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 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 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?

  1. Good points, Jeremy
    It is a little discouraging to think that colleagues would adopt a condescending attitude to someone showing the initiative to set up something like accounts.
    Yes, arcana in any field can promote a form of snobbery (what? nothing on usability?) — but isn’t the point of social media the conversation?
    I’d like to think that, especially as public servants, we would be doing our best to bring people along with us…

  2. For those of us not currently blessed with a email address… care to share the delicious details??

    Sadly it’s not a new thing. Even when there were only half a dozen of us working on Whitehall web stuff, back in 1995, there was never much in the way of collaboration (apart from a few notable exceptions).

  3. Simon, I’ll ask.

  4. Judging only from what you’ve written, I have to decry the tendency on the part of more technically minded or experienced folks to critcize your efforts simply because you don’t use the online tools as fully or as effectively as them.

    Quite simply, in government we don’t have to use accounts as extensively because we can usually plug all those keywords, clippings and links into our media relations programs.

  5. Good points. PSF goes OTT and whilst we all love that it can send people scurrying this time it was ridiculous finger pointing. However I disagree with Jason, the lack of usability links was illustrative as that’s my experience – usability isn’t and never has been front-and-centre.

    you’re right about the disconnect between local and central government and this lying behind the finger pointing. yes, from the other side central does appear as you suggest! lack of sharing is one bugbear of mine (there are others ;)) things are changing, I can see efforts paying out. yes, there are innovations happening that aren’t elsewhere in the world, although that’s often not where the PR is.

    here’s your real problem I think, the people who talk you up. I’ve encountered a fair few of them, non-webbies, non-tekkies. they just don’t take criticism or simply listen. for them, the train has left the station. never mind that it doesn’t work and it’s being pushed and it’s headed the wrong way. I could hear that attitude in Jayne Nickalls comments about Directionless.

    I’ve also seen it in the countless initiatives lavishly supported and then abandoned. The waste here (surrounded by big, patronising talk) pisses off localgov workers. believe me.

    the problem isn’t between us webbies, it’s them bureaucrats (and pollies) ;]

    • alex stobart
    • September 2nd, 2007

    I have recently joined PSF anf left a question there to see how readers react. The debate between local and central is insightful. We have been trying to work better across the sectors in Scotland but the next spending review may test the two sides trust in one another.
    The web site managers group is one to watch. Scotland never took directgov as we could not afford it. Local direct gov seemed to come in for even more of a hammering suring the New Statesman awards.

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