When it comes to improving our offering, looking at what people search for on GOV.UK is one of the best ways we can understand what you want from government information. The search box allows you to articulate what you want in your own words – and this data is easy to interpret, unlike a lot of the number-based metrics. Read more
This week GDS Head of Content Design Sarah Richards talks about meeting our counterparts from Canada, Ontario.ca, and their exciting One Site project, and Josh Russell and Warren Smith explain how the new Digital Services Store will make make it easier for government buyers to work with SMEs (Small-Medium Enterprises).
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.
Today is the 2013 International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This year’s theme, “Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all”, resonates deeply with me.
My work at the GDS since I became a Civil Servant has been almost entirely focussed on ensuring the work we do is as inclusive as we can make it. People don’t typically choose to interact with government, after all, so we owe it to our users to do as much as we can to ensure they aren’t excluded unnecessarily.
For example, we’ve gone to great lengths across the different projects we work on to ensure that our blind and partially-sighted users can access our services through assistive technologies such as screen readers and screen magnifiers. We’ve worked hard to simplify the language we use so that it’s simpler and clearer to understand. We’ve also tried to make GOV.UK a consistent, responsive platform that is accessible at its heart.
Recently I’ve been working to understand how we can better serve the very diverse needs of our deaf users.
To do this, I’ve been talking with organisations, with colleagues across government, and with the many thousands of users in Facebook groups such as Pardon? and Spit the Dummy; we wanted to find out first-hand what our deaf users think of the services we provide.
Yesterday I met with Sir Malcolm Bruce in his role as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness to discuss how we might improve access for deaf users, and I’m confident we’ll be able to make a start on meeting the needs of those users soon.
Inclusion is important to me, not just in my Accessibility role here, but as a guiding principle. When it comes to being inclusive, it’s not a matter of providing special access for the disabled; it’s about providing an equivalent experience where we don’t exclude anyone.
For me this work isn’t about disability, it’s about fairness.
We should all strive to make the products and services we build as inclusive as we can. Not simply because of a legal requirement, but as a mark of empathy and respect for our very diverse audience.
Here’s to what we can accomplish in 2014. Onwards!
It’s just been announced that Martha Lane Fox is stepping down from her role as the UK’s Digital Champion. Martha’s been an inspiration to us here at GDS, and the tremendous impact she’s had right across the civil service is worthy of someone who called for a ‘revolution’. Read more
A couple of weeks ago, the Digital Services framework went live. Today we’re opening up the Digital Services Store. Buyers in government can browse the suppliers on the framework, and then filter on their capabilities to create a list of companies to approach for delivery of a digital project.
We’re here to help
We’ve put together a buyers guide to help you get started with the service, but we’re also on hand to help you understand what you’re looking for.
If you’ve got a digital project that you need some procurement help with, get in touch with the team: email@example.com. The earlier you get in touch, the more help and guidance we can offer you.
Meanwhile, leave feedback on the store in the comments, or by emailing us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week we paid a visit to the Ministry of Justice to find out more about the innovative work going on there to bring legal services online. Kit Collingwood tells us about how great it feels for the Lasting Power of Attorney team to have been nominated for a Civil Service Award; Daniela Tzvetkova talks about the value of open source and how Court Finder has been picked up and re-used by the European courts; and Eliot Fineberg reports on the latest steps in the Civil Claims exemplar’s development from Alpha towards Beta phase.
Follow Daniela Tzvetkova and Eliot Fineberg on Twitter:
Daniela Tzvetkova (Service Manager, Information Services): @daulfn
Eliot Fineberg (Service Manager, Civil Claims): @eliotfineberg
I’m the portfolio test manager for several projects at the Home Office. We’ve recently started to do our testing using Agile techniques; a big change for the team, but one that’s gone very well so far. Read more
For the Individual Electoral Registration project I’ve been out and about doing user research around the UK.
These pop-up research days are fascinating, frustrating, scary and fun. However much I plan, I never know exactly what I’ll find when I get to the location. But I always learn so much about our users and our services.
This week we celebrated that we have transitioned more than 100 websites to GOV.UK over the last 12 months; 102 to be exact. Elisse Jones, GOV.UK Departmental Engagement Lead, talks about the challenges of such a big programme of work, while G-Cloud Product Manager Stuart Reeve updates us on the latest iteration of the G-Cloud procurement framework.
Follow Elisse Jones (GOV.UK Departmental Engagement Lead): @ElisseJones