In October, Martha Lane Fox, UK Digital Champion, wrote to Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, with the results of a strategic review of DirectGov he had commissioned.
I enclose some short excerpts from her letter below.
The letter and Francis Maude’s positive response are well worth reading and can be found at the Cabinet Office Newroom.
The major thrust of the recommendations is “to improve citizens’ experience of key transactions”. I understand this to mean that usability and accessibility need to be improved. The need for improvements in accessibility were inadvertently highlighted when the report was first published on the web as an inaccessible PDF file. When I reported this error to the webmaster the response was a rapid ‘mea culpa’ and an agreement to resolve it as soon as possible.
In general I agree with the suggestions in the report as it suggests ways of:
- Making it easier for citizens to navigate around and through the government websites.
- Reducing the cost of providing the various services.
- Improving the quality of the services, including usability and accessibility.
The simple answer to all of this is to take the hundreds of existing government websites and centralise them under the DirectGov banner. In the process provision, control and technology could all be centralised and simplified.
I suspect that reducing the number of websites is certain to improve the services. However, I have seen many reorganisations in my business life, and I have always been struck by the fact that the proponent of the reorganisation always explains the benefits that will accrue but never seems to consider what may, or will, get broken in the process. I believe what is likely to get broken is the ability of individual parts of the government to react quickly to changes in circumstance or opportunities. The new structure will be big, inevitably bureaucratic, and liable to stifle innovation.
The intention of the new structure is to enable a citizen to go to one place whatever the issue. It is not clear exactly how wide the net would be, for example would it include the NHS, Local Government, the Citizens Advice Bureau or the remaining Quangos, etc. If it does then the structure is gargantuan, if it does not then it cannot meet all the requirements of the citizen.
Getting the balance right between centralised organisation and control, and flexibility for the departments, is going to be the major challenge for the new CEO for Digital (see recommendation 4 below).
I will watch the progress with interest and report back on a regular basis.
Extract from Martha’s Letter:
“You asked me to oversee a strategic review of Directgov and to report to you by the end of September. I have undertaken this review in the context of my wider remit as UK Digital Champion which includes offering advice on “how efficiencies can best be realised through the online delivery of public services.” This means that I have not reviewed Directgov in isolation but as part of how the government can use the Internet both to communicate and interact better with citizens and to deliver significant efficiency savings from channel shift. This letter sets out my findings and key recommendations.
Summary of Key Recommendations
1. Make Directgov the government front end for all departments’ transactional online services to citizens and businesses, with the teeth to mandate cross government solutions, set standards and force departments to improve citizens’ experience of key transactions.
2. Make Directgov a wholesaler as well as the retail shop front for government services & content by mandating the development and opening up of Application Programme Interfaces (APIs) to third parties.
3. Change the model of government online publishing, by putting a new central team in Cabinet Office in absolute control of the overall user experience across all digital channels, commissioning all government online information from other departments.
- Departmental experts will still produce much content, on a commissioned basis.
- Over time, departments will stop publishing content to their existing sites.
- Any savings from the reduction in duplication should remain in departments, once transition costs and ongoing funding for the new central team have been taken into account.
- Ultimately, government should use just one Internet domain, which could be direct.gov.uk or hmg.gov.uk .
- A shared, agile, cost-effective suite of web services should replace existing departmental web publishing infrastructure.
- Put more effort into syndicating government content across the third party websites
4. Appoint a new CEO for Digital in the Cabinet Office with absolute authority over the user experience across all government online services (websites and APIs) and the power to direct all government online spending.”