This is a short post about a huge topic: what government should do to consult, engage and involve people more openly in the work it does, online.
Consultation is a big part of government. Doing it better online is a coalition commitment. Alphagov’s vision would be incomplete without addressing it head on.
Read more about a vision for online consultation and policy engagement
As mentioned in other blogs, one of the first and primary tasks for the Alphagov project was to build a site that provided the information and services users need. So where were we going for the evidence? Within the timescale and resources of the project we saw value in taking a quantitative approach – looking at analytics and particularly search analytics across the central government web estate.
Read more about users’ information needs and analytics
In the past few months this blog has made a few introductions and this will be the last for a while! We are very pleased to announce that Mike Bracken has been appointed as the Government’s new Executive Director for Digital from the 5th of July.
Read more about Mikes appointment
To say that no-one wants to visit a government website is an over-simplification. But it’s certainly true that the compulsion is significantly different from what drives people to a destination website like BBC News or Facebook, or from something customer-facing like Amazon.
“Government isn’t Amazon” is hardly headline news, and may seem like stating the obvious, but treating a website as a destination in its own right, or assuming some kind of traditional customer relationship is a trap that many websites, both public and private sector, fall into again and again.
Read more about the nodes and what lives at them
Just as there are trends in technology, there are fashions in project management and some feel that agile is poorly suited to government and is just a fad. One of the principle objectives for this project was to demonstrate that an agile approach can work. For us that meant delivering a prototype that:
- demonstrated a user-centred central government, single domain website
- used a small, multi-disciplinary team of developers, designers, editors, sat in the same room
- came in for a budget of £261k and was delivered by 10th May
Read more about how agile does work in government
It is always easier to sketch out a page design rather than build straight out or do a detailed mockup – it is lower cost and gives everyone a common thing to frame discussions around.
Here are a few of the early sketches from the alpha.gov.uk project, some of which include features that we either dropped when we realised they would work or havent got around to implementing yet.
Read more about Sketching (and some features that didn’t quite make it)
The blank slate the Alpha.gov.uk team was handed was a huge privilege, but threw up some unusual technical challenges. Normally when embarking on building web apps you’d expect to have some sense of the corpus of content or the core functionality early on and could make the initial technology choices based on that. Here we were starting with some notions, a few sketches, and a determination that we not constrain our user-focus by early commitments to specific technical solutions.
Read more about the technology behind Alpha.gov.uk
Alpha.gov.uk is a demonstration of what a single central Government site could be. It’s not Business Link, it’s not Directgov, it’s not any specific department or Government agency – but at the same time it represents all of those, and in a hypothetical future a single central Government site could exist instead of them all (the reasoning behind this is explained elsewhere).
Take a broad look at the visual language of Alpha.gov.uk
We knew very early on that Alpha.gov.uk was going to work best if it had a sense of where in the country (or world) its visitors are coming from. Knowing that means it can provide you with information on where your nearest police station is, or default to your nation’s Bank Holidays or direct you to your local council if they’re the ones who provide the service you’re looking for.
Read the full article:
It’s all too easy to get caught up in the excitement of launching a new site full of interesting new stuff. If you’re not careful, you can miss the bigger picture. You can get lost in the wondrous geekiness of it all.
So, as much for myself as anyone else, here’s a reminder as to why it’s so critical that gov.uk offers UK citizens the best possible digital experience.
Read more about why we are doing this