Evolution is alright by me – it’s what got us here

It’s not just in North Africa that there’s talk of revolution. I understand that over the next three months we should begin to see the Martha Lane Fox review of government digital move from the PDF to the browser.

The review proposed its recommendations were ‘revolution not evolution‘. But in practice expect the proposals to be much more of a progression than a drastic, fundamental restart. That is not to try to kill the buzz; the proposals are exciting, their acceptance at the highest levels is inspiring and there are very smart people running the development. Instead it is to argue that this development has a long lineage.

To demonstrate what I mean let’s compare the recommendations with one contemporary government site – a site I know well – www.fco.gov.uk.

[I paraphrase…]

1. Establish one standardised front-end… in 2008 the FCO launched the current fco.gov.uk, which brought 250+ sites and public services on to one platform and one domain. A central team (based in London and 4 regional hubs) was mandated to set standards and manage their development.

2. Become a wholesaler as well as a retailer… although it didn’t launch this way, nowadays the FCO makes its travel advice, news, speeches and other forms of content available as feeds and promotes their reuse.

3. Devolve editorial… FCO directorates and teams who had their sites rationalised still produce and upload content directly as and when they wish.  Around 400 staff have the ability to work the CMS while following centrally set objectives, policies and editorial plans.

4. Appoint a CEO for digital… FCO’s digital leadership comes from its Head of Digital, who has responsibility for editorial, engagement and technical aspects.

None of this to say that the FCO site gets it all right; the FCO has a long history of admitting its digital weaknesses and of making concerted efforts to address them, improving or rather adapting steadily to the ever changing environment. As have other departmental and public sector sites.

The intention here is to show the new ‘supersite’ (or, probably more accurately, the new digital service) will inherit features from current sites and services, and in this sense, the products set forth by the review will be ‘evolution not revolution’.

While it will resemble previous generations of government digital undoubtedly it will do the good things even better as a result of its heritage.

Where I hope (and hear) the revolution is more likely will be in the building of the thing.

Expect Agile rather than PRINCE2. More iterations rather than finished products. Prototypes and proofs of concept. User-centred principles and creative over corporate design. A preference for open source and extensibility. Decent, longterm investment.

It can’t be done any other way. Otherwise, today’s revolution will end up being tomorrow’s ancien regime.

[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”

Recommended Reading… from FCO, Chatham House and Race Online 2012

Britain’s Foreign Policy in a Networked World‘ by William Hague, FCO

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, gave a speech outlining the Government’s vision for UK foreign policy on 1 July 2010. The transcript is on the FCO site and you can also watch the video recording on the FCO’s YouTube channel.

British Attitudes Towards the UK’s International Priorities‘ by Chatham House and YouGov

This survey tests views both of the general public and ‘elite’ opinion-formers concerning the key themes of future UK foreign policy and international relations. Part of the part Rethinking the UK’s International Ambitions and Choices series from Chatham House, the survey demonstrates divergences between these two groups.

Manifesto for a Networked Nation‘ by Race Online 2012

The Networked Nation Manifesto sets out bold and detailed plans calling for urgent action to get millions more online by the end of 2012 with key roles for government, industry and charities.

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”

Stuff what I has been reading: 17/02/10 – 24/02/10

'Reading the TV novels summary' by pedrosimoes7

Over the last seven days, I have become a richer and more-engaging person for having read:

1. ‘Evaluating our blogs‘ from Stephen Hale’s FCO blog

“Foreign Office bloggers should focus on making sure that their blogs are integrated, personal, real-time, and 2-way. These are the headline findings of our detailed evaluation of the impact and reach of our blog”

The latest in a strong series of evaluations by the FCO’s Digital Diplomacy Group of their digital media activities. A very useful, well set out contribution to the growing body of research on governments’ use of digital engagement.

2. ‘British Social Attitudes 25th Report‘ from the National Centre for Social Research

“Every year the British Social Attitudes survey asks around 3000 people what it’s like to live in Britain and how they think Britain is run. The survey tracks people’s changing social, political and moral attitudes and informs the development of public policy.”

Published back in January, this report and the short summary of findings provided online, are essential reading on the British social attitudes ahead of the General Election.

3. ‘How to handle and encourage trailblazers‘ by Laurence Jackson for Guardian Public

“The public sector is hardly renowned for taking risks, but leaders should be able to identify trailblazers in their organisation – employees with a creative spark or energy or vision – and encourage them to realise their potential”

An overview of a study – conducted by Manchester Business School and Wickland Westcott – of the characteristics, career history and ambitions of 30 public sector leaders, selected for their ability to drive transformation in public services.