Digital Standards (draft) - Single page view

Digital Standards

1. Design with users

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1.1 Research with users to understand their needs and the problems we want them to solve

Focus on the needs of your users, using agile, iterative and user-centred methods when building a service. Start with extensive research and analysis to help understand who is using the service, what their needs are and how the service will affect their lives to better understand how the service should be designed. The absence of the user voice leads to assumptions that may be incorrect and costly.

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A key part of building digital services that work for users is developing a good understanding of who are the users, what are their needs and how the service will affect their lives. It is equally important to develop a good understanding of the different contexts in which users could be interacting, since user needs and expectations can vary depending upon where, when and how they use a digital service.

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1.2 Conduct ongoing testing with users to guide design and development

User needs are constantly evolving which it is why it is important to plan for ongoing user research and usability testing. Engage users at all stages, continuously seeking feedback to ensure the service helps users to accomplish their tasks and to keep improving the service to better meet user needs.

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Users should be involved throughout the lifecycle of the service, with user research and testing informing the earliest design phases through to continuous improvements after the service has launched.

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When designing a service, it is important to determine the problems that the service needs to solve and how it will help users to achieve their goals. The focus shouldn't be just on the service itself, but also how the service fits in the overall user journey. The service should be designed to seamlessly integrate into the overall user journey and regularly measured to ensure that it is meeting user needs.

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Beta and live stages:

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2. Iterate and improve frequently

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2.1 Develop services using agile, iterative and user-centred methods

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Digital Service Standard (Ontario): Design and build the service using an agile and user-centred approach. Agile is an approach to building services that breaks the work into smaller chunks known as iterations. Build one feature of the service at a time until the entire service is complete.

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It is a much lower risk approach than traditional build-it-all-at-once approach known as waterfall because frequent iterations expose any flaws in the original plan much faster (e.g. not getting approvals, not enough resources, not the right people on the team, etc.)

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User-centred methods such as user research and usability testing put the focus on making services that are easy-to-use. Traditional government services focus on meeting business needs and aligning with policy goals. A user-centred approach ensures business needs are also balanced against user needs. This helps to increase digital service uptake.

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2.2 Continuously improve in response to user needs

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Once you have designed and launched a service, there is still work to do. Treat the service as a product; it requires regular reviews, usability tests and improvements. Unlike a project that has pre-determined start and end date, a product has a life cycle that goes far beyond the launching of the service. Regularly assessing the service and welcoming opportunities for improvement will help to ensure that the service keeps pace with evolving client needs and benefits from new or improved technology. (2. Product management, not just project management. (Assess - Digital Design Playbook (ISED)))

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At every stage of a project, we should measure how well our service is working for our users. This includes measuring how well a system performs and how people are interacting with it in real-time. Our teams and agency leadership should carefully watch these metrics to find issues and identify which bug fixes and improvements should be prioritized. Along with monitoring tools, a feedback mechanism should be in place for people to report issues directly. (Digital Services Playbook (US))

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Continuously capture and monitor performance data to inform ongoing service improvements.

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Measuring performance means continuously improving a service by:

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(Digital Service Standard (Ontario))

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2.3 Try new things, start small and scale up

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3. Work in the open by default

3.1 Share evidence, research and decision making openly

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Identify performance indicators for the service, including the 4 mandatory key performance indicators (KPIs) defined in the manual. Establish a benchmark for each metric and make a plan to enable improvements.

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Setting performance indicators allows you to continuously improve your service by:

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(Digital Service Standard (UK))

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Share your experiences with colleagues across the Government of Canada, other levels of government, clients and service providers. Sharing experiences and best practices helps to raise the overall service quality. It helps to reduce duplication of effort and save costs. So share ideas, share intentions, share failures and learn together. (Plan - Digital Design Playbook (ISED))

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3.2 Make all non-sensitive data, information, and new code developed in delivery of services open to the outside world for sharing and reuse under an open licence

Make all source code open and reusable under an appropriate open source software licence, so that other developers can:

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This includes working in the open, sharing any and all data and information produced in developing the solution, and making the final solution available as open source software. Publishing your code and data from the beginning of your technology project or programme will encourage:

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4. Use open standards and solutions

4.1 Leverage open standards and embrace leading practices, including the use of open source software where appropriate

Build technology that uses open standards to ensure your system works and communicates with other products or systems, and can easily be upgraded and expanded.

