The UK’s first step towards a single government website

GOV.UKThose interested in how a single government website may function should take a look at the UK’s beta www.gov.uk site. When you navigate to the site, you’re told immediately that it’s an experimental trial replacement for Directgov, that it may contain inaccuracies or be misleading, that Directgov remains the official website for government information and services, and that feedback is welcome. It also tells you that the site is using cookies and Google Analytics and explains that more information on cookies can be found at AboutCookies.org. All understandable caveats and disclosures.

It’s hard not to find GOV.UK and all that’s gone into it interesting, impressive and inspiring (to understate matters a little). Some early observations (from a quick look at the site, an introduction post on the Government Digital Service (GDS) website and an excellent O’Reilly radar article):

  • the UK government is doing this with the express aim of delivering “simpler, clearer, faster services for users and savings and innovation for Government” (what’s not to like);
  • the first beta release is the first of three phases: the first public beta phase is delivering some of the mainstream, citizen-facing aspects of GOV.UK; the second phase will be a private beta test of a shared GOV.UK ‘corporate’ publishing platform; and the third phase will be a first draft of a GOV.UK ‘Global Experience Language’, to provide clear, consistent design, user-experience and brand clarity for those developing sites for the single GOV.UK domain) (an admirable phased release, seeking public feedback along the way, and illustrating transparency and a real interest in outside input and a recognition that governments can launch and develop iteratively);
  • according to the GDS post, they have “re-written, re-designed and re-thought 667 of the needs people have of Government … making them as findable, understandable and actionable as [they] can. [They've] built a scalable, modular open source technology platform to support them, … designed the user experience around them and … worked with colleagues across many departments to fact-check them. Through designing and iterating these [they've] got the templates and techniques [they] need to support a whole host more needs – either written by [them] or others” (an impressive, user-centric and whole-of-government approach);
  • they’ve used “a small team of designers, developers and managers supplemented by micro-businesses when [needing] particular specialist skills”, they’re “using open software and tools as much as possible, and developing in the open”, the “site is hosted in the cloud” and their “processes are iterative and agile” (probably enough to make web developers and even your occasional IT lawyer weep, with joy that is, assuming all other things are equal);
  • they’re hosting it with Amazon Web Services for now and will shift it to the government’s G-Cloud framework once it’s up and running (another international example of infrastructure as a service);
  • the code behind GOV.UK has been released as open source code on GitHub (to the applause, no doubt, of the open source community);
  • to assist collaboration in the site’s development, they’ve been using (according to the O’Reilly piece) a mixture of Campfire for team chat, Google Apps, MediaWiki, Pivotal Tracker, and “many, many index cards” (no reinvention, fit for purpose tools; excellent);
  • they’re using Google Analytics to gather some rich statistics (interesting);
  • they’re use Twitter (handle @GovUK or see http://twitter.com/govuk) to publicise what they’re doing and gather people’s feedback (good use of social media);
  • they’re using the Get Satisfaction customer support service for feedback (makes sense; little point in replicating); and
  • much of the information on the site is said to be “available for reuse under the Open Government Licence” (the OGL is similar to the Creative Commons BY licence; great to make “much of the information on the site” available under this licence (an approach similar to that advocated by NZGOAL) but more clarity is needed on which particular copyright content on the site is not available for re-use under the licence, without which users could inadvertently breach copyright, as the case referred to in the previous post shows can happen); and
  • the UK government’s pointing to the AboutCookies.org website is, quite simply, some of the best advertising a law firm could hope for (www.aboutcookies.org is “brought to you by OUT-LAW, part of international law firm Pinsent Masons)”.

Wow.

2 Comments

  1. Should this really be wow? Yes it is awesome but we’ve been telling government this for years that this is the approach to take. It should be relief that they are actually listening and doing it. They are just using the tools that every startup uses and enterprises are slowly figuring out that they should be using. So I wonder when NZ will start taking this approach?

  2. Richard (Author)

    Hiya Glen. Wow and awesome sound pretty similar to me :) The fact they’re ‘using the tools that every startup uses and enterprises are slowly figuring out that they should be using’ is to be commended I reckon, even if start-ups have already been doing it for quite a while now (and bearing in mind that startups and governments are somewhat different beasts with different agility factors). Another spin on it could be that this is further evidence of the value that private sector expert input can bring to public sector operations, just as we’ve seen in the open data space across multiple governments internationally. Onwards and upwards.

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