After the watershed – five reasons why nothing can be the same since the launch of Gov.uk/government

GOV.UK 100 days signed sign by @psd http://www.flickr.com/photos/psd/7649345008/in/pool-1873292@N24/
GOV.UK 100 days signed sign by @psd

On February 28th the hangar door of Aviation House opened and gov.UK/government took it’s maiden flight. It might not be up there with what happened at Kitty Hawk in 1903, but this will go down as a decisive event in the way government publishes and engages – digitally or otherwise.

Inside government is the second part of the GovUK beta to go live and although in the history books it will all rightly be discussed as one and same, for me at this stage in the development /government is the most radical and exciting part.

Your best guide to the project and the site is Neil Williams, the gov.uk/government product manager. But before I lose you to him, you might spare me just a couple of minutes to share an unofficial insider’s view (someone who has worked with, for and now in digital teams in the government; a hard-boiled sceptic, now convinced through first-hand experience of the gov.UK project)

So here are five reasons why I think the release of the Inside government beta is a watershed moment:

Continue reading “After the watershed – five reasons why nothing can be the same since the launch of Gov.uk/government”

I’m not dead, I’m a dad

 

When a ye olde colleague emailed me with the strange question, ‘Are you dead?’ I replied, ‘No, I’m a dad’.

He was asking because I hadn’t blogged since Pixie Lott was number one, and he was disappointed because he found my blog had been one good way to keep up on digital in government.

I told him that it was simply that I now had additional responsibilities at home in the form of a bouncing baby boy. And, when Ben was taking a break from bouncing to finally go to sleep, blogging was really quite far from my thoughts.

Still, if I was going to take his flattery I also had to take his point and get posting – check – even if I’m slightly cheating by riffing on what I emailed back to him in the form of four recommendations for blogs that cover central government’s use of digital.

I picked my recommendations based on the fact that I like reading them and they have posted regularly through the year offering genuinely unique insights. So well done them.

Continue reading “I’m not dead, I’m a dad”

Crossover appeal… why we need to link GDS, GCC and ICT

'autocomplete3' by Paul Annett
'autocomplete3' by Paul Annett

March 2011 saw a bonanza for those of us with an interest in government information and communication technology marked as it was by the unveiling of the Government Digital Service, the publication of the ‘Review of COI and Government Communications‘ and the release of the new Government ICT strategy.

First came the Government Digital Service (GDS) which gave ‘Codename Martha‘ formal status, an official title, a boss, a timeline, and put money where before there were only words. Government will have its single domain and from this point onwards will be looking to deliver of all its services and communications through a digital lens. To prove as much, a crack (or SWAT for MLF Review afficiandos) team was introduced headed up by Tom Loosemore and a man close to my appraisal, Jimmy Leach, who are soon to unveil a proof-of-concept for the single domain, going by the nom de guerre, AlphaGov.

Next up was the ‘Review of Government Direct Communication and COI‘. This set of recommendations, pulled together in which the Matt Tee, the outgoing Permanent Secretary Government Communication, called for the exiting of the COI and the creation of the Government Communication Centre (GCC) in its place. The GCC’s task will be to spend significantly less people and money delivering fewer but better marketing communications by amplifying cross-government themes over departmental campaigns. Propositions are to be sharper, ROI will be taken much more seriously and digital will underpin it all.

And last but not least we got sight of the Government ICT Strategy. And a very enlightened and on-trend ICT strategy it is too. In it are contained committments to open source, interoperability, green credentials, cloud, web, use of Agile and even democratic power shift (which is a boon for the likes of an old worthy like me). Another departure from the norm is that this document is mercifully brief, very clear on the actions required and very exact on when they should be done by.

Each release demanded attention in its own right. But the commonalities also ring out.

  • Money… set against the backdrop of the deficit, each sets out to save billions of pounds. £1.3 billion for GDS. £54 million for GCC. And an unspecified figure for Government ICT but a stated ‘presumption against projects having a lifetime value of more than £100 million‘.
  • People… There will be fewer people and the staff remaining will work to new skill sets and efficiency and effectiveness goals.
  • Digital… is an standout common theme but not one that is inevitable. Yes, you would expect the GDS to have lots of digital, but for the future of government marketing communications to be so acutely spearheaded by digital and then for the ICT strategy to talk in such ‘webby’ terms is a real watershed.
  • Centralisation… At a time when even the US Military is restructuring itself as a network, each of these HMG developments seek to put more strategic and delivery capacity in the centre. That’s intriguing, and like the point on digital above, is a real step-change.