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Adopting and using open standards means you can:

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Our choices for hosting infrastructure, databases, software frameworks, programming languages and the rest of the technology stack should seek to avoid vendor lock-in and match what successful modern consumer and enterprise software companies would choose today. In particular, digital services teams should consider using open source software, cloud-based, and commodity solutions across the technology stack, because of their widespread adoption and support by successful consumer and enterprise technology companies in the private sector.

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Open source software (OSS) tends to use and help define open standards and publicly available specifications. OSS products are, by their nature, publicly available specifications, and the availability of their source code promotes open, democratic debate around their specifications, making them both more robust and interoperable.

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Using open source software means you can benefit from:

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4.2 Design for services and platforms that are seamless for Canadians to use no matter what device or channel they are using

In order to limit costs, avoid duplication of effort and provide a consistent client experience when using various services, the reuse and adaptation of existing technological solutions is encouraged. If the development of new solutions is required, consider the ability of others to reuse and adapt your work as this will provide additional value on an organizational level.

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Using common, proven government solutions, approaches, and platforms will help the government:

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Interoperability is a characteristic of a product or system, whose interfaces are completely understood, to work with other products or systems, present or future, in either implementation or access, without any restrictions. Interoperability should be ensured, via the use of open standards.

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Application Program Interfaces (APIs) are a means by which business functionality is exposed digitally. They are building blocks that are critical to the successful delivery of government online digital services and expanding service delivery to third party providers. They can also enable greater interoperability between services, optimized experiences across devices and can even lead to innovative new services by enabling third party products to work seamlessly with Government of Canada systems.

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5. Address security and privacy risks

Canadians who use government services must have confidence that:

  • any information they provide is handled and stored appropriately
  • they know how their information will be used by government
  • they can easily retrieve information they provide
  • that their privacy is protected while they use the service, and afterwards
  • the system they’re using is safe and secure

If a service cannot guarantee confidentiality, integrity and availability of the system, people will not use it. Effective cyber and IT security is an essential enabler of digital transformation. Securing #GCDigital requires the delivery of government services that are safe, secure and trusted by Canadians.

5.1 Take a balanced approach to managing risk by implementing appropriate privacy and security measures

All organizations face risks, no matter the size, yet one size does not fit all when it comes to risk management. Each IT organisation has to make difficult decisions around how much time and money to spend protecting their technology and services. An understanding of the users, data and threats that affect the service will help to inform this risk-based approach to support the delivery of a usable and secure system. Appropriate steps must be taken to identify, assess and understand security and privacy risks to GC sensitive and protected data and the systems that process this data.

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A key goal of risk management is to inform and improve these decisions. Making it easy for those responsible for risk management decisions to have access to (and understand) the information they require is important for the effective communication of risks. The effective communication of risk management information helps organizations to direct and control risk management activities. Accepting that technology and security risks will be realised and understanding what the organisation will do to minimise damage, continue to operate, and make improvements based on lessons learned.

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Assessing cyber risks cannot be done in isolation. It must be assessed while considering potential impacts on other parts of an organization, and interactions with other elements such as financial risk and safety. Understanding what an organization cares about, and why it's important, will help to prioritize where to invest when implementing appropriate privacy and security measures into your design with minimal user impact. The level of investment in privacy and security should be based on the perceived or actual value placed on the assets or information you are protecting. When considering the balance of controls, account for the cost of lost trust - the effort to rebuild trust, should your service be compromised.

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Include security and privacy in innovation

Canadians’ support for open data and digital services is enhanced when their privacy rights are protected: transparency and respect for privacy are complementary goals. The shift to digital government offers opportunities to strengthen privacy rights and safely share more data that can benefit society. Innovation must be matched by conscious responsibility regarding stewardship of users’ personal information and data.

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Embedding privacy protection in the design of digital applications or open data increases political legitimacy and public confidence, and privacy safeguards are a necessary condition for a successful shift to a digital Government of Canada. Digital services also have the potential to enhance privacy rights, for example, by facilitating access to and correction of personal information.

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Organizations have a responsibility to ensure that the data under their care remains protected at all times, including in the process of sharing with external partners and within their own network. This requires an understanding what data is worth protecting, manage who and what can access it, and build effective defenses that both support innovation and protect the investment made in services and associated assets.

