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Better Rules, Better Outcomes

The frameworks for creating and managing the rule of government, as reflected in policies, legislation and regulation, are still based on a paper paradigm. In a digital world this creates poor service experiences and often the intent of a policy is not achieved. Instead if we co-design authoritative machine-consumable rules we can provide better services for citizens, better delivery of policy intent, and enable communities, NGOs and private sector to be part of a government service ecosystem.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

The models of creating, managing, using and improving the 'rules' of government (policy, legislation, regulation and business rules) are traditionally developed for use in a non-digital – paper – environment. In an ever increasing digital world, this creates inefficiencies and also can impact on the effectiveness of the policy – i.e. the original policy intent is not achieved.

New digital technologies and the effective use of government data present opportunities to better deliver to people’s needs. To fully realise these opportunities, policy and rules need to be developed in a manner that recognises the context of the business or citizen customer experience, and enables digital service delivery where appropriate. A different approach would be to apply a multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder approach to co-design authoritative and reusable sources of machine consumable legislation and rules in conjunction with the transparently equivalent human-readable versions. This enables software, artificial intelligence, blockchain and IoT applications to be primary consumers of government rules.

The benefits of this approach would be: faster and better delivery of policy intent through integrated policy and service design; services designed to be delivered in the most effective and user-centered manner, e.g. seamless and responsive services; reduced risk from misinterpretation of rules & effective communication of rule changes simultaneously for all systems relying on those rules; early error correction, modelling & testing of outcomes; digital transformation of government; legislative reform, & future proofed policy; better cross system rules management; accountability of public and private measures & decision-making, supporting open, transparent, government; enabling NGOs, communities, social enterprises and private sector to be part of a government services ecosystem.

In February 2018 a 3 week Discovery Sprint (Better Rules) explored this approach. The results were published in April 2018 and were subsequently reported by Apolitical, to much global acclaim. In July 2018, it was agreed that two existing cross-agency work programmes (Service Innovation Lab and Better-for-Business) will co-lead further development of this work. These two programmes represent 16 government agencies that are responsible for a large number of regulatory frameworks and provide the majority of government services to citizens and businesses. A global and distributed work programme has emerged since April 2018. In September 2018 a global online discussion forum was launched to shape a common vision and actions to realise this vision.

The Service Innovation Lab provided the environment and process for the 3 week Discovery Sprint, using a design-led and agile approach. The key feature was empowering a multidisciplinary, and multi-agency team to explore the problem space and co-create an approach. This team included policy developers, legislative drafters, service designers, rules analysts and software coders. The first week focused on understanding the problem and opportunity. The second and third weeks was spent working on two use cases to test the concept of developing machine consumable rules in parallel to human-readable legislation. The team used methods from the business rules community: concept diagrams, decision-trees and RuleSpeak, and used the software language Python to write the test legislation as code.

The Service Innovation Lab has since implemented two use cases of legislation as code: (1) to support a planning tool for parents, expectant parents and caregivers to assess what financial help is available; (2) a calculator to help low income ratepayers find out how much of a rebate they are entitled to and steps them through the application process.

The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment has taken the lessons learnt through the Better Rules Discovery into account as they review the Holidays Act, where the intent of the Act is widely supported, but the design of the Act makes it difficult to implement. The Discovery Sprint explored if a “rules” approach could help remedy some of the problems. Some of the findings are reflected in a Cabinet paper.

The next steps are to: (1) further test the approach on the end-to-end review and implementation of a piece of legislation; (2) bridge the gaps between professions (policy, service design, software developers) (3) connect up the global interests through an open online forum; and (4) harness the collective work and intelligence across communities to better understand the problems and opportunities in this space.

During our journey, we have been inspired by: Data61 (Australia) and their concept and tool for “regulation-as-a-platform”; the implementation of the OpenFisca software (France) as an open source rules and calculation engine; the business rules methods used by Inland Revenue (NZ) based on the Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules Standard.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

Previously people have looked at optimising the policy and drafting process while separately others were trying to develop code from existing legislation. We have brought the two professions together as part of a multidisciplinary team to co-design both human and machine-consumable legislation. The project is using methods, standards and a knowledge base that are shared and understood by all professional groups. The approach we developed can be used across groups and across sectors. By focussing on open-standards and open-source solutions, the single source rules of government can be easily shared across the whole government ecosystem, including communities, NGOs and the private sector.
This project moves away from digital being digitisation of existing government processes and enables true digital transformation. This work enables the public sector to capture more benefits from “going digital”, including capturing benefits from emerging technologies like AI, blockchain and IoT.

