Today we unveil the next bit of the GOV.UK beta - INSIDE GOVERNMENT.
This is the place where, in future, people who are personally or professionally interested in the business of government will be able to research how government works and see what it is doing.
It’s also the live test of a shared publishing system which departments, agencies and other parts of the government machine can use to provide information about themselves and their activities. Ten departments are working with us to keep the site up to date for six weeks, after which we will pause and take stock of what we have learned.
This is a slightly different flavour of beta to the previous GOV.UK release, in that it’s much less finished.
When we started out, we were intending on releasing this part just to civil servants. But we believe there’s already enough value in what we’ve built that it deserves a wider audience - and we want your feedback while we keep developing it. We will release updates most days and if you come back frequently you’ll see it change and improve.
For example, we've realised today that we've *really* broken the site in IE6, while IE7 isn't much better - we'll do our best to tidy that all up soon.
More importantly, be aware that there are many ‘unpopulated’ areas in the beta - places without content or which just have links to pre-existing government material. We currently have live material from ten departments in the beta, hopefully this will give you a sense of what the final product might be like.
Over time, this part of GOV.UK is intended to replace many of the separate sites run by government organisations, simplifying things for users and saving millions of pounds (departments’ own websites remain the source of official information for the time being).
Why it matters
INSIDE GOVERNMENT is probably a less understood part of the GOV.UK project, so let’s say a few things about how this release relates to the previous one and why it’s important.
The citizen-facing bit of GOV.UK is about serving the needs of the mainstream majority much better. People will visit in droves, motivated by life events (like registering a birth) or regular tasks (like renewing their car tax). They’ll be looking to get in, meet their need quickly and get out. It will touch a great many people’s lives, but infrequently and for short bursts of time.
The INSIDE GOVERNMENT part, on the other hand, is about meeting the needs of the engaged minority. That’s fewer people (but still many millions) coming back more frequently - either because it's part of their job or because they have a personal interest in what government is doing. They’ll be in ‘research mode’ and are likely to spend longer on the site. They also want to be notified when things change. (See our previous post about who visits government websites and why).
The product we’re unveiling today will, we hope, make life much easier for those frequent users of government’s websites, focusing on their needs far more than has happened before.
Today’s release marks the beginning of the end of the current tangled mess of separate domains which forces users to learn up front which bit of government does what, where its website is and how that website works before they can find what they’re looking for. More fundamentally, we’re making sure what those people come looking for is actually there and written clearly - which is not always the case right now. (Which isn’t, we should hasten to add, the fault of any of the hard-working editors and publishers out there in Whitehall now. It’s just the system we’ve all inherited.)
Today’s release also brings us one step closer to ending the (increasingly unthinkable!) practice of government paying for multiple technology platforms to publish similar kinds of information to the web. We’re using flexible, open technologies to build a single, shared platform that will make innovation and development easier and cheaper from now on. And of course if local government or other nations want to use it for free, they can.
Lastly, it's worth stating that this part of the project is a more radical change involving a great deal of collaboration. We're asking departments to entrust us with the design and technology for their main communications channel, and to make significant changes to how they source and write material for the web. It’s a HUGE ask. We are in no doubt as to our responsibility to them as well as to the users of their websites.
But, if we get it right, it has the potential to make Whitehall itself more joined up and transparent and, for the first time, create a clear view of everything government is doing. It’ll be good for the taxpayer and good for democracy!
You see? It matters.
What we’ve built
This first iteration is focused on the most common user needs and the most used content formats of ministerial departments - things like news, ministerial speeches, publications and policy.
See our separate blog post today for a tour of some of the features.
We’ve worked with colleagues from (abbreviation alert!) DCLG (https://www.gov.uk/DCLG),BIS (https://www.gov.uk/BIS), FCO (https://www.gov.uk/FCO), DFID (https://www.gov.uk/DFID) and HMRC (https://www.gov.uk/HMRC) to get this started and more recently we’ve also involved MOJ (https://www.gov.uk/MOJ), MOD (https://www.gov.uk/MOD), DH (https://www.gov.uk/DH) and Defra (https://www.gov.uk/DEFRA) as well as producing material about GDS’s own responsibilities within the Cabinet Office (https://www.gov.uk/cabinetoffice).
Together these departments have been publishing content, testing the software and editorial model, and shaping how we will make these processes work. We’re very grateful to them for their collaborative approach and hard work. And we’d like particularly to acknowledge the contributions of the following. Respect is due:
- Suzanne Amos and John Turnbull from BIS
- Rachel Christopher, Lauren McAllister and Howard Gossington from DCLG
- Alison Daniels, Ben Giddings, Scott Smith and Barney Mugabi from FCO
- Julia Chandler, Marisol Grandon, Frances Sibbet, Alan Gaskin, Peter Lamb and Louise Stone from DFID
- Robin Riley and Leigh Maybury from HMRC
- Mark Stanley, Tom Freestone, Nick Cammell and Roger Oldham from MOJ
- Daniel DeCruz and Simon Everest from Defra
- Paola Wright and Pippa Norris from MOD
- Stephen Hale and Robert Rockstroh from DH
- Helen Fairfax, Jenny Poole and Nick Jones from Cabinet Office
..and their many colleagues who have been helping them too.
What’s still to do
We’re not attempting to solve all our problems at once; in some cases we’re deliberately shining a light on them so we can see exactly what our publishing system and editorial processes will need to deal with.
So you will probably notice some duplication of content from different organisations, some stylistic inconsistencies and some degree of ‘noise’ as lots of departments publish content of varying types into single, reverse-chronological lists. Don’t worry, it’s work in progress and we’re going to sort it out.
There is also long list of features that aren’t built yet that we know need work. Top of the to-do list right now are:
- More integrated search and user journeys across GOV.UK
- A content API, more feeds and potentially email notifications for new content
- Tools and processes for public participation in government policymaking
- Filters on the big lists of content like news, publications, consultations
- Better support for adding images and video to the pages
- Further development of the “the UK and the world” section, which is even more early-stage than the rest of it
- Smarter admin features for even faster publishing by departments
If you’re interested in more behind-the-scenes details you can look at the code on Github and the decisions we’ve made along the way in Pivotal Tracker, the project management tool we are using to plan the software development. (By the way, we don’t accept requests from people outside GDS to ‘join’ our project space on Pivotal. If you want to submit feature requests please use the feedback channels below!)
Tell us what you think
And of course, the point of doing a beta is for us to learn and improve the product - we do this best when we get tons of feedback from you. So please tell us what you think.