It doesn’t take a genius to realise that, this note apart, the HelpGov blog hasn’t been updated since July 2015. The reasons are set out, obscurely, on the About page. I’m not likely to write many more, if any, new posts but will leave the blog on WordPress as long as they’re willing to tolerate it. Let’s say it’s a sort-of archive of the work issues that interested me for many years.

On the basis that popularity = interest, I include a list below of the ten most viewed posts/pages on the blog. Some were at the fringes of what HelpGov was originally meant to be about. The list is in order of popularity: the first post on the list had more views than the other nine combined, which may tell you something about my readers and the state of the UK civil service at the time the post was written.

Enjoy, and thanks for reading.

Two things made me take up my (electronic) pen today.

First, on BBC TV yesterday the wonderful Martha Lane Fox gave the annual Richard Dimbleby lecture.

The BBC web site summarise what it was all about

She will challenge us all – leaders, legislators, and users – to understand the internet more deeply and to be curious and critical in our digital lives in order to tackle the most complex issues facing our society.

It reminded me that not long after I started the HelpGov blog I responded to a consultation she organised as the government’s then digital champion on the future of the old (and appalling) UK government web sites. Her efforts led to the formation of the GOV.UK team and something of a transformation in the UK government’s web presence.

Second, and much more prosaically, I’ve just renewed my vehicle tax online. As a once-upon-a-time advocate of process maps I thought I’d compare the pre-web and GOV.UK processes of this onerous task. As you’ll see they’re not strictly process maps, but you’ll get the point.

pay tax

There are/were other ways to fulfil the same task but this is the way I used to do it and did it today.

As I said, it’s prosaic, isn’t it? It’s even more prosaic than my steps suggest because the web site is just about one of the easiest I’ve used, with my payment accepted with less information than most commercial sites and an e-mail already received confirming all the details and that I’m now taxed for another twelve months.

The impressive thing is that the change not only focusses on my needs as a taxpayer but also must save major costs in staff time and printing.

And it’s not only the transaction that’s been made easier. If I want to check any question about taxing my car, or indeed any other aspect of government from policies to the availability of data it’s easy to find on GOV.UK.

I’m almost ashamed at both my cynicism when I wrote to Baroness Lane Fox in 2010 and my misunderstanding of what she was about.

Only one thing wrong. The amount of tax I’m paying is outrageous. But I can’t blame Martha or the GOV.UK team for that.

If you work in the public sector, how does your organisation’s web site match up to the GOV.UK standards?

Go away, you annoying addictive bird

  1. 0800 check 203 incoming tweets received overnight. Time taken including reading/replying/commenting on/following interesting links – 23 minutes
  2. 0823 return to top of Twitter stream to check 31 tweets received in last twenty-three minutes. Time taken including reading/replying/commenting etc. – 7 minutes
  3. 0830 return to top of Twitter stream to check 9 tweets received in last seven minutes. Time taken including reading/etc. – 2 minutes
  4. 0832 break for breakfast. Time taken – 30 minutes
  5. 0902 check Twitter stream before starting work. Read/etc/etc 41 tweets received in last half hour. Time taken – 6 minutes
  6. 0908 work for an hour avoiding temptation to look at Twitter. Time taken – 60 minutes
  7. 1008 coffee break. Time taken – 10 minutes
  8. 1018 before resuming work read/etc/etc 112 tweets received  since 0908. Time taken – 10 minutes
  9. 1028 return to top of Twitter stream to check 19 tweets received in last ten minutes. Time taken including reading/replying/commenting etc. – 3 minutes

Well, that’s the day nicely filled.

My heartfelt thanks to the correspondents who have sent me messages urging me to purchase a pair of fashionable boots of a particular brand (let’s just say ‘Ugg’ to that), describing the merits of their particular credit deals in German, promoting the wonder of poetry (can’t argue with that), acquainting me with the qualities of different brands of steel sink, and telling me I should really buy a guitar.

I appreciate all your thoughts, and I have no doubt that all your offerings are genuine and above board.

