Government digital teams in the UK build public services that are genuinely valuable for the public, which is awesome. There is an increasing focus on ‘end-to-end services’, with the word ‘digital’ becoming less prevalent as we realise that software is not the beginning and end of public services - so much so that the Digital Service Standard is becoming the Government Service Standard.

Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.

This all sounds good . . . but what is an end-to-end public service? Do we all mean the same thing when we say end-to-end public service? Helpfully, some clever people have provided us with a definition. Louise Downe and Kate Tarling have created a great starting point for us to understand what an end-to-end public service is that I’ve been using for the last year or so (thanks both!).

Here is a summary of Louise and Kate’s work, in the form of three principles to help us understand what an end-to-end public service is - I’ve made a couple of tweaks so that it fits my context but it’s mainly a copy, paste, and summary of two of their posts.

Principle 1: A service helps a user to do something that needs to be done

To a user, a service is simple. It’s something that helps them to do something - like learn to drive, buy a house, or become a childminder. It’s an activity that needs to be done.

This isn’t always how government sees a service. Government sometimes sees services as discrete transactions that need to be completed in a particular way, like ‘Statutory Off Road Vehicle Notification (SORN)’.

‘Learn to drive’ describes a service. ‘Statutory Off Road Vehicle Notification (SORN)’ describes a transaction.

Adapted from Good services are verbs, bad services are nouns by Louise Downe, Government Digital Service.

Principle 2: A service name starts with a verb

A core principle of Agile and Lean theory is that services should seek to maximise value. Services should be judged not on their adherence to cost and delivery schedules, but on their delivery of value.

When a service name starts with a verb like ‘Learn to drive’ it tends to focus the attention on value. It describes a thing a user needs to do.

When a service name starts with a noun like ‘Statutory Off Road Vehicle Notification (SORN)’ it tends to focus on a transaction. It describes something the government does.

Adapted from Good services are verbs, bad services are nouns by Louise Downe, Government Digital Service.

Principle 3: Use the term ‘service’ accurately and sparingly

Some of what UK government refers to as services aren’t really services. ‘Learn to drive’ is an end to end service. The elements needed to learn to drive probably think of themselves as services in their own right. However, none of them independently meet the overall need to ‘learn to drive’. So they are not a service, they are a part of a service, or a ‘feature’ of a service.


A service helps a user to do something that needs to be done. It also helps government achieve policy intent on behalf of its citizens with whom it has a social contract. Services are best identified as verbs (visit the UK), rather than nouns (biometric residence permit).

The following are not services - they are things that help to build services:


Often the things we work on are just one step in a service. These are called features, and examples include:

  • applying for a visa
  • applying for a licence
  • granting or refusing permission.

Capabilities and activities

A capability is having all resources required to carry out a task – such as skilled staff and specialist tools – and also considers capacity and maturity. Appointment booking, for example, is a capability that requires:

  • an appointment booking system, which may be a technical capability
  • physical locations or phone support to host the appointments
  • a process for changing or cancelling appointments.

Activities are the things people do in relation to using a service, including:

  • finding out how something works
  • calling people for help
  • applying for something.


‘Technology’ means the digital systems, products, tools, hardware and applications we build, maintain and buy. Technology exists to support activities and capabilities – and enables us to deliver faster, clearer, simpler services.


Data means the actual information that’s either generated by or used to carry out activities and services. Use descriptive words for data, such as ‘National Insurance number’, and avoid acronyms.

Adapted from Creating a common language to describe services by Kate Tarling, Home Office.

You can suggest corrections and improvements or request clarification by at my Github repo or by getting in touch on Twitter.