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The law and governance in cyberspace is not the sole responsibility nor under the authority of any one specific government, or group; boundary-less services require a fulsome understanding of any jurisdiction in which you operate.

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Canadians want to have confidence that government digital services are designed to meet the laws and regulations stipulated in multiple acts protecting the confidentiality, integrity and accessibility of systems and information. Develop a legal and regulatory view of the department for the purposes of designing secure information systems through identifying the business needs for security. A business need for security is any protection or compliance requirement that ensures the confidentiality, integrity or availability of a business activity or information assets supporting a business activity. Business needs for security can also be derived from departmental missions, objectives, priorities, the need to preserve the organization's image and reputation, and various obligations that may have been contracted.

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Canadians want to have confidence that government digital services are designed to meet the laws and regulations stipulated in multiple acts protecting the confidentiality, integrity and accessibility of systems and information. Develop a legal and regulatory view of the department for the purposes of designing secure information systems through identifying the business needs for security. A business need for security is any protection or compliance requirement that ensures the confidentiality, integrity or availability of a business activity or information assets supporting a business activity. Business needs for security can also be derived from departmental missions, objectives, priorities, the need to preserve the organization's image and reputation, and various obligations that may have been contracted.

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{: .dpgn-standards-hide .dpgn-stage-beta} Note: Beta Stage includes all elements from the previous Alpha stage, plus the following:

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{: .dpgn-standards-hide .dpgn-stage-beta} Note: Live Stage includes all elements from the previous Alpha and Beta stages, plus the following:

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5.2 Make security measures frictionless so that they do not place a burden on users

Digital services need to be designed to provide a rich and streamlined user experience, while also ensuring that sensitive information is protected within a processing environment that remains secure throughout its lifecycle. Service owners must be mindful that users will often find a way to circumvent burdensome security measures for convenience. It is important to make security seamless and frictionless by designing security measures that enable the user experience, through streamlined user-interface and features with which they interact, and to help improve the overall posture to prevent workarounds. Leveraging enabling services such as digital identity will help to provide users with access to digital services from their preferred device.

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Services must be designed to resist attacks. However, security is not one-size fits all, and appropriate defenses are best developed to address the “soft spots” in your systems. By thinking about situations in which you could be compromised, it will help to identify and eliminate design issues. Undertaking a defense-in-depth approach provides layered security measures to help prevent against evolving and existing threats. It allows security to be addressed at multiple layers, hardening your systems as required, while providing unimpeded operations in others.

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Integrating security from the outset and “shifting security left” in the service design will help to address security and privacy risks earlier in the development process, allowing teams to identify security needs as components are developed, reducing the cost and burden of changes later. A process of continuous review and improvement should be built into the development and maintenance of the service to support the selection of proportionate security measures that will protect against cyber attacks.

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6. Build in accessibility from the start

Building in accessibility from the start is key to ensuring that your programs, service, tools and applications can be used by everyone, including those living with a permanent disability, but also by those who may have a temporary limitation or disability due to illness, accident, environmental changes or technological difficulties.

Worldwide, over a billion people, about 15% of the world's population, have some form of disability. Between 110 million and 190 million adults have significant difficulties in functioning (World Health Organization).

In Canada:

  • 14% of the population (4.9 million Canadians) identify as a person with a disability
  • 30% of the population have a disability if you include “invisible” disabilities (e.g., colour blindness, cognitive, mental health or chronic pain-related)
  • 50% of the population have a disability if you take into account age-related impairments (e.g., low vision, low hearing or cognitive impairments)
  • At least once in a person’s lifetime, they may also have a temporary disability brought on through accident, illness, repetitive strain or lifecycle changes (pregnancy).

Curb cuts are intended to help wheelchairs get up on sidewalks, but they also help bicyclists, parents with strollers, delivery people, and many other non-disabled groups. This benefit to others became known as the “Curb-Cut Effect”.

When inclusive and accessible design is in place, it is a benefit for all and seamlessly meets the needs of individuals across the board, including people without disabilities.

