https://gds.blog.gov.uk/2012/02/28/introducing-the-next-phase-of-the-gov-uk-beta/

Introducing the next phase of the GOV.UK beta

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.


41 comments

  1. Alexis Cleveland

    Well done everyone, good to see the site progressing. Obviously good cooperation across Departments but where is DWP? DWP has so many customers and overlaps with so many of the departments listed I am surprised no one is listed in the credits.

    Reply
    • James Taylor

      Thanks Alexis,

      We’ve been working with only a small group of Depts so far but will be making our rounds soon!

      Reply
  2. alexcoley

    Very neat. Very different. One criticism is the endless scrolling of content. How about preferring search or jump menus?

    Also, the UK contacts in USA could probably use the addition of “British Embassy” to the postal address.

    Reply
    • James Taylor

      Thank you Alex,

      I’ll pass your feedback on to the team

      James

      Reply
  3. INSIDE GOVERNMENT – a few highlights | Government Digital Service

    [...] we have released part 2 of the GOV.UK beta – INSIDE GOVERNMENT. You can see our other post today for more on what this is all about and why it matters. But here, we’re going to take a quick [...]

    Reply
  4. John

    I have been enjoying following the progress of gov.uk. Only criticism of this new page is that the grey bar on the top is impossible for me to read. White on light grey isn’t really an accessible colour contrast.

    Reply
  5. Richard Slade

    I’m very very impressed by the amount of live content – it suddenly makes you realise how many departments and agencies there are – an awful lot of hard work and commitment. Well done to everyone.

    Reply
  6. Lara MacGregor

    Shame on you. This is one big advert for the Coalition. I think you’ve created a very grave conflict of interest – the single domain to offer government services will feature invariably-positive ‘news’ about how the government of the day are improving our lives.

    I searched for ‘bank bonus’ and got a speech from Vince Cable! You’re selling government policies, not explaining them. You urgently need to create some boundaries between your organisation and parliament.

    Reply
    • Neil Williams

      Hi Lara, thanks for the comment.

      The INSIDE GOVERNMENT website is a consolidation of the existing websites of government departments – see http://www.bis.gov.uk, http://www.dh.gov.uk, http://www.dfid.gov.uk and so on.

      The purpose of those sites – and this new one – is to deliver and explain the policies and report the news from the elected government of the day, regardless of their political hue.

      These sites are run by civil servants, who adhere to the Civil Service Code. See – http://www.civilservice.gov.uk/about/resources/civil-service-management-code

      The site is entirely separate from that of the UK Parliament – see http://www.parliament.uk/ – and it will remain so.

      The creation of INSIDE GOVERNMENT does not erode any of these boundaries, it merely brings the content from multiple parts of government into a more cohesive whole to make things easier fot the people who need to access that information.

      The bank bonus search result is entirely appropriate – if you are searching the UK government’s website for the phrase “bank bonus” then you can expect information from UK government on what it thinks and is doing on the issue.

      Hope this helps.

      Reply
      • Lara MacGregor

        Thanks for your reply. I’m reassured there are guidelines in place and I’ll read the Civil Service Code. However, apart from uniting government information on a single brand and domain, you’re also concentrating the power to write and publish all government content in a single organisation. I can’t be alone in being deeply uneasy at this?

        Reply
        • Neil Williams

          Ah.. that’s a slight misunderstanding, and it’s our fault for not being clear enough. Departments are writing and publishing all the content themselves.

          Reply
      • Lara MacGregor

        Fair enough, I’d assumed GDS had all publishing controls. Are you going to change up your publishing model so that bodies outside Whitehall can publish content on Gov.uk?

        I note today’s headlines feature a government ‘climb down’ / ‘u-turn’. Does this policy change merit a mention on Inside Government? And what phrase would you use?

        Reply
    • Mark-Lee Travers

      To some extent Neil is correct. All that Inside Government is doing is bring together the existing press and policy content issued by departments onto a single site and into a coherent form. Inevitably searches for controversial subjects are going to bring back the government’s view on that subject, no doubt with spin included. Civil service code notwithstanding, that’s what we have already across department’s websites.

