Monday 25 November 2013

The technology tail shouldn't be allowed to wag the public service dog but that's just what it's doing, wagging it

A: Here's a clip which starts 10'50" into the astonishing speech about Redesigning Government made by ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken on 16 October 2013 at a conference in the US:

"Technology is a fourth-order question in government", he says. Only after the user needs and the policy needs and the operational needs have been determined should attention be paid to the technology needs, if any.

If we let technology determine public services, then "we are literally starting in the wrong place and guaranteeing failure". The proper question to ask is: "What technology may we need to provide the service?".
"One of the first battles you've got to fight", he says, "is putting technology in its place".

"Words are important, aren't they", he says. Yes. And the distinction he is making between "technology" and "digital" is unfathomable.

Never mind what the distinction is. For our purposes here, the important point he is making is that the design of public services shouldn't be determined by technology, that's the wrong way round and guarantees failure.

B: Rewind to 29 July 2011 and a post written by ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, Welcome to the Government Digital Service blog. The opening paragraph reads, in full:
We exist to make public services digital by default, and we are relentlessly focused on user needs.
Far from relentlessly focussing on user needs, digital-by-default ignores the needs of users who can't or won't use the web.

Digital-by-default is an example of policy being made on the basis of technology instead of user need and may therefore be, according to ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken's 16 October 2013 speech, a case of "literally starting in the wrong place and guaranteeing failure".

Technology has been allowed to dominate. It has become a first-order question and needs to be put back in its place – fourth.

C: Roll forward to 17 October 2012 and another post by ex-Guardian man Mike Bracken, Why GOV.UK matters: A platform for a digital Government. It gets off to a rotten start. This is the opening sentence:
On Wednesday October 17th 2012, our new digital service moved out of public beta development to replace the two main government websites, Directgov and Business Link.
Directgov and Business Link had not been replaced on 17 October 2012 and they still haven't been over a year later – see for example the Benefits adviser page on or the Contracts finder page on Both supposed to have been replaced. Both still there.

It's hard to recover your credibility after a mistake like that.

It gets harder as the post proceeds:
GOV.UK has been designed with transparency, participation and simplicity at its core. It will always be based on open standards, and is unapologetically open source. This architecture ensures its integration into the growing ecosystem of the Internet. Inevitably, innovation will follow, driven from within and without. GOV.UK is not Government on the Internet, but of the Internet.
What is "GOV.UK is not Government on the Internet, but of the Internet" supposed to mean?

GOV.UK is not Government on the Internet. Nor is it Government of the Internet. Nor, for that matter, is it Government on the B1051 from Mountfitchet finally crossing the Internet just south of Alsa Wood.

For the simple reason that GOV.UK isn't government.

It's a website.

To confuse the two is to make an even bigger mistake than pretending that GOV.UK replaces two websites which manifestly haven't been replaced.

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