A GDS Story 2010
This is one part of “A GDS story”. Please read the introduction and the blog post that explains this project.
More of the story: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021
In her role as UK Digital Champion, Martha Lane Fox was invited to conduct a review of the main government website at the time, Directgov. She assembled a team of helpers, including Tom Loosemore. More help came from consulting firm Transform, which had already been working on its own study.
The team working on Directgov were already working on an ambitious project to close down hundreds of websites. Years later, Sarah Richards (who later became Head of Content Design for GOV.UK) wrote:
If my lovely team and I played by all the rules, we never would have got anything done. We used personal relationships, worked round people, went over them or under them. Whatever it took ... Was it all shiny when it ended? Nope. Was it brilliant? Nope. Was it better than what we had before? Yes. And there is no way GOV.UK could have been published in the time it was if Directgov wasn’t there.
Martha Lane Fox wrote a letter to the then Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude. It called for "revolution, not evolution".
I have not reviewed Directgov in isolation but as part of how the government can use the Internet both to communicate and interact better with citizens and to deliver significant efficiency savings from channel shift.
This letter set things in motion, and resulted in the creation of GDS.
Martha Lane Fox’s letter to Francis Maude was published, alongside his reply, and an executive summary of the report by Transform (PDF, 838KB).
Civil servant Chris Chant was put in charge of the new organisation, and making plans for the GOV.UK alpha (although at this point, the project was known as “alphagov”). Chant's own appointment wasn't officially announced until the following February. Tom Loosemore was given the task of setting up a team. Chant told him: “Get the people you need.” He began looking for a team to build the alpha. Early on, he spoke to David Mann and Neil Williams (who would go on to become Head of GOV.UK in GDS).
Just before Christmas, “a bunch of digital folk from across Whitehall gathered after work in a pub in Lambeth North to work out how you might implement Martha’s vision in practice”. Two of them, Neil Williams and Will Callaghan, started making wireframe mockups – thinking out loud in pictures.