Within the context of UK Government, there is plenty about the approach we’ve taken with Alpha.gov.uk which is genuinely radical. Yet we are well aware that we are not the only team inside Government who are passionate about an agile, user-centric view of how best to meet the needs of citizens. We are not the first to tread this path.
Rather, we see our project as part of a wider cultural movement with many advocates across government, seeking far more agile, iterative, user-need-driven digital product development. Here are just a few highlights, NOT an exhaustive list by any means, so feel free to comment and tell us about any other teams & projects we should mention.
Agile Product Development
Alpha.gov.uk has been produced by an agile, multi-disciplinary team of designers, developers and product specialists.
We know there are similar in-house teams hard at work doing great things across government. Multi-disciplinary development teams are hard at work at Companies House and DVLA to name but two. In fact, there are countless digital people across local and central government cutting code as we speak, without whom there would be no government web estate. We at Alpha.gov.uk salute you!
Over and above the really-very-good-all-things-considered online Self-Assessment tool, HMRC has pioneered the use of APIs, meaning 3rd party software developers can create their own applications underpinned behind the scenes by HMRC's backend transactions. There is now a thriving market featuring hundreds of third party software products to help you calculate and pay your taxes (or claim a rebate).
HMRC has created a market, ensuring a wide diversity of products are available to meet all manner of needs, both mainstream and niche. HMRC is way ahead of the game in terms of creating a 'wholesale' model for delivery of government services online, an approach strongly advocated by Martha Lane Fox in her recent review of gov.uk.
Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)
All departments have embraced social media but FCO deserves special mention for its use of social media and APIs to deliver travel advice to people wherever they are in the world. Their latest innovation uses location-based service Foursquare to distribute embassy and consular information as well as travel advice. FCO also distributes its travel advice via embeddable widgets across travel industry websites based on a set of RSS feeds and a RESTful API.
Defra relaunched their website based on WordPress, an open source platform. You can read Simon Everest’s presentation here on how and why DEFRA made this choice.
Alpha.gov.uk is built on open source software, including Django, Sinatra, Rails, Ubuntu server and MySQL to name a few. Expect a proper post on the technology we've used after launch.
Jobcentre Plus/DWP/Directgov Mobile
The Jobcentre Plus team has used an API to deliver job search to any internet-enabled mobile device via Directgov’s mobile platform. Job search has been available on mobile for a few years now and the same API powers iPhone and Android apps. Go to m.direct.gov.uk on your handset to take a look.
One of our design rules is that a government internet service should be device agnostic. Had we had more time, we would have made alpha.gov.uk more mobile-friendly, but our architecture is designed with this in mind.
Project WIP/Shropshire Council
The ICT team at Shropshire Council have created Project WIP, an open forum and blog where the council’s own developers share their ideas in open site. A quick read of their blog shows many shared ideas with Alpha.gov.uk in terms of navigation, design and usability. Much respect.