Archive for August, 2007

Can’t we all try and work together?

Its easy to take a dig at the efforts others in the public sector web world. Direct Gov is a good example. Its a pretty prominent shadow hanging over the rest of us in central and local government for all sorts of reasons. But its also an easy target because of its size, and the importance it has been given as the result of transformational government and the website ‘rationalisation’ cull.

I sometimes wonder if they don’t help themselves enough by not being more open about their work or answering critics. However they are quite a small team considering the importance of Direct Gov, with limited resources, and they can’t do everything.

Case in point is Public Sector Forums (PSF). Direct Gov is a particular target of theirs and I always enjoy their take on things. PSF is primarily for webbies working in local government. I know very little about their world, my perception is that they are way more sophisticated than central government in delivering e-government because they have faced very stretching targets over the last few years to deliver services online. Webbies in Whitehall have a lot to learn from them.

Equally I can only guess their sense of frustration and what might be perceived as Whitehall-imposed initatives. Sometimes it can be frustrating enough for us in government departments and we’re a lot closer to the centre geographically and psychologically.

PSF ran a piece while I was away on holiday taking a dig at Direct Gov and COI after discovering their respective del.icio.us accounts (The article is only available to subscribers so you’ll have to join if you want to view it). As holiday reading (I know, I really should have left the laptop at home..) it made perfect amusing reading. A few samples:

“We don’t want to ‘analyse’ the list of reading material in too much detail. We’ll leave that to one web ‘expert’ who we trust to have a good grip on these things, and who is perhaps best left anonymous, whose verdict on the reading lists was: “It’s not cutting edge, more catch up” ”

“All the news on Google over the past months and there’s only one link, which is negative. Also practically nothing on usability and accessibility.”

But on reflection I thought, isn’t it a shame that we spend so much time criticising each other and taking little pot shots? Aren’t we all striving for the same thing, improving online government provision for the citizen? Personally I’m glad that COI and Direct Gov are using tools like del.icio.us to share knowledge with their teams. Goodness knows that there is so much to learn about out there, I applaud their adoption of tools like this. They could have kept the accounts private but they chose to share them instead. Wouldn’t it be great if all public sector webbies followed their lead and used a common tag such as ‘govweb’  to mark out information of interest for all of us?

I’m not knocking PSF, as I said I enjoy their coverage and take on things. In fact I applaud the recent initative they are promoting to establish a public sector web management group (PWSMG). Initatives such as this can only help to share the knowledge and experience of the community of webbies to improve our work. I’m involved in a few different forums but without the backing and momentum of an organisation or energised individual it is very hard to gain traction.

I’m really glad that PSF are helping PSWMG to get going. I’m hoping to attend their inaugural event in October. Wouldn’t it be great if someone from Direct Gov was their too to be part of the community of public sector webbies?

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back to work…

back-to-work.jpg

… from a few weeks holiday to find a mountain (okay a small hill) of email despite judicious use of autodelete filters, and a pile of (mainly junk) mail. Still it all takes time to wade through.

Normal (erratic) service will be resumed shortly. Thoughts in my head:

– why can’t public sector webbies all be friends instead of carping?
– reducing the digital clutter
– how do you explain to customers that their website might not be the most appropriate online channel to use?

More on these, and others, soon.

future government web landscape starts to look (a bit) clearer

Its recess, quiet(er) in the offices of Whitehall than usual, and a great time to catch up on all the niggly jobs that have been sitting around in the inbox for a while. Not a great bunch of subjects to write about I’m afraid.

I’m off on holiday myself next week and one of the things I’ve been trying to finish up before I go away is to make sense of the ream of paperwork I’ve got knocking around relating to website rationalisation (or web rat as its ‘affectionately’ known around these parts).

The project has virtually become (another) full time job for me over the last eight months or so and for most of that time its all been about ‘closing websites‘ as my regular reader, and other webbies around Whitehall, will recognise with a groan.

I’ve previously bemoaned the lack of a coherent picture of government web/digital strategy. Its not that we don’t between us know what the constituent parts of it are, its just that perceptions are skewed by the headline grabbers.

But as the work moves towards identification of what information and applications should migrate into Directgov or Businesslink (known as website convergence in Whitehall, or webc.. oh, you get it..) we have to work out what to do with what will be left.

Simon D has already pointed out the problem of losing permalinks, especially where content is cited in the official record of parliament. There is a real danger that this will be excaberated in the short term as sites are rationalised – though in the long term it should be easier to manage.

I’ve been involved in some discussions about how to resolve this. I’d love to tell you about it. Its not that I can’t (though maybe that wouldn’t be a good idea) its just that I don’t understand how to explain it. I’m convinced it will work, but not being a techie I got lost when being told the difference between a URL and a URI. Needless to say, the scale of the task is large. But the approach seems robust.

Other recent developments have been a raft of draft guidance looking at what role departmental corporate sites will have in the future, improving accessibility, channel strategies, updating the government website guidelines etc etc

This is all good, and starts to clarify what we are about for the future. Still can’t help thinking we’re missing a trick though. It feels like a classic civil service problem solving scenario: issue identified, official(s) commissioned to draft guidance, draft circulated, a few comments received, then its policy.

While I don’t have a problem with that in principle (and the people doing the legwork know what they are doing) it just feels like it goes against the grain of what we are about – webbies, online experts, social media savvy. Shouldn’t we be using the very tools we evangelise about on a daily basis to harness the collective knowledge of the community and build this vision together? By ‘we’ I don’t just mean webbies. There are plenty of other interested parties in and around government who have knowledge, expertise, experience and views about the best way to do all this stuff. We should be harnessing that, not imposing solutions – however good they appear.

I’m rambling know and losing focus so I’ll stop for the moment. Suffice to say I think its moving in the right direction but it needs something else, a commitment to change and invest in improving how we do all this. Not sure what the answer is but I have some ideas. They can wait for another day.