Good practice?

March 18, 2012

A very recent publication from the UK Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) is In-House Research paper No. 8 entitled ‘Not just another website: Review of “50 Plus Works” Good-practice guide and toolkit’. This highly interesting for me since I am both 50+ and looking for work, so I was hoping to find this exercise doubly beneficial. 50PlusWorks is a relatively new website to assist those over 50 in finding work. The DWP have obviously made a slippery move here since government departments are supposed to be reducing the number of sites, and they’ve got away with this by having it done by The Age & Employment Network (TAEN) and being co-financed by the European Social Fund. However since it frequently links back to DirectGov, my question would be why not improve that?

I’m a strong believer in that if a web site is to be good enough for the citizen, the advisors themselves should be able to use it either to mediate for a face-to-face visitor, or for one telephoning in. The comments made to the researchers emphasise what is presumably wrong with the DWP and other government web sites.i.e. “it’s pretty much a one stop shop. There is nothing else as good out there.”, “the lack of photographs meant that it was possible to access information speedily”, “was seen as easier to operate than other websites”

The coalition clampdown on publicity was acknowledged as hampering the promotion of the site but I question the rationale. The reason for the site is apparently to assist, by mediation, the older person looking for work – there will many instances where this will still be appropriate whether a person is 49 or 60, so this approach might have been better employed in improving DirectGov or beta.gov.

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Open Sores

February 18, 2012

Whilst I have been an advocate of Open Source for many years (this is WordPress, isn’t it?), it has always been a case of banging one’s head against a brick wall in many cases. My Colleague David Henderson recently pointed me to GovFresh as a source of material to use when attempting to convert the so far unconverted, and the material on their whether about Joomla, Drupal or WordPress is really useful.

Whilst Liam Maxwell and the UK government make the right noises and visit some of the right places, beta.gov.uk itself is more of a mongrel, coded in Ruby with a load of Openish add ons – see Colophon for the GOV.UK beta. For good examples of the public sector use of Open Source in the UK one needs to examine Bristol City, Oxfordshire and the increasing number of others employing the likes of Drupal or Joomla.

In its own way this move away from commercial or hand-tooled CMS may cause a few problems in the private sector web businesses that have been slow to recognise that open source is the current trend, but that’s business isn’t it. The next trick will be getting those developing sites using open source to share the development pain and hosting.

My own council has never hosted its own website, I made sure of that. The next trick will be transferring the rest of the web applications that now feed into it into the ‘cloud’. After that it will be getting those application providers to develop their systems in Open Source and put them into the ‘cloud’ as well. Too many applications are reliant upon incredibly expensive Oracle, SQL or other licensing schemes that need to be switching to ‘software as a service’.

Anyway, GovFresh has lots of material to encourage the use of Open Source amongst even the most hardened advocates of paying through the nose, rather than paying by the seat.