Saturday 13 October 2012

Martha Lane Fox –

Something's up
It's still only 12 October as DMossEsq starts this post and the Government Digital Service (GDS) team have already published 22 posts on their blog this month. They've never done that before. Something's up:
  1. 12/10/2012 – This week at GDS
  2. 12/10/2012 – Coding in the open
  3. 12/10/2012 – Meet the finance team
  4. 11/10/2012 – No link left behind
  5. 11/10/2012 – One size does not fit all
  6. 11/10/2012 – What devices are we supporting at launch, and why?
  7. 10/10/2012 – Agile projects: the people side
  8. 10/10/2012 – Writing for a citizen isn’t the same as for a customer
  9. 09/10/2012 – Sharing the GDS approach with Code for America
  10. 09/10/2012 – Finding your way around GOV.UK
  11. 09/10/2012 – Exploring user needs
  12. 09/10/2012 – Not so special after all
  13. 08/10/2012 – Building with APIs
  14. 05/10/2012 – This week at GDS
  15. 05/10/2012 – Testing GOV.UK with real users
  16. 04/10/2012 – Less About Identity, More About Trust
  17. 03/10/2012 – Building a performance platform for GOV.UK
  18. 03/10/2012 – Where has ‘auto suggest’ gone?
  19. 03/10/2012 – SEO for GOV.UK
  20. 03/10/2012 – Why we’ve changed the homepage
  21. 02/10/2012 – Introducing today’s release
  22. 01/10/2012 – Building for inclusion
Tom Loosemore is a Deputy Director of GDS. Ex-BBC, ex-Channel 4, ex-Capital Radio, ex-Ofcom, ex-Wired magazine, he sets the tone in his latest post:
And Meri donated a little mascot for the release of GOV.UK. The role of the mascot in the launch has yet to be determined…
A cuddly gryphon donated by Meri
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Revolution not evolution
What's up is the release of GOV.UK, the output from GDS's single government domain project.

The plan is to make all public services digital by default. Why? Ask Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, ask ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, the executive director of GDS and senior responsible officer owner for identity assurance, ask Tom Loosemore, ... and the answer is, because Martha Lane Fox told us to.

What is GOV.UK? What does it mean to have a single government domain?

Let Martha Lane Fox tell you in her own words, taken from her 14 October 2010 letter to Francis Maude. That letter proposed the development of a single government domain on the web and is headed Directgov 2010 and beyond: revolution not evolution:
Make Directgov the government front end for all departments' transactional online services to citizens and businesses, with the teeth to mandate cross government solutions, set standards and force departments to improve citizens' experience of key transactions.
A few things have changed in the intervening two years – for example, for "Directgov", read "GOV.UK". But not many. The emphasis is still on teeth and on forcing other Whitehall departments to do things, like forcing DWP to re-write its invitation to tender for the identity assurance services needed for Universal Credit.
Change the model of government online publishing, by putting a new central team in Cabinet Office in absolute control of the overall user experience across all digital channels ...
There she goes again – absolute control. The user experience turns out, you'll see, to be important. But what is a "user experience"? It remains undefined in her letter.
Appoint a new CEO for Digital in the Cabinet Office with absolute authority over the user experience across all government online services (websites and APls) and the power to direct all government online spending.
This time it's absolute authority. Over the user experience, whatever that is, across all government on-line services. And the CEO is to have power. Quite a lot of it – the power to direct all government on-line spending, e.g. spending on Skyscape, the one-man start-up company whose location has inadvertently been given away on the web and into whose care GOV.UK is being entrusted.
I strongly suggest that the core Directgov team concentrates on service quality and that it should be the "citizens' champion with sharp teeth" for transactional service delivery.
We're still only on p.3 of a ten-page letter but even at this early stage who's going to disagree? Resistance is futile.
Directgov should own the citizen experience of digital public services and be tasked with driving a 'service culture' across government which could, for example, challenge any policy and practice that undermines good service design.
You may care to read that again. By virtue of being in charge of the government website, GDS must be in charge of government policy. It's obvious. To Martha Lane Fox. Government policy, it appears, is to be challenged if it might undermine the user experience, which has now become the citizen experience, and whatever it is that experience belongs – like tomorrow? – to "Directgov", i.e. it belongs to the CEO we met above, the one with absolute authority and the power to direct all government on-line spending, the Prince who's going to drive a service culture across government, willy-nilly.
It seems to me that the time is now to use the Internet to shift the lead in the design of services from the policy and legal teams to the end users.
Forget the daft old politicians. Obviously. And the extinct volcanoes of the senior civil service. And the legal stick-in-the-muds. Now the will of the people, the public interest, as determined by GDS, will be deployed using the Internet.
Directgov SWAT teams ... should be given a remit to support and challenge departments and agencies ... We must give these SWAT teams the necessary support to challenge any policy and legal barriers which stop services being designed around user needs.
Never has the word "support", sounded so minatory. Nothing must stand in its way. No policy. And no legal barriers. Support must prevail.
A new central commissioning team should take responsibility for the overall user experience on the government web estate, and should commission content from departmental experts. This content should then be published to a single Government website with a consistently excellent user experience.
A single government website, GOV.UK. Just one of them. GOV.UK is to be the (singular) government front end for all departments' transactional on-line services, please see opening quotation.
Ultimately, departments should stop publishing to their own websites, and instead produce only content commissioned by this central commissioning team.
You see two and three and so on are decadent. And degenerate. Only one is strong and consistently excellent.