What is the current status of your innovation?

The “Better Rules, Better Outcomes” initiative doesn’t follow a linear innovation pathway and goes across multiple phases. Some of the use cases are being implemented, but they are domain specific. Scaling and systemising the concept to make it part of the core of how government operates is in the design phase. The approach is based on (1) prototype & iterate and (2) start at the “edge” and move slowly into the “core”. Part of our focus is to have more use cases to share with the wider government community to create more awareness and buy-in.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

The founding partners were: the Service Innovation Lab (who provided the environment and lead the design process); the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and Inland Revenue (agencies responsible for policy development and service delivery); the Parliamentary Counsel Office (the agency responsible for drafting legislation); and a private sector software company to provide implementation expertise. Others included government and non-government policy, legal and software professionals.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

The application of this approach benefits: (1) citizens and businesses through better government services and greater transparency of eligibility requirements, rights and obligations; (2) government partners in the service delivery ecosystem, including non-government organisations and software developers; (3) policy developers and legislative drafters through improved and more agile process of developing and implementing policies and legislation that achieves the original policy intent.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

Since the publication of the Discovery Report, the network of interested people has grown to more than 200 individuals affiliated with 50+ organisations worldwide. Many want to replicate our approach and expand on our work as they see potential impact on: (1) the pace and quality of policy development and implementation when co-designed by a multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholder team which is focused on the context of the end user and works to remove the translation gap between policy intent and implementation; and (2) the ease of service integration, innovation and change management based on single-source, openly available machine consumable rules.

The two implemented use cases of legislation as code that calculate eligibility for financial support for parents and low income ratepayers have proven the value of this approach, particularly to support integrated service delivery for eligibility calculations, and clarification of rights, obligations and for compliance purposes.

Challenges and Failures

The biggest challenge is to balance the interest of the different groups and professions needing to participate to make this innovation a success. The value proposition for each group is different. The ultimate aim is to have better services for citizen and businesses. The concept is easier to “sell” to people in the service delivery and software development space. Policy developers and drafters may see this as eroding their profession. We have the support from senior executives in the policy and drafting professions, but we have to make sure everybody gets value out of this.

Conditions for Success

For an innovation like this to start required the interest, enthusiasm and commitment from a diverse group of people who held a common goal and could contribute their specialist expertise for a concentrated, but brief period of time. Building from this positive start was possible because the process was conducted completely in the open - inviting people in to peer review the work and publishing and promoting the final report. This and the fact that each person involved became a champion of the work in their respective professions has built considerable momentum for the continuation of the work, including gaining senior level support across government and future collaborative partners.

The all-of-government nature of the Service Innovation Lab and the Better-for-Business programme provided the right environment for this kind of innovation. This includes design-led and software developer delivered prototyping.


The innovation started with a small but diverse group.
Through co-leadership of two existing cross-agency programmes, representing 16 agencies, we are able to extend the reach across a large part of the NZ public and support new use cases.

Through support from senior executives this project is also championed at several All-of-Government forums and partnerships that will define the future of digital government in New Zealand.

By kick-starting a global community we have created the environment that will enable this innovation to be further developed and scaled around the world.

Lessons Learned

The design-led approach taken to explore the problem and opportunity space was a valuable way to approach this complex space. It helped the diverse group come to collective agreement even though this was sometimes uncomfortable and confronting.

Since the work was started as an experiment by practitioners and without senior level sponsorship, the idea, once proven, needed to then be ‘sold’ to senior leaders. This then delayed further progress on the broader work while these leaders were brought on board.


  • Developing Proposals - turning ideas into business cases that can be assessed and acted on
Call for Innovations Call for Innovations
This case was submitted as part of the Call for Innovations, an annual partnership initiative between OPSI and the UAE Mohammed Bin Rashid Center for Government Innovation (MBRCGI)

Innovation provided by:

Date Published:

13 May 2018

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