I also enjoyed the more personal messages you’ve gone to the trouble of sending me, which I know you won’t mind me sharing with the wider world exactly as I received them

  • your own write-up. It evident that you have a great deal knowledge on this subject. Your items are very well created and relatable. Thanks for composing interesting and fascinating substance
  • could you increase the amount of your posts, i would like to read them more often [ah, if only I had the will and the imagination], and best of all albeit somewhat mystifyingly
  • s learn And I appreciate all an easiest way this was almost only Shining in the burst; myself the may a Eve, skittish mare. her lower back, and wonderfully didn’t said as far as I could.You taught uncollared dreams I try..(bo

Unfortunately the heartless and cynical people at WordPress directed all of your kindness and wonderful thoughts to my blog’s spam folder so I’m afraid they have been deleted.  Sadly, I suggest you save yourself similar effort in future.

This post began as a jokey exchange on Twitter. As part of confirmation that he was taking part in Movember, someone I follow tweeted a link to the UK government’s NHS Direct web site and a ‘checker’ there on Male sexual health.

The principle seemed sensible

If you would like confidential advice about a sexual health problem, you’re in the right place. There’s no need to feel embarrassed or shy if you are concerned about a sexual health issue.

I thought I’d give it a try – and to forestall inappropriate comment, no, I don’t have a ‘sexual health issue.’ I’m interested in government web sites – honest, officer.

Click through to the next step on this helpful ‘checker’ and you’re asked

Before continuing with this health and symptom checker you need to make sure that the person is conscious and reacting to you normally, or if they are asleep, that they react to gentle shaking.

What?! I’m about to check my sexual health and I’m unconscious or asleep?

The next pages ask for my age and where I live. Fair enough.

Then, straight down to business in the next page with the first question – those of a delicate disposition turn away now

Have you been bleeding from your genital area in the last 6 hours?

Whoa, steady on, I thought this was about ‘male sexual health.’ This seems like getting down to business just a tad too soon.

For the sake of research I answered ‘No.’ That took me through to a page giving me twelve further options – none of them implying good news.

If you want to see a better – no, a brilliant – government web site check out GOV.UK, the UK government’s new site that’s supposed eventually to incorporate all their other current sites.

The contrast with NHS Direct couldn’t be greater

  • Clear simple layout and graphics – unlike the dense clutter of NHS Direct
  • The things most people want to know about each subject highlighted in clear language – I cannot believe that most men looking for information on sexual health need as their first port of call a  shock-horror question about whether they’ve been bleeding from their ‘genital area,’ and not only bleeding but within the last six hours. If they’re not unconscious before they read that they might be after.

In fact the NHS Direct pages would more honestly be headed ‘Do you have a serious sexual problem?’ They’re all about sickness, not health.

UK health aficionados will know that NHS Direct covers England only. It advises Scots, correctly, to visit their own NHS 24 site for advice. But before the Scottish NHS get too smug about how they’re doing, a search for ‘male sexual health’ there throws up no fewer than 175 links. On the first page of ten, not one is to do with male sexual health. So a big fail there too.

I can now add abhorrence of NHS web sites to my phobia of what I’ve called elsewhere the  NHS’s ‘disease of poster-itis and advanced leaflet syndrome.’

I wasn’t sure what to make of a blog called Public Path.

Was it promoting the cause of public access to the countryside and the right to roam?  The removal of dog excrement from pavements/sidewalks?  Or was its author a distant relation of the Peruvian Maoist movement Sendero Luminoso – Shining Path?

The post I had stumbled across was initially no more enlightening as it was filed under Tech geekery, a label normally guaranteed to make me switch off straight away.

But then I noticed the author was the estimable ingridk and her post was called Local gov blogging – ideas for you.

She was picking up on a theme she’s promoted in other places – the desirability (no, need) for more people in and around UK local government to use social media more to communicate, and to do it entertainingly.  To which I’d add people in and around the UK public sector generally.

But being American she’s brimful of positivity.  So she didn’t just harangue the Brit wallflowers who won’t step forward to speak and if they do are too often, well, boring (that’s me saying that, not Ingrid).

No, she suggested 35 topics people like me could blog on in 2011.  And there’s some great ideas there, freely offered.

Readers of this blog will know I’m not a great fan of targets at work (start again…I despise targets at work and their baleful influence).

But blogging isn’t just work, it’s fun, so game for a challenge I make this commitment to Ms Koehler.

Each month in 2011 I will blog on one of the topics she has proposed.

So you (and I) don’t get confused each post will be preceded by the message

This post is in response to a suggestion [link to this post] made by Ingrid Koehler of Local Government Improvement and Development

Oh, and no, I don’t know which of her 35 topics I’ll be using yet.

