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

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…

Web standards and guidelines for UK Gov websites

Are here: http://www.coi.gov.uk/guidance.php?page=188

Don’t get too excited, much of this is still in consultation (opportunity, folks, to get involved) – for example, the following:

  • Using social media (in consultation)
  • Metadata (in consultation)
  • Minimum standards for web metrics (in consultation)

Sadly, I am unable to fathom how to contribute to these consultations, but someone will know – I know many of you would have some great insights into this, so I will work alongside you to find out how to be included in the consultation.

I am disappointed, and I so SO did not want to be, that the section on domain name guidance and use of a dotgovdotuk url is still in the dated and a bit wonky section of the Cabinet Office website. I know many of the individuals involved in developing this, and I promise you that this apparent belligerance belies the passion of those involved in developing the new standards in light of website rationalisation and convergence.

In my own opinion only, I believe that it is a simple message: no content is to be published online for citizens or business, unless through the adequately funded Directgov and businesslink.gov.uk. Saving the public purse from a hammering through unnecessary website deployment. (That means, you and I no longer have to fund the near on 1000 websites published by the UK government – each with their own design and marketing budgets (it can add up quite quickly)).

Yet it is a very difficult message to deliver. I could bore on about how hard it is to join policy makers with their communication teams, and to establish enough of a relationship to even discuss online delivery of what is happening – my explanation: it is as hard as trying to explain a rave to your parents (for those born in the 70s/80s). Neither party is too fussed by the detail, but both want the outcome to meet our needs, whilst successfully avoiding our worst fears.

These guidelines are the detail, the ‘yada yada’… but they are key, paramount to success. We need to understand the (un)spoken rules – let’s just clarify them and get on with it. But as ever, the devil is in the detail (I really did not want to use that phrase but hey ho) – and probably there is an element of JFDI and if there is a fallout – manage it. (But what fallout will there be, other than brand arguments and ownership concerns? This is the public sector – there is no argument).

Frustration all around.

My reason for posting about this is to show you where the guidelines will be published and to encourage you to keep a close eye on this. Please do join in consultations where you can, and please don’t use it as a stick to beat the beaten. There will be some super cool stuff coming out of this huge change – and this change will benefit us all.

Who could do with a ‘tell us once’ policy and delivery channel that works? All of us, birth, marriage and death – pretty salient and definitely doable… if we can get this absolutely right from the start.

Let’s get on with it.

PS Anyone who knows any more, please let me know, particularly on the status of the consultations.

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