It’s not a sexy question but it is important. 

I raised it in my post on the UK government’s consultation on their mega-website Directgov:

Incidentally, the site for comments opened yesterday (17 August) and views are sought by 3 September. This is a tight timescale and my next post will be on this subject. 

Put another way, from launch of a review with a big objective – to assess how it [Directgov] can be transformed and redirected to further drive efficiencies in the online delivery of public services – to the closing date for comments this is a total of 18 days, or 14 working days if you’re being picky.

And this at a time of year when a substantial part of the population are on holiday.

Is this enough?

What is it about the rush and tumble of new technology (and new government) that requires almost instant action?  

Whatever comes out of the Directgov review (and let’s hope as Lane Fox does that it’s radical and transforming), it’s not going to be sorted in weeks, let alone months.  So why that rush at the beginning?

In Scotland there are very clear National Standards for Community Engagement by public bodies.  If you haven’t seen them they’re well worth study.  They’re much more than just a tick list for consultation but do contain some very clear requirements on timing:

  • The participants agree the timescales for the achievement of the purpose(s)
  • Recognise participants’ time is valuable and that they may have other commitments
  • Manage change effectively by…ensuring that, where necessary, all parties have time to consult with those they represent… agreeing schedules
  • Information is made available in time to enable people to fully take part and consult others
  • There is adequate time for competence and understanding to be developed 

This current consultation is far removed from these standards but trying to find a UK equivalent of the standards is not as easy as you might think.

The Directgov web site (yes, that again) has a page called The government’s consultation process explained which helpfully says When the government consults it must build a realistic timeframe for the consultation (I like “build a realistic timeframe” rather than “allow enough time for”).

The only way to find out what is meant by a realistic timeframe is to follow up a reference on the page to consultations abiding by the Cabinet Office’s code of practice.

Of course, there’s no hyperlink provided so it’s back to Google to find the Cabinet Office web site where…surprise, surprise…no visible code of practice.  Various codes of conduct and ethics but nothing obviously related to this subject.  At this point any sane citizen (yes, I am) gives up and I did.

This sort of detail is way removed from the What key trends should Government bear in mind when designing digital services? of the Lane Fox review.  But unless the rock bottom basic user experience of all these government web sites is got right all the rest is totally wasted effort.