stand up meetings, where they run through briefly their aims for the day or upcoming week, led by a Delivery Manager, whose role is to keep things moving.  They use Trello to plan and view their sprints.  The aim is to progress projects from the left to the right of the board, swiftly.  Blockers can be identified and it is then the Team Leader’s role to help to unblock any projects which are ‘blocked’.

They use a true Agile methodology, with sticky Post-Its covering most walls and boards.  The GDS office space is colourful, constantly moving and evolving.

GDS wall

GDS Office Space

2i and Fact Check

The GDS approach to dealing with content requests is much more rigorous than ours at Bucks.

There are some similarities with ourselves, such as that content requests can come in via members of the public, or a contact within a department.

There are however many differences.  For example, before any changes are made to GOV.UK, there is a process to go through, to not only ensure content is clear, correct, accurate and user focused.  It is also reviewed by another content designer, which GDS call 2i, or second pair of eyes. The next step is to have the content checked for its factual accuracy with a contact in service.   This ensures that after the content has been rewritten that the meaning of the wording has not been changed.

Gov.uk – content in 7 steps

  1. user needs identified through data
  2. content designer writes draft
  3. review by another designer (“second pair of eyes”)
  4. factcheck
  5. published
  6. user data reviewed
  7. content iterated

Content Design

The teams at GDS do not have Content Officers, as Bucks CC does, but rather they have teams which include Content Designers.   The art of Content Design  is an area that GDS have done a vast amount of research on.

Simpler, clearer, faster

“Applying all of these content design principles mean we do the hard work for the user. But the reward is a site that is simpler, clearer and faster for both government and citizens.”
GDS What is content design?


This also reflected the challenges we face at Bucks CC, despite being keen to make continual improvements to the website, we often find that BAU can take over, and can prevent us from doing so on some days.

We have #BetterEveryDay where we aim to make at least one thing on the BucksCC.gov.uk website better, every day.  Whether this is from a content request, or is an area that we discover and would like to improve, for the benefit of our users.



GDS message to Bucks

At the end of the day, we had a wrap up where we were told “You’re doing all the right things” which was not only reassuring, but gave us confidence that the methods we have adopted at Bucks CC means we are taking the right approach, in the right direction.