In the spirit of openness and transparency, there is a section of some government websites that deserves more of the searchlight. It’s the digital team pages, and one in particular has come under my scrutiny lately – Digital @ BIS.
bis.gov.uk/bisdigital has just recently launched. It’s primarily for webbies in the department and in its agencies, but it also serves to inform the wider public about what BIS does digitally should that public be minded to know more.
Not many departments have such sites even though more or less all have digital teams. Those that do are practicing what they preach.
The BIS example should be considered ‘best of breed’. It knows exactly who its audiences are and in what order. It’s design balances form and function. And it provides the passing novice or the hardcore practitionner with a wealth of content that taken as a taster or as a full course represents a hearty insight into a core function within a key government department.
I emailed BIS with praise for their openness. In response they pointed out that there were some coldly fiscal drivers as well:
We are going through a convergence project with partner organisations similar to the post website migrations the FCO did several years ago. Rather than spending a lot of time and effort communicating with partners using email and newsletters it seemed totally natural to create a dedicated section of the site where we could communicate with partners. So we have created /bisdigital.
It’s easy to underestimate the value of such a site to the organisation. It provides a one-stop-shop for guidance, policy, FAQ’s etc that help the wider partner community do their job. This sort of site plays a big part in reducing support calls to both the technical support team and the central team. At BIS we simply don’t have the resources to field queries from partner organisations so the BIS digital website will play a key role in providing the information and guidance for partners editing their own websites.
It’s true that the FCO site has had a similar section for a number of years at digitaldiplomacy.fco.gov.uk. It has been primarily about supporting our network of 400+ staff who lead on sections of fco.gov.uk or are engaging online. But it has also been a window on our work that the public, the media, academia and our peers can use to scrutinise and, in places, learn from what we are doing.
In the last month (Oct 23 – Nov 22) digitaldiplomacy.fco.gov.uk had 919 unique visitors and 6,533 views. Traffic has come from 106 countries (Top 5: UK 1,028, US 213, India 74, Australia 48, Canada 45). The average dwell time on the site is 3mins and 35 seconds. Small but important beer.
What BIS will find (in truth they already know from interactive.bis.gov.uk) is that it can be hard to maintain such sites, especially in busy times, when ironically there’s a lot of good content for the site. The Digital Diplomacy section of the FCO site, for example, needs some care and attention, and we are actively working on that.
One of the reasons it’s started to look a little unloved is because of how busy we’ve found ourselves being but also because the blog our new Director, Jimmy Leach, has taken off.
Indeed, other departments have gone down the blog route. The Cabinet Office has the Transparency and Digital Engagement blog. COI has the Digigov blog. And, Stephen Hale – a pioneer of these resources – has started up Health Conversations over on the DH site.
The key is to properly integrate the very public profile of the blog format with the functional, community of pratice found on the microsite-approach. A best-of-both approach will prosper.
So while /bisdigital its not a game-changer, it is a progression. It’s a fright for the ‘old guard’ and a jolt for the ‘yet to get started’. It’s all good competition, and while they are still around, I’d like to see more departments get their digital teams in on the game.