Tell us how

November 10, 2011

As promised in the Open Public Services White Paper, Francis Maude has launched the Tell Us How website for public sector workers to tell their bosses how services can be improved. One has to register on the site and the home page of the site is the registration page, why isn’t actually very inviting, but the thought’s there. However if one tries to use your personal email address you are rejected with “To register for this site, you must use your Departmental email address”, which gives the impression that like much of central government it appears to be focused around the civil service. However, the Cabinet Office launch page welcomes “All public sector workers, from nurses, to those working in job centres, local Government, or vital back office functions”, so not quite sure… – It also then appeared to reject my valid local government email address, but it hadn’t as I soon found a ‘welcome’ email with my password in my work inbox.

A bit of stray code also appears on the site more than a fortnight after it went live “<!–[endif]–><!–[if !ppt]–><!–[endif]–>” above the conditions one has to agree to when signing on –

“We welcome all your suggestions on this site, but ask you to please bear in mind our guidelines when submitting ideas and commenting.

Guidelines

Ideas will remain on the site as long as they:

• are clearly an attempt to present a genuine idea to reduce burden in the public sector

•• respect other people. Comments should not be malicious or offensive in nature, and should not constitute or include a personal attack on a person’s character

• don’t incite hatred on the basis of race, religion, gender, nationality or sexuality or other personal characteristic

•• don’t include swearing, hate-speech or obscenity

•• don’t reveal personal details, such as private addresses, phone numbers, email addresses or other online contact details

••don’t break the law – this includes libel, condoning illegal activity, and breaking copyright

••are reasonably concise, and don’t constitute spamming of the site

••don’t impersonate or falsely claim to represent a person or organisation

••are in English – unfortunately, we do not currently have the resource to moderate comments in other languages

••are on-topic. Please don’t post messages that are unrelated to this site

If you are aged 16 or under, please get your parent/guardian’s permission before submitting an idea or commenting. Users without this consent are not allowed to participate or provide us with personal information.

The site moderators reserve the right to remove any ideas or comments that do not abide by these guidelines.”

I liked the one about being aged under 16. I wonder how many children are employed in government service? Is this a new cost saving scheme?

Good try guys and gals – anyone test it on the public sector first?

As of 9 November 2011 the site claims that there have been 775 registrations and 189 ideas, so get them coming in and start voting! However it wouldn’t appear to be something developed in the skunkworks, more a case of employing a known US tool, in this case Spigit, already used by some government entities in the US, along with the DWP in the UK.

I watch with interest…


Government ICT Strategy

April 3, 2011

At long last, it’s here, they got it out just before the end of March, all 25 pages! As Francis Maude stated at the PASC, it is lapidary; employing some single long words when a much shorter one might do. Have a dictionary to hand!

The promise of ‘assisted digital services’ in section 45, fits in with my own, long argued, one of mediated service delivery. It may be interesting to see who will comprise the “network of ‘assisted digital’ service providers, such as Post Offices, UK online centres and other local service providers”, when many such places have closed or are on their way, due to the cuts?

Paragraph 47 is similarly intriguing when it states “the Government is committed to providing 21st-century identity assurance methods and is engaging with the private sector on this”, this is presumably a replacement for the DWP-managed Government Gateway?

Paragraph 49 also makes some big promises when stating “the Government will use technology to break down barriers and engage with citizens and businesses, bringing innovation to the way in which policy is formulated and delivered”.

The document ignores local delivery of service (of which local government is estimated to provide around 70%) with the exception of the diagram on page 25, the last one, where local government appears ‘beyond the pale’, which I hope isn’t the sentiment. If they can introduce paragraph 12 ” Government will ensure that technology requirements are considered earlier in the policy-making process”, this might finally stop the reoccurrence of those issues around ‘new conditionality‘ that have been discussed here before, and has expanded services so well.

There is a dependency within the document upon a number of other strategies awaiting publication, including the green one, one on capabilities and a Cloud Computing Strategy. Although the Public Sector Network appears to be a given, if a private sector one. How the government PSN will align with the local government ones being delivered and planned remains to be seen?

There is also a lot of talk of Skunkworks, which with its capital ‘S’, I thought was a registered trade mark? However, there still remain the siloed government departments that will have to be dragged into the new ways of delivering services.

As usual, a good in parts document, ignoring some important stuff that needs considering whilst stating in a few words matters that will require major cultural and technical upheaval. At least it was a short read!


