Last week the government launched a ground-breaking online service – www.gov.uk – that replaced two previous sites, Directgov and BusinessLink.
I think that the ease of use, findability of information and accessibility makes it world-class. Together with the revolutionary www.data.gov.uk which is a repository for public, open data, this puts the United Kingdom at the forefront of global innovation when delivering central government digital services.
So, the product itself is innovative and, more importantly, useful.
It’s also important to acknowledge the approach that the Government Digital Service (GDS) team have taken to develop it. Impressively, they have adopted (as much as possible) a Lean Startup approach, using user-centred needs analysis, a pilot (Project Alpha) to build a strong business case, and plenty of user experience design best practice. I’m not sure if the team would agree with me that they’ve launched a Minimal Viable Product (MVP), but the fact that they have launched a service where (as Nesta’s CEO pointed out), not all the links yet work, should be commended. Speed to market in providing a significantly better experience should trump it being 100% perfect on day one. The development team’s use of open source software as default should also be acknowledged. Building stuff only when there is a unique need is a very refreshing one for government.
So, the agile approach used by the development team to quickly build a government service is also a real and impressive step-change.
But for me, there is a bigger innovation in http://www.gov.uk – one which will emerge as such more slowly over time. http://www.gov.uk has published its underlying design princples, complete with Style Guide: these include tone of voice (friendly and positive), design princples that put users first, and criteria for when to provide information and when to recognise that better information lies elsewhere and link to it.
It is these principles which, if adhered to here in the UK and adopted by other governments around the world, will result not just in better services, but will also transform how they engage with their users (us). These principles highlight a new form of transparency, accountability and responsibility to citizens that governments, ministers, civil servants and MPs have often struggled with for years. They treat people with respect, don’t talk down to or bamboozle them with jargon and aim to help serve the citizen by being simple and useful.
Good luck http://www.gov.uk – I think that your greatest innovation will be the wider adoption of these principles by others as a guide to how to run
digital government in the 21st century.