Ultimately it makes sense to the user for all Government digital services to reside under a single brand ...
Who knows what makes sense to the user? Only the CEO for Digital.
... leadership on the digital communications and services agenda in the centre is too fragmented. I recommend that all digital teams in the Cabinet Office - including Digital Delivery, Digital Engagement and Directgov - are brought together under a new CEO for Digital.

This person should have the controls and powers to gain absolute authority over the user experience across all government online services ... and the power to direct all government online spend.

The CEO for Digital should also have the controls and powers to direct set and enforce standards across government departments ...

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Identity assurance and power
There are a few quibbles with this extraordinary document of Martha Lane Fox's to which DMossEsq may return.

For the moment, just four points.

Firstly, while GDS have been developing GOV.UK, re-writing every central government website, DWP's Universal Credit has been left high and dry. That is no doubt an example of shifting "the lead in the design of services from the policy and legal teams to the end users". The consistently excellent user experience of benefit-applicants using GOV.UK some time in the future is more important than merely springing people from the poverty trap by making work pay right now – the pre-revolutionary policy tail cannot be allowed to wag today's enlightened delivery dog.

Second, why waste a lot of time re-writing government websites? There must be a reason. Remember that the single government domain is intimately bound up with one of GDS's other projects, identity assurance – they need to know who we users are who are enjoying the GOV.UK experience, gambolling around the single government domain. Perhaps, while developing GOV.UK, the opportunity has been taken to insert consistent hooks into it for a single identity assurance service? PDSs, anyone?

Third, consider the contrast. Tom Loosemore and the other members of the GDS team paint a soft focus picture of a benign GOV.UK in their 22 posts so far this month. GOV.UK is like Meri's cuddly gryphon pictured above and butter wouldn't melt in GDS's mouth. Whereas Martha Lane Fox invests it with sharp teeth and talks of SWAT teams driving and forcing and challenging and supporting and directing and setting and enforcing with controls and powers and absolute authority. Which is it?
Martha Lane Fox

Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici
And fourth, was Martha Lane Fox's letter a job application?


And maybe not – after all, Machiavelli didn't want the top job and contented himself with writing FAQs* on how to enforce standards in Renaissance Tuscany for various Medicis and Borgias.
Niccolò Machiavelli

Anyway, whichever, she didn't get the job. Instead, CEO for Digital went to ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken:
* E.g. Del modo tenuto dal duca Valentino nell' ammazzare Vitellozzo Vitelli, Oliverotto da Fermo, etc. (1502) – a description of the methods adopted by Duke Valentino when murdering Vitellozzo Vitelli, Oliverotto da Fermo, Signor Pagolo, and the Duke of Gravina Orsini.

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