Public Sector

Lessons from our approach to successful service assessments

08 May 2024 • 5 min read

classroom without people-1-1

At AND we work with a lot of teams delivering GOV.UK services - typically a blend of our own people, other suppliers and civil servants - delivering work that will go through a service assessment. While all are very different, there are some common challenges that we see repeatedly come up.


The first is the stress and anxiety of doing an assessment for the first time. Assessments aren't meant to feel like an exam, but we know they can do if it's a new experience for people.


The second is failing to collate their evidence, even if the team has done the work. Under time pressure, documentation and decision logs might not feel like a priority, especially if the team is doing all the right things to test, learn and iterate.


And finally, not effectively telling their story. Service assessments are about demonstrating a deep understanding of the problem and how the team's solutions address these. However, teams often take a project walkthrough approach, presenting the work done against each of the service standards.


To help teams overcome these challenges, we've developed an approach that sets service teams up for success.


1. Provide specialist assessment training


We take all of our teams through a ‘working in the public sector’ training course that reinforces and refreshes the service manual and services standards - the majority of this is spent on the fundamentals. We deliberately don’t spend too much time on assessments, because our perspective is that a service assessment is really a very useful exercise to validate that you’re on the right track to achieve the best outcome for your users, as opposed to a critique. 


So we focus on setting our teams up to do the right things - and then treat the assessment as an opportunity to showcase the excellent work that’s been done.


We also address logistics and what to expect on the day; when assessments happen, how long they take, who’s present and the possible outcomes. We tailor this to the department we’re working with.


All of this helps to address the anxiety people feel about them.


Some key lessons include:

  1. Use the Service Standard and the Service Manual as the foundation for your work, no matter what phase you’re in.
  2. Develop a governance process from day one; agree areas of responsibility and the tools you’ll use.
  3. Document decisions and risks, all with a mind that they could be used in the assessment.



Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash


2. Plan for assessment from day one


Every new phase of delivery begins with an inception (we’ll write about these in a future blog) - the critical activity for assessments is creating a plan for addressing and meeting the service standards, starting with determining which standards are relevant. For example, in a discovery it’s unlikely we would need to meet standards 12 and 14; make new source code open, and operate a reliable service.

We like to assign someone to each standard - this person isn’t responsible for doing the work, but instead takes a step back to determine if the team is doing enough to address it. While there are logical assignments, for example standard 1 (understand users and their needs) often lands with the User Researcher, there is absolutely no reason any other member of the team can’t own it.


During delivery, we track progress against each of the standards. Delivery Managers create a tracker, and tools like Jira, Trello (see image below), spreadsheets and post-it’s on a wall all work well - the tool isn’t important! But what is important is to review this regularly; incorporating it into sprint reviews works well. Like any good agile board, this enables the team to take collective action if they’re having trouble addressing any of the standards.


The final step during delivery is to start engaging with assessors as early as possible. Informing them of the service, the evolving needs and progress being made to address them. This provides invaluable early feedback that the team can take action on, and gives a good indication of the areas that are likely to be of interest during the assessment.



Example of a tracking tool


3. Coach and support teams throughout delivery


For all teams, but especially those doing their first assessment, we put in support from someone experienced to help guide and address questions (and concerns) in-situ. This is either through including a seasoned practitioner within the team, for example the team’s User Researcher. Or, drawing on our Public Sector Principals, having them act as a guide and mentor to the team, attending planning and review sessions, and being available for team or individual catch ups to provide any support that’s needed.


Assuming the team is doing all the right things, where we find this especially helpful is in crafting the story they want to tell in the assessment. Having an experienced perspective of insights, decisions and solutions that are likely to be of particular interest, helps shape this.


A common pitfall at this stage is the tendency to create a detailed step-by-step presentation, as opposed to a story-based narrative that explains who the users are, what they’re trying to achieve, the problems they face, what has been done to give them a good experience, and finally to show the most important parts of the team’s work. Reworking this is time consuming and frustrating - so being able to start on the right foot saves teams a lot of precious time. 



4. Practice run-through


The final piece is to have our team of Public Sector Principals, who are all experienced Service Assessors, run a mock assessment. In the same way you wouldn’t give a TED talk without practising it, an assessment is no different. You have a story to tell, and want it to be as compelling as possible.


Teams know their content inside out. What can be hard as a result is to see it from a fresh perspective and identify any blind spots. This can include anticipating questions of challenges from assessors on the work that's been done, or possibly even identifying something that’s been missed - providing the opportunity to formulate a plan for addressing them in the next phase.  


Doing a mock assessment does a lot to reduce stress in the team because they’re more confident going in, knowing what to expect. It helps refine the story, either highlighting interesting points that have been missed, or cutting down on anything that’s too detailed. 



And breathe.


Ideally that all results in progressing to the next phase. But even if not, it means that something has been spotted that needs to be addressed, or improvements made in order to deliver a service that fully solves a problem - all of which leads to the best possible outcome for our users.




  1. Acknowledge how people in teams feel about assessments
  2. Provide upfront training and support throughout delivery 
  3. Put in place structure and processes to manage and capture insights and progress
  4. Practice!



Successful service assessments contribute to the delivery of user-centered, high-quality government services. If you want to be sure you're on track to solve complex public challenges, learn how our dedicated Public Sector team can help. 

Public Sector

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