What? More PASC

April 1, 2011

The concluding hearing from the UK PASC on 29th March 2011 heard evidence from the Rt Hon Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office, and Ian Watmore, Chief Operating Officer, Efficiency and Reform Group, Cabinet Office. The hearing lasted over 90 minutes and Ian Watmore pulled no punches about his previous employers, the Labour administration. His parting words from that job have already been reported here, along with other evidence given by Socitm and those behind the recent Institute for Government report ‘System Error’.

Unlike the Socitm evidence, the video is complete. In fact it starts with a minute or two of everyone entering the room and even the call of ‘order, order’! It is also occurring on the day of the official publication of the long-awaited Government ICT Strategy, so is appropriate and a certain amount of the evidence reflects that publication.  Initially Francis Maude expands a few vocabularies by describing the 25-page report as having a ‘lapidary’ style of writing, meaning that it is so short and sweet it could be carved in stone! Mr Maude also emphasises early on that whilst ICT is an enabler, the necessary cultural change requires a change in behaviours, and that is what is needed in government. The evidence also promotes the need for delivery to be considered when policy is formulated, since the claimed ICT failures were less a problem with the technology than failures project management and in the delivery of overly complex policies.

One concerning statement is that according to the Minister there is a project on identity assurance underway. Since considerable money has been and is being spent on the Government Gateway, which is rather unpopular but lives within the DWP, I suggest that since a number of large government departments employ it, along with a few local authorities, some thought is given to that, prior to pulling the Gateway’s plug.


Freedom of misinformation

October 10, 2010

Although the title is slightly facetious, have you ever wondered what happened to all that Freedom of Information data that government bodies supply to a seemingly endless sea of requests? I sometimes do. However, it’s all becoming clear now thanks to Francis Maude’s recent insistence that it should be in machine-readable format and a little piece in the Guardian. Not being a Guardian reader these days I must thank en.europa-eu-audience for the heads-up on this one.

This tidy little piece, with lots of hints and tips, has given me a greater understanding of why newspaper reports, such as the web costs one, can appear so poor –

  • Less than 100% response rate to FoI request
  • Inconsistency across data supplied
  • Lack of clarity of FoI request
  • Misinterpretation of data supplied

In academia one is challenged if both the data and analysis are not robust enough, however journalists have always been prone to expressing conclusions based on data with dubious analysis and origins. The frightening thing now is that the graphical tools are so easy to use!

It is one thing Eric Pickles, Minister at the DCLG, demanding the data for local ‘armchair auditors’, it is another when ‘armchair’ journalists add two and two and get twenty-two.

Great tools, but make sure the rigour is there before publishing please…

In fact I’m not alone in thinking open data presents it own issues, Webmonkey has recently noted this too. However of the four proposed solutions to it, where the two of universal broadband and training will come from, I don’t know. On that basis, the promoting and formatting of the data are the least of our worries.


The cutting floor

June 29, 2010

The latest announcement of cuts from the new government appeared on Kable on the 25 June 2010.  The Minister, Francis Maude, is quoted as saying that he wants departments and agencies to slash the costs of their web sites “by up to 50%”. Since “up to 50%” could mean anything between 0% and 49%, it was a strange statement, but at least it’s not more than 50%! He also desires them to move onto a common framework, which is obviously one of the greatest savings.

Francis Maude has identified that the previous government’s instruction to reduce the number of sites has had limited effect and that there are 794 still open, whilst he wants to close 422, which  I calculate would leave 372. However, the COI report quoted in the same Kable report indicates £94million has been spent in the last year on 46 sites, which is a lot of money in anyone’s book. Unsurprisingly one of the new ones is that of businesslink.gov.uk, which I imagine is hosting the notorious EU Services Directive, discussed occasionally over the last six months.

Interestingly, both the Kable and Register reports lead back to the Central Office of Information web site, where they’ve just produced a new report that ties it all together with the Public Accounts Committee recommendations that originally started the cull. The CoI site also hosts the guidance to measuring costs, usage and quality, along with usability (I pointed to these in May 2009).

For local government, rationalizing web sites and at the same time gaining better usage is also a challenge but a major issue I believe is finding a CMS supplier with a licensing model that permits multiple .gov.uk domains without multiplying the cost up in an equivalent manner, so that sharing becomes a real option. If anybody can recommend one, please let me know…

My main grievance with the CoI methodology is that whilst in areas like inclusivity and usage it’s excellent, I prefer employing feedback from all channels to refine the service, not just the delivery mechanism, in this case the web or call centre. I accept central government is different, and they need to remember that too – a lot of local government contact is face-to-face and that should be recorded with the other channels.