The Money to Prisoners service will enable the friends and families of prisoners to send them money via online secure forms. The Ministry of Justice will also implement the necessary business change, and provide the necessary guidance, to allow friends and family to submit payments via bank transfer.
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Outcome of service assessment
After consideration, the assessment panel have concluded that the Money to Prisoners service is on track to meet the Digital by Default Service Standard at this early stage of development.
The assessment panel were pleased to see that the Ministry of Justice team had used the knowledge and insight gained from delivering the Prison Visit Booking Service as a solid foundation for building this closely related service. The user needs of those sending money to prisoners and those administering funds in prisons were well evidenced.
The panel also found that the team’s approach to development was genuinely agile and initial ideas around the service’s features and interactions looked promising.
Although meeting user needs is at the heart of the development, reducing costs to users and government is a substantial driver, as demonstrated by this service.
Initial research had evidenced the need for a simple and inexpensive way to send money to prisoners. The speed of the transaction is important and the need for vigilance in terms of amounts, frequency, senders, etc, was found by the panel to be well understood.
The assessment panel have found Ministry of Justice digital teams to be well formed and complete and the delivery team for this service was no exception. The service team demonstrated a clear and healthy understanding of Agile methods, showing the ability for the team to communicate clearly with one another, to change their own process based on feedback and for the Agile methodology used to represent the teams ability to work, not constrain it. It was clear to the panel that the team valued healthy face to face communication over story definition and handoff by tool.
Security, privacy, tools and standards
The service team’s technology choices were in line with the Technology Code of Practice and the panel found that the team demonstrated a clear understanding of the risks that need to be addressed during the beta.
The service team were able to articulate the reuse of existing patterns appropriately, and while the panel would have liked to have seen more work on prototyping some of the security mechanisms, it was clear that the service manager and the technical architect were well aware of the security challenges that remained to be dealt with in the beta.
The assessment panel were also very pleased to see that pragmatic and realistic decisions had been made about the technology choices, selecting technologies based on their appropriateness for use rather than any government specific security solutions. The assessment panel noted that the ability of the team to deploy at any time and to automatically provision environments was considered important to the team.
The panel were also pleased to see that the team was choosing to release the code from the Alpha so that other people could learn from it and that the team had a clear policy of open by default for the beta code, with a clear explanation of the sort of code that would be held back.
The prototype service used the proven GOV.UK design patterns but it was noted that the design approach was responsive rather than mobile-first.
Analysis and benchmarking
The core KPIs along with integration of analytics were well understood. However, the initial service will focus on payments from users’ bank accounts and since this component will happen completely outside the service it will be difficult to measure. The panel thought that the team had some good initial thoughts on proxy metrics that would indicate success in this area.
The assessment panel appreciated the difficulty identifying and engaging with those sending money to prisoners, but thought that the research sample needed to be broader than just those who visited prisons. For example, those user groups whose only engagement with the prison service is sending money are an important audience segment.
The panel also felt that the service team needed to ensure that during research sessions, users are presented with a range of costs for each payment method. The highest costs should be the current actual fee, the lowest, the projected minimum fee. In particular, the assessment panel would like to see evidence of the team conducting research with costs which are unsupported by current policy (such as free card payments and charged for bank transfers) in order to either challenge policy or provide evidence to support the policy in place.
The service team mentioned that current policy was to pass the charge of card payment on to the user. The assessment panel would suggest that research should be done to understand what would be the preferred method of payment for users if cost were not a factor. This may give evidence to challenge or support the policy in place.
The panel believe continued ethnographic research is essential. This will help the team understand how users find and manage the details they need to make payments, eg prisoner number.
The panel advised that the team make sure that the hands-on development resource does not become overwhelmed by the management, analysis and administration functions feeding into it.
Security, privacy, tools and standards
The panel believe that detailed scoping and analysis of the security implications of the broader service should be initiated at the earliest opportunity. Although the minimum viable product will not include card payments, deferring the complexity around this will cause problems if/when this feature is required.
The panel also felt that demonstrated security analysis function needed some clear planning around long term use, especially as the dataset grows and the simple interface is no longer able to meet the desired needs.
The panel challenges the team to investigate what is possible around integration with the legacy systems. The team should do the hard work to make the tool simple, and while the legacy integration is a very difficult piece of work, the panel felt that the team has ruled out integration without fully exploring the problem space. The panel would hope that, at beta assessment, the team would be able to clearly explain why swivel chair integration is the option that is cost effective, and to articulate a clearer longer term strategy for a fully integrated system.
The panel think that the service team should consider a mobile first approach for the beta service. Research evidence has demonstrated that the majority of potential users would engage with the service on mobile devices. The panel appreciates that the initial service will be very much focussed on users setting up payments from their bank accounts. However, the introduction of card payments will accelerate the need for a mobile-first design.
The assessment panel felt that the service team has begun developing a very promising service that meets user needs and will improve efficiency in getting money to those in prison. More generally, the Ministry of Justice continues to demonstrate a delivery-focussed approach to meeting user needs by developing services in a truly agile way. The assessment panel looks forward to seeing the service for Beta assessment.
Digital by Default Service Standard criteria