Watch out for the first post in the series later this month.

Thanks Ingrid.

30 November was an unusual day.  I was doing more listening and reading than communicating myself.  This is what I heard and saw.

On a serious note, the UK snow dump was at its height (literally).  Councils all over the UK were keeping people up to date about the impact on their services – mainly travel warnings and closures of various sorts. The #uksnow web site map spelt out by the minute where the white stuff was falling.

The UK Department of Health quoted Secretary of State Andrew Lansley on his new proposal for public health responsibilities to be moved to English councils – “Directors of Public Health will provide strong and consistent local leadership by acting as champions within councils”.  Hope the budget moves with the responsibilities.

I received a reminder from HM Treasury that their independent review of fair pay in the public sector led by Will Hutton would  publish its interim report next day (They did.  He recommended the highest paid employee in any public sector organisation should receive no more that 20 times the salary of the lowest paid – I’d have missed that without the reminder).

The Scottish Government told me I could watch a video on their web site of their response to the UK Government’s Scotland Bill.

There was other serious stuff too.

Someone said “Several years ago, I worked with the head of a large company who was very skilled at his job.  Because no one doubted that, including him, he was also utterly at ease with acknowledging his shortcomings.  He was also eager for any kind of feedback, because above all, he wanted to grow and improve.  What you got was a whole person, confident and humble, skilled and flawed.  Not surprisingly, he was beloved”. A great example of leadership.

Meanwhile over in the Daily Telegraph a medic was recounting his experience of being an unexpected emergency patient in an NHS hospital – “A kind word, a thoughtful gesture, a sympathetic smile: these are the things that there are no tick boxes for, and that are so difficult to regulate or control; yet for the patient, are so important”.   Hmm, that put performance management in perspective.

Elsewhere, there was a heartfelt blast by a dis-satisfied customer against his internet service provider (ISP) –“What is it about call centre staff that is most irritating?  Their ability not to listen or their ability to patronise?” Be assured friend.  They are not unique.

I also learnt for the first time about social media surgeries where those  familiar with the likes of blogging, Facebook and all things webby make themselves available for people to get help with the technology so many still fear.

Another first was discovering Jumo“We connect individuals and organisations working to change the world – find issues and projects you care about; follow the latest news and updates; support their work with your time, money, and skills”.  One to investigate further.

Sometime after mid-day (a bit late guys) the Scottish Government reminded me it was St Andrew’s Day.  As it happens, someone else had got there first and already let me know that “legend has it St Andrew’s head was once stolen from Constantinople and brought along to Rome”.  They cited Radio Vatican (“la Voce del Papa”) as the source so no doubt about that one.   In a surfeit of things Caledonian someone in York (York?) asked me what my three favourite Scottish beers were.  I was tempted to answer “The first three pints” but held back.  Even more weirdly, Hillary Clinton, yes her, sent me and doubtless many others a historic (she said) St Andrew’s Day message.

The bit of me interested in history was intrigued to see the UK mapping agency Ordnance Survey had mapped the Southampton blitz 70 years on in a “mashup” of data.

To leaven the diet of serious information the wilder fringes enlightened me on other matters of great import:

  • the Queen had little to say in favour of Nick Clegg but a lot in favour of a good G&T (this intelligence sadly turned out to be false)
  • an American woman who uses the Twitter name “theashes” had been pestered by cricket fans falsely believing she is the bearer of news about sport and was driven to respond “I am not a freaking cricket match!”
  • The Economist advised me that Canadians do not like to be fondled (at least in airport security searches)
  • someone said they’d just discovered that MILF stands for Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a Filipino terrorist group and advised the group concerned to “get some brand advice”.

And back to where we started another correspondent wished Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, and himself a Happy Birthday and noted the first two were probably having a better day than him – “Being dead beats being snowbound”.  Oh, I don’t know.

Footnote.  If you use Twitter you may guess what was happening.  All this was brought to me in or via the Tweets I received on 30 November.  It’s taken a while to review them and post this.  Yes, there was a lot of dross and, no,  I don’t normally do more than scan incoming Tweets quickly.  But there was news, learning and amusement, nearly all of which I’d have missed otherwise.

My thanks to the anonymous and unattributed authors of my 440 Tweets that day.  A quick Google will probably bring you oodles more information on any of the topics not linked above.