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We hosted an International Meet-up for Product Teams in Government, and it was great!

Last September, we were thrilled to welcome product teams from 4 different countries (and one European institution) for our first Meet-Up! 

Teams from all over Europe traveled to Paris on Wednesday 28th and Thursday 29th of September to participate in two days of workshops and discussions about developing innovative digital public services.

Participants :

DigitalServices4Germany, creating digital services for the German Federal Government, (Germany)

Digital Service Factory (Cyprus), 

Government Digital Services (UK), 

the Digital Experts Lab from the Federation of Wallonie-Bruxelles (Belgium) 

the European Court of Justice (UE) (France)

The first morning was dedicated to presentations, which allowed participants to detail the national context in which their digital service teams intervened, and to show-case their proudest achievements (a property tax calculator, Digital ID service and an open legal information service from DigitalServices4Germany, a child-birth grant service for Cyprus and the service from GDS).

An unconference format then ensued for the remaining day and a half where participants actively proposed workshops and topics for discussion.

A special visit was organized for all participants of AGLAE, the Louvre’s very own accelerator of particles which allows researchers and art historians to determine the exact chemical composition of historical artefacts, and has given rise to a collaboration with the programme through the creation of Euphrosyne, a digital service which allows easy access to the data created through the accelerator’s experiments. Participants were able to hear the first-handed experience of Claire Pacheco, a French civil servant turned “intrapreneur” in the beta.gouv programme. A great discussion ensued on the challenges of undertaking digital entrepreneurship within a public administration, and Claire’s own journey stepping into the role of a Product Manager.

Why did we decide to organize an International Meet-up for Digital Services ? 

  1. Here at, we have been heavily inspired by similar initiatives in different countries : both in the way we structured the programme, and by reusing open source code developed by other countries (such as Notify). We would equally have loved to have more focused discussions on how we can accelerate the re-use of certain products from one national context to another. 
  2. Working on the creation of digital public services within government can be lonely : who else can we discuss the particular challenges of the job with, other than our international counterparts? Our teams are often seen as the “oddballs” within more traditional government organizations, while best practices pioneered by our peers in the private sector need to be adapted before they can be applied in a government context. 
  3. We also felt that we had managed to “crack” certain problems, and were keen to share our learnings with teams which might be struggling with similar challenges. 
  4. We wanted to see if there is potential for an advocacy movement at the EU level (and beyond!) to promote the work and methodologies which distinguish product-lead organizations from more traditional IT delivery of public digital services? 

How did we go about organizing this Meet-Up? 

The goal was to kick-start the creation of a network of teams sharing similar missions and approaches to digital services. We decided early on in the process to focus on inviting teams which shared the following attributes : 

  • Product-led approach : interdisciplinary, integrated teams of technologists, who did not separate “product strategy” from “execution”. This often disqualified private sector firms and consultancies that merely “deliver” services on behalf of public administrations, according to pre-defined specifications. 
  • User-centric design and lean/iterative development methods : this typically involves conducting user-research or a discovery sprint, a soft launch on a limited scale, and deploying rapid iterations of the service based on user feedback. 
  • A focus on outcome over output, and building services in the general interest : constantly asking yourself “how is my product impacting users ? how can my service go further in solving a specific public policy issue?” 

Whilst we had clearly identified certain teams with whom we had already interacted, it proved much harder to produce a comprehensive list of all digital services in the world which fit our criteria! Reports on digital innovation produced by the OECD and the European Commission were useful in identifying big players, and the International #govdesign Slack was incredibly useful to get several conversations started. 

We reached out to 26 programmes in 19 different countries, before narrowing down on 10 programmes which seemed the most aligned with our approach. We’d be very happy, as an outcome of this Meet-Up, to build an up date international directory of digital product teams in government, if there is interest!  

Many programmes expressed interest in attending, but were unable to secure the necessary funding for international travel or had not yet resumed an international travel policy since covid. Our initiative was also perceived as “unusual” in many ways, as it differs from a traditional conference where executive directors are invited to discuss strategic vision (our intent was specifically for product teams, composed of software engineers, product managers and designers to discuss operational challenges and exchange best working practices). Our hope is the positive outcome of this first meet-up will persuade other teams to join similar initiatives in the future! 

What was the result?

Overall, this first meet-up has been a success! The first round of presentations was very useful to gain a better understanding of the scope, mission and context of each team, and lead to very fruitful discussions in the Q&A sessions. 

The Unconference (which took place Wednesday afternoon and all of Thursday) allowed participants to delve deeper into several topics, allowing them to better understand different programmes and for best practices to emerge. This was the first “unconference” for several participants, but everyone seemed to quickly get the hang of the format. 

Participants quickly discovered many shared similarities across programmes : 

  • Similar approaches to the design and delivery of digital public services, integrating lots of user research and adopting an iterative methodology
  • Similar products/services developed by each team (Digital ID services, public grant schemes, tax simulators…) 
  • Using public data as a basis for several products

On-going challenges shared by different teams were discussed, such as : 

  • Convincing public administrations to forsake the “waterfall” approach to development, and adopt “lean” methodologies
  • Recruiting top tech talent to join our programmes
  • Scaling rapidly expanding teams 

There are of course several differences between each programme : 

  • DigitalServices4Germany is a state-owned company. GDS and Cyprus’s Digital Service Factory are inter-departmental offices, is an intergovernmental network of digital teams. 
  • GDS runs several mature digital services which function as components that other administrations can either directly use or integrated to their own services DigitalServices4Germany has a mandate only to work only on services delivered at a federal level in Germany
  • has more of a focus on implementing public policies through digital services (and applying a “lean startup” methodology)
  • also has a heavy emphasis on “digital intrapreneurship”, or training civil servants as Product Managers in order to empower them to build and operate digital services

Given the high levels of enthusiasm generated at this Meet-Up, we propose to continue to bring life to this international network. 

All participants have been invited to join the International #Govdesign Slack space to stay in touch (join us :, and an international directory of digital product teams is under construction.

Participants also suggested we keep organizing virtual calls every 2 months with a focus on peer-to-peer learning (“codévelopment” in French). 

Finally, teams expressed a strong interest in organizing regular presentations of different Digital Services Teams to our respective teams and administrations, with the goal of drawing inspiration from other teams. As these presentations will be 100% virtual, this format could easily be extended to programmes who expressed interest in joining the meet-up, but were unable to travel internationally.

These discussions are crucial in demonstrating to public administrations that agile, user-centric digital services are a growing trend throughout the world, and are a good first step towards advocacy at a higher level. 

If you want to know more about the meet-up, or if you are interested in participating in a virtual knowledge exchange session between digital services team, please reach out to .

Special thanks to Martin Jordan for the photographs!

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