GOV.UK, the most inspiring e-government on the planet. Here's why.
In 2010, Martha Lane Fox, named digital champion, issued a bold set of recommendations on what the UK government should do to better serve its citizens online.
She recommended revolution rather than evolution. One of the report's key recommendations was to create a centralized team with absolute control over the user experience of all government information published online.
The report's recommendations are radical when you think about how governments typically create online services. Indeed, in the UK – just like in Canada or the US – to make a site, you have to go through a very formal IT service procurement process. In the United States, some are bluntly calling this process "cancer" following the disastrous launch of Healthcare.gov, which reportedly cost US taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
At the end of 2010, Francis Maud, the responsible minister, began implementing the report's recommendations. The goal of the project: to save $4 billion and facilitate transactions with the government.
All ministries and 331 public bodies have already migrated their content to the new platform. An indisputable success. All this in just 3 years following the Martha Lane Fox report.
1. Unified UI but specialized templatesOne of the most radical elements of the initiative is the adoption of a uniform user interface for all departments and agencies, which are in fact brought together on a single site.
However, the goal is not to fit all content into the same template. On the contrary, their custom-developed content management system provides a large number of specialized templates for the different types of content that exist. For instance :
- A template for documents resulting from an access to information request
- A template for independent reports
- A template for correspondence
- A template for document series
- A template for speeches
2. Iterative development
The Government Digital Service (GDS) team has adopted the Agile approach. Who says Agile, says iterative. The idea is to offer an online service as soon as possible, and to constantly improve it. This iterative development may seem easy to achieve, but it turns out to be difficult in a tendering context, because everything must be planned and cannot be changed profoundly, at the risk of causing contractual problems.
3. CENTRALIZED TEAM
The Government Digital Service is located in a single office in London to facilitate communications. This physical proximity is recommended when adopting an Agile approach.
4. USER NEEDS BEYOND GOVERNMENT WANTS
The Gov.uk team attempted to identify citizens' needs by reviewing existing sites and looking at search strings used by users. This exercise made it possible to list 1,800 needs. In order to classify and prioritize these needs, they were recorded in an application called Needotron.
For each of these needs, they asked themselves several questions, for example:
- Is it the government's role to meet this need?
- Is the government the only one who can meet this need? (or is there already someone else who better meets this need?).
One of the design principles they enunciated is to do less. According to this principle, governments should focus on doing what only they can do.
5. OPEN SOLUTIONS
In addition to reusing as many open-source technologies as possible, all software solutions developed by the Government Digital Service are
available on their GitHub account.
6. Public performance measurement
Just like at Adviso, performance measurement is of great importance. All organizations are encouraged to build performance dashboards, which are systematically public.
The Government Digital Service team is very transparent in their work. For example, the development team's to-do list (the backlog) is public.
The team also publishes two blogs:
Emulating the Gov.uk approach involves giving up some autonomy on the part of departments and agencies. It would therefore take a minister with a lot of conviction to get there, but nothing is impossible.
Be that as it may, Gov.uk is already inspiring other governments, including that of New Zealand, which has decided to adopt the concept and the source codes developed in the United Kingdom.
Closer to home, the Canadian government is trying to foster the use of a common, open-source platform for government websites through the Web Experience Toolkit (WET). But the project remains very modest compared to the Gov.uk initiative.
To know more
I have only touched on the strengths of this project. To know more :