      What is potentially more worrying is that by bringing together the political world of speeches, policy and press notices into the same brand as the advice and services content, you end up undermining the neutrality and credibility of the latter information. So when you search for the ‘Work Programme’, will you get the description of the scheme or the DWP spin?

      Reply
      • Neil Williams

        Currently, they are kept separate. If you search while in the advice and services area of the site you don’t see any results from INSIDE GOVERNMENT. We will be think extremely carefully before any integration for exactly the reasons you give.

        Reply
    • Giselle Williams

      I’m with Lara’s comments, including her responses to your replies, in being extremely sceptical, and I am not a conspiracy theorist!

      There is something, can’t put my finger on it yet, really very smelly about this. I’m particularly thinking about propaganda – the sort of propaganda which is so evident (not at all invisible to the viewer as possibly is wished for) on the government’s public broadcasting channel, the BBC, and on the government’s commercial channel, Sky News.

      It’s as though the government is, with its “civil servants” (what a quaint expression!), colluding to ensure the general public only sees what these “people” want them to see, which is strange because I was sure that openness and transparency was a government quest. (Although No 10′s site, I note, hasn’t actually updated any meetings of Ministers with outsiders of late!).

      Outside of my above comments, I only have to say that the font is ghastly and the spacing is worse. The whole front face really does appear to be very amateurish. You’re actually ruining what has always been a very good “view” on the government’s web sites. Why is it necessary for there always to be change when something is working? I do hope that when the amateurs who are designing these pages have finished, that they are as usuable and visually aesthetic as the current web pages.

      Thank you for enabling comments from the general public. I hope you find mine constructive.

      Reply
  7. Michael Cross

    There may be a debate to be had over whether the government should publish *any* outward-facing information at all (as opposed to merely making raw data and internal documents available online, and leaving either the commercial or voluntary sector to select and edit for wider readership). But, given that it’s hard to kick the habit, surely the Inside Government approach is more sensible than allowing individual departments to continue chucking money at their own online brands?

    However is there a risk that the shared publishing system could become a bottleneck to innovation – or even an “eggs in one basket” threat to business continuity?

    Reply
    • David Baker

      Michael, you were correct back in 2007 when you predicted convergence to Directgov, advocated by the Varney Report, would fail to make savings while stifling innovation. There has been very little change to a customer-facing page on Directgov for the last five years.

      So far, GDS’ emphasis has been on Whitehall concerns like ‘Inside Government’; it’s difficult to see how a single web domain for all of government can produce savings or innovation. GDS need to consider how to give public bodies some autonomy, both in publishing and tailoring web services to their customers. At the moment motorists see an identical set of designs to job seekers. Unlike, say, WordPress, so far gov.uk doesn’t offer a range of widgets or plug ins, while it’s not clear how the publishing model will work.

      The good news is that, unlike Directgov, the innovators seem to be in the driving seat of gov.uk; there seems to be more value placed on design than marketing gov.uk than a brand.

      Reply
  8. Phillipe R

    I am confused about your approach. Inside government appears to be the single domain bit of your work plan, i.e. the departmental web pages. Assuming that the users of this area are in ‘research mode’ is disingenuous. What mode then, do you think those who go to the directgov side are in? Happy go click? bored with nothing better to do? actually those are the ones in research mode. Those who are frequent departmental web sites do so because there is pertinent information about their daily jobs (fisherman, farmers, teachers, accountants, you name it). The current test site shows no place for those unique and very specific ‘channels’ each department has that caters to a very defined need within their policy domain and where a very close relationship between user and state is forged. I don’t see a farmer looking for very specific news or info on the latest TB epidemic in cattle to be in a more ‘research’ mode than a mother trying to find out how to claim benefits in directgov. when it comes to departments, and for this I do hope you are taking the time to understand the relationship between key stakeholders and departments instead of assuming ‘out with the old, in with the new, we know better’ departmental sites are 20% info about department and 80% unique channels across its stakeholder base. looking forward to new iterations.

