The GOV.UK Performance Platform, which collates and publishes data on almost 800 services across departments, was closed last month.
The site brought together in one place a range of information designed to offer a snapshot of the performance of 777 citizen services, as well as tools such as the Digital Marketplace procurement platform, and the Verify identity-assurance product.
Information also included usage, cost-per-transaction, digitisation rate, completion percentage, uptime and user satisfaction.
Also being retired is the Registers service, which brings together a number of databases to provide information for use in the design of government services and online forms. This includes various comprehensive lists, including local and central government organisations, education providers, allergens, and countries and their demonyms.
Both platforms were created and are run by the Government Digital Service. A note recently added to each site says that “GDS is deprecating the Performance Platform effective from 15 March 2021”.
Number of services with a performance dashboard
Historical data from each will be made available via the National Archives.
Users of the Registers platform have been advised to “ensure you have downloaded the latest version” of all the information they need prior to 15 March.
In the case of the Performance Platform, organisations have been advised that “future performance data hosted by services will be available via data.gov.uk.”
Number of registers available – including comprehensive lists of world countries, UK local authorities and jobcentres, and allergen groups
It is understood that the move to close the platform is intended to place greater responsibility on individual departments to publish and maintain publicly available data, rather than a single repository that is run by the central digital agency. Any information that continues to be published on data.gov.uk will also be publicly downloadable in spreadsheet form.
It is not known how service performance data will be presented or collated on data.gov.uk, and whether it will be housed in a single, easily navigable place as it is now – or if it will be dispersed across multiple sections.
It also remains to be seen the extent to which departments will continue to collect and publish this information without the impetus of being expected to contribute to a centralised platform.
Previously, new services developed by departments or agencies were required to integrate with the platform in order to comply with the GDS-managed 14-point Service Standard checklist – which must be passed as a service passes through the various stages of the development process.
The ‘About’ section of the platform also makes clear that, as well as providing useful information for researchers, journalists and the public, maintaining a dashboard offers valuable data for the government entity in question.
“If you’re a government service manager, you can see how your service is doing by using a performance dashboard,” it said. “A dashboard lets you quickly spot problems with your service so you can take action to improve it. You need to integrate your service with a performance dashboard to… avoid spending time manually collecting data about your service, make decisions on the latest data available about your service, compare how your service is doing with other public services, [and] be open to the public. If you work on a government service, we can help you create a dashboard.”
It added: “The performance dashboards are just another way the government is opening up data to the public. If you’re a service manager, you may be concerned about presenting facts about how your service is doing so openly. In general, the novelty of open data has worn off. There is nothing sensational about seeing how many people are satisfied with a government service, or how many people completed an application.”
A mixed picture
The data currently available through the platform is mixed in its comprehensiveness and recency; the dashboard for the most-used government service of all, Vehicle Tax Checks by Individuals, contains quarterly-usage and digital-uptake stats no more recent than those that date from 2017.
But other data – including completion rate and user satisfaction – had continued to be published in weekly or monthly tranches.
This mix of outdated, new and incomplete information is replicated across many other services.
The Performance Platform spent several weeks “closed for maintenance” in the latter part of 2019. Some speculation at the time suggested that this was a precursor to the service shuttering for good.
On that occasion it did come back online – albeit without any visual representations of data or graphs allowing users to study performance over time. For the last year, all information has been presented solely in text form.
“Even if this is only temporary, it is not great from a transparency perspective – an issue which is facing some challenges”
Gavin Freeguard, an independent digital and data consultant and former programme director at the Institute for Government think tank, said that the closure of the registers has “been a long time coming – as it has not had the buy-in it needed”.
“[GDS] have also thought quite deeply about the future of the Performance Platform,” he added. “Some of the data had not been updated very recently.”
According to Freeguard, a key question now is the extent to which departments will be required to follow standards for publishing data, how this will be enforced, and by whom. The recently-created Data Standards Authority – a cross-government entity that sits within GDS but works closely with the Office for National Statistics and major Whitehall departments – is one candidate to take on this job.
Whatever approach is taken, Freeguard said this year could be a landmark year for use of digital and data in government, with new leadership figures at GDS, the beginning of the rollout of the National Data Strategy, and some high-profile global government events, such as the COP26 climate change conference.
“Even if this is only temporary until a new system comes in, it is not great from a transparency perspective – an issue which is facing some challenges,” Freeguard said. “The world looks at the UK for open government and digital government – what face does the UK want to put forward?"
Sam Trendall is the editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology