In response to Andrew Lewin (this should be a rap battle)

Andrew Lewin has written a superb post about what has happened recently in government 2.0 (I am doing it on purpose now) and the questions this raises with regard to innovation vs transformation. Do go and read it, I just wanted to address a couple of points, (and my comment on his blog became an essay so I deleted it and am writing it here instead!). Here’s the bit I want to talk about:

Maybe it’s time for Transformational Government to come up with its own version 2.0 to take into account how it should be working to promote open source, small inspirational and novel microsites? Behind the scenes it already is – coming up with ways of using the semantic web to deliver services while retaining the core commitment to Directgov, Businesslink and a small number of central websites and forbidding any new ones. But the evidence suggests this core line might be breaking in 2009 and that it needs to have a more fundamental root-and-branch rethink or risk becoming the sort of block to responsive, user-centred design of government services that it was created to promote and achieve.

I believe it already is. When you Google ‘transformational government’, which I have to do every time I am looking for that strategy document as I can never remember the CIO url, or even that it sits on the CIO website (:)), the first link you get is indeed the right one (hooray) and takes you straight to this:

CIOFollow the first link about Open Source, Open Standard and Re-use and  you get this, with a link to the PDF for the detail (wince) and a natty netvibes page for following the conversation. OK so this is not about website rationalisation, which is the bit in the Transformational Government policy to which I think you refer, but it is definitely a 2.0 thing, no?

To my mind, most people think that transformational government is just website rationalisation: it’s not, it’s just that that bit has had quite a bit of Press. Here is an explanation of all the areas covered by the TG agenda.

Yes there is the bit about reducing lots of websites and utilising Directgov and businesslink.gov.uk, but there is also the following:

  • empowering individuals to influence their services, with greater opportunities and direct involvement to influence the way they are designed and delivered

I say that this, alongside the opensource, open data commitment is the backbone to what you are proposing happens: without it being done in a brand new announcement that includes the words 2.0 🙂 Of course, this could be interpreted many different ways, but I would like to think that everything that has happened, has actually ALL been a part of transformational government: it is far bigger than website rationalisation (that did need to happen).

Steph Gray points out on Andrew’s blog that perhaps the measurement of website convergence success should not be urls, enabling WordPress sites to be thrown up wherever and whenever. I am not sure… I don’t know that rapid response to customer need, and engaging with people where they are already conversing necessitates MORE websites. The one site being pointed to is the much heralded Real Help Now: I think that this should have been done in Directgov, all it does in any case for the actual advice bit is deep link to Directgov and businesslink.gov.uk information; it should have been a Directgov campaign and I see no reason for it to have been otherwise under the TG rules. I don’t buy the argument that DG cannot do it because of tech, it can do maps and it can deep link… I think that in this case it was a Political decision.

Going back to the report by David Varney: Service transformation, a better service for citizens and business, a better deal for the tax payer (flipping difficult to find, but readily available as a PDF, prob because it is sold by TSO for £18!) upon which the TG strategy is based: it does look dated now.

Update: and would you take a look at this?! http://blog.helpfultechnology.com/2009/02/consultationxml-goes-open-source/ Now that’s exciting… and great

Directgov franchise building – should anyone care to know

A part of my current job is to rebuild the two areas on Directgov: ‘Crime, Justice and the Law‘ and ‘Government, citizens and rights‘. (This is not the first time I have worked on Directgov franchises, my sticky fingers are all over ‘Money, tax and benefits‘ and ‘Disabled people‘ and ‘Caring for someone‘ – to varying degrees.) Any road, I am getting quite excited about how these two franchises (Directgov speak for a content area on their site) are turning out – it even looks as if they may become three if we listen to what our customer research is telling us loud and clear – and I thought the development of a new franchise, or even franchises, might be something of interest to those who read my blog.

If not, read no further, good day to you!

I am going to assume that few of you reading this understand how Directgov gets its content and how it operates its franchises (for now). Here’s how it works (very basic version you understand):

Some time ago extensive research was done to see where the touch points were with government and the citizens of this country. This offered up the segmentation of content that you see now. Then departments were assigned areas of Directgov, franchises (so called because its modus operandi was similar to a department store) were created, with the appropriate level of funding and resource – in theory, and now (thanks to Sir David Varney and the transformational government agenda) becoming a reality.

So ends the brief history lesson – that is what got us to where we are now, and watch this space because although I am no longer a part of the central team, I do hear what their horizon-scanning work is offering up and it is good, revolutionary… and good.

Right, so where we are right now is in the research and customer insight phase. Late last year we canvassed all areas of the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice (the two main stakeholders in the franchises), to discover what the departmental drivers were, what information did us citizens NEED to know, regardless of whether we were aware of it. This was run in parallel with a series of focus groups across the UK to assess what people really wanted, what information we could provide that would make life a little bit more easy to navigate (when dealing with the public sector/government).

The outcome of these two pieces of work were then cross-matched for commonality and relevance and a series of topics collated that were then put through a ‘card-sorting’ phase – with real people 🙂 us users of said service.

The results have been developed into wireframes (pretend title pages) to test the information architecture of the site areas – that means the navigation, the route through to content should you choose to click through rather than use the search function.

What we get next is an iteration of the navigation until we have found the architecture that works best. This will be developed into a full information architecture, with titles for each page and then we go about the task of re-purposing or creating the content.

Alongside this we are completing a full content audit of what is currently available, so that we can easily find, de-dupe, re-write (if necessary), everything that is already out there. A laborious task but one that will pay dividends in the end, for the cost to the public purse and to ensuring that there is a single source of information that is maintained, owned and accurate… online – a surprisingly mean feat if you consider how long the www has been going, and how much information government has provided over the years.

Of course some content may have to be written from scratch or re-purposed through interactive tools or flat HTML, whichever suits the need. But the point of both exercises is to streamline the delivery of the franchises on Directgov, and more importantly – provide the right information, in the most helpful way – it has to be said, that this is regardless of whether the message is a popular one or not, it is not our raison d’être to address the popularity or otherwise of what the current government policies are.

Within days we will have developed our planned content architecture and within weeks we will know how much work is involved in delivering this and how soon we can start getting the right stuff in the right place for everyone.

I look forward to sharing this with you.

Important to note

  • the current offering is working as a place-holder for us, so please do not send me useful tips on how to make it better; the point is that we know it needs to be a whole lot better
  • we may seem pedantic, but if you are going to do this well… do it right (and we can do so without it costing the earth)
  • This blog post is written from my own experience only

What can you do? Let me know if you want me to post further on this subject, please 🙂 and in the future, it would be good if you could help us refine our franchise areas on Directgov.

Important to note, I am not delivering this single-handedly. Hereby listed the civil servants working on this with me in departments (not Directgov – too many to list):

Yasmin Diamond

Bill Reay

Phil Ramdeen

Fran White

Dan Berry

Atul Sharda

Jeremy Gould

Blogging sin: forgot to say Andrew Lewin has been integral to this process… damn it… forgive all future sins, I am sure I will add to this list



Bring out the Windsor and Newton, I need to paint…

Huge apologies to those waiting for me to write up the discussion on Thursday. It will come, next week, it will be useful and yes… you can play too.

In the meantime, the questions that I have been sent privately suggest that my presumed awareness of website rationalisation and transformational government might be a little skewed.

The official documentation can be found by Googling the two terms, and maybe downloading a couple of PDFs, but the following is an explanation *MY OWN PERSONAL VIEW ONLY* of why it is important background to how we consult policy development in the future, and hence: the changing face of e-democracy… and why it is a part of what I am trying to do.

(My qualification for writing about this comes from the period of time I worked with Alex Butler *formidably good* and Andrew Stott *formidably mathematical* communicating the practical requirements of the policy across Whitehall).

Essentially, transformational government contains a piece about the online world: given the handle of website rationalisation. Website rationalisation has sub-divided itself  into rationalisation and convergence.

Website rationalisation is simply: reducing the number of websites government uses to disseminate information.

Website convergence is (I am not going to say simply) migrating the content out there onto the three proposed ‘golden’ destinations:

  • Directgov: for citizen information
  • businesslink.gov.uk: for business from SMEs to large corporates
  • Departmental sites: for stakeholder/’corporate’ information (central department sites only, non-departmental public bodies NDPBs are required to associate themselves with their ‘owners’)

There are more, NHS, Police etc but they are exceptions. Stick with the simple version…

In theory, this is a good thing: it simplifies how government delivers information, helps us members of this democracy find the information we need and it will eventually reduce cost.

All of this needs to be complete by end March 2011.

So for us, it’s good!

For departments it is more challenging as it does mean that every website needs to be audited, carved up and re-delivered through the three agreed channels.

I cannot hope to give the number of websites we are talking here, but there are many 🙂 please forgive my reticence to quote numbers, I know I will only be proved wrong!

Again, in theory, this is simple: audit the sites, audit the information, de-duplicate: re-deliver.

The challenge comes when policy units need to consult, to engage with us and find out what we think. Can using such a remote version of e-delivery work?

The challenge is already here. The people working in departments across Whitehall and the UK are now, have been and will be consulting on policies they are charged with developing over x number of years, and the Internet is a key tool for doing so. Take away the policy unit’s website and… how can this be done?

Well, the choice right now is the departmental website: until Directgov is able to offer consultation tools (not knocking DG, this is a biggy).

But… what if we were to look at this as white space? The information that we all need to know in any circumstance will, by 2011, be delivered through the three approved government arms. (Tempted to go Ganesha on the arms thing, but, let’s not.) Departments have time to streamline the corporate sites.

So is this an opportune moment to look at better ways of getting peoples’ opinion on policies in development?

My gut says yes. The temperature in the department I work for says yes. Hence all the fuss.

I will bring you details of the discussion last Thursday and will show you where you can play and what you can do if this matters to you.

Hoping that helped…

HELP ME

I seem to have written that as the subject line of a great many emails today! So why not a post?

On Thursday, 4th December 2008 – midday, I am hosting a meeting, wrong handle…, hosting a ‘thing’, about how departments will consult policy online and how we might help policy groups choose the most effective channels available (in light of transformational government) to engage/inform (gulp).

The background to why this event is happening is:

  • that online communication has moved on at a speed that organisations/public sector would struggle to keep up with
  • adoption of social media as a communication tool in the digital world has been aggressively successful
  • transformational government: website rationalisation

The problems we are looking to address are:

  • how can those involved in developing policy in this democracy ensure that they can engage effectively online with those people either affected by or interested in that policy
  • what are the most effective channels for digital engagement in the ‘website rationalised’ world

This started as a very small discussion amongst those I knew in the public and private sector who were great at this kind of thinking, an informal chat that would offer up some interesting grist for our overworked mill. I blagged favours and felt rather chuffed that I had so many great people agree to come.

It has grown into much more than that, as obviously there is much interest in this, and it is a huge opportunity not to be wasted: having so many stonkingly brilliant people together in the same room for two hours.

Why am I posting? Why do I want help? Well, I thought that those of you who read this blog are obviously also interested in this kind of stuff and thought that it would be a bit rude not to include you.

So, two things, send me, by email or post here:

1. Questions/thoughts that you think we need to address in such a meeting

2. Ideas/links to innovative ideas you have on consulting policy online

Special thanks to Sarah Goulbourne and Will Jones from Tom Watson‘s office for helping at the last minute with a suitable venue; Oli Barrett for an invaluable telephone conversation about tips on getting the most value out of this session; Steve Moore for offering his facilitation skills; Mitch Sava for agreeing to present and Tiffany St James for focusing my mind (as ever).

MyLifeMyID website: and my thoughts

Anyone who has had a looked at my LinkedIn profile now would see that I am working for the Home Office. I am there working on website convergence (a part of the transformational government strategy) and the Home Office presence on Directgov and Businesslink.gov.uk.

The website: http://www.mylifemyid.org/node first came to my attention as it was a new site that had been set up by the identity and passport service, therefore I needed to include it in the Home Office web estate, and so include it in the list of sites we need to rationalise/converge.

This has been duly done and I won’t bore you with the detail, it is temporary.

When I saw it promoted on the BBC news tonight, I thought that I would have another look.

It is worthy, yes people need to interact and to understand, prod and question the ID scheme (DISCLAIMER: I have nothing to do with this policy area, or the Identity and Passport Service other than collaborating with them in the effort to redefine the Home Office web presence).

However, I thought that much effort has been expended here, the Minister has gone out into the student community to explore this, taking with her this website as part of her tool-kit (as it were).

If we could establish social media and online social engagement in departments, removing the fear of the unknown, reducing perceived risk and so on – this drive to engage people and encourage dialogue would be very simple, and I believe more effective.

The website is good, it is a gentle mix of information pages alongside an invitation to collaborate. However, in order to interact, personal detail must be divulged, registration is mandated. Bearing in mind that one of the chief concerns about ID cards is the risk of government misuse of data (something that I do not buy into at all), it is slightly ironic that the ‘consultation’ website demands disclosure of potentially sensitive/indentifiable information.

Hopefully, in the future, the opportunities offered by social media to help inform and challenge controversial policies will be welcomed by Ministers and policy units – in the same way the websites are now.

DISCLAIMER: I am a contractor to the Home Office, I certainly do not represent their own views, all of these are my own, and on a personal note, I think the efforts being made are valiant.

Here’s to encouraging and sharing opportunities across departments to make this a more democratic society.