    Reply
  9. GOV.UK beta releases Inside Government | Service Delivery in Government

    [...] post, Introducing the next phase of the Gov.UK beta on the Government Digital Service blog, discusses the launch of Inside Government, a six week trial [...]

    Reply
  10. Giselle Williams

    I do hope you are not paying any “consultants” for this design which, to me, appears to be first level “try to build a web page”.

    The fonts used and the spacing and general “blocking” of the sites (have been to three including DoH which was ghastly) make for very poor reading, particularly continuity of reading.

    May I ask a question about the reasoning behind having two web sites, one for corporates and one for citizens? Is it all just about propaganda?

    Reply
  11. Inside Government « a work on process

    [...] to bring together the core web publishing activity of all government departments in one place. Neil’s written very eloquently about it on the Government Digital Service blog, outlining some of their core challenges, and James Mead has [...]

    Reply
  12. Lara MacGregor

    Hi again, the point about governments departments publishing their own content seems a very important one, if you’re going to protect the single domain from political influence.

    Can you elaborate – will government departments be able to add and remove gov.uk pages without any intervention from GDS? Thanks

    Reply
    • Giselle Williams

      Lara – I too hope there will be a reply.

      Just to confirm what I believe is possible concerning “political” influence.

      I am subscribed to receive e-mails from the Department of Health. I received one yesterday headed “Extra funding to pay for new health equipment and buildings”.

      When I take the link to read this item on the DoH Web Site, it starts off and continues to read as a Party Political Broadcast by David Cameron!

      http://www.dh.gov.uk/health/2012/03/capital-projects/

      I am afraid that I believe control (by this Government of Transparency – she jokes!) over the new “Government Information Portal”, as opposed to the one I currently seek information, advice and detail from, is going to be EXTREMELY POLITICISED and, if that is the case, why waste my tax paying money building it?

      Why am I receiving e-mails from Politicians (as above) when I should be receiving e-mails from civil servants (such a quaint description)? I know that the DoH is now utterly staffed by “non-civil” servant types, has been wholly politicised and is infested by vested and financial interest parties. But, when I want information and detail, I want it wholly un-politicised. Is the new site going to be that?

      Reply
    • wendycoello

      Thanks everyone for your feedback – which I’ve passed on. The team are working flat out following a well-earned short breather! They’ll be back with some comments asap.

      Reply
  13. Neil Williams

    Thanks all – there are a lot of interesting points being raised here. To pick up the main ones:

    - We’ve noted all the comments about typefaces and layout. The design, as with everything else, is in beta. We’re collating all the feedback and will consider it as we evolve the site (although clearly we won’t be able to please everyone!)

    - We’re conscious of the need to nurture innovation – the ‘eggs in one basket’ point is well made. With the product you see today, we have laid the foundations of a system to handle the basics of government’s common publishing needs. Some of the more interesting stuff is yet to come, such as tools to support online engagement and consultation, and we see a big role for other tools and providers in that area. We’ve built the infrastructure to support multiple platforms and technologies: one domain but lots of flexibility.

    - Phillipe is right to point out that the parts of GOV.UK we’ve released so far don’t cater for professional audiences. That’s coming later. We’re at the early stages of defining how we will meet the needs of those audiences. Internally we refer to this as the ‘specialist and technical’ layer. it cuts across everything, and needs careful thought. We’re on the case, we know it’s important, but it’s not part of what we’re testing in this beta.

    - We haven’t used consultants. GDS has a strong in-house capability, using product teams made up of people with different skills from software development to writers and editors, all working together. This is a different approach for government, and more akin to a start-up than a government department. In the case of INSIDE GOVERNMENT we brought in a small team of software developers from outside to join our in-house team so we could deliver this product at the same time as the citizen-facing beta. We’re recruiting more talented digital people to join the GDS team, to support and deliver the various products that make up GOV.UK – see: http://digital.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/working-for-gds/

    - Departments will publish and remove content with no intervention from GDS, other than might be needed to maintain quality standards and consistency across the site.

