The release of Inside Government tomorrow is a beginning, not an end. There’s a lot in it, but there’s also a lot yet to come.
Here is a list of features which are on the product roadmap to be delivered later. It’s a matter of when, rather than if, the following content and features will appear on Inside Government.
The policies of most departments
At launch, we will have around 30 policies covering the work of 2 major departments (DCLG and DFT). By March 2013 you can expect this to grow to around 250 policies from 24 departments. This means lots of government activity will not yet be covered, and some of the topics you’ll see on the site (like ‘economic growth’ and ‘national security’) will only have a small part of the overall government activity represented within them. Don’t write in.
Ways to get involved
We’ve defined Inside Government as the place to find out how government works, see what it’s doing and get involved. But this “get involved” layer will start small, with a simple explanation of what consultations and e-petitions are, and a way to see all the formal consultation papers from all the organisations who have moved to GOV.UK in a single list. The list will have filters to find consultations by topic, organisation and keyword.
By March, we expect to be highlighting not only formal consultations but all the other ways citizens can participate with government, including opportunities for less formal digital engagement and the kinds of civic participation profiled by Number 10.
At some point we also intend to use APIs to bring the functionality of some departments’ preferred online consultation tools into the consultation start pages.
Feeds and email notifications
We’re launching with a handful of Atom feeds available. People will be able to consume feeds of the latest content relating to a given policy or topic, or generate a feed of all publications (including consultations) tailored to their interests. We’ll follow this up as soon as we can to add a feed for each organisation, a customisable feed of announcements, and an email notification service (using Govdelivery) to push the content of all these feeds direct to your inbox.
Cross-government featured news
To begin with, there will be no featured government announcements on the homepage of Inside Government. Initially, the only place where you’ll see featured content is on organisation pages. With only a few departments using the platform, it would be a confusing proposition to present a curated view of their aggregated news. We expect that by around March, when we have a critical mass of departments on board, we will be adding a space to highlight the topical issues of the day from right across government, which will be based on the existing communications diary managed by Number 10.
Unified site search
The search results page will initially be showing results in 3 separate tabs for mainstream, detailed guidance and Inside Government. We are painfully aware that this is not a great user experience and will improve it soon.
Contact and order forms
We don’t as yet have any HTML forms, for example for users to contact departments and order print copies of publications. We want to take the time to make sure we are handling personal data securely, and we ran out of time to include it in this release.
Blogs and social media
We’re linking from each organisation’s page to their main accounts on social networks, and we support embedded YouTube videos in pages. There’s a lot more we want to do to grow the social side of Inside Government, including consuming content from existing government blogs and providing a single place for new blogs to be set up.
Detailed guidance is already available as JSON, and we’ll roll this out to all Inside Government formats when we can. In particular we want to make the data we hold about organisations and ministers as rich, useful and reusable as possible. Watch this space.
There are lots of obvious opportunities to enrich the Inside Government product and improve trust in government through the visualisation of data, for example about what departments are spending and how they are performing. For the time being we’re focusing on the foundations of publishing, and baking in as much transparency into that as we can.
Back in the beta we had international content about UK government policy and priorities overseas, pooling content from DFID, FCO, MOD and others. This will return in the new year, but is absent from this current release.
We’ve built our publications format around the realities of existing government publishing operations. That is, there are a lot of PDF downloads. But in time, we will be enabling departments to publish beautiful digital documents in the model of our recent Digital Strategy. (While still being able to support the inevitable PDFs).
Publishing tool enhancements
As well as all these features that end users will see, there is a long list of things that we will be adding later to the publishing tool for departments. This functionality will include workflow, access controls and permissions, management information for content editors and more.
If you’re interested in the details of anything we’re planning you can always look at the Inside Government development backlog on Pivotal Tracker, which is open for anyone to view, or the Inside Inside Government blog.
Why this stuff is coming later
There’s no end to the amount of stuff we could build. It’s merely a matter of priorities. As the product manager, it’s my job to decide what the team builds and in what order, and what we won’t build at all.
This inevitably involves some tough calls. The Inside Government section on GOV.UK is replacing hundreds of mature, highly-trafficked websites with a single, brand new one. It’s a complex product with many stakeholders, each with a growing list of feature requests. Prioritising effectively means I have to forget these feature requests as much as I can to focus on the product vision and evidence of what users need, and say “no” or “later” a lot.
For me, this sometimes feels a bit like saying no to myself, because two of the websites Inside Government is replacing are ones I had a big hand in building in the first place.
But saying “no” or “later” is important. It keeps the team productive and focused on the next thing that’s most important for delivering great value to end users. (Here’s a great video about the product manager role within Scrum teams, which explains all this far better than I can.)
The version of Inside Government we’ll unveil tomorrow is – in my obviously biased opinion – groundbreaking and peerless, thanks to the efforts of staff across government. But it’s just the beginning, and it will continue to evolve as we learn more about how users want to interact with it and we’ll add more of the features stakeholders (including my former self) want and need.