When I ran the open standards consultation, I heard first hand the effect that government's choice of technology was having on people. Take documents, for example. You might think sending something to a department online is an easy thing, but that’s not necessarily true.
A pet shop owner based in the North West needed to receive information on her business from a department through an online service. The information was only provided in a proprietary format. So, to read the information she was forced to spend her profits on new software – software that she didn’t want or need for anything else. She summed it up eloquently, saying that as a business: “I have almost no problems communicating with the outside world…except when it comes to government.”
I see this as government’s problem, not hers. What’s more, I’ve seen this sort of frustration inside government too, where we’ve been locked into particular technologies that have an impact on how we work with our colleagues. We need to make sure we’re using the right formats.
What are document formats?
The documents we’re talking about here include the texts, spreadsheets and presentations that we create and share in government. These documents are saved in different file formats: ways to encode the instructions for double-spacing lines, making text bold or arranging images on slides, for example.
You might recognise these formats as extensions that are added to the names of documents when they’re saved – things like:
As part of our ongoing efforts to improve government technology through adopting open standards, the Government’s Chief Operating Officer, Stephen Kelly, has volunteered to lead two document format challenges. These have been published on the Standards Hub so that users of government documents can get involved in helping us to select the right formats.
Making the right choices
The document format challenges are descriptions of the problems that users face when they try to read or work on these documents. We are asking for ideas on how we should solve these challenges, including which technical standards we should use across government.
We’ve published two document format challenges on the Standards Hub. If you have some ideas about the open standards that you think could help, please post a response on the Hub:
I asked Stephen for a few words about his role as the challenge owner:
“These challenges will really make us sit up and focus on putting the needs of our users first. The only way we can make the right decision is if people get involved and tell us what works best. Then we’ll be able to take out some of the frustration and inefficiency, making it easier for people to do their jobs or use our services. I’m in listening mode – trying to get a better picture of what people need.”
Get involved through the Standards Hub - help us to make the right choice.