Each release appeared independently and has been picked up by different practitioner communities. Colleagues in digital may have read one release and not the others, and the same goes for communications and IT colleagues. But they must be conversant in all three.

The trick is to understand them not as three separate entities but as a trinity. None can achieve its ambitions in isolation of others.

Regardless of the new budgets, new team sizes or new technology, it is this blurring of lines between three previously separate disciplines that is the point and the most exciting challenge of the next 4 – 5 years.

#ukgc11 – My Unconference Log

'#ukgc11 t-shirt' by lesteph
'#ukgc11 t-shirt' by lesteph

Back in the day I used to attend and speak at a lot of conferences. I was even instrumental in organising the UK’s first eDemocracy conference.

But since starting at the FCO I’ve had my head down. I don’t get out on work time as much as I used to; these days I rely far more on the likes of Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up on what’s what and who’s who. It works, but I miss the face-time with smart, creative people who are as passionate about digital as I am (my wonderful FCO colleagues excepted).

So it was I was really excited to attend UK GovCamp 2011. This was my first time along and tickets were hard to come by, so I thought to record my experiences and observations here to add to the other great commentary from the day and latterly.

Attendees

It won’t be any surprise that it was a total geek-fest, but it was the number and range of geeks that was impressive.

There were about 200 people there, which I understand was the biggest UK GovCamp to date. Amongst the 200 were local government people, central government people, commercial sector types as well as a few academics and journos. There were developers, policy officials, site managers, CIOs and IT representatives. It was this mixing of the discipline pools that was one of the most interesting aspects of the day.

Format & Venue

I’ve been to one or two unconferences and to be honest attendees sometimes struggle with the participant-led facilitation. But the Barcamp approach was perfect for the attendees and there was no shortage of people stepping up with good ideas for sessions when the grid was opened up. From there it was relaxed and playful but always focussed and meaty.

Microsoft were the hosts, putting us up in their swank Victoria offices. What a place! Loads of room, airy, good meeting rooms and quality breakout areas. Plus a Kinect set up, although I didn’t get time to play.

Sessions

What a choice! You could go to sessions on AGILE, open data, hyperlocality and an introduction to the new HMG CEO of Digital. Unkindly there were a lot of clashes, but such is the way with unconferences.

I made it to three…

Continue reading “#ukgc11 – My Unconference Log”

[Yet more] Praise for Digital @ BIS

BIS Digital website screengrab

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.

Continue reading “[Yet more] Praise for Digital @ BIS”

All change – A new government, a new job and a new home

'Seedlings in peet pots' by Jackal of all trades

A lot has happened since my last post.

I’ve moved house, there’s been a general election (resulting in a new government) and I’ve changed job. That all happened in one week.

Now I’m almost a month into the new role. It’s a 2 year secondment to the FCO, where I am Head of Networks in the Digital Diplomacy Group.

Continue reading “All change – A new government, a new job and a new home”

Moonpig will buyover Google in 2010

'Hands free mobile' by Obi-Akpere

I won’t be making too many predictions like the one above. But one I am happy to put my name to is that 2010 will be the year of mobile.

Whether mobile will take off or not this year has been the subject of much discussion with colleagues. There’s a lot of caution; many of us have been burnt by previous false dawns. But against the evidence – massive penetration of cheap smart phones, uptake of mobile broadband and the explosion of apps –  we have to be more ambitious about mobile in 2010.

From my vantage, the world of democracy and politics will be very much part of this mobile bonanza. Here are three prime areas:

1. General Election campaigning
Every party, media outlet and activist group will make extensive use of the web – that’s a given. It will be in the use of mobile that innovations and headlines will be made.

Whether its micro-donations to parties, opposition flash-mobs at events or manifestos in 160 characters – the mobile will make the election feel closer, more personal and more accessible.

Overkill, imposition and data security will all prove problematic.

2. Social marketing
As the functionality of mobiles increases, so the costs of social marketing via mobiles will decrease.

Government marketers have long been interested in mobile, and with the ability to run cheaper, better targeted campaigns we will rush to mobile in our droves. Expect lots of location-based games and personalised advice through apps.

The challenges will be around monitoring, evaluation and creativity (i.e. how to make it look and feel cool).

3. Service delivery
Fuelled by the sudden windfall of public sector data, we can expect a boom in mobile-based interaction with public services.

It is likely that most of these will be packaged up by social enterprises but government will also get involved, especially local authorities. Prime for development will be emergency services, transport infrastructure and environmental services.

Data security, security of payments and records management will prove problematic.

Only time will tell…

What’s in your crystal ball (app)?