    Reply
    • Giselle Williams

      Neil – you’ve failed to comment appropriately on some of my queries, except that you have acknowledged you are using outside Consultants = £££££££££££££, which I find very disturbing in the current economic climate. I believe that what you are building here has nothing to represent to the customer, i.e., someone who wants to tax their car on line, check employment law (and what appears to be future substantial changes to employment law), etc.,

      Neil – also, as evidenced by the anonymous comments from Departments to news issues, I no longer believe (as you appear to do) that “Civil Servants” are independent and follow the Code. One only has to follow the Fox issue and the “investigation” via Gus and Una to know there is political affiliation being operated and promoted within the Civil Service. I suggest you also trawl through the various comment, announcements and denials (many of which are pure lies) made by the Department of Health, announcements made by individuals who are definitely not meant to be political but appear to be so and also appear to be parties with conflicting interests!

      I’m sorry to say this but I believe you are taking instructions from political beasts, whose names I won’t mention but we know who I mean, to build a site to promote propaganda for the current Government. I find that unacceptable, particularly as it involves my money (tax being mis-spent), so I intend to take this issue further. I am also going to be making a FoI Request regarding this particular project.

      Reply
  14. INSIDE GOVERNMENT – how busy the busy bees have been | Government Digital Service

    [...] list of features written in the format of ‘user stories’  – which we mentioned in the blog post which accompanied the [...]

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

    [...] 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 [...]

    Reply
  16. Jim

    “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.)”

    Who wrote the badly written copy, if not editors and publishers in Whitehall? Was it “the system” or will you concede that the government might need better copywriters, UX people, product managers, etc.? Obviously, we already know that teachers and doctors hardly ever get sacked regardless of how badly they serve their pupils and patients. Presumably that’s “the system’s” fault too.

    Reply
  17. Feedback isn’t just for Cobain and Hendrix – what we heard from the Inside government beta | Government Digital Service

    [...] are genuine comments at the extreme ends of the feedback we received for the Inside government beta. Over the six weeks of the beta we received a lot more in between, and we were grateful for every [...]

    Reply
  18. Feedback isn't just for Cobain and Hendrix – Government Digital … | The Government Site

    [...] are genuine comments at the extreme ends of the feedback we received for the Inside government beta. Over the six weeks of the beta we received a lot more in between, and we were grateful for every [...]

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  19. Thinking about the Inside Government alpha feedback | Digital by Default

    [...] blogging from the GOVUK team. Sharing the results of the feedback and user testing for the Inside Government product gives a real insight into the challenges they are facing and how they intend to front up to them. [...]

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  20. Explaining government policy on GOV.UK | Government Digital Service

    [...] We tested this approach earlier this year and have been working with departments to refine it, ready for the first two departments to launch their policy pages when they move to GOV.UK on 15 November. We’re aiming to have a complete set of pages, representing the work of all government departments, by March 2013. [...]

    Reply
  21. A quick tour of Inside Government | Government Digital Service

    [...] Introducing the next phase of the Inside Government beta [...]

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  22. Marking one year since the Inside Government beta | Government Digital Service

    [...] year ago today we launched the beta of Inside Government on GOV.UK – a working, public demo of a product which to many [...]

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  23. complete websites

    finally i found someone who knows how to provide relevant information on the subject i have been searching for? thanks, at last i can study with pleasure..

    Reply
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    it seems like ages that i heve been searching for a wordpresssite like this one? i am glad i found it,some great information here, i am new and just starting out, anyway thanks for some great tips..

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  25. ELS

    I have a question ?
    > Can you elaborate – will government departments be able to add and remove gov.uk pages without any intervention from GDS? Thanks

    Reply
    • Hotel Lyon

      “ELS” ask a good question about removing gov.uk pages and the consequences of such a decision !

      Reply

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