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.


Both this week’s Municipal Journal and the polemical Liberal Conspiracy web site have thrown more light on the Treasury’s Spending Challenge– see my various posts on Vote for lean thinking in governmentIf a  web site gives up is it a sign of success?, Bad practice in government, and HMG web site in transition (thinks – am I getting obsessed with the subject?).

I didn’t know whether to tag this entry under lean thinking, off the wall, or two new tags I’ll resist adding – weird and sad.  I think the story could qualify under all four.

This is the essence of it.

The site has been reined in because it has been bombarded with a mixture of ideas, many of which were at the plain nasty end of the spectrum – how to “deal” with immigrants, un-married mothers, benefits “scroungers” etc etc.

Rather more amusingly our fellow citizens seem to have come up with a number of creative ideas to save taxpayers’ money:

  • a windfall tax on people called Steve [or Dave, Nick, Eric…?]
  • sell the unemployed after six months on benefits
  • force cats to spend one hour per day on electrical treadmills [on the basis of our cat’s daily routine that would produce zero energy]
  • MPs’ housing allowances to be replaced by tents.

It does all suggest the creation of the site was a bit of a rushed job (shouldn’t have been since public servants had already had six weeks to contribute to a similar site before this one went public).  Perhaps HM Treasury also need to learn a bit more about moderation of public forums.

Once they get rid of the vicious and weird let’s hope the serious suggestions do emerge in public.  Otherwise the whole exercise will have failed even the most basic test of consultation standards.

“In transition” is one of the rich lexicon of euphemisms used when hitherto unexceptional employees are made an offer they can’t refuse. It used to be called gardening leave.

The UK government’s Spending Challenge web site seems to be in transition following its earlier problems. But to what?

It no longer sports anything as technically complex as a home page, ownership seems to have half-shifted from the Treasury to the Cabinet Office, none of the suggestions to save money are visible let alone available to score and comment on and, saddest of all

As you may have noticed [I hadn’t], the site has been the subject to a small number of malicious attacks so we have unfortunately had to pause on the interactive features for now, but we’re still keen to hear any further ideas you have, which we may publish at a later date

Well, the government can’t be responsible for the sad souls who find fun in that sort of stuff but it makes it impossible to see how the suggestions are going (I don’t like “which we may publish at a later date”).

With a bit of luck their tecchies (consultants to a man and a woman I’ll wager) are working on the problems even now.

Let’s hope the site’s in transition to restoration of its interactive features.

Feb. 2013 – much of the detail of this post has been dealt with by the UK government’s new web site but many government web sites still need to be improved.

Not for the first time UK government web sites have thwarted me.  I needed to check the contact details of the local DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) office for a client .  Here’s the saga…

…find the DWP web site

…first wee irritation – the Contact Us page as it appears on my PC has what is clearly meant to be a footer for the government’s all-singing all-dancing access site Directgov splattered across the text at the top of the page.  If you need the first line of the address for Attendance Allowance enquiries – unlucky (on past experience if anyone ever comes back to me about this I’ll be told it’s my fault due to the settings on my PC)…

…more to the point with my query the Local Office (non-)Search Facility takes you to another page which in turn directs you to the dreaded Directgov site, wherein all sane men and women finally lose the plot…

…the Directgov web site

…a page appears that invites you to “Contact Jobcentre Plus” through a “local office” search by writing in your postcode (not sure that’s what my client needs but nevertheless it’s the only option given) …

…which on attempt 1 returns “No locations found” and on attempt 2 says (I quote word for word)

1 office found

If you do not want to contact Jobcentre Plus then you can use the Close button to close this window.

Your message will be sent to a central team in Jobcentre Plus, not to your local Jobcentre or Jobcentre Plus office.

Please note that this is not a secure facility and you should not send confidential information.

Aberdeen Benefit Delivery Centre

(This office is not open to the public)
Jobcentre Plus
Wellington Circle
United Kingdom
AB99 8AA
Telephone: Mail opening only
Employment and Support Allowance
Benefit Delivery Centre

…and an invitation to click on a button that says “Contact” and opens my e-mail browser with the e-mail address <> and the subject line “JCP Contact Us Local Office – Aberdeen Benefit Delivery Centre”.

So if I were to try and contact the local office I can now only do so by e-mail to a central team who may pass on my details to an office with no public access who may contact me.

In more than one post I’ve made the point that all work processes should add value for the customer and eliminate NVA (non-value added work).  I think I know how this one stacks up.

I might just stroll up the road to see if there’s a human being who’s willing to speak to me.

Yes a plug, for something I have no connection with – the FixMyStreet web site, part of, in turn part of UK Citizens Online Democracy (this gets complicated).  If you’ve not seen FixMyStreet it’s a simple way to report, view, or discuss local problems like graffiti, fly tipping, broken paving slabs, or street lighting.

They seem to be running at 800+ reports a week across the UK. Congratulations Isles of Scilly – no complaints logged on the site.  Commiserations Surrey – 2543 complaints logged.  You’re both reaping the consequences of size (a smarter technowhizz than me would mash up the data with the population mid-year estimates to work out the “best” and “worst” councils).

My only moan might be people who post a complaint about the alleged behaviour of a neighbour (parking, recycling etc.) rather than do the decent thing and have a word with them first.

This is real innovation using the power of the web, and driven from entirely outside the public sector.

PS  – also like the Australian equivalent, It’s Buggered Mate , a site that comes with typical antipodean chutzpah.  Unfortunately, it’s still only a protoype but let’s hope it springs into life soon.

I struggle with innovation. 

On the one hand I read that the characteristics of innovation are: 

  • it often happens at the margins (of groups, organisations, societies)
  • innovators are often members of the “awkward squad” (various versions of the invention of Post-It notes are often cited)
  • innovations usually start small and take time to gain traction
  • innovators characteristically do not give up – for years .

 In other words, maybe not a lot there you can control or predict.

 On the other hand there’s a whole industry around public service innovation with government departments devoted to it, quangoes promoting it, reports analysing it, even auditors urging public bodies to adopt an “efficiency, innovation and improvement strategy”.

 Then along comes the wonderful web with a random tweet from davebriggs

 Good read from @craigthomler on innovation in government  

Thanks Dave, it was good.  But more to the point, with a few clicks it led me via Australia back to the UK and the worldwide perspective of The Open Book of Social Innovation by Robin Murray, Julie Caulier-Grice and Geoff Mulgan.  For once the content justifies the claim in the foreword:

The Open Book presents a varied, vibrant picture of social innovation in practice and demonstrates the vitality of this rapidly emerging economy. It is fantastically rich, and demonstrates the diversity of initiatives being led by entrepreneurs and campaigners, organizations and movements worldwide.

 My advice –go read.

 PS – I’d love to add the Open Book to my reading list on my LinkedIn profile but it’s an app by Amazon and since they don’t sell it I can’t.  But no need to buy – it’s online.