Sometimes people are in situations that limit their ability to hear, see, use their hands, concentrate, understand instructions, etc. Sometimes they are using devices that have limitations in size, input interface, etc. For example:

  • Watching TV in a noisy environment (limits one's ability to hear, but closed captioning helps by conveying audio messages through text)
  • Driving limits one's ability to concentrate on multiple things and limits the use of their hands. When drivers are lost, they often rely upon their smartphone for directions. To avoid getting tickets for distracting driving, taking one's eyes off the road or taking one's hands off the wheel, drivers can use voice recognition to ask the smartphone directions and have the directions read aloud.
  • Walking around with small children (e.g., curb cuts for stollers, hands full, concentrate, understand instructions)
  • Having one's hands full may require relying on smart speakers for instructions (e.g., getting recipe details while cooking, getting step-by-step instructions while fixing things around the home)
  • Using a small mobile phone in bright sunlight, where the glare reduces visibility, while browsing the Web with only one hand (e.g., carrying a bag in the other hand) on a slow Internet connection
  • Having to interact in another language

These limitations are sometimes mentioned as an example of how accessible design helps everyone, including people without disabilities.

  • findability; when content is accessible it increases its findability
  • understandable content for all users that is also machine-readable

6.1 Services should meet or exceed accessibility standards

The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that a high level of accessibility is applied uniformly across its service delivery channels. Technologies and standards are constantly evolving and accessibility plays a major role in making the Government of Canada more effective and inclusive. A more consistent, convenient, clear, and easy user experience when using government services online builds trust.

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Development of accessible (regardless of ability, device or environment) digital services enhances the overall experience for everyone by improving and simplifying the overall design.

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6.2 Users with distinct needs should be engaged from the outset to ensure what is delivered will work for everyone

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Involving users early in projects helps you understand real-world accessibility issues, such as how people with disabilities and older people use the web with adaptive strategies and assistive technologies.

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Involving users early helps you implement more effective accessibility solutions. It also broadens your perspective in a way that can lead you to discover new ways of thinking about your product that will make it work better for more people in more situations.

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This applies when designing and developing:

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(Involving Users in Web Projects for Better, Easier Accessibility (W3C))

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7. Empower staff to deliver better services

7.1 Make sure that staff have access to the tools, training and technologies they need

We need to evaluate and determine the tools and systems that we will use to build and host the service, as well as prepare for the operation and measurement of the service. We will also need to determine how to procure or build these tools and systems efficiently.

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We must seek out and use modern methods such as Agile to ensure that the digital services we own and implement are innovative. We must ensure that our teams are consistently engaged through various opportunities to learn and participate in knowledge-sharing, and that we are successfully collaborating with both internal and external partners.

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7.2 Empower the team to make decisions throughout the design, build, and operation of the service

We must empower staff to share power and control over projects. This can involve assigning tasks, setting priorities, troubleshooting problems, and assessing issues. As a whole, this will mean balancing a recognition of talent with a frank assessment of results.

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We must always be searching for ways to improve service delivery, through review of business processes, user testing, and commitment to best practices for service delivery when designing or redesigning digital services. We need to maintain a strong working relationship with experienced contracting and budgeting officers to facilitate a smooth contracting process.

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Every service must have a person that will hold the designate authority to make critical decisions (product owner). Key responsibilities will include managing how the project's vision is articulated, stakeholder/vendor relationships, efficiency, and accountability. This individual will also determine features of the service.

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8. Be good data stewards

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The Government of Canada is increasingly looking to utilise technology and automated systems to make, or assist in making, administrative decisions to improve service delivery. It is committed to doing so in a manner that is compatible with core administrative law principles such as transparency, accountability, legality and procedural fairness.

8.1 Collect data once from users only once and reuse wherever possible

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8.2 Ensure that data is collected and held in a secure way so that it can easily be reused by others to provide services

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9. Design ethical services

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9.1 Make sure that everyone receives fair treatment

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9.2 Comply with ethical guidelines in the design and use of systems which automate decision making (such as the use of artificial intelligence)

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10. Collaborate widely

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10.1 Create multidisciplinary teams with the range of skills needed to deliver a common goal

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It’s important to have a strong multidisciplinary team in place, led by one person who is accountable and has the authority to make decisions based on the outcomes of research, testing and prototypes.

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The team’s skills and focus need to evolve as the service is designed and developed. The team also needs to adapt its structure based on the needs of the service and the phase of work.

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To be successful, build a team with:

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(Digital Service Standard (Ontario))

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10.2 Share and collaborate in the open

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10.3 Identify and create partnerships which help deliver value to users

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