California publishes ‘Crisis Standard’ to help authorities design services in response to Coronavirus

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez April 15, 2020
It’s easy to imagine how standards slip down the list of priorities during a crisis like the Coronavirus pandemic. California explains why that would be a mistake.


Governments and public authorities around the globe have been working at breakneck speed to deliver new digital services in response to the current global health pandemic, Coronavirus. It would be easy to let standards slip when being tasked with turning around services in a matter of hours and days, rather than the weeks and months teams are typically afforded. 

However, California has released what it is calling ‘Crisis Standard’ on GitHub, which explains why it is still important to keep standards front of mind. We think it’s worth paying attention to and is a useful template for those teams around the world doing exemplary work in response to COVID-19. 

California’s Coronavirus crisis response team notes that Californians don’t distinguish between the different tools and services provided - they’re all still State services - and as such, the quality needs to be consistent. That’s true too of the site, or elsewhere. 

I’ve written some thoughts on diginomica about important points to consider when designing new services during a crisis - but I thought the Californian team’s ‘Crisis Standard’ was particularly succinct and helpful. 

Teams working in similar situations would do well to ask themselves the following questions, as outlined in the team’s post. The quotes included are taken directly from the post, but it’s worth reading the team’s standards in full - which can be found here. They include: 

Content is simple, clear and actionable 

Doing the hard work to make things simple for users has never mattered more. Users need clear, actionable instructions on what to do.

We need to help users understand what they should and shouldn’t do and, most importantly, why they need to do this. In a crisis, it’s easy for users to become stressed and overwhelmed with too much information.

Response is accessible 

Everyone needs to find out what they need to know, and do what they need to do. It has to be accessible to everyone. It’s not just that it’s the law; it’s the right thing to do.

This includes people with a whole range of disabilities or difficulties, people who use lower-end devices, and people inexperienced with computers. We also translate our content to meet the needs of users whose first language isn’t English, and consider those who might struggle to read.

Provide a joined up experience for users

Users come to the site as a jumping off point to address a wide range of needs and service they require. Users need a consistent and joined up experience as they move to other agency’s services and information.

To the end user, it should feel like one seamless experience that never leads them into dead-ends or into loops.

Information and advice must be the same across agencies, never giving the user conflicting actions.

Respond to what users need and iterate rapidly

This crisis is ever-changing. What users need from us is constantly changing. We need to be flexible and make changes rapidly based on data, feedback from users and the state government’s response.

User testing is essential, otherwise we won’t know whether we’re making things worse for people or meeting their needs.

Scale responsibly

We plan for increases and decreases in demand, consider the impacts of our decisions on other services, and have basic operational standards for what we expect from other services we link to.

We expect our partners to share their analytics and name a Service owner that’s accountable for the performance of the service. That service owner is the person who ensures all of the above for their service and who’s woken up in the middle